Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Eakins hockey journey continues with the Marlies

Globe and Mail hockey reporter Tim Wharnsby has a story in today's paper about the new assistant coach of the Maple Leafs AHL franchise, Dallas Eakins.

"This is something that has been going on for a long time," he said. "I was very limited in skill as a player, from junior right through to as a pro. For me to survive, I had to give my full attention to detail. I had to be very aware on the ice of where I was supposed to be."

When Eakins, now 38, received his NHL pension statement recently, he noticed it said that he was in the league for 350 games. Yet, he only played in 120 matches.

"I was obviously a healthy scratch a few times," he said.

Eakins had an extensive trip through hockey's minor league system, but was always just one step below the NHL when he wasn't in it. Most in Toronto recall him for a half-year stint with St. John's and the Maple Leafs in 1998-99, and Canuck fans will know the name as he played the 'grandfather' role as the captain of the Manitoba Moose this season.

Good on him to make the jump to coaching so seamlessly. They often say it's the pluggers who turn out to be this game's best coaches.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Enforcers need not apply in new NHL?

So says ESPN's Scott Burnside.

Reading the intro to the piece, I'm thinking Los Angeles super pest Sean Avery best keep his head up when his team plays the Oilers this season:

"I think now if you can't skate, you can't play. That's what it comes down to," Avery said after an informal workout with some of his Los Angeles Kings teammates and other players on the West Coast.

"Do you need a Georges Laraque on your team? I don't think so," said the lean, 5-foot-10, 185-pound Avery, who topped all NHLers in 2003-04 with 261 penalty minutes. "You're going to have to have guys who can do something other than get on the ice for five or six minutes a night and bear hug guys."
Avery's wellknown for his mouth more so than his hockey skills: His infamous 'We were brainwashed' quips during the lockout did little to endear him to many of his pro-NHLPA brethren.

The funny thing is, depending on your definition of 'hockey prowess,' Laraque, while not fleet of foot, may be a more valuable commodity. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Montreal native was a 2nd round pick, 31st-overall in 1995, and had 44 points in 41 games his final season of junior hockey. While his best season in the NHL was in 2000-01 when he had 13 goals and 29 points, he's had success putting up points during stints in the AHL.

In short, there's little suggest he's not an NHL player, regardless of what rules the league uses. (Besides, Laraque has had more offensive success in pro hockey than Avery anyway).

Will a more wide-open, faster flowing game benefit a pipsqueak like Avery over Laraque? Probably. Then again, like Cousin BJ, I'm skeptical the rule changes are going to vastly remake the game. Big bodies will remain a hot commodity — why, just ask Bob Clarke.

As I said yesterday, equal parts grace and power. And if you're looking for the power side of things, Laraque just may be one of the league's most exciting players in that regard.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hockey Enforcers spill blood in PG

I’ve stopped in the city of Prince George enough times to know it’s not all that much different from my hometown. And while people in Kamloops might scoff at that, the idea that their northern neighbours share something in common with them, it’s true, at least in the eyes of this Eastern convert.

In PG, as it’s known back home, the guy next to you at the pub probably has a little dirt on his jeans, on his hands. The mechanical bull in the corner never seems to mind.

Home to 75,000, people for the most part make their living in B.C.’s forestry industry, working at one of the city’s 12 sawmills or three pulp mills. Blue collar — it’s not an insult. It’s a badge of honour.

That’s part of the reason the nonsensically titled ‘Battle of Hockey Enforcers’ was able to find a home in PG. While at first some fuss was made about cancelling the event by city council, in the end, residents of PG shrugged their shoulders and gave organizer Darryl Wolski’s event a venue. ‘Really, how is this any different than a Nickelback concert when it comes to good taste?’ the city seemed to say. ‘If the big-city crowd is going to mock us as being redneck anyway, why not fill our hotels for the night?’

Now, I’ve been to a few of said concerts, and, while you can question the quality of the music, it’s really all in good fun.

Last night in PG, 16 hockey thugs, talented at the game to varying degrees, met to trade punches in front of about 2,000 fans. Those in the stands, not surprisingly, got involved in a little tomfoolery of their own, as police and arena security had to break up at least a half dozen fights (that was the number announced in media reports, although I suspect it was much higher). From watching television reports, it’s clear a number of ‘rowdy’ young men were arrested.

When the on-ice action is only fisticuffs, it seems, the game’s fans don’t have to wait to leave the rink to emulate the goings on. Should future ‘Battles’ be held, my guess is that much of the turnout will be those looking for punch-ups of their own. No different than a Saturday night at the bar for the boys from PG.

Greg Joyce from CP brings us the straight-and-narrow write-through for the event (and later on files a much more interesting recount).

The winner of the event’s $62,000 grand prize? Dean Mayrand, who plays hockey with a stick and puck in the semi-pro senior Quebec league, where he is apparently also more renowned for his fighting abilities than anything else. In six hockey seasons in various low-level leagues, Mayrand has had a total of 12 points in 247 games (he’s a forward). Oh, and 1541 PIMs.

For our part here in Toronto, The Globe and Mail sent veteran reporter Jane Armstrong to PG for the festivities. She offers an entertaining preview of the event in Saturday’s paper, and for Monday has already penned a recount of the night’s shenanigans.

From the preview:

"People don't want to admit it, but hockey is fighting," said Gary Russell, station manager at a Prince George radio station that is sponsoring the event. "What does it say about us? Are we morons? No, we just want to be entertained."
Sports writers have been quick to jump all over the event, calling it everything from barbaric to ridiculous. Others have flat out ignored its existence (a silly thing given how much interest Hockey Gladiators has generated).

Me? I think it reflects the country quite well. Hockey is our game, to be sure, and it's a game of equal parts grace and power. I'm sure I won't have to explain which was on display last night in B.C.

The cries of barbarism from the ‘more-cultured’ citizens of Vancouver or Toronto aren't representative of the salt-of-the-earth nature of Canadians. Because, there I was on Saturday night in T.O., and all my merry crew of 20-something males wanted to do was watch the fights.

If that’s wrong, then so are the rough-and-tumble environs in which I grew up.

After all, everyone loves a good fight.
Some fans said event was a perfect fit for the hockey-mad northern B.C. town, where street brawls are commonplace on a Saturday night, "As soon as there's blood, this crowd will go nuts," said Taki Papadopoulous, 21, a student at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Besides, he added, there's not much else to do on a Saturday night in Prince George.
What’s that you say about Saturday night Nickelback?

UPDATE Perhaps I spoke a day too soon about the lack of media coverage, as the Toronto Star put a story by their Western Bureau reporter, Daniel Girard, on the paper's front page today. The Star's Chris Zelkovich also weighs in on the quality of the PPV broadcast.

