Most of the key nations in the upcoming Turin Winter Olympics have announced the rosters of their respective Men's Hockey Teams, so here's my quick analysis (in no particular order) of how they stack up.
CANADA: Team management has essentially gone with the same roster that won the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, including some key players (Brodeur, Blake, Pronger, Foote, Niedermayer, Iginla, Gagne, Sakic, and Smyth) from the 2002 Gold Medal squad.
Overall it's a veteran roster but one can already see the start of the "changing of the guard" for Canada, with the inclusions of Luongo, Regehr, Heatley, Lecavalier, Nash, Thornton and Richards.
They're the defending champs and are icing a very strong, deep roster that could be tough to beat. Perhaps Team Canada's only real concern could be overconfidence.
CZECH REPUBLIC: This could be the club that provides the stiffest challenge to Canada's hopes of winning Gold in Turin. A good number of this roster were also part of the club that defeated Canada in the 2005 World Championships, so they're not to be taken lightly.
Like Canada, the Czechs are icing a deep, veteran laden team, but they too have some promising young forwards (Hemsky, Prucha, and Erat) who'll be worth watching.
The assumption is that the Czechs will go with Dominik Hasek as their starter throughout, and if he plays as well as he did in 1998, they'll be very tough to score against. But if Hasek isn't up to form, Tomas Vokoun is more than capable of carrying the load, as he demonstrated in shutting out Canada at the World Championships.
SWEDEN: Maybe it's me, but over the past few years it seems that every time there's a major international hockey competition involving professional players, the Swedes ice a team that on paper looks capable of winning it all yet inexplicably seems to come up short.
This year's club is no exception. At every position, the Swedes look like a serious challenger for Olympic gold. With talented leadership in Forsberg, Naslund, Sundin, and Lidstrom, there shouldn't be any reason why this club couldn't be in the medal rounds.
Canada carried the baggage of years of failed attempts to win Olympic gold prior to 2002, and the Swedes are going into Turin carrying baggage labelled "choke artists". It's going to take at least playing in the Gold Medal round to get rid of that title.
RUSSIA: The days of Russian hockey domination at the Olympics, or in other tournaments involving professionals, is long gone, due in no small part to the lack of a strong, respected head coach and a tendency toward individualistic play amongst its players.
That's not to say their teams weren't talented in recent years and the 2006 version certainly won't be an exception. As several veterans have backed out they've included several younger players, most notably Afinogenov, Datsyuk, and A. Markov.
There are some veterans in the bunch (Yashin, Zhamnov, Zhitnik, and Gonchar), but they're not exactly renowned for their leadership skills, and that could determine how far the Russians advance in this tournament.
FINLAND: They served notice to the hockey world at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey that they've made significant strides in international competition, going to the final game of the tournament only to lose to Canada.
Overall the Finns roster posseses depth at all positions, but there are concerns as to how healthy it could be when the Olympics roll around. Kiprusoff has taken himself off the roster to nurse a hip injury, K. Lehtinen is only now returning from groin injuries, S. Koivu has been bothered by injury, T. Ruutu has missed most of the NHL season thus far with a back injury, and Pitkanen has been out for the past three weeks with an abdominal injury.
If this club can get most or all of those players back in time for the Olympics, they could become the dark horse to win gold, but if the injury bug continues to bite hard, we may not see the best Finnish team in Turin.
UNITED STATES: There was much talk of the Americans going with a younger roster, yet there remain numerous older players (Chelios, Hatcher, Schneider, Miller, Guerin and Tkachuk) over whom there are already some concerns as to how well they'll perform in Turin.
That being said, there are a number of new faces on this year's USA Olympic roster (Gomez, Liles, Leopold, Gionta and Cole) who could step up and make a big difference for them.
Factor in the return to form of veteran Mike Modano and a decent goaltending trio and the Americans are a very dangerous hockey team. Still, it remains to be seen if this team is good enough to make it to the Gold Medal round as their 2002 predecessors did in Salt Lake City.
SLOVAKIA: A club very deep in offensive talent, highlighted by such noteworthies as Gaborik, Demitra, Bondra, Marian Hossa, Satan, and Zednik, the Slovaks are well-equipped to match up offensively with the best in the world.
Where they run into problems is on their blueline and between the pipes. Sure, they've got the Norris qualified Zdeno Chara, the skilled Lubomir Visn ovsky and Senators rookie Andrej Meszaros, but after that the depth chart plunges significantly. They'll be game, but they'll struggle to shut down the forwards of deeper teams.
- For the NHL rules committee: That they stay the course with their rules changes and at the same time act quickly to address any problem areas that arise.
- For NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: That this CBA works out as you claim it will, because if it doesn't, you may not have the support of your "Gang of Eight" owners next time around.
- For the NHLPA: Full disclosure on why Bob Goodenow was replaced by Ted Saskin in order to hopefully heal the rift between the majority of players and a minority of dissidents.
- For NHL fans: That we never, ever see another nasty, lengthy labour dispute between owners and players as we saw in 2004 and 2005.
- For Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin: Continued success in your rookie campaigns and the hope for lengthy, successful NHL careers.
- For Dion Phaneuf: The Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. It won't happen, but this is after all my Christmas Wish List.
- For Jaromir Jagr: that you continue to shine offensive. "Jags" is playing this season like he's been reborn.
- For the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers: that their surprisingly strong starts carry over into the New Year.
