Thursday, May 31, 2007

East meets West

Anaheim has dominated the first two games everywhere except on the scoreboard so far and they are not doing it by cheating. They are doing it by playing their game, by maintaining excellent defensive position, by beating the Senators to the open ice and almost every loose puck. So far they have been the superior team by a very large margin, so large that I'll be shocked if Ottawa manages to get back into the series.
I couldn't agree more.

The Western Conference was full of teams like Anaheim this season; the Ducks just happened to be playing that stymieing style better than anyone else they faced in the postseason. The match-ups against Minnesota and Vancouver were textbook examples of positional, defensive hockey, and there weren't any more stick fouls than on the other side of the NHL's divide.

Referees can't call what's not there (although sometimes they try).

Scoring was far lower in the West through the season, especially at even strength, and teams relied more on special teams to generate goals. Only Teemu Selanne finished in the top 10 in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy.

Western Conference teams scored 3,434 goals this year, while Eastern Conference teams managed 3,648 — an average goals per game difference of 2.79 to 2.97.

Almost all of those extra 200+ goals in the East were scored at even strength or shorthanded:


Goals per game

Situation

Eastern

Western

5 on 5

1.821

1.689

5 on 4

0.712

0.715

5 on 3

0.105

0.112

4 on 4

0.080

0.091

4 on 3

0.032

0.017

3 on 3

0.001

0.000

3 on 4

0.003

0.000

3 on 5

0.002

0.000

4 on 5

0.108

0.082

Empty net

0.089

0.077

Penalty Sh

0.012

0.008


Breakdown




Eastern

Western

Dif

EV

2340

2190

-150

PP

1044

1038

-6

SH

139

101

-38



But what about the number of power-play opportunities, you ask?

That doesn't account for the increased reliance on power-play scoring in the West, simply because both conferences had an almost equal number of opportunities on the man advantage: 6,001 for the West to 5,934 for the East, a difference of 0.05 power plays per team per game.

It's much harder, after all, to slow down the neutral zone when you're down a man.

Unfortunately for the Senators, however, the finals aren't a power-play contest, and they've yet to score an even-strength goal in the series.

It's been a different game in the Western Conference this season, one that Ottawa apparently doesn't know how to play.

Giguere: Unbeatable at the pond

The Anaheim Ducks have been dynamite at home all season, but with Jean-Sebastien Giguere in goal, they've been downright unbeatable:

Regular season home record
28 starts, 1,707 minutes
21-3-6 record, 2.18 GAA, .920 save percentage

Playoffs home record
9 starts, 555 minutes
7-2 record, 1.73 GAA, .935 save percentage

Totals
28-5-6 record
2.07 GAA, .924 save percentage

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Captain Crosby

In a move discussed within the organization since before Christmas, Crosby will be named captain of the Penguins at a noon news conference at Mellon Arena.

At 19 years and nine-plus months, Crosby will become the youngest captain in both team and National Hockey League history. Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier was named captain of the Lightning at 19 years, 11 months in 2000, but he was later stripped of the title.
"And then he ascended from the ice, taking his rightful place in the world."

There's no question Crosby is the guy stirring the drink in Pittsburgh, so he might as well be given this title to run with. The timing of the announcement is curious, given we're in the midst of the Stanley Cup finals, and you had to know that the Penguins brass were well aware he would only break the record if handed the 'C' now.

Add one top-notch blueliner to this team and Pittsburgh can compete in the east.

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Early starts unfair for Ducks

There were all kinds of empty seats at the start of the game, largely because it was a 5 p.m. start on a work day.
If this was happening in Vancouver, or Calgary, Edmonton or any of the other western markets where hockey is king, there would be an uproar.

But since it's Anaheim, Orange County, and a place that 'doesn't really care about hockey,' let's cater the start times of their games to that old, elusive eastern television audience. You know, the one that forced the American network to dump an afternoon overtime game to Versus because of a horsey prerace show.

Fans are paying unbelievable money to watch these games, and making them miss a good portion of the first period while they sit in traffic for Games 2, 5 and 7 is completely unacceptable.