UPDATE2 National Post reporter Brian Hutchinson has the most entertaining description of the event here.

Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans

Eric at Offwing and John at Boltsmag both commented on Hurricane Katrina, and since I'm laying out the storm page here at work, I thought it was at least worth a post. The Globe's Alan Freeman is in Baton Rouge — as close as you can get without a dingy, I hear — reporting on the chaos in the area. I won't comment specifically on how it looks, but the package for tomorrow's paper is impressive.

Best of luck to those poor souls who are stuck camping out in the Louisiana Superdome the next few days.

Battle of the Hockey Enforcers

With this event taking place last night — I didn't get a chance to watch it — and little else to tickle my interest today, I'm going to put together a whack of commentary on the event for later tonight.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Mike Keenan strikes again

Steve Ovadia picked up on a Miami Herald story yesterday about 'Mad' Mike Keenan, and what Herald beat writer Dave Neal calls the 'Keenanization' of the Panthers (sounds painful).

Having been a Canuck fan through Keenan's tenure with the club, I can attest that it often is painful. Note Neal's description of the process:

Keenan usually likes to bring in ''his guys,'' with whom he has won before. The problem is there aren't many of those left. Keenan really hasn't ''won'' anything since before the previous NHL lockout. Most ''Keenan guys'' long ago traded stick and skate for knife and fork. Nieuwendyk, Gelinas and Roberts are as close as he could get without going to Mark Messier.
As Cousin BJ notes, getting 'Keenan guys' often means tracking down Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau.

Panthers fans should be more than a little perturbed that this round of Keenanization could very well cost them the longterm services of standout netminder Roberto Luongo. The club's latest contract negotiations have gone anything but well, and ultimately ended with the Panthers getting a favorable $3.2-million contract through arbitration — a process that taxes relations with players at the best of times.

With Luongo rejecting a $25-million, five-year deal, it's clear the league's top young goalie isn't ready to hitch himself to the struggling club longterm.

For Luongo, this isn't just about the money. The Panthers have missed the playoffs four consecutive years and have had multiple coaches in three of those seasons (save for 2002-03, when Keenan lasted an entire season). Much of the reason Luongo didn't get the coin he deserves from an arbitrator is how terrible the club in front of him has been. More than any other single player, the goaltender's numbers are most adversely affected by the line-up he plays behind.

As a comparison, look at the numbers Luongo's backups have posted behind one of the NHL's most porous defences... in 2003-04, Steve Shields had a 3.44 GAA and an 87.9% save percentage. That Luongo could then have a 2.43 GAA and 93.1% save percentage tells the tale on its own how vastly superior he is (which, in comparison to Mr. Shields, may not be saying much).

The fact is, with an average goaltender in net, Florida is one of the worst teams in the league. With Luongo, they are at least competitive.

Luongo is 26 years old, and 2005-06 will be his sixth NHL season. I certainly can't blame the guy if he wants to play in the postseason and be paid like the top-flight netminder that he is. I also won't hold it against him if he wants no part in the latest Keenanization project.

Who would?


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Devilish defence in the swamp

"Lou Lamoriello is one of the most highly regarded GMs in the game, but even he couldn't keep Scott Niedermayer from bolting to Anaheim, leaving a large gap in his defence corps that neither oft-injured Vladimir Malakhov nor Flyers castoff Dan McGillis will fill. Goaltender Martin Brodeur makes up for a lot of mistakes, but... the Devils, under new-old coach Larry Robinson, could find themselves slipping from their perennial perch among the league's leaders."
— Eric Duhatschek, The Globe and Mail (Saturday, August 20)

"In the East, I'm not scared of New Jersey at all. They've got holes up front and on defence."
— A loyal reader.

When I say 'a lot' has been made of Scott Niedermayer leaving the New Jersey Devils, I mean that in the most understated way possible. Despite the moves Lamoriello has made to make up for the loss of the 2004 Norris Trophy winner, every pundit from Toronto, Philadelphia and beyond are declaring the Devils reign over.

I'm not going to quibble with the fact that the loss of Patrick Elias leaves a hole up front, but on defence, this club is as well-prepared as in previous years. And if it's one thing the Devils have been known for in the last decade, it's their defence.

New Jersey's big six.

Brian Rafalski - Vladimir Malakhov
Richard Matvichuk - Paul Martin
Colin White - Dan McGillis

You can't tell me that's not a solid starting six. Lamoriello spent big to bring in all three of Malakhov, Matvichuk and McGillis, and to varying degrees he's going to get his money's worth. Add these three veterans to a cast of already promising blueliners (not including 24-year-old David Hale), and I'll take these pairings over almost every other NHL teams'.

Brian Rafalski: At 5-foot-10, no one is going to be overwhelmed by Rafalski's 'power' game, but he has all the tools to be an excellent powerplay weapon. Even with Scott Niedermayer hogging the point man role, Rafalski has averaged 44 points a season the past four years. Expect him to pick up Niedermayer's slack this season.

Vladimir Malakhov: The much-maligned behemoth impressed more than a few people last season with his performance in the 2004 playoffs. Malakhov logged big minutes for the Flyers, including three 30+-minute games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Finals (a series in which he had four points and was +4 in a losing seven-game cause) and didn't look out of place as one of the top defencemen on one of the top teams. This despite playing only six regular season games with Philadelphia. (All of which wasn't lost on Lamoriello, whose club lost in five games in the first round to Malakhov's Flyers.)

Richard Matvichuk: As he's been a Dallas Star since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 1993, you may think Matvichuk is older than his 32 years. After a poor 2002-03 season, Matvichuk regained his hard-hitting form last season. With longtime Devils captain Scott Stevens likely hanging them up, expect Matvichuk to assume a leadership role as the No. 3 or 4 defenceman.

Paul Martin: The Devils would have been in more trouble than they were in 2004 when Stevens went down had they not been able to rely on this then-22-year-old rookie. Martin filled in more than adequately, eventually assuming 20+ minutes a night and picking up spot duty on the powerplay (he finished with 10 PPP). One of the best rookie defenders in 2004, Martin played more minutes per game than any other new blueliner aside from the Predators Dan Hamhuis.

Colin White: Name an NHL GM who wouldn't like to have Colin White on their team's third pairing.

Too slow. The 6-foot-4, 220 pound White has established himself as one of the meanest big men on the backend to play against, and he'll bring his fiery brand of hockey in spades this season.

Dan McGillis: Another fellow who has taken his fair share of drubbings recently, McGillis has bounced around from club to club and is perhaps overpaid at $2.2-million. In a limited role, however, he'll deliver a solid two-way performance. Don't expect his 49-point performance of 2000-01 but also don't write him off as a pylon. This big man can play.