- For the Montreal Canadiens: That they recover the form that had them included among those aforementioned "surprise" clubs until about six weeks ago.
- For the New Jersey Devils: A speedy return to form of Patrik Elias and GM Lou Lamoriello. Elias in good health could bolster the Devils offence, but they may need another savvy trade by "Lou Lam" to save their season.
- For Toronto's Eric Lindros: that you continue to avoid concussions.
- For Anaheim's Petr Sykora: Resolution as to whether or not he'll be traded this season.
- For the Atlanta Thrashers: A healthy goaltending tandem.
- For fans of the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks: team ownership that actually cares about you and your team and savvy management to rebuild them into great teams again.
- For Joe Thornton: A long, happy and successful career with the San Jose Sharks.
- For the Calgary Flames: a return to the Stanley Cup finals.
- For the Ottawa Senators: that Dominik Hasek stays healthy.
- For Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Jeremy Roenick and Luc Robitaille: retirement. I don't mean to sound cruel, but it's obvious watching you guys struggle through this season that you're not the players you once were. It's over, gentlemen. Please retire so our lasting memories will be of the greatness you once brought to the game.
- For Mike Keenan: Understanding that it's never a wise decison to play contractual hardball with your franchise player.
- For Sean Avery: A copy of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Or a muzzle.
- For Paul Kariya: A long and successful tenure with the Nashville Predators.
- For the Tampa Bay Lightning: a return to their Stanley Cup winning form.
- For Todd Bertuzzi: a chance to go back in time and not attack Steve Moore. No matter what "Big Bert" does in his NHL career, he'll always be dogged by that black mark.
- For Steve Moore: Justice, in whatever form it takes short of the vigilante kind.
- For Wayne Gretzky: My apologies about doubting your coaching abilities. You started slow but you've gotten better and because of that, so has your team.
- For the St. Louis Blues: A new owner and perhaps a new general manager.
- For Toronto Maple Leafs fans: the understanding that criticism of your club's weaknesses doesn't constitute "anti-Leaf" bias.
- For the Colorado Avalanche: sorting out your goaltending issues.
- For Marian Gaborik: some linemates who can keep up with you.
- For the Philadelphia Flyers: respite from the injury bug for the rest of the season.
- For fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins: that something is worked out to ensure your club doesn't leave Steeltown.
- For the Vancouver Canucks: a playoff calibre goaltender.
- For the New York Islanders: a long-overdue firing of general manager Mike Milbury.
- For Larry Robinson: that the Montreal Canadiens finally retire your number 19. After having to step down as coach of the Devils for health reasons, I figured he could use some cheering up.
- For the Columbus Blue Jackets: something, anything, to reverse their fortunes.
- For Mike Modano: That you continue your resurgence throughout the new year.
- For hockey fans everywhere: that we never, ever see a return of the "Dead Puck Era".
- For the Washington Capitals: the hope management can successfully build around franchise player Alexander Ovechkin.
- To my friends in cyberspace and the blogosphere: continued success in your endeavours in the coming New Year.
- To my faithful readers: my sincere best wishes to you and yours in the holiday season and throughout the New Year.
- A couple of Penguins fans recently wrote me to inquire about my take regarding their club's recent firing of Ed Olczyk as their head coach.
I think Eddie was the wrong coach for this year's version of the Pens. In the 2003-04 season, with a team made up predominantly of kids that, as one fan put it, never had a chance, Olczyk did a good job with them. That team knew it was over-matched yet they went out and played hard almost every night.
With a younger team, I think Eddie would make a good coach, but as someone expected to coach a club led mainly by hired guns, he obviously wasn't cut out for the task.
As for his replacement, Michel Therrien, he's a no-nonsense coach who'll definitely make the Penguins work harder, although some might suggest as long as Mario Lemieux allows him to. Therrien does have a temper that at times can get the better of him behind the bench, but if this club is willing to listen to him, they may show some improvement as the season progresses.
The person who really should've lost his job out of all this was general manager Craig Patrick, who like Glen Sather has been coasting on his reputation over the past several years.
Yes, I know Patrick's hand were tied financially over the past eight years or so, but this time out he had an opportunity to rebuild the Pens into a playoff contender.
While some of his moves panned out (signing Zigmund Palffy and Mark Recchi), others (Sergei Gonchar, Jocelyn Thibault, John LeClair, Lyle Odelein) have not. Patrick is the guy who put together this year's roster and he deserves as much blame as Olczyk.
But Lemieux isn't about to fire the general manager that helped to build a Stanley Cup champion around him in the early 1990s, so Patrick skates off unscathed.
- Bit of a shock on Monday hearing that Larry Robinson has decided to step down as coach of the New Jersey Devils, citing health reasons.
It's obvious the stress of the job was getting to Robinson, but it still comes as a shock to Devils fans, as well as those who've followed Robinson's coaching career.
This isn't the first time he's faced adversity behind the bench, seeing his share of it during his otherwise forgettable four-year tenure with the Los Angeles Kings, but Robinson didn't buckle under the pressure there.
When he took over as the Devils bench boss midway through the 1999-2000 season, he guided them to the Stanley Cup and then brought them to within a game of winning it again in 2001.
Player unrest resulted in GM Lou Lamoriello firing Robinson midway through the 2001-02 season, a move he privately didn't want to do, but Robinson appeared happy to return to assistant coaching duties with new bench boss Pat Burns. When Burns had to quit to battle cancer, Robinson had no trouble stepping in to fill the void.