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Game 2 ice time breakdown

Lines

Anaheim
Miller/Marchant - McDonald - Selanne
Moen - Pahlsson - R. Niedermayer
Penner - Getzlaf - Perry
May - Marchant - Perry/R. Niedermayer/Thornton


Ottawa
Heatley - Spezza - Alfredsson
Kelly - Vermette - Neil
Schaefer - Fisher - Comrie/Alfredsson
Schubert - McAmmond - Saprykin


Randy Carlyle made more of a mess of his lines and defence parings (which are difficult to make sense of) in this game than Bryan Murray did, and you could really see that in Francois Beauchemin's partners who ran from Ric Jackman (eight minutes), Scott Niedermayer (6.4 minutes), Sean O'Donnell (4.8 minutes) and Chris Pronger (three minutes).

Ottawa's defence pairings remained the exact same as they've been for the majority of the season.

As for who played against who, well, let's go with the first through third lines, and percentages for each of those:

McDonald/Selanne: 55% vs. Fisher, 21% Spezza, 20% McAmmond
Pahlsson line: 77% vs. Spezza, 15% Vermette, 8% rest
Getzlaf line: 61% vs. Vermette, 26% McAmmond, 12% Fisher

Heatley/Spezza: 67% vs. Pahlsson, 23% McDonald, 12% Marchant
Vermette line: 79% vs. Getzlaf, 18% Pahlsson, 4% rest
Fisher line: 76% vs. McDonald, 15% Getzlaf, 8% rest

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Snoop Dogg on HNIC


First the Governator and now Snoop; who says hockey in Anaheim is a bad thing?

Scott Oake's interview with rapper Snoop Dogg in the stands of the Honda Center can be seen on Hockey Night Online in the May 30 post-game show.

Balsillie eyes Hamilton

Just days after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Jim Balsillie had no plans to move the Nashville Predators, a company controlled by Mr. Balsillie was given exclusive rights by Hamilton city council to operate an NHL team at Copps Coliseum.
The new twist of linking exclusive rights to Copps with running all the city-owned venues connected with Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. strongly suggests Hamilton may be more than just a bargaining chip.
I think we're getting every indication that things are going to move along a lot faster than anyone originally thought with the Predators.

It may now only be a question of how quickly can he get this team out of Nashville.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ducks shut down Sens again

2007 Stanley Cup Final - Game 2
Ducks 1, Senators 0
Anaheim leads series 2-0

“They’re our checking line, but they play extremely well together, they work well of one another and cycle the puck very well. All three of them are physical and make the other team play, and it wears them down.”
— Chris Pronger
Here's a question, and perhaps the only pertinent one at this point: Is it over?

Because with the way Ottawa played tonight, it sure looks that way. Outshot badly, outplayed and with a top line that looks anything but, the Senators are going to have to quickly reinvent themselves if they want to win the next two games at home — which is exactly what has to happen for them to make this a series.

Down 3-1 and heading back to Anaheim, they don't have a hope.

As of tonight, Sammy Pahlsson deserves the Conn Smythe, and everyone north of the border who said this was Ottawa's series to lose has a generous helping of crow waiting for them back home. The Ducks have shown two games in a row now that the Western Conference's dominance in limited regular season action against the East was hardly a mirage.

I know I'll be due an earful in the comments section for this, but I think that's all she wrote for the 2007 Stanley Cup finals, and sometime next week we'll be watching Edmonton's favourite son Chris Pronger parading the mug around the rink.

Because of the 31 finals series where the home team has gone up 2-0, only once has the visitor come back to win the championship.

Those are incredibly long odds for a team that hasn't been here before, and one that will likely have to win two games in the Pacific Time Zone — two more than they played west of St. Louis all year — to claw back into this one.

Game 1: Who played against who
The Ottawa defence

Using the head to head ice time tool, here's how the Senators defence pairings were deployed at even strength on Monday:

Anaheim Total (min)
Volchenkov-
Phillips

Redden-
Meszaros

Corvo-
Preissing
Beauchemin 20.6

51.2%

25.0%

23.3%
S.Niedermayer 18.6

35.8%

35.5%

28.0%
Pronger 17.2

35.2%

40.1%

24.7%
Moen 16.4

32.3%

46.3%

21.6%
R.Niedermayer 14.7

29.3%

46.6%

23.8%
Pahlsson 14.6

29.5%

43.8%

35.6%
O'Donnell 12.1

49.6%

27.3%

23.1%
Selanne 11.6

60.3%

31.9%

8.6%
McDonald 11.5

58.7%

30.4%

11.3%
Huskins 11.5

45.7%

28.3%

26.1%
Getzlaf 10.9

52.8%

8.3%

38.5%
Miller 9.4

62.8%

27.7%

10.1%
Perry 9.3

47.8%

8.1%

43.5%
Penner 8.6

47.1%

6.4%

46.5%
Marchant 7.6

48.0%

30.9%

22.4%
Jackman 6.7

61.2%

14.9%

23.9%
May 6.3

31.7%

34.9%

31.7%
Thornton 5.8

35.3%

27.6%

34.5%

One of the interesting things here is how Bryan Murray used the Corvo-Pressing pairing, keeping them away from Selanne-McDonald at all costs but allowing them to pick up big minutes against Penner-Getzlaf-Perry.

Selanne, meanwhile, had more than 60 per cent of his minutes against Volchenkov-Phillips even though we heard all about how that pairing would get the Getzlaf duty.

The Ducks checking line, meanwhile, got most of their time against Redden-Meszaros, something that may change if Moen-Pahlsson-Niedermayer continue to pot goals the way they have been.

Saskin's role as Big Brother

Under a program dubbed "Big Brother," former NHL Players' Association executive Ted Saskin directed a colleague to covertly access the email accounts of as many as 45 NHL players and 21 union employees, and went so far as to retrieve confidential records about which players voted against the NHL's current labour contract, according to an internal union report.

The startling details are included in a report prepared for the NHLPA by Toronto lawyer Chris Paliare.
There's some incredibly damning stuff in here, including the fact that Saskin authorized the accessing of Trent Klatt's non-union email account when the player realized something was up with his @nhlpa.com address and stopped using it.

Saskin also used the details of how NHLPA members voted to "work the room" when convincing the membership to vote for the new collective bargaining agreement.

If this is the kind of stuff that's going to continue to come out, Saskin's wrongful dismissal suit doesn't have a hope, and Westhead even noted on the radio today that the union may sue him in order to regain some of his ill-gotten salary over the past two years.

What a mess.

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Mayors back the Sens

Scotiabank will launch an online pledge Thursday May 31st, at 5 a.m. that asks Canadians to support the Ottawa Senators and bring the world's greatest trophy back to Canada — the nation where hockey was born. Toronto Mayor David Miller will be the first Canadian to sign the pledge, along with Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and Calgary Mayor David Bronconnier.
I don't know about the fellows out west, but this is political suicide for Miller. More than a few Leafs fans are going to be looking to throw him in the harbour sometime tomorrow morning.

2007 Memorial Cup
The agony of defeat


Maybe I'm just a big softy, but I don't know that I'll ever get used to the scene I took in on Sunday in Vancouver.

In one dressing room, jubilation: 20 gangly teenagers hooting, hollering and posing for pictures with junior hockey's Holy Grail while the likes of Pat Quinn and Gordie Howe served up congratulations.

Thirty feet down the hall — cordoned off by a curtain like a lifeless body, but certainly not out of earshot of the celebration — were the Medicine Hat Tigers, or at least the few players who were unlucky enough to be called out for media availability after the most difficult loss of their young careers.

Darren Helm, Matt Keetley and two other Tigers were in the hallway talking to a handful of reporters chronicling their team's demise, and it wasn't pretty. Four small-town prairie boys with scruffy playoff beards, wearing only their jerseys and underwear, and there wasn't a dry eye among them. The netminder Keetley, who had been the real star in a game where his team was outshot more than two to one throughout, was giving a television interview with what appeared to be a local broadcast as tears streamed down his cheeks, and his mouth quivered as he struggled through what seemed to be the same questions — and answers — over and over.

Great player. A lot of heart, obviously. The Calgary Flames draft pick was playing his final junior game as a 21-year-old, a hometown kid hoping to bring the Tigers their first Mem Cup since 1988.

Given the situation, I didn't feel up to chatting with him.

Helm, on the other hand, was composed in comparison, steely eyed and quiet as he fielded the largest group of reporters. The Detroit Red Wings' prospect had had a terrific year, both during the season, at the world juniors and in the playoffs, but that was obviously of little consolation under the circumstances. He's certainly not a big guy — listed at 6 feet, 180 pounds — but he plays big and was the best Medicine Hat skater on this night.