Icetime in 2003-04:
Rafalski 22:45
Martin 20:07
McGillis 19:42
Malakhov 19:56
White 21:01
Matvichuk 21:50

Stick Martin Brodeur in front of these six and it's going to be awfully tough to squeeze pucks past him, smaller pads or not. Despite what you've heard, expect the Devils to remain in the NHL's 100-point club.

Think you know a club better set on the blueline? I'd love to hear your argument in the comments.

Rankings from Duha

For last Saturday's paper, venerable Globe and Mail columnist Eric Duhatschek, known for simplicity's sake as Duha in the newsroom, ranked all 30 NHL teams based on how they fared in the league's free agency scramble the past few weeks.

While I don't agree with much of what he wrote — the Oilers at No. 2? — the piece is well worth a read. I would have loved to see Eric go more out on a limb with some of his forecasts for the revamped squads, although that's a minor quibble. In my mind, seeing a full-colour sports centrespread on hockey in August is never a bad thing.

Now if they could just give me an assignment like this...

Carnival Roundup

Well, thank you to the blogosphere for the warm words my NHL Carnival received and for all of the many visitors who have stopped by recently. It's unfortunate I had to squeeze it into an extremely busy week, but I think my late-night ramblings at least provided some entertainment for the masses. I'd love to have another go at this once the season gets underway.

As a summary, here is a recount of the six carnivals we've seen to date:

#1: Eric McErlain, June 3, 2005.
#2. Eric McErlain, June 24, 2005.
#3. Puck Update, July 29, 2005.
#4. On the Wings, August 5, 2005.
#5. Sharkspage, August 12, 2005.
#6. James Mirtle, August 22, 2005.

I'll do my best to keep this list updated, so refer back for all the carnie goodness. New York's own Phil Pilmar is doing the honours for No. 7, set to kick off my favourite month on September 1.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Senators trade Marian Hossa for Dany Heatley

UPDATE My apologies... the defenceman included in the deal is Greg Devries and not Chris Phillips as I was informed earlier. That certainly swings things in favour of the Senators on this one, as Devries was overpaid at $2.28-million.

Wow. With hockey news at its lowest point it has been since the free agent frenzy began, hockey pundits didn't see this coming.

Hours after signing high-scoring winger Marian Hossa to an $18-million/3-year deal, the Ottawa Senators turned around and shipped Hossa to the Atlanta Thrashers for young phenom Dany Heatley.

Once again, wow.

Hossa must have really burned his bridges with the Senators during his salary negotiations in order for Sens GM John Muckler to deal him. While Hossa did have 36 goals and 82 points last year, his comparisons to Jarome Iginla weren't exactly endearing him to hockey fans.

That said, I'm sure 28 other GMs would be interested in Heatley's services.

A reader's email yesterday asked me about Thrashers GM Don Waddell not having signed Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley, and I had planned on talking about that today. Waddell's plan to sign the pair to deals similar to Marian Gaborik was thrown out the window when Rick Nash signed his beefy deal, forcing the general manager to seek out other options.

Trading Heatley should not have been one of them.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Carnival of the NHL #6

Well, it’s 12:30 a.m. Monday morning, and I’m fresh off a shift on the news desk. If that’s not time for the sixth Carnival of the NHL, I haven’t the foggiest what is.

Feel free to indulge in some carnie music to put you in the mood while you read.

And, let us begin…

Spector, AKA Lyle Richardson, that wily veteran from P.E.I., serves as our bearded lady as our star attraction. Lyle talks about how the league’s lowered unrestricted free agency age has some GMs in a giant pickle (not literally):

But under the new CBA, teams now face the prospect of losing players after only seven years of service. That's going to be of particular concern for teams whose best players have been active with them since they were under the age of twenty. Three notable examples include the Atlanta Thrashers (Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk), Minnesota Wild (Marian Gaborik) and Columbus Blue Jackets (Rick Nash).
Now if only we can do something about the beard, he can be assimilated back into society. Ah, yes, right... hockey.

Another new and talented blogger (there seem to be a lot of them scampering around with hockey set to return), Tom at Sabre Rattling takes a shot at the Etroit Re Wings… who are suddenly D-less with their pickup of Andy Delmore. (I’m not sure if I should laugh or punch the poor guy for that one. How many D’s did James Patrick formerly have in his name anyway?) Check out another of Tom’s posts here.

Canuckite Jez Golbez has been post-for-post one of the best hockey bloggers since the silly free agent season began, and he jumps into the carnie fray here with predictions for next season.

Now, this man knows his hockey, so I won’t question what he says. That said, the Islanders making the playoffs, Jes?! Let’s recall, the last man who endorsed Mike Milbury’s ravings was beaten with his own shoe. In the 1970s.

Wouldn’t that make a fitting carnival entry.

In any event, I’ll let the Leafs fans chew up and spit out Mr. Golbez for predicting them out of the postseason. Be thankful you’re 4,000 kilometres away from “God’s Country” my friend.

If I am your ringmaster, Matt Saler of On the Wings can be our guy-who-flies-out-of-a-cannon guy. He helps us start off with a lament on how his Detroit Red Wings look in the salary-cap era:

This shouldn't make Wings fans feel very positive about the coming year, that's for sure, but it does give us something to look forward to in a year's time. I already have doubts about the team's ability to even make the playoffs, let alone play through them, after seeing the moves other teams, both in our division and throughout the conference, have made.

Ho ho, only in Hockeytown. I, for one, think Detroit will be one of the few big powers to retain their lofty position. Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Lang, Shanahan, Schneider, Draper… boo hoo. All they need is Dennis Vial, and they’ll be the 14-win 1993-94 Ottawa Senators.

Not to say
Detroit fans are spoiled.


Boltsmag’s John Fontana requests that, for the carnival (I think?), he be able to play the calliope, and, considering I have no idea what the hell that is, sure, why not. Fontana drops a three ring circus of sorts on the carnies, with three posts, each more detailed than the last.

His last post is aimed at lovable blogging curmudgeon Tom Benjamin, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the words of one of Fontana’s comment monkeys:

Get me a one way ticket off of Tom Benjamin Fantasy Island!!

Make that two.

Steve Ovadia from Puckupdate brings a refrain about the New Jersey Devils I’ve been hearing a lot lately.

How crazy is it that the fiscally conservative Devils are way over the cap already? What does that say about the new NHL system? This isn't the Rangers or the Red Wings going over. This is the freaking Devils.

Hey, I know why Lamoriello is over the salary cap. Have a read of the Hepatitis Blog… and, no I’m not making it up. If your superstar was on his deathbed, you’d be spending his salary — which won't count against the cap until he plays — on a replacement too.