But it's different this time around. Robinson said his team was lacking leadership amongst his players, calling this year's Devils the strangest team he ever coached.
Perhaps the high level of excellence expected of the Devils due to their record over the past dozen years was weighing down on Robinson.
Some fans in Montreal might be calling for Canadiens GM Bob Gainey to "bring Larry home" and have him either join the Habs coaching staff or replace current head coach Claude Julien.
Forget about it. Robinson played seventeen seasons in Montreal. He knows what it's like to play in that pressure cooker. The last thing he wants is to return there in any coaching capacity.
If trying to improve this year's struggling Devils was tough on him, how do you think he'd react to coaching the struggling Canadiens?
That's the sound of LA Kings forward Jeremy Roenick expressing his disappointment over not being named to Team USA for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Actually, Roenick had more to say than that, but I thought it was best to encapsulate it into what it really was: petulant, self-centered whining from an aging hockey star now clearly past his prime.
Contrast Roenick's bawlbaby act with how Mark Messier reacted to the news he wouldn't be included on Team Canada's roster for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.
Those were the first Winter Olympics where NHL stars would be performing for their respective countries. Messier was already on the decline by then but more than a few pundits and fans believed he belonged on that team because of his previous contributions for Hockey Canada in Canada Cup and World Cup of Hockey tournaments.
Messier admitted he was disappointed, but instead of ranting about how Team Canada management had it out for him or engaging in whining, petty namecalling, Messier simply wished those who were selected for Team Canada the best of luck and said he'd be cheering them on from home.
A pity JR couldn't have taken a page from Messier's book.
Roenick has every right to be disappointed. He's a proud athlete who dearly wanted to represent his country at the Olympics.
But players don't get selected to represent their country by divine right. If Roenick were playing like he was prior to the lockout, he'd have been a shoo-in for Team USA. But he wasn't playing that way, and Team USA management decided to go with somebody else.
Disappointment is one, acting like a spoiled brat is another, and Roenick is far too old to be acting like one.
- Thumbs up to Sportsnet.ca hockey columnist Jim Kelley for his recent piece defending Pittsburgh Penguins star rookie Sidney Crosby.
"Sid the Kid" has been getting a lot of flak lately from hockey commentators, so much so that I was going to write a column sticking up for him, but Kelley's piece did a much better job that anything I would write.
I think the reason why Crosby's getting so much flak of late, apart from the obvious reasons that Kelley points out in his article (much of it having to do with the fact that he's only 18), is backlash from the hype heaped upon him by the very media that seems to be delighting in tearing him apart.
There was so much hype about Crosby for the past two years, which was ramped up even higher during the NHL lockout, proclaiming him as the "Next One", as the heir apparent to Wayne Gretzky (and Gretzky unwittingly didn't help matters when he declared Crosby would one day break some of his scoring records), that it just got to be too much.
Crosby certainly didn't go looking for that hype. He didn't act like a prima donna or a spoiled child. He just went out and played his game, yet the hockey world, devoid of a truly dominating talent since Wayne Gretzky retired and age caught up to Mario Lemieux, saw this kid play and went crazy.
Sure, he's played every bit as well as hoped, but he's playing for a moribund Penguins team, and they've overshadowed his exploits. Because he isn't single-handedly carrying this team to first overall, some of the media are turning on their darling.
Two critics stand out in particular: HNIC's Don Cherry and MSG Network's Stan Fischler.
Now I'm a fan of Cherry, but even I'm left scratching my head as to why he's been so vehement in his tirades against Crosby. Heck, he's had more flattering things to say about Washington's Alexander Ovechkin! Who'da thunk it, Cherry favouring a Russian furriner over a good Canadian boy.
Perhaps Cherry was or is hoping that Crosby would become the reincarnation of Bobby Orr, whom Cherry has an obvious man-crush on.
Indeed, Cherry's praise of Orr has been so gushingly sycophantic that it actually makes me uncomfortable.
Geez, Don, ok, so the guy was a god in your eyes, but you act like a giddy schoolgirl whenever his name is mentioned. You coached a legend, you didn't marry him.
And Orr, like Crosby, wasn't perfect. I remember watching games in the early 70s when he wasn't shy about jawing at referees if he didn't like a call. I remember seeing him smashing his stick in disgust a couple of times, and have a video of his being ejected from a game where he threw his stick down the tunnel in disgust.
Orr also had a bit of a taste for the night life, as did almost everyone on the "Big, Bad Bruins" in those days. Nothing wrong with that, but he clearly wasn't a saint.
And of course Orr was responsible for Alan Eagleson's rise to prominence as first a player agent and later as the director of the NHLPA. Now obviously Orr had no idea that Eagleson was a crook, and subsequently played a huge role in the latter's downfall and imprisonment, but it was his own self-admitted lack of attention to business that got him and his fellow players in a lot of trouble.
And like Crosby, Orr had to face a lot of hype both before he joined the Bruins and then early into his career.
Like I said, I'm a fan of Don Cherry, and for all his warts, I think he's a smarter hockey man than his critics give him credit for, but I just don't understand why he's running down Crosby.
Then there's Fischler, who's been engaged in bashing Crosby since the early days of the lockout. He's even assigned the kid a nickname - Der Bingle - which was once used for 1930s and 40s crooner Bing Crosby.