Helm is another late-round steal for the Wings, drafted in the fifth-round in 2005 the year before he exploded for 41 goals, and said he was planning on playing in that organization next season — whether it was in the NHL, AHL or wherever. He turned 20 in January and could return to the Hat as an overager, but that doesn't seem likely.
“Our goal was to win the Memorial Cup and we came up short," Helm said. “Our season can’t be defined by just one loss. I thought we were headed for the showers a couple times, but we have so much character in this dressing room.

“I won’t remember losing the Memorial Cup, I’ll remember the good times, and how we battled for each other.”
It's hard to believe, given the unreal season the Tigers had (52-17-3) that they left Vancouver empty handed, but as I've said before, when it comes down to a one-game-takes-all scenario, that's the way it shakes out sometimes. Medicine Hat had actually beaten the Giants three times in a row heading into the game, and had won the WHL championship with a Game 7 decision at home a few weeks earlier.

Again, not much consolation on this day.

It was said during the week that the Mem Cup is a tougher championship to win than the NHL's grand prize, and I don't doubt it given the length of the ordeal. Junior hockey's top players have to endure a preseason tryout, a 72-game regular season, a world junior camp and tournament, four rounds of playoffs and then a round robin, sudden death four or five-game battle against the top teams from other leagues who they've never faced.

All while still trying to complete high school.

Talk about a test of endurance.

The crowd at the Pacific Coliseum for the finals was unreal — and ditto for the considerable hoopla surrounding the affair. In addition to Quinn and Howe, I noted both St. Louis Blues president John Davidson and Los Angeles Kings coach Marc Crawford in attendance, chatting together on the concourse prior to the game, and rumour had it Bobby Orr was around as well.

The funny thing about the Memorial Cup is that a lot of the game's biggest personalities let their hair down, so to speak, at the event, and many were mingling amongst the junior hockey hardcores without much trouble at all.

This was the first Mem Cup final I'd attended in 12 years — since all the way back in 1995 when Kamloops hosted and won the thing for the third time in four years (the winning coach, Don Hay, was the same then as now). The scale has certainly changed, and in more ways than just attendance, and it really makes me wonder if, perhaps, the event is outgrowing its humble roots in the small towns that have propped junior hockey up for eons.

It's hard to say, but here's hoping that, despite the financial shortfalls of doing so, the Mem Cup continues to fall to a place like my hometown once in a while — even if Vancouver did a helluva job hosting this time around. The spectacle, the giant beer tent, the luxury hotel and a group of unreal volunteers — it was all top notch.

I'm glad I made the trip, and here's hoping I'll be in Kitchener come 2008.

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More on Maloney



New Phoenix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney's not a hockey personality I know well, mainly due to the fact he's been in a background role for the past decade or so in New York, but from his interviews since taking on his new role, I'm impressed.

Here's Maloney on Prime Time Sports on Tuesday night:
Truthfully, what I can bring to the table is exactly what this franchise needs. They don't need me to be doing this radio show every week or out in front of the cameras — that's Wayne, he's the face of this franchise. What they need is somebody underneath that knows the scouting community — I don't need to be the greatest talent evaluator, but I have to hire the best talent evaluators and that's what this team needs.
He went on to say that a goaltender is his first order of business, which makes a lot of sense given Curtis Joseph is a free agent, but just who he could target in that regard wasn't discussed (Mathieu Garon might not be a bad choice).

The bizarre thing about the Coyotes' hiring process, and something that was discussed on the radio program after Maloney signed off, was that Wayne Gretzky was part of it all along — which isn't generally the deal when a new GM is brought into the fold. If anything, it's always an issue whether an executive gets to pick his coach, something that's out of the question in the desert given the legend-as-coach arrangement.

Does that put Maloney at a disadvantage from the get go?

Not necessarily — but the Great One certainly has to squeeze more out of his lineup than he has through Years 1 and 2.

Still, things are looking up in Phoenix, even if they're four months from dropping the puck.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Things you never thought you'd see...

Don Cherry interviews Arnold Schwarzenegger:
And then today in Toronto:
Schwarzenegger said he was looking forward to winning a bet that would see [Ontario Premier Dalton] McGuinty send the actor-turned-politician one month’s supply of Tim Hortons coffee, Ontario wines and a Roots sweater if the Ducks win the Stanley Cup.

“I’m looking forward for his goodies, and I’m sure he’s looking to my goodies that I’m sending him,” Schwarzenegger said.
— Canadian Press
Arnold's a busy guy these days, as he'll be in Ottawa Wednesday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Vancouver on Thursday with Premier Gordon Campbell.