Moving on... What would a carnival be without a detour into oddball territory? In carnie terms, Sidearm Delivery delivers the freakshow as he opines on the Rangers’ signing of Tom Poti:

When the Massachusetts-born Poti … entered the league with the Edmonton Oilers, Bobby Orr (his agent at the time) claimed that Poti would eventually become a Norris Trophy winner. Not unless it's the John Norris Trophy, for being as useless as a turd in a punch bowl.

Hay, Sidearm Dave, it’s OK — we’re not above potty (or is that Poti?) humour around here. Pot, Poti, turds… it’s all gold. (For the record, however, there hasn’t been a hockey player named John Norris. Just so you know Dave.)

’s Chris McMurtry gets jiggy with his line-up for Team Canada, the 2006 gold medalists in Turin, Italy. Now, I know it’s six months from February, but with behemoth Todd Bertuzzi in the mix, Canada’s already got it in the bag. (Neck-breaking is, after all, only a two-minute minor penalty in international play.)

Habsblog.com brings us something we haven’t seen yet — an actual free agent rumour! This one has Teemu Selanne, the Finnish Flash, joining Les Habitants.

I’ve got a riddle for my readers: How do you know when the NHL’s free agency barrage is over?

Right around when the big news is Peter Bondra maybe, sorta, almost, kinda signing with
Atlanta. Stick a fork in it people… what we’ve got right now for rosters is pretty much how it’ll end up (sorry Sabres fans).

A few weeks ago, Matt Fenwick, the man behind Jerry Aldini who hails from Lethbridge, Alta. — ever so close to my homeland — did some number crunching and makes a prediction that the NHL will have 20 teams in the playoffs come 2006-07.

Let’s hope not.

Ben Wright, from a redesigned and ever-so-pretty The Net Files, talks about shootouts, which everyone seems to have forgotten during the free agency debauchery lately.

Kukla’s Korner has been going berserk lately, linking to inanimate objects, UFOs and people’s house pets, in ways I didn’t know was possible. (I don’t know what it means either.) But here, he talks about his sweet, sweet love for hockey. Amen KK!

Phil Pilmar is keeping it real in NYC by opining on the off-season coming to a close.

Up next, he’s a new blogger, but he’s been busy. J.J. at Canucks Hockey Blog is wondering where his club is going to find its veteran presence now that players like Bray May have moved on.

The big news this week was OLN nabbing the NHL’s national TV contract, and In The Crease weighs in here. As a Sabres fan, ITC’s Lindsey doesn’t have a ton to get excited about, but at least she’s still got Jochen Hecht. Oh, Jochen… my sweet love.


Oddly enough, Captain E Macaroni, king of all that is blogging and lord of hockey nerdom, sat this round out, and for that, we shall link to him. And worship his strange, indescribable silence. (I hope he’s OK… he normally lives for these things.)

Alright, this post is already horribly and incorrigibly long and for that, I do not apologize. Now, onto the predictions…

I think perhaps old man Benji (who shunned this week’s carnival
) scared off more than a few bloggers from my prediction game. For those few who partook in the carnie event, I thank you for indulging me. Here are the pundits’ predictions:


Canucks Hockey: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Boston, 3. Vancouver
Jerry Aldini: 1. Calgary, 2. Ottawa, 3. San Jose
Spector: 1. San Jose, 2. Calgary, 3. Montreal
Sabre Rattling: 1. San Jose, 2. Philly, 3. Atlanta
James Mirtle: 1. Detroit, 2. Ottawa, 3. New Jersey
Jez Golbez: 1. Calgary, 2. Boston, 3. Tampa Bay
Sharkspage: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Calgary, 3. San Jose
The Ice Block: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Calgary, 3. Florida
Man Bites Dog: 1. Calgary, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Ottawa
Colby Cosh: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Calgary, 3. Vancouver

These are the only folks in the running for whatever lame thing I buy at the G&M gift shop. For the next carnival hoster, I recommend not straying from the formula.

Two fellows posted predictions for the entire league divided by conference, and their efforts are entered here: Jez Golbez and The Net Files

1,400 words later, I know only this: Carnies make me tired.

The End.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Come along my carnies!

Just a reminder, submissions for the carnival are due tonight (Sunday) by 10 p.m. EST. Email me your links here, and check back tomorrow morning for the result of my labours.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

OLN TV deal won't mean
more hockey for Canadians

Eric McErlain at Offwing has some musings on the NHL's new TV deal with the Outdoor Life Network, but I thought I'd let it be known the deal will only affect American hockey fans.

As per the Toronto Sun a few days ago, Canadians who get the OLN won't benefit from the league's new deal:
If the NHL does indeed sign on with Comcast for its new cable deal south of the border -- reportedly worth at least $100 million US over two years — don't count on it meaning more hockey for Canadian viewers. Comcast would put two games a week on its Outdoor Life Network, but that's not the same OLN we see up here. The Canadian OLN, primarily owned by CTV, isn't licensed to carry any NHL hockey its U.S.-based namesake might wind up showing as part of a new contract.
It's a shame, as I'm always for more hockey on Canadian cable TV (especially weekday games between rarely seen, obscure American teams). Looks like I'm going to have to get back on the NHL Expressvu bandwagon lest I miss my coveted Monday night Carolina vs. Anaheim matches.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Details for Carnival of the NHL #6

Get ready my carnies!

My apologies for keeping everyone in the dark on this to this point.

The sixth edition of the NHL Carnival will be published right here in the wee hours of Monday, August 22. My apologies for bucking the trend of a Thursday carnival, but I'm going to need a weekend to set aside a couple of hours to make this thing work.

I'm going to ask for two things from those submitting.

1) The usual submission of a post (or posts) you'd like highlighted from your site. Let me make this clear, that this is open to absolutely everyone in the blog community who has a hockey-related post. Have something to say? Let's hear it. This portion of the Carnival will be due in an email to me, mirtle - at - gmail.com, by 10 p.m. EST Sunday evening. Whoever's submission I like the best will get top billing, so let's see something really wild. For those who haven't seen a carnival to date, have a look at what PJ Swenson put together at Sharkspage.com last week.

2) In order to appease Tom Benjamin, who's life revolves around this sort of thing, I'd like to get a small prediction from everyone in the hockey blogosphere. Due to that same email address, submit who you believe will be the top three finishing teams at the end of the NHL's regular season, in order. I'll tabulate everyone's guesses and whoever comes the closest when it's all said and done in April will win some sort of Globe and Mail prize. Submissions for predictions should come in by 1 p.m. EST on Saturday afternoon.

These carnivals keep getting bigger and better as we go along, so I'm going to do my best to keep with that trend.