By doing so, Fischler not only annoyed Crosby fans by trying to stick the kid with a strange nickname that only shows how old "The Hockey Maven" is (if you remember what Bing Crosby's nickname used to be, sorry, but you're very old!), but when Fischler laid it on Sidney in an early season interview, the kid merely looked perplexed before politely admitting his nickname was "Darryl", after Maple Leafs legend Darryl Sittler.
Fischler believed the Capitals Ovechkin will win the Calder as this year's top rookie, and he may indeed be right, although Ovechkin and Crosby are engaged in a neck-and-neck points battle that has changed hands several times and likely will continue to do so for the rest of the season.
But Fischler also believes Ovechkin will be a far better player, both now and in the future, than Crosby, even claiming he'd be twice the player Crosby will be.
I'm not sure what the basis is for Fischler's seeming dislike for Crosby. Perhaps he decided not to buy into the hype of many of his peers, which would be admirable if it weren't for the fact the Maven's comments on Crosby can at times seem downright poisonous.
As for me, I'm a fan of Crosby's. I think the kid has demonstrated remarkable poise for an 18 year old with so much expectation piled upon his shoulders. I remember what I was like at 18 and brother, I couldn't even handle the pressure of dating back then. I probably would've cracked facing the kind of pressure Crosby's facing today.
He's also proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs in the NHL, that he's a star player and will only get better as the years progress. He's also demonstrated the physical and mental toughness required to do so.
In ten years time, he'll be one of the dominant players in the league, perhaps even the top player, and probably the top Canadian player, the guy who'll be called up to lead Team Canada in the Olympics and the World Cup.
I also know that he's only an 18 year old human being, who's going to make human mistakes from time to time. He's a hockey superstar but he's not infallible, and some of his critics needs to remember that.
I'll leave the last word on this to Kelley:
In the big picture, Crosby has shown himself to be less than perfect, but he doesn't deserve this. After all, he hasn't been accused of rape like a certain young star in the NBA. He hasn't been convicted of murder like a former standout kid in the NFL. He hasn't even been accused of peddling performance-enhancing drugs like the son of a formerly great player in Major League Baseball, a hits leader who, for the record, admitted to betting on games in his sport at an age when he was a heck of a lot older and, supposedly, a heck of a lot wiser.
Sidney Crosby is a kid, a kid who has, and will continue, to make mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them.
- Finally, my condolences to the family of Wayne Gretzky, who are mourning the death of his mother, Phyllis, after a long bout with cancer. She was 64.
For those of who directed here from Japer's Rink (he's hosting the 16th "Carnival of the NHL #16), the article in question can be found at this link. Once done, why not come back and read the latest gem below?
Anyway, it's been a busy week off-ice for the NHL at their latest meeting of team owners.
First came the news (which I commented on back on December 14th) that revenues are up for the NHL this season and the positive impact for the players in terms of the increased salary cap and lowered escrow payments.
How much higher the revenues will be and how much that'll increase the salary cap isn't fully known for certain, at least if we listen to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
He's playing coy with the numbers, although to be fair to Bettman there won't be an accurate fix on this until close to season's end.
"Bettman told owners Thursday that current projections call for revenues to be just over $2 billion this season. Under the CBA, the next season's salary cap is based on the previous year's revenue total.
Revenues of exactly $2 billion for this year would correspond to a $41.6-million salary cap next season, $2.1 billion in revenue would give a $43.4-million cap, and $2.2 billion would bring on a $45.3-million cap. If attendance dips in the coming months and revenues instead total $1.9 billion, the cap would be $39.8 million next season.
''I know historically the projections we get at this point in the season, they could still be two, three, four per cent off,'' Bettman said after the four-hour session. ''And so what we did is, with some degree of comfort and intuitiveness, said this is where we think we're going to be. But I think it looks pretty clear that it's going to start with a two ($2 billion or more).
''Clearly the cap is going up this year and that's good for everybody.''
Looks like those pundits predicting doom and gloom for the players earlier this season ("revenues may not exceed $1.8 million", "escrow could go as high as 20 percent".) are eating those words now.
Bettman says this is good news for everybody, but that's not entirely true. It's great news for most, but for a certain group, this could be an ominous sign.
First, let's look at the obvious beneficiaries.
It's great news for the players. With the cap ceiling going possibly as high as $45 million, those eligible for RFA and UFA status are looking at healthier paydays than their peers this past summer.
The maximum salary this season was $7.8 million under the $39-million cap because no player can earn more than 20 per cent of the cap figure. A $45-million cap would raise the maximum to $9 million.
But more importantly, the 12 per cent escrow payments the players have been forking over since the beginning of the season could all be coming back if revenues end up over $2.05 billion.
''It goes back to the players,'' said Bettman. ''If you were making a million dollars and we had $100,000 or $60,000, you get it back with interest. The money's not just sitting in cash in a vault.
"The money is being appropriately invested.''
If revenues hit $1.9 billion this season, the escrow payment drops to 6.9 per cent and if revenue hits $2 billion, the escrow payment would only be 1.7 per cent.
By the looks of things, I'd say the players can expect to get all their money back at season's end, plus interest.
And as I've said before, if revenues stay over $2.1 billion each season for the life of the current CBA, escrow becomes a paper tiger.
The news gets even better for the players, for their average salary, which was reduced to $1.3 million for this season, could jump to $1.6 million for next season, which much closer to the $1.75 million it was in the final season of the old CBA.