Brennan suspended for AHL playoffs

Canada v. USA: Media edition

Oh boy — let the sniping begin.

What began with a column by the L.A. Times' respected hockey guru Helene Elliott drew a response from the Toronto Star's Damien Cox on his hockey blog, and a follow-up from the venerable Globe and Mail scribe Roy MacGregor.

And, who knows, others may be lining up as we speak. (Given the mass of puck pundits north of the border, Ms. Elliott is probably going to be outnumbered in this war of words.)

So, is California "cool" to the Stanley Cup finals being played in its backyard?

Probably. But to me, the bigger story would be if a statewide hockey party suddenly broke out in the midst of Orange County.

That no one — or at least the large majority — cares?

That's not a surprise. Or a story, even.

But here is what's worth noting from all of this:
  • The Ducks have sold 14,000 season's tickets for next season
  • Tickets for the Stanley Cup finals sold out in a matter of minutes
  • Despite the fact that the Anaheim Ducks romped through the Western Conference and have been one of the best teams in the NHL the past year and a half, more than 90 per cent of the so-called hockey 'experts' in this country picked the Ottawa Senators to win this series — and most said they would do so in fewer than seven games.
What that tells me is that a) there's enough interest in hockey that Anaheim will be one of the more successful American franchises at the gate this and next season, and b) the level of Senators love in Canada, among the media and fans in general, had gotten out of hand and it seems to have extended into bashing the opposition.

Let's give the market and its team the respect they're due — while also realizing that this is the land of palm trees and Hollywood, and even if the Ducks win the next 48 consecutive Cups, there will always be a majority of the population that's indifferent to hockey.

Finding and quoting those misguided souls isn't going to get you a Pulitzer.

Milbury resigns

One year after stepping aside as general manager of the Islanders to serve as senior vice-president in marketing, Mike Milbury on Tuesday announced his resignation from his full-time position in the organization.
His shoe beatings and horrible trades will be missed, team owner Charles Wang said in a statement.

Ducks rally to take Game 1

2007 Stanley Cup Final - Game 1
Ducks 3, Senators 2
Anaheim leads series 1-0
"We kept the puck in their end for about 2 1/2 minutes and I don't think we looked back after that."
If the hordes of people picking the Senators to win this series were sceptical over the impact Anaheim's checking line would have, I'm guessing that changed when Travis Moen potted the winner tonight.

Unlike most checking types, this trio can play 20 minutes a night and contribute at both ends, something they've done all postseason so far.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Coyotes get their man

The Coyotes will name Don Maloney as their general manager at news conference Tuesday. He will replace Michael Barnett.

Maloney, who was one of three candidates on the final list, spent nine seasons as the assistant general manager of the New York Rangers, assisting team president and general manager Glen Sather on player transactions and some contract negotiations. He was also involved in professional and amateur hockey operations.
This seems like a good fit in that Maloney has been an NHL GM in the past, he was rumoured to be taking over in New York at some point and he has a relatively good reputation around the league.

Maloney's also only 48, meaning he's not quite part of hockey's old guard, but he's been part of the Rangers organization for much of the time since being drafted there in 1978 (and even earlier if you consider his junior career with the Kitchener Rangers).

One other bit of related business: Does this pave the way for Mark Messier to move into an executive role in New York?

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Markov gets big money

Veteran defenceman Andrei Markov is staying put in Montreal after signing a $23-million (U.S.), four-year deal with the Canadiens on Monday.

The 29-year-old Markov was due to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Markov was fourth in team scoring this season, second among the club's defencemen with six goals and 43 assists in 77 games.
I'm not sure I'd call that a hometown discount, exactly, but $5.75-million per year is definitely in the realm of what he would have received as an UFA. The real question for Montreal now is will they be able to re-sign Sheldon Souray to a similar deal (and do they want to)?

That'd be an awful lot of dough to tie up in two defencemen who couldn't hump their team into the playoffs in a tough division/weak conference this season.

I have a feeling the bidding war on free agent blueliners is going to continue this summer, which means good things for the great grandchildren of Kimmo Timonen.

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Giants win first Memorial Cup

Ergh.

A red-eye flight home after a pretty solid two days of work in Vancouver, and I'm not really up for much heavy lifting — never mind blogging.