The Top 10 goals of 2003-04

Phil Pilmar posted a link to an NHL.com video of the Top 10 goals from 2003-04, and it's certainly worth a watch. Here's a list of the goal scorers (there are a few guys you wouldn't expect):

#10. Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta
#9. Mark Mowers, Detroit
#8. Manny Malholtra, Columbus
#7. Jason Blake, NY Islanders
#6. Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo
#5. Tyson Nash, Phoenix
#4. Kevyn Adams, Carolina
#3. Peter Schaefer, Ottawa (the video spells his name wrong)
#2. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay
#1. Pavol Datsyuk, Detroit
  • Have a look on the No. 8 goal as the referee calls a penalty on Blues defender Jame Pollock when Malholtra dives for his own rebound. A textbook case of bad officiating.

  • Penguins rookie Ryan Malone makes the honourable mentions reel a couple of times with some amazing moves. Just imagine how well he'll develop now that he'll be on the team's third line.

Anson Carter joins the Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver entered the free agent market in earnest yesterday when, just before midnight EST, they signed right winger Anson Carter.

I know that at this point this isn't saying much, but Carter is one of the best free agents remaining in the dwindling pool, and if Vancouver has had one consistent need the past half dozen years, it has been for a scoring, second-line right winger.

I had thought Canucks GM Dave Nonis would be sitting on his hands for the most part this summer, so it's interesting that he's made this move. By all accounts, Carter had an awful 2003-04 season, scoring just 28 points in 77 games for three different (and equally awful) teams.

That said, he has in the past been a consistent 20+ goal scorer and for the $1-million he signed for, there were few other options. It goes without saying that Carter will line-up beside the Sedin twins to start the season, and whether or not he is successful playing with the pair will likely determine how successful he is in Vancouver.

The Canucks forward lines, as of this signing:


Markus Naslund
Daniel Sedin
Matt Cooke (RFA)
Tyler Bouck

Wade Brookbank

Brendan Morrison
Henrik Sedin
Ryan Kesler
Jarkko Ruutu


Todd Bertuzzi
Anson Carter
Trevor Linden
Richard Park

Jason King

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Alex Mogilny rejoins Devils

Sportsnet is reporting that Alexander 'The Great' Mogilny has signed a two-year contract with the New Jersey Devils.

While Devils GM Lou Lamoriello may have overpaid at $3.5-million per season for the 36-year-old — after all, it had been speculated Mogilny's recent hip injury would force his retirement — New Jersey is in tough to replace the scoring of Patrick Elias.

Elias, who was resigned by the Devils, had a serious run in with Hepatitis A in March while playing in Russia. The all-star winger lost some 30 pounds, and reports claimed the disease was so serious it could have killed him. Elias will not start the season with New Jersey and may not be able to suit up at all this year.

Even with Elias, the Devils are looking mighty thin up front. Aside from Elias and Gomez, the next highest-scoring player from 2003-04 left on the club is Jeff Friesen, who had 37 points.

Should Mogilny manage to stay relatively injury-free for the 2005-06 campaign, it's not unforseeable that he could repeat the success he had in the swamp in 2000-01.

Cujo looks to join Gretzky's Desert Dogs

Today's Toronto Sun reports that the Phoenix Coyotes have made an offer to Curtis Joseph, the best goaltender available on the free agent market.

Despite the debacle that his stint with the Red Wings proved to be and his advancing age (he turned 38 in April), Joseph is still an elite NHL goaltender, something he showed in the Wings second-round playoff series with the Calgary Flames in 2003-04. In nine postseason games, Joseph posted the best goals-against average (1.39) and save percentage (.939, tied with Tomas Vokoun) of any twineminder. I felt sorry for Cujo in the Flames series, as he did everything but score a goal for a Detroit team that seemed hellbent on losing.

As for the Coyotes, well, they were third last in the West, and fifth last in the NHL, the last time hockey was played. Should they add Joseph in net, however, this is beginning to look like the makings of an improved club. The Western Conference will be wide open, and, in terms of roster holes, getting Cujo would address the main one.

A line-up up front consisting of veterans Shane Doan, Petr Nedved, Ladislav Nagy, Brett Hull and Mike Ricci should provide more than enough depth and scoring punch, and the team's young defence looks as though it could finally turn a corner. Blueliners Derek Morris, Cale Hulse and Paul Mara are all coming off strong seasons, and veteran Sean O'Donnell, a free agent pickup, could be the steadying influence they were missing last season.

To me, that line-up, while not scary, is one of a playoff team. Brian Boucher as the team's starting goaltender, however, was the main question mark, one that the team is set on addressing.

Many are regarding Phoenix as a lost cause that Gretzky is taking the helm of, but I find it hard to believe The Great One will not do everything in his power to begin the season with the best club possible. Consider getting Cujo Step 1.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

The reborn Penguins

Pittsburgh GM Craig Patrick is apparently still unfinished with the radical revamping of his club, as today he signed UFA John Leclair, a former member of the state rival Philadelphia Flyers vaunted Legion of Doom line.

The last time the Penguins played hockey, 17 months ago in April of 2004, their forward lines looked like this (from April 1, courtesy of McKeen's Hockey):


Kelly Buchberger
Ryan Malone
Jon Sim
Konstantin Koltsov

Rico Fata
Lasse Pirjeta
Milan Kraft
Mike Eastwood

Mario Lemieux


Tom Kostopoulos
Matt Bradley
Aleksey Morozov
Ryan Vandenbussche

Now, as of the Leclair signing, I'm sure fans in Steeltown are salivating over the line-up their club has:


Mario Lemieux
John Leclair
Ryan Malone
Konstantin Koltsov

Sidney Crosby
Lasse Pirjeta
Kris Beech
Rico Fata


Mark Recchi
Zigmund Palffy
Tomas Surovy
Andre Roy

Ryan Vandenbussche

Let's just say Dick Tarnstrom won't lead the team in scoring again.


Looking for the next nipple-gate

Women's tennis is coming to Toronto this week in the form of the Rogers Cup, and the Toronto Star took the opportunity to unveil this 'scandalous' news (with photos!). It seems the prudish side of Canadians has awoken.

On second glance, however, according to readers' responses, no one was offended by the 'offending' photo of Maria Sharapova. Perhaps this is merely a case of a slow news day in these parts.

Or, as Star reader Denis O'Sullivan from Mississauga put it: "No, I really had to look twice to see the 'problem'. It seems like a case of a tempest in a B cup."

It's hard to resist a one liner that good.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

An updated, complete
unrestricted free agency listing

Here's an updated UFA listing graphic. I've tried to roughly sort the players in terms of value and, as you can see, almost all of the high end talent has been snapped up already. Players with a team in brackets will almost certainly sign with that team and players with -- will likely retire.

I may try and add more information to this over the next couple of days (if you notice any mistakes or omissions, let me know).

Flames sign Roman Hamrlik

I think I was like most observers when, after Calgary GM Darryl Sutter signed free agents Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty, I assumed those would be the final pieces added to a club that came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup in 2004. With the already-impressive arsenal assembled, I (and others) reasoned, surely Sutter must be finished.