And if revenues rise again next season (and they very well could, especially if owners decide to increase ticket prices now that many of them have seen the lockout didn't hurt them at the gate), it could be right back to $1.8 million - or even higher - for 2007-08.
This will be especially sweet for those eligible for UFA status, the minimum age of which will drop to 27 within the next three years, or for those who'll have seven consecutive season of NHL service under the belts over the course of this CBA.
The only way this CBA works against the players is if revenues fall below $1.9 million. If they're already growing to where they could be close to $2.2 billion only one season after the lockout despite the loss of an entire season, the absence of a lucrative television deal in the United States and the reduction of ticket prices for this season, it's no stretch to assume revenues could not only stay at over $2.1 billion but have the potential to grow much higher in the coming years.
And that, folks, means that after a short-term loss of a year's salary and a 24 percent rollback heading into this season, it could be business as usual for the players and their agents for the next five.
This has the potential to become a rerun of the aftermath of the last CBA. Back in 1995, many pundits declared the PA had lost, that the owners had gotten the better of them. Only a small handful of observers foresaw what was going to happen.
So much for claims the players got their asses handed to them this time around.
Allan Muir of CNN/SI observes the agents for potential free agents will also be very happy:
"Those men you see smiling broadly this morning?
They're the agents for players like Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov, Rob Blake and Joe Sakic, Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara.
It's true that salaries can only rise so far, but the ceiling might have just moved up from $7.8 million to $9 million. And while there aren't too many players out there who'll earn that kind of scratch -- the owners have learned from past mistakes like Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik, haven't they? -- you'll see plenty of movement in the middle, where the guy who would have been slotted at $3 million last summer asks for $5 million in 2006.
And he just might get it."
Muir was obviously being facetious about the owners learning from past mistakes, because as he notes further, it's great new for them.
"With all that new money to play with, there'll be several GMs ready to open the vault. Yep, get ready for the familiar free spenders -- the Leafs, the Red Wings, the Flyers, the Avs -- to once again make use of their fatter wallets and the new cap space to recapture the competitive advantage that they lost for all of one season under the new CBA."
But...but...wait a minute!
Wasn't the point of this new CBA - which the league felt was worth losing an entire season over - to ensure that we didn't see big market teams spending more money and driving salaries out of range of small-to-mid market teams?
No. It was never about that.
The main issues for the owners were to crush the NHLPA, or more specfically, former executive director Bob Goodenw, and to force the players to accept a cap on their salaries tied to revenues.
But never forget, when it comes to the big market teams, their alliance with their smaller market cousins will always be cast aside once the league is back in business and there's a way for them to use the CBA to their advantage.
As Damien Cox of the Toronto Star observes, while it's true the salary disparities between the big and small market clubs won't be as wide as it was under the old CBA, this new deal is still tilted in favour of the big markets:
All of this means, ladies and gentlemen, that the "level playing field" supposedly created by the institution of the cap system just became skewed once again in favour of the league's richest teams.
Ostensibly, this is good news for the NHL because it means business is, in relative terms, good, although the improved Canadian dollar did a great deal to help the balance sheet look rosier.
This is also good news for the Maple Leafs, a team that had lost some of its financial muscle under the new cap system.
"Hopefully, it will restore a little more of the competitive advantage we had on the financing side, which will be nice," Leafs president Richard Peddie said.
But wasn't the idea of the lockout, or at least of the propaganda that drove the battle from the owners' side, to eliminate such competitive advantages?
That substantial gap, in theory, doesn't have to change for, as the cap rises, so does the floor.
But there are seven teams spending less than $30 million on players this season and another four believed to be at $34 million or less. Those 11 teams made those budget decisions based on their financial projections and some of those franchises are seeing drops in attendance and other revenue areas, not increases. See St. Louis. And Columbus. And Washington.
Just because overall league revenues are up doesn't mean, you see, that there aren't still significant disparities across the 30-team league.
Revenue sharing might help some, but there's nothing that says a team that benefits from revenue sharing has to actually spend that money on players. Such a team's owner can just pocket the extra dough.
Teams like the Leafs, Flyers, Avalanche, Canucks and Red Wings, you can bet, are going to charge right up to the new $45 million mark, which is still far less than what they used to spend, thus creating a new upper tier that's going to look a lot like the old NHL system.
Increased revenue and an increased cap is good news for the big markets and potentially bad news for small markets, or rather, the fans of small market teams who honestly believed this CBA was gonna level the ice surface.
I hate to say I told you so, folks, but I foresaw all this in the days and weeks following the ratification of the new CBA. Just check out my Soapbox archives for July, August and September and you'll see what I mean.
Despite a mandatory cap ceiling, not every team is going to spend up to it. Some clubs will spend as close to the floor as possible in order to become eligible for revenue sharing at season's end.
Cox claimed in his article there's no guarantee the owners of those clubs will spend that money on salaries, something that was also noted by CP's Pierre Lebrun in the aftermath of the week's meetings:
"There were some heated moments when the topic of revenue sharing came up Thursday. The top 10 revenue teams pay out into a fund that the bottom 15 clubs share. It would seem the richer clubs want assurances that the bottom feeders try as hard as they can to maximize their revenues and not become permanent revenue sharing receivers year in and year out."