I will say this, however: You know you're at a big-time sporting event when you look over and beside you in the winning club's dressing room is Gordie Howe, wearing a pair of red and white sneakers and a huge smile. Mr. Hockey, a part owner of the team, was watching a bunch of rowdy teenagers stuff shaving cream pies in teammates' faces for the cameras — and I got the sense he loved every minute of it.

Unreal.

Vancouver certainly knows how to host a hockey tournament, and the final between the Giants and the Medicine Hat Tigers broke an attendance record for a junior hockey game in British Columbia with more than 16,000 fans packing into the Pacific Coliseum. Overall, the event's total attendance shattered the Mem Cup record by more than 30,000.

The Giants' 3-1 win was relatively lopsided, surprising given how close the two teams had played each other throughout the playoffs — but when it comes down to a winner-takes-all scenario like that, you never do know what you're going to get.

I'll have much more later. But first, sleep.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

An update on 'the contest'

Another look at who everyone picked before the conference finals:

Stanley Cup picks

Anaheim 24 (34%)
Ottawa 22 (31%)

Buffalo 20 (29%)

Detroit 4 (6%)


Conn Smythe


Scoring leader
Pronger 17


Heatley 26
Drury 15

Spezza 12
Alfredsson 11

Briere 10
Heatley 5

Drury 8
Miller 5

Pronger 4
Emery 4

Selanne 2
Niedermayer 3

Alfredsson 2
Lidstrom 3

Vanek 2
Giguere 3

Datsyuk 1
Volchenkov 1

Getzlaf 1
Selanne 1

Pominville 1
Phillips 1

Lidstrom 1
Spezza 1

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Hello from Vancouver

Well, this city certainly has Memorial Cup fever.

It's hard to imagine a place as big as Vancouver ever getting enveloped by an event that is traditionally the size of junior hockey's championship, but with banners up along most of the downtown streets and a real buzz around the city, it certainly seems like Mem Cup headquarters.

I'm here on a freelance assignment, and today the hunt is on for a few family members of the players involved in tomorrow's final. It's an off day for on-ice action, meaning no one's congregated in one place (although the CHL awards ceremonies are taking place way out in Richmond as I bat this out).

If anyone happens to know any of the Vancouver Giants' or Medicine Hat Tigers' family and they wouldn't mind talking to little old me, I'd definitely appreciate an email.

Not much else to say at the moment other than I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game – and spending just a little bit of time in my native province. I'm not much of a world traveler, but there really doesn't seem to be anything quite like the way the ocean meets the mountains here.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Building a finalist

Using the data compiled by The Globe and Mail's Tim Wharnsby, here's a graphical representation of which general managed put together the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators:


Who built Anaheim?

GM Players

Brian Burke 16 57.1%
Bryan Murray 8 28.6%
Pierre Gauthier 4 14.3%

28













Who built Ottawa?


GM Players

John Muckler 12 52.2%
Marshall Johnston 6 26.1%
Pierre Gauthier 3 13.0%
Randy Sexton 1 4.3%
Rick Dudley 1 4.3%

23












In the 'interesting to note' department here, of course, is the fact that Bryan Murray is now the Senators coach and that Pierre Gauthier had a hand in putting together both teams.

He might be a good guy to talk to for a story, if that hasn't happened already.

My picks

I'm at the Memorial Cup all weekend, so I imagine posting will be light until at least Monday, but I did get the chance to make my pick for the Stanley Cup final:
I'm leaning toward an Anaheim win. Barely.

Prediction: Ducks in 7
If you're heading to Vegas, you'd be well-advised to bet against me. Heavily.

In the meantime, if you're looking for excellent preview coverage of the finals, take a look at the AOL Fanhouse and The Globe and Mail's site.

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A step back for Nashville

There are no solutions to be offered that might cure Nashville or the Predators’ woes in this situation. It is likely Nashville is about to lose one of its two major professional sports teams. City leaders in government and business need to take a long hard look in the mirror. For all of the talk about Nashville’s forward progress, this is likely a huge step back.

Invoking the clause

The next big question to be answered is whether the Predators choose to exercise the clause that would potentially allow them to leave after the upcoming season. That decision must be made by about June 19, and since Balsillie's purchase isn't expected to be approved by the NHL's Board of Governors until after that date, Leipold will make the call.

Since exercising the clause would probably give Balsillie more options down the road, it's expected that Leipold will choose that course of action.
My guess is that this was part of the original agreement between the two.