As we have learned (officially) today, the venerable GM wasn't at all. Not content with a defence core that is built around young talents like Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr, Sutter signed offensive-blueliner Roman Hamrlik to a two-year, $7-million deal.

While it may come as a surprise, I like the move.

Looking at the Flames defensive depth chart, as one commenter has at Boltsmag, even sans Hamrlik it looks fairly impressive:

Regehr - Leopold
Warrener - Lydman
Ference - Phaneuf

Sutter had already shuttled the burly Mike Commodore to the Hurricanes for a draft pick, presumably to make room for 20-year-old Dion Phaneuf, the Flames first-round pick in 2003. With his top six comprised of five proven NHL defencemen, one outstanding rookie and a solid depth defenceman in Steve Montador, there were a number of reasons Sutter made the move for Hamrlik.
  1. Chiefly, the move addresses a lack of a stalwart offensive force from the back end. The Flames highest-scoring defenceman last season was Leopold, who had nine goals and 33 points. Not exactly championship-calibre numbers from your defence. Despite his poor season last year, Hamrlik is a proven commodity on offence and has even had a 65-point season in the NHL, albeit nine years ago.

    I'm sure it will shock no one that his primary role will be to man the point on the powerplay, filling a void left when Derek Morris skipped town in 2002. Calgary missed Morris's huge shot with the extra man, but there's a reason 'The Hammer' has his nickname (aside from the remarkable similarity of his name to said implement, Hamrlik packs a rocket).

    As good as the Flames were in 2003-04, their powerplay was 21st in the league, and Leopold's inability to step in as a No. 1 pointman was a big reason why. It also certainly didn't help that he had little assistance in this regard.

  2. It's also no secret that Sutter has never been a huge fan of Toni Lydman, a Finnish defender who lacks much of the umph! the callous coach and GM expects of his player. Hamrlik's arrival could very well signal the departure of the 27-year-old Lydman, who, for an offensive defenseman, has never had more than 28 points in the NHL.

  3. While this may be true of every NHL team's GM, Sutter is out to build a championship team. Despite the fact his club almost went the distance the last time around, unlike some managers, he's not resting on his laurels. My guess is being a Stanley Cup bridesmaid has only made him want his first Cup even more.

  4. Last but not least: Hamrlik was the best UFA defenceman left on the market.
Calgary was already poised to have a stronger club than the one that went to the finals in 2004 and adding Hamrlik makes them all the more potent. It'll be an exciting year in Cowtown, to be sure.


Is there an opening for a "least prolific"?

PJ over at Sharkspage is the host of this week's Carnival of the NHL, and my does it ever look like a lot of fun/work. Nice job there.

I get a mention in the festivities (but not a link!), but it's unfortunately not for any brilliant contribution I've made this week.
The prolific Golbez also rants about the Senators, the St Louis Blues, and Chicago Blackhawks. Sorry James Mirtle, he has stolen your "most prolific" title.
Ah! Hmmm... I suppose it is unfair to continue trumpeting the words Mr. Swenson spoke of me in December, back in the good old days, when blogging happened frequently and fervently. I must concur -- Mr. Golbez does deserve said title.

Me? I've had a disastrous move, one day off in two weeks and, well, this career business has me beat. I'll have to consort with the venerable (and prolific) Eric McErlain, but it's my belief that the next NHL carnival will be mine for the hosting.

In addition to pooling together posts, I'm going to ask bloggers -- and, I hope, some mainstream media -- for a prediction for the upcoming season (even from you Tom Benjamin, o' unbeliever). I think the results will be interesting, but, then again, I've been wrong in the past.

I know the timing generally calls for people to submit things by Thursday evening, but I may aim for a Sunday submission date, accumulate things over the weekend and unleash a furious and unmitigated Carnival on Monday morning unlike any ye blog world has seen.

Yes, it will be grand.

It should also be the perfect way to jump the site out of the doldrums. Well, that and another fight with Tom.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

NHL Roundtable for Thursday, August 11th

It’s time for Round 2 of the Roundtable, and this time I’m headed to the West Coast to visit the elder statesman of the Mirtle clan, Cousin BJ. Let’s get it on.

Today's topics:

  1. The Sedin twins sign twin qualifying offers.
  2. Revenge of the idiot GMs.
  3. Leafs fans compare getting Eric Lindros to the Flyers pickup of Peter Forsberg (no, seriously).
  4. The Penguins keep reeling them in by adding Joycelyn Thibault.
  5. And finally, we draw the ire of Penguins fans by asking: Does Pittsburgh even deserve this renaissance?

JM: Any idea what the Sedin twins signed for? I see TSN has that they’ve signed, so we can now discuss our diverging viewpoints of their talents.

BJ: Just got word that they are going to make $1.2 million a season each. One-year deals. I can live with that; they are worth that kind of basement price. I think the problem is that they were overhyped from the start and will never live up to what they were tagged as being. They are what they are — which is average NHLers.

JM: I think if you want an average NHLer, look at a guy like Richard Park. The Sedins, and especially Daniel last season with 54 points, are not average. He was tied for 54th in NHL scoring, which for the team's fourth-highest point producer, is pretty damn good. That's not average.

BJ: Meh, 18 goals (four of them in one game), from a guy who had 20 in his rookie season isn't a significant improvement. They have good qualities, and at times can smother the opposing team, but they lack any dazzling finish. All I'm saying is that they need to raise their game another notch to impress me.

JM: You know what, I think it's coming. They're still only 24 years old and will never be excellent, top-line talents. That said, there are a lot of NHL rosters in 'the new NHL' that won't have two players of their offensive potential on their second lines.

BJ: I hope you're right. They don't need to be top-line players, and I don't expect 70 points from either of them — ever. Daniel's point total of 54 is respectable, and overall, I don't expect much more (55+ pts is ideal, and historically solid for a second line). But I wish I could see more goals from him (25/season would be great and welcomed on any team). My main complaint is their inconsistent play, but it looks as though Nonis has put some pressure on them to perform. One year deals are probably by design.

JM: Switching gears on you here... how about ESPN’s Scott Burnside on the Chicago Blackhawks: "The fact the Hawks overpaid for all of these players is moot if the offseason moves help draw fans back to the once-fabled franchise."

With a $39-million salary cap, how can any overpayments be moot? A ridiculous statement in my opinion.

BJ: Hah! No shit. Even a seemingly idiot proof system isn't keeping the idiot out of many GM's. This mad dash to sign up UFA's may backfire in some instances, and I don't see player salaries declining like I hoped they would. I was quite surprised
that most of the big names were gone within a week. For example, look at Brian Burke. If my addition is correct, he has $32-million locked up in 12 players. What now, Brian?