That's interesting, because I was under the assumption (as were other observers) that it would be made mandatory in the CBA that those clubs eligible for revenue sharing dollars would spend it on improving their rosters rather than using it for other purposes. Of course, the new CBA still isn't available to the public because apparently it's still being finalized by NHL and NHLPA lawyers, or at least that was the last word I heard about it.
If there isn't anything in there, revenue sharing may not be used by some teams as it is supposed to be, which could be very frustrating to fans of those clubs hoping their ownership will use that money for the betterment of their rosters.
Even if teams spend the money they receive from revenue sharing on their rosters, there is a real possibility that many of those clubs won't spend much higher than the cap floor, which for next season could sit at between $28 million -$30 million.
And they'd be entirely within their rights to do so. There's nothing in the CBA mandating that teams must spend a certain amount above the cap floor, or to spend up to the league average payroll.
As Cox observes, nearly half the teams have payrolls less than $34 million, with seven spending less than $30 million this season. If they're unable or unwilling to spend closer to the $39 million cap this season, it's safe to assume most of them aren't going to be spending anywhere near $40 million next season, let alone if the cap hits between $42-$45 million.
And if those revenues keep rising over the next five years, pulling the cap and floor up with it, it becomes even less likely that their payrolls will hit the mid-to-upper $40 millions to keep pace with the big boys.
As one reader asked me, how long will it take until we start hearing complaints from small and mid-market owners that they can't keep up with the increase in salaries?
At the earliest, I'd say by the end of next summer if the cap hit $45 million for next season.
So much for the level ice surface as promised by the NHL.
Lebrun also had some interesting comments on Bettman and embattled NHLPA Executive Director Ted Saskin which are worth noting:
For Saskin, it's the kind of news that couldn't have come at a better time. As he continues to battle Trent Klatt, Ritch Winter and some 100 dissident players, he now has a powerful message to send to 730 players. If the revenues stay on target, they'll likely pay very little if any escrow - part of their pay put away in case league revenues are less than expected - at the end of the season. They'll not only get those 12 per cent deposits back in June but they'll get it with interest.
The bottom line is that Saskin can tell his players this CBA isn't quite as bad as first feared.
Saskin had to hang tough for the first two and half months of the season, the escrow payments a bitter pill to swallow for his membership after already rolling back contracts 24 per cent. In the meantime the dissident group was unrelenting in its attack, questioning the way he was hired and his predecessor fired.
Credit Saskin. He showed up at the group's morning meeting in Chicago on Tuesday and faced the music, including an angry Bob Lanza, the lawyer hired by Klatt to lead their fight. Winter also had words at the sanctioned agents' meeting in the afternoon, but found deaf ears. Saskin left Chicago very much with the overwhelming support of most agents and certainly the most influential.
Tuesday was the best chance Klatt's group had to succeed in its revolt. It failed.
Saskin may not be fully out of the woods yet. The US National Labor Relations Board is still looking into Klatt's compaints over how Saskin was hired, and if the NLRB rules in favor of Klatt, Saskin could face having to step down.
But if that should happen, he'd likely get his job back, for the majority of the players and agents could turn around and renominate him for the position.
As I noted earlier, increased revenues could rob Klatt and the dissidents of a major piece of ammunition in their fight against Saskin.
As for Bettman:
"Bettman, meanwhile, had every reason to crow if he wanted. He promised his owners that sacrificing en entire season would be well worth the price: a new CBA that guaranteed fiscal sanity. As he doled out the good news on the economic front Thursday, he might as well have added: ''I told you this is how it would play out. You should never have doubted me.''
But if revenues rise continually or remain above $2.2 billion over the life of the CBA, he could face the wrath of small and mid-market owners who will complain that the new CBA hasn't guaranteed fiscal sanity, especially if it's only the big market clubs who can afford to spend up to the cap ceiling, thus driving up player salaries, especially for star UFA players, who're now going to be much younger than they were under the old CBA.
Don't forget, Bettman had the support of 8 hard line owners to ensure that he'd get whatever he wanted. To this day we have no real idea how many owners were willing to reach a deal with the PA prior to Bettman cancelling the season last February.
If he loses the support of the hardliners (if they're still running their clubs by the time this deal expires in 2011) in the coming years, his grip on the Commissioner's seat could become tenuous.
Pierre Lebrun of the Canadian Press recently reported that projected revenues for the 2005-06 NHL season will be much higher than originally projected.
Revenues for this season were orIginally projected at $1.8 million following the lockout, which was the basis for the $39 million US salary cap for this season.
But according to Lebrun, "the way hockey revenue is now counted under the new CBA, that figure was more like $2.2 billion. So the pre-season projections already took into account a $400-million drop in revenues from before the lockout."
That $2.2 billion would be higher than the $2.1 billion the NHL reported in revenues for 2003-04, the last year of the old collective bargaining agreement.
It's interesting to note the league might make more money in the first year of the new CBA than it did under the old one, particularly after a season-killing labour dispute with its players.
This comes after ESPN decided not to renew its contract to cover NHL games, forcing the league into signing a lesser deal with OLN that pulls in far less viewers.
It comes with the NHL still working with NBC on a revenue-sharing contract that pays far less than what it used to get with ABC, which won't show an NHL game until January and whose coverage will be far less than ABC's.
Even after most clubs were forced to freeze or reduce ticket prices prior to the start of this season as a means of wooing back potentially disgruntled fans, the NHL still stands to make more money in the first year of its new CBA than it did in the final year of its old one.