The Kitchener perspective

In February, RIM purchased a large plot of land — 26 acres, Kiefer said — in Cambridge off Can-Amera Parkway, between Lingard and Townline roads. ...

Might be a simple plot on which to build grand new digs for bursting-at-the-seams RIM, now occupying 21 buildings in Waterloo.

Or the site could land in Balsillie's hands and become a perfect place to erect a big rink for a big-time team.

Close to the 401. Close to the Breslau airport, where international flights are welcome.

Most importantly, it appears to sit about 82 km from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. You see, the Toronto Maple Leafs hold a veto power over any plans to drop another NHL club within 80 km of their ice palace.

The Leafs seem out of the picture.

Ray Emery, TV star

Emery appeared on The Best Damn Sports Show Period earlier this week, marking the first time I think I've seen an NHL player on the show.

What did Visnovsky say?

Los Angeles Daily News hockey reporter Rich Hammond has been doing some nice work on his blog lately, and his most recent items highlight a little bit of a mini-controversy regarding Kings defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky with regards to an interview he gave in his native Slovakia.

As is the case with a lot of hockey sources overseas, just what was said isn't entirely clear, but Hammond does his due diligence in getting several different translations and going with what appears to be the most accurate one.

Here's a look at the more controversial bits, in which Visnovsky seems to lay into his coach, Marc Crawford:
What changed with the team with the arrival of the new general manager and coach?

Absolutely everything. The dressing room, the system on the ice. I played on the right side, now I play on the left. I got used to one thing, then “boom!” Coach Crawford is a fool [probably the most difficult part to understand, since he could mean by this that Crawford is crazy, or that Crawford’s a madman or maniacal in some way – hard to know without having been there and hearing his inflection]. He uses a tough, practically [or downright] Communist style. He's rude to the players, he insults them. I was appalled that an NHL coach could communicate like this.

This season was the worst in Kings history. I had a very good relationship with the previous coach, Andy Murray, and not only me, but also Palo Demitra after just one year. When a player sweats and toils for the team, the coach appreciates [or “respects”] him. Now he feels that this person doesn’t appreciate anyone. This is a difference. But I’m only a player and he is my boss, whom I must respect.
It's pretty strongly worded stuff, at least in the translation, and along the lines of the business that got Montreal's Alex Kovalev in hot water earlier this season.

A big thanks to Brushback for pointing this one out.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The shrinking Cup party

Last year, veteran hockey writers were shocked by the low turnout for the final between Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers, another small-market matchup.

Luke DeCock, beat writer for the News & Observer, reported that only eight U.S. newspapers outside North Carolina made the trip to Edmonton.

The visiting contingent to Ottawa this spring won't be much larger. Those accredited for the final include USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Daily News, the two Philadelphia papers, the Inquirer and Daily News, both Denver newspapers, the Post and Rocky Mountain News, and Los Angeles Times.
I find it extremely interesting to see which markets make the tournament a priority every year, regardless of which teams are in it. It's somewhat alarming that the New York Times is taking a pass while the Daily News is on board, but encouraging that two Philadelphia and Denver dailies are on their way to Ottawa.

What would also be interesting would be to see which papers plan to cover the finals from Anaheim, which may be more accessible to smaller dailies on the west coast which have not traditionally covered the finals.

Houston also notes the small contingent of Canadian print reporters who will be following the series:
The Sun Media chain will use Ottawa Sun coverage for its newspapers, with the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones also filing columns. The CanWest chain will rely heavily on Ottawa Citizen coverage.
The Globe and Mail will have five different reporters and columnists covering the finals, with three traveling between cities and one based permanently in both Anaheim and Ottawa for the duration of the series.

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A look at NHL territory rights

At first, Balsillie looked at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum as a potential home. He later turned his sights on Kitchener-Waterloo, where the company he founded, Research In Motion, is based. The Kitchener-Waterloo area also falls just outside what the NHL calls the Leafs' and Sabres' "home territory," which extends 80 kilometres from each city's corporate limits.

Under NHL rules, a team can only move into another team's home territory with its permission. That permission comes with a hefty price tag.
Of note: The recent land purchased by Research in Motion — which may or may not be related to this whole Nashville business — is located just 62 kilometres from Etobicoke Creek, which is commonly regarded as the western limits for the City of Toronto.

Make of that what you will.