JM: Another leap as we wind down here: Leaf Nation over in Toronto is comparing the impending signing of Eric Lindros to the Flyers getting Forsberg. I kid you not, the statements I'm hearing are unbelievable. i.e. "Lindros has averaged two games less a season than Forsberg over his career."

BJ: Seriously? If they sign Lindros, they might as well reserve the concussion wing at the hospital. He has too much baggage, so why go near him? My God Leaf fans ruin hockey for me.

Funny I should say that, [former NHLer and current broadcaster] Ray Ferraro was pushing hard out here to get Nonis to sign Lindros.

JM: Just to quantify the madness, this guy at work is going to bet me that Lindros has a better season than Forsberg.

BJ: Straight points? Good grief. Lindros will be the third line centre behind Allison and Sundin.

JM: I told him I'd bet $50 Forsberg does better... he has since backed off. Pity.

BJ: Lol, no shit.

JM: Well, you never know... maybe Leafs fans may wish to emulate their team by flushing money down the toilet.

BJ: [Switching gears on me, for a change] What a great move for Pittsburgh to get Jocelyn Thibault for a 4th round draft pick. And top that off with the very reasonable salary of $1.5 million/season (two years) that they signed him for. I'm actually disappointed he's not headed West — he's at worst an even trade-off with Cloutier.

JM: You know, I felt the Penguins were already solid in goal, so yea, getting Thibault is a good move. If his injury history is a thing of the past, this move was a steal. In all honesty, Chicago didn't get that much of an improvement in goal by shelling out huge dollars for Khabibulin. Thibault played very well behind a brutal team for a lot of years for the Blackhawks, despite, as I said, his injury problems. It wasn't his fault that the ‘Hawks had zero goaltending depth and were embarrassed with the goalie carosel they had last year.

Anyway, another nice move by Pittsburgh. I guess they figure that with Crosby, they'll sellout every game and have the revenue to move to the top of the cap?

BJ: I hear the demand for tickets in Pittsburgh has taken off, and I'm glad to hear it. I think Lemieux sees the next two seasons will definitely be his last hurrah, and he's taking advantage of the new CBA as best as he can — unless I'm mistaken, if their revenues remain weak, he should benefit from the revenue sharing regardless of payroll. Unfortunately, they still play their games in a big metal boob. Note to Pittsburgh politicians — get a new rink.

JM: Not a fan of the metal boobs, hey? The thing I wonder with Pittsburgh is — say they don't get Mario in 1984, [it’s widely accepted that] that city loses its NHL team. Now in 2005, with the franchise struggling as it has been, they get Crosby. Without him, would the team have left in the next five years? If the answer’s yes, then maybe there simply shouldn’t be a team there. When Carolina, Nashville and the Islanders are creaming you in attendance numbers, that's got to be a possibility.

BJ: At least the Penguins are making an effort to be competitive this year. Attendace overall has been crap and I think there are several cities that should not have had an NHL team in the first place — in fact, I think that 24 teams in total is a much more stable league. 30 teams may be good for the NFL and NBA, but the NHL? I guess that's a topic for another day.

I mentioned Burnside's ESPN rankings of free agent moves earlier in his comment on Chicago, but how about some of his other musings. He picks the Flames, Flyers, Penguins and Oilers as the teams which have made out the best, and I won't argue that Calgary and Pittsburgh have done well. But Edmonton and Philadelphia (aside from the huge coup in getting Forsberg) haven't really wowed me with anything.

Then again, Burnside calls 29-year-old Ty Conklin and 30-year-old Jussi Markkanen "emerging" goaltending talents, so what does he know.

Philly's defence doesn't scare me. It would have five years ago, but not now. Hatcher will turn into a damn expensive boat anchor (I can't believe a five year deal for him) and Therien has been there, done that. I like Rathje — the best of the bunch. As for Forsberg, he's undoubdetly one of the top three players in the league when healthy. There's no question that when he's in the lineup, he'll give you everything he has.

As far as Edmonton goes, I like Pronger and Peca, but they gave up a good deal of young talent in the process, and Pronger's salary eats up a ton of cap room. The Oilers have upgraded somewhat short-term, but depending on the potential gave up, I'm not so sure long-term. They will compete, but they still have several holes.

A big thanks to my big cuz for stepping in and doing this. I’m off to the lake for the weekend, but next week, I’m getting into the bear pit with the carny folk and hosting NHL Carnival #6: Mirtle’s Revenge. Trust me — it’ll be the best sequel yet.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Todd Bertuzzi: The aftermath

If you're tired of reading about Todd Bertuzzi, you can be forgiven. More than enough ink has certainly been spent on the man in the past 24 hours.

17 months is a long time for anyone, and certainly a long time for a hockey player to sit. Especially with something on your mind. Something bad.

When I think of Bertuzzi and 'the incident,' a couple of things come to mind. The blog community has been discussing the merits of his punishment ad nauseam, but for myself, at least in part, the key question is: At what point do you forgive the unforgivable?

In my line of work, and particularly during my nights on the news desk, there are invariably stories where unforgivable actions are met with leniency. Just recently, Karla Homolka received only 12 years in prison for her part in the assault and subsequent killing of three young women. Many rapists in this country receive perplexingly lax sentences. Murderers do, at some point, go free.

This is not to compare what Bertuzzi did to these heinous acts or to flaunt some sort of higher moral authority I deem myself to have. I don't. But, in meting out punishments, it's believed that they'll serve as a deterrent to whoever else finds themselves in a similar situation.

And while you'll hear in the media how the NHL is back to it's old ways, has learned nothing from 'the incident,' and should aspire to 'be more like the other sports,' I don't expect in the wake of the past 17-months that players will view violent on-ice acts the same way. Call me naive.

To those who have coshed Bettman's decision: At some point, Bertuzzi does have to return to the NHL. Whether it is on October 5, or 20 games from then, or two years from then, none of these scenarios will adequately atone for what he did. Bertuzzi can never repair the damage done to Steve Moore or to his own personal reputation.

Putting aside the missed opportunities to play for Team Canada and a lost season of hockey, what he did to Steve Moore will alone damn Bertuzzi for the rest of his days. Think about that. In 2055, should an article be penned about a then 80-year-old Bertuzzi, it'll centre upon 'the incident.' It will, in fact, define the rest of his life.

Todd Bertuzzi reminds me of the tragic protagonist in a classic monster movie. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, his combination of enormous physical size and hockey skills really haven't been seen in hockey. Perhaps with the likes of Eric Lindros, but then again, Bertuzzi is different. It's his demeanor — the nastiness with which he plays the game — that made him a successful NHL superstar for the two seasons he could be branded as such.