This situation would indicate that there is more openness between the league and the NHLPA over how the teams report revenue, which was a serious point of contention for the PA during the lockout.
It's unlikely, however, that the general public will be able to have the same access to the league's books as the PA apparently now has.
As Lebrun noted, the projected increase in revenue is good news for the players, who recently paid 12% of their salaries into an escrow fund in case those salaries exceeded 54% of revenues.
Escrow was considered to be a sore point with some players, particularly those aligned with former NHL player and PA player executive member Trent Klatt, who has filed a grievance with the US National Labor Relations Board over the PA's hiring of Ted Saskin as Executive Director.
In his battle against Saskin, Klatt used the escrow issue against him:
" What about the way the CBA was sold to the players and the way the escrow was explained? Do you remember being told that the escrow would likely be less than 2% when the CBA was being sold to the players to ratify in Toronto? Do the Executive Board members remember the forced August 31st conference call that ended at close to 2 AM EDT when Executive Committee members assured everyone that the escrow payment would not be more than 1.9% after a player challenged the group and said the escrow would be 25%? My, my how things have changed since August 31st, 2005. Do the players understand that the escrow of 12% that was deducted from their first paychecks could likely increase as the season progresses?"
Early in the season, around the time the players saw their first escrow deductions at 12%, this gave Klatt even further ammo to fire at Saskin. Indeed, there were some media reports that the escrow payments could go as high as 20 percent, based on the fact player salaries for this season was over 54% of the originally projected $1.8 billion in revenues.
Given this latest news on revenues, however, it would appear that escrow may no longer be part of Klatt's ammunition in his battle against Saskin.
With revenues projected to be much higher than anticipated, they'll get their escrow payments back at season's end, for the higher revenues go, the less they'll have to pay into escrow and the more money they can make.
As Lebrun noted in an October 28th article:
"If revenues hit $1.9 billion this season, the escrow payment drops to 6.9 per cent. At $2 billion the escrow payment would only be 1.7 per cent and at $2.05 billion, players would get back, at the end of the season, more than they have squirreled away in escrow.
That would be appreciated, given existing player contracts were already rolled back 24 per cent."
Considering that $2.2 billion is the projected amount, escrow has (for this season at least) become a paper tiger for the players.
Indeed, if anything this may have tilted the odds in Saskin's favour in his quest to garner more support and trust from the players.
That also means that the salary cap, which is tied to revenue fluctuations, will be increasing for next season.
How much will it increase? Considering that the earlier projections were $1.7-$1.8 billion, and the salary cap was set at a certain percentage of those revenues, league projections are it could "possibly be a little higher" for next season.
One figure bandied about was $41 million but it's quite possible the cap could jump from $39 million to over $42 million for next season.
It could go even higher than that. According to a July 22nd report from Larry Brooks of the New York Post:
"(T)he players' share increases to 55-percent when revenues hit $2.2B; to 56-percent when revenues hit $2.4B; and to 57 percent should revenues ever hit $2.7 billion."
In the same article Brooks expressed concerns that the team owners might attempt to depress revenues in order to prevent such increases, but the recent news of increased revenues based on the way hockey revenue is now counted should allay his concerns.
It'll be interesting to see where the true number for the cap arrives at for next season, but that amount is going to have an impact on team payrolls for next season and how much free agent players could stand to make.
There will be some GMs who'll greet this news happily, particularly those whose payrolls are already bumping uncomfortably close to the present $39 million cap level.
They've been restricted in making roster additions this season (particularly to bring in players to fill in for injured regulars) because of the cap, however, they are allowed under the CBA to go over it by up to 7.5 percent, on the understanding that that amount would count against their cap for next season if they failed to reduce their payroll prior to season's end.
That could provide some much-needed short term breathing room for teams already close to being maxed out on the cap this year.
It also means teams will be able to spend more money on salaries next season. If the cap should be in the mid-to-upper $40 millions, that will represent a substantial increase for teams having to re-sign key players or those who'll look to the off-season for trades or free agent acquisitions to bolster their rosters for 2006-07.
Don't, however, expect all teams to get involved in the spending frenzy next summer. The traditional big market teams, the deep pocketed ones who bore the brunt of the blame for driving player salaries through the roof during the last CBA, will once again be the ones willing to spend to bring in the talent they desire.
Don't expect traditional small or mid-market teams to spend very much over their self-imposed caps. There won't be any blockbuster big name acquisitions by teams like the Edmonton Oilers next summer as we saw this past summer.
Oh, but the Oilers will be entitled to revenue sharing which will bolster their spending on salaries, right?
Only certain teams in certain markets will be eligible for revenue sharing, and of those teams, they'll have to have spent less than $30 million on payroll this season to qualify for revenue sharing next season.
The Oilers payroll to start this season was just over $32 million. Unless they engage in serious salary dumping before season's end, they either won't qualify or if they do won't receive very much.
Those players eligible for RFA or UFA status next summer and their agents likely cannot believe their good fortune upon hearing the news of higher revenue projections for this season.
Under the new CBA, a player cannot earn more than 20% of his team's salary cap amount. That meant the most one player could earn was $7.6 million for this season.
Next summer, a player could demand much more than that. For example, if the salary cap is set at $42 million, the top salary would be $8.4 million. If it's $45 million, the top salary would be $9 million. If it should leap to $49 million, it would be $9.8 million.