But Shoalts also notes in his piece the $35-million and $50-million price tag forked out by New Jersey and Anaheim, who both jumped in on the turf of the Rangers/Islanders and Los Angeles when their teams joined the league.

That's a figure that would be substantially higher if territorial concerns involved the Maple Leafs — for obvious reasons.

As for the non-relocation clause which outgoing Predators owner Craig Leipold spoke of during his press conference in Nashville today, there were some sources reporting during Balsillie's dealings with Pittsburgh that the league was prepared to negotiate that seven-year, no-movement term down as needed.

Ultimately, that didn't happen, but the door is certainly open to a similar move in this case, and especially, it would seem, with a team that has far less history in the league than the Penguins.

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Predators press conference

The sale announcement will be available on a live webcast at 3 p.m. EDT on WSMV Nashville.

UPDATE Here are some notes from this afternoon's press conference in Nashville:
  • Leipold said that his team had received roughly $14-million in revenue sharing this year, the largest amount in the league.

  • If the team fell below 14,000 attendance, however, next year, they would lose 25 per cent of their revenue sharing dollars and a further 25 per cent in subsequent each year below that attendance mark.

  • Even receiving $14-million revenue sharing this season, Leipold says he lost $15-million in 2006-07.

  • As for the terms of the team’s lease agreement whereby it can be broken if ticket sales fall below 14,000 per game, the city could potentially buy up any tickets necessary to meet the target and essentially keep the team in Tennessee. Leipold said this would cost in the neighbourhood of $2- to $2.5-million for every 1,000 tickets required.

  • And, finally, as for the fans and season’s ticket holders, Leipold was quite passionate in speaking to their, well, passion. Regarding how he felt toward the end of the year, when he knew he was going to sell the team, Leipold said of the hardcore fans flocking to the playoff games: “It was painful to see it and watch it because I love those people.”

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Leipold's letter to the fans

Outgoing Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold offered his explanation for selling the team today in an email to season's ticket holders:
Unfortunately, the success on the ice has not translated to success for me as business owner.

Here are just a few facts as to why:

* The Nashville Predators tallied up 216 points in the last two seasons, fifth most in the NHL, yet because of below-average attendance, the team will still have a real cash loss of $27 million during that time. Additionally, that loss is despite receiving the most money in the league from revenue sharing. Over the last five years, the team has lost over $60 million.
Read the rest of the letter here.

The Preds' other suitor

Somehow missed in all of the excitement is the fact that Jim Balsillie wasn't the only one angling for the Nashville franchise:
Also bidding for the team was a group including Anschutz Entertainment Group, which had hoped to move the team to Kansas City, Mo. ...

The impending sale, if approved, would be a blow to efforts by Kansas City and Anschutz Entertainment Group, which has been looking for an NHL team to move into a new $276 million arena that will open this fall in downtown Kansas City. AEG, which also owns the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, already has sold all the arena's corporate suites as well as the naming rights to the building, now called the Sprint Center.
The significance here? The NHL had a choice between Balsillie (Southern Ontario) and Anschutz (Kansas City), and the Canadian bid won out.

It's a telling detail, one that would seem to indicate the league is on board with whatever Balsillie's plans are for the franchise.

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Duhatschek on the Predators

So while Balsillie has himself a nice team, with a decent future, if he wants to pull it out of Nashville in a year or three or six, there aren't going to be nearly the same roadblocks set in front of him that there were in his previous attempt to gain admission to the NHL lodge by purchasing the Penguins.
...you have a situation where, two years into the current CBA, franchises in Phoenix and Atlanta and Florida as well as Nashville still can't operate in the black, or even at the break-even point. And when the day comes that the owners in all those markets say 'enough' to the losses, that's when the migration to points north will occur.

It's no longer a question of if anymore.

It's only a question of when.
Eric's a must-read, as always.

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Bye-bye Belfour?

An early alert to the constables patrolling Moscow and surrounding environs: Slap Shots has learned that 42-year-old Ed Belfour, who earned $750,000 in nets for Florida last season, is interested in earning many more rubles playing next year in Russia.

Meet the media

Bryan Murray, Daniel Alfredsson, Randy Carlyle and Scott Niedermayer are all taking part in a media conference call this afternoon, the first of what will likely be a number of similar outings in the lead up to Game 1.

The results should be available soon after and I'll do my best to post a few highlights.


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