Bertuzzi is not a smart man. He has always been a loose cannon on the ice, but, for the most part, it has been the barbaric way in which he plays that game that fans (Canadian ones, at least) have loved.

In absolutely no way or form did he mean to break a man's neck when he 'attacked' Steve Moore. In his mind, Bertuzzi was defending his closest friend, Markus Naslund. He was the monster, who, not knowing his own brutish strength, was destined to play his part in a tragedy.

Be thankful he didn't kill anyone.

You know what, I'm impressed with the way Bertuzzi has handled himself ever since he clobbered Moore. In his simple way, he has shown a maturity not shown in his nine-year NHL career. When it's on display, it has showcased a humble side of Todd, a side he perhaps should have cultivated a little more throughout his life.

Bertuzzi is 30 years old, and, in light of the the past 17 months, he'll return to the game a much different person. Whether or not we'll each individually forgive him, as fans of hockey, is a personal choice. At some point, however, he has to be able to come back, atone for what he's done and make amends the best he can.

He's learned his lesson. Let him play.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

The bargain bin

"If you look over here, you'll find some reaaaal nice deals on NHL hockey players... or what's left of them."

Announcing... Mirtle's super amazing fantastic Team of The Forgotten: The Remaining Free Agents

Starting at forward, we have two thirds of the Legion of Doom, and one half of the Ducks Dynamic Duo. Grafted together, they create the Legion of Gloom...

John Leclair - Eric Lindros - Teemu Selanne
Adam Deadmarsh - Vincent Damphousse - Valeri Bure
Peter Bondra - Yanic Perreault - Anson Carter
Vladimir Orszagh - Andrew Cassells - Jan Hrdina

Chris Gratton

Starting on defence, a former first overall pick in 1992 and a 41-year-old defender coming off a major concussion...

Roman Hamrlik - Scott Stevens
Brad Lukowich - Jiri Slegr
Glen Wesley - Stephane Quintal

Jason Woolley

And, in goal, the dog that nobody wants and Czech no one understands...

Curtis Joseph
Roman Cechmanek

The new NHL: Picking favourites

MSNBC Sports, that great bastion of hockey knowledge and the home to the NHL, has a set of polls on its website that asks who will win each division in the coming season. The sample sizes aren’t huge at the moment — some of the polls have as few as 100 votes — but they do give an idea of who hockey fans think will be the league’s new (or in some cases, old) powers.

Yes, with all of the free agents still on the market it’s early to be forecasting, but waiting for something as conventional as ‘rosters’ isn’t my style.

Who will win the Pacific Division?
Dallas 29% , San Jose 24%, Los Angeles 23%, Phoenix 14%, Anaheim 10%

The votes side with a traditional power in the Stars, who haven’t had any huge subtractions since 2003-04 and have brought Martin Skoula into the fold on defence. Provided that key RFAs such as Arnott, Kapanen and Morrow return, Dallas will be a playoff club once again.

That said, I’d take the youthful Sharks in this division, despite the loss of behemoth Mike Rathje on defence. San Jose has a ton of key RFAs to get under contract, but even then they should still have cap room with which to lift whoever is left from the free agent pool.

Towards the low end, while the Kings did pick up key cogs in Demitra and Roenick, the team stands to lose a ton of players to free agency, including starting netminder Roman Cechmanek. In Phoenix, aside from the additions of Hull, Ricci and Nedved, the team will look remarkably similar to the one that finished 13th in the West in 2003-04. Brian Burke has his work cut out for him in Anaheim, where due to the signing of the Niedermayers, the new GM has just under $7-million to fill eight roster spaces.

Who will win the Central Division?
Detroit 68%, Columbus 10%, Chicago 9%, Nashville 8%, St. Louis 6%

The Red Wings remain the conventional favourite, as they have for the past decade in this division (despite a few strong seasons from the Blues). If Manny Legace plays the way he’s capable in the starring role, I don’t doubt Detroit wins yet another division title.

The rest of the Central is certainly interesting, with the Blues taking a step back and everyone else at least attempting to move forward. Personally I see the Predators as the only team who will challenge for the top spot (and who will certainly improve on an 8th place finish in the West last time around).

Who will win the Northwest Division?
Colorado 35%, Calgary 24%, Vancouver 20%, Edmonton 12%, Minnesota 9%

Old favourites die hard in the Northwest, as the Avalanche faithful are still banking on them to come away with their 10th division title in the past 11 years. Subbing in Pierre Turgeon for Peter Forsberg and Patrice Breeze-by for Adam Foote, however, aren’t moves that scream improvement.

Calgary is my favourite to take the Northwest this season, as they’ve retained the core group that took them to the finals in 2003-04 and added depth in Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty. If all their RFAs re-sign as expected, the Flames won’t lose anyone of consequence.

The Northwest should be the most heavily contested division in 2005-06.

Who will win the Southeast Division?
Tampa Bay 44%, Atlanta 20%, Florida 14%, Washington 13%, Carolina 9%

Not surprisingly, the defending champions are the favourites here, although some improvement from the Thrashers will at least offer somewhat of a challenge. Of the six divisions, however, this will be the easiest to predict, as Washington and Carolina will continue to struggle (to put it mildly). The Panthers are sure to make some inroads, but likely not enough to make the playoffs if Keenan sticks with his current roster.

Who will win the Northeast Division?
Boston 35%, Ottawa 23%, Toronto 19%, Montreal 12%, Buffalo 11%

The Bruins will look radically different than in 2003-04, yet whether this ragtag assembly of free agents can outperform the likes of the Senators is unlikely. Ottawa stands to lose few major pieces from the team that had 102 points the last time around. If Hasek can hold the fort, they’re my pick to take the Northeast.

This season will be bad news for Leafs and Sabres fans, however, as neither have been heavily involved in the free agent market and will take a step back (for those who recall, Buffalo were only one spot removed from the final playoff position in the East in 2003-04).

Who will win the Atlantic Division?
Philadelphia 57%, New Jersey 19%, Pittsburgh 15%, NY Rangers 8%, NY Islanders 1%

That’s a pretty ringing endorsement for Philadelphia GM Bob Clarke in the Atlantic. The Flyers are solid in goal, on defence and up front, but they did lose key pieces in Recchi, Leclair, Amonte, Roenick and Ragnarsson, making them far from a lock to win the division. Still, I think with the Devils in transition, Clarke has positioned his team well enough to win the Atlantic.

Pittsburgh will certainly make strides, but not to the extent some are predicting. Even with the additions of Recchi, Palffy, Gonchar and Crosby, this is a roster full of holes and inexperience. At the moment, the only defenceman signed by the Penguins aside from Gonchar is Ric Jackman. Enough said.

On a final note, it seems the voting public isn’t exactly enamoured with ‘Mad’ Mike Milbury’s additions of Satan, Sopel and York.



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