In the aftermath of the new CBA I believed the days of the $9-$10 million salaries may have been a thing of the past, but now it appears quite possible those salaries could become a likelihood within the next two seasons.
All this flies in the face of those critics who took the players to task for "capitulating" on linkage, escrow and the salary cap.
Yes, at first glance it did appear the NHL achieved it's "total victory" over the players, but as I and others noted last summer when the deal went down, there were plenty of points in that new CBA that could work to the players benefit.
They gave the league the salary cap it craved tied to revenues, but only if that cap could be tied to revenue fluctuations. They allowed their salaries to be tied to a percentage of revenues but only if that percentage would rise if revenues rose. They agreed to escrow but only if the payments could be substantially reduced as revenues rose.
None of this comes as a surprise to me. I predicted last summer following the ratification of the new CBA that revenues would increase this season, although to be honest I certainly didn't expect them to potentially exceed 2003-04 levels after only one season. I thought it would take another year or two to reach that mark.
Of course, most of these gains for the players will depend on league revenues continuing to rise, or at least remaining above $2.2 billion per season over the life of the CBA.
There's always the possibility that revenues could be lower next season or in subsequent seasons, that perhaps this season was merely a fluke, a brief resurgence from fans desperate for NHL hockey after missing it for an entire season.
Then again, given the generally favourable reviews given to the NHL's new rule changes designed to open up the game, the partnership between the league and the players to improve the league's product and popularity, the likelihood ticket prices will be on the rise after this season given the increases in attendence for this season, and of course the apparent improvement in how teams report revenues, it appears that the possibility of revenues falling below $2.2 billion per season over the course of the CBA are remote.
Note: Check out the December 16th column by the Toronto Star's Damien Cox for more on how the increase in revenue and the salary cap will tilt things once again in favour of the big market teams.
- A recent article by Arizona Republic's Bob McManaman focussed on the increase in attendance and goals in this first season following the loss of the 2004-05 season to lockout.
McManaman observes that both scoring and attendance is up significantly this season under the new NHL rules compared to the final years of the last CBA when obstruction disguised as defensive hockey sucked the life out of the game and adversely affected attendance.
League Commissioner Gary Bettman is thrilled over what he's seen from the new game, as he should be, but the Commish doesn't get off the hook with me.
The rules changes we've seen this season should've been implemented a long time ago, around the turn of the century, when it was becoming clear that the on-ice product was suffering because of so-called "defensive hockey" which in turn was leading to suffering at the box office for the NHL.
Remember following the 2002 Olympics when fans and pundits were raving over the high quality of those games and asked NHL officials if Olympic rules might be introduced to speed up the moribund product?
When asked why the NHL didn't take the red line out of it's game as per the Olympic one, Bettman rejected that suggestion, claiming that all that would occur would be teams lining up five defenders at the blueline (as the German team did with limited success during the 2002 Olympics).
Yet lo and behold, nearly four years and one season-killing lockout later, the red line has been taken out of the NHL game and voila, offence has picked up dramatically as a result.
Another reason for the improved offence has been the continued crackdown on obstruction.
The league attempted several times over the past dozen years to "get tough" on hooking, holding and interference masquarading as defensive hockey, but that resolve usually crumbled within a few weeks once players, coaches and even some general managers complained publicly.
Now the league appears determined to enforce their crackdown, but it's funny how it took a potentially crippling year-long lockout to finally force the powers-that-be who run the NHL to grow a spine.
I'll never forget what NY Islanders GM Mike Milbury said following a meeting of NHL general managers in the wake of the 2002 Winter Olympics. When asked if he and his peers were going to look into making significant changes to upgrade the NHL product, Milbury said, "We like our game the way it is".
Milbury probably spoke for most of his fellow GMs and the NHL front office as that certainly appeared the mindset in the years between the two lockouts.
MM and company may have liked it, but judging by the falling TV ratings on first Fox and then ABC and ESPN over the years, they were in a distinct minority.
Don't be fooled, folks, if the NHL powers that be knew for certain they could count on the overwhelming majority of NHL fans returning following the last lockout, there's no way they would've agreed to the sweeping changes we've seen introduced this season.
For all the talk of Brendan Shanahan being a "saviour" of the game by pushing for reforms, had he and his panel of players and GMs introduced them prior to the lockout he would've been listened to politely and then had most if not all of his suggestions dismissed.
The NHL braintrust wasn't thinking of improving their product, rather, they were only looking for a way to ensure they could get their fans back following a poisonous year without NHL hockey.
- In the same article, McManaman noted that, while the overall reviews for the new rules have been positive, not everyone is a fan of them.
He cited comments made by former NHL enforcer Dave "Tiger" Williams and Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman whereby both made it know they weren't happy with the new rules and how those rules affected the NHL game.
They're not the only ones. The normally unflappable Ron MacLean, host of Hockey Night in Canada, has been a bit of a grumpy boots over the rule changes, enough to earn some comment by Toronto Globe and Mail columnist William Houston on November 22nd:
National Hockey League seems to have made Ron MacLean a
MacLean, the Hockey Night host, is against the obstruction-free game becauseof the large number of penalties being called. His concerns about the crackdown are fair comment, but he doesn't seem interested in hearing dissenting opinion.
pursued his agenda, opposition to zero tolerance, by
What's more, Yzerman has been complaining privately about the new rules since training camp. It also would have been helpful to point out that he's 40 years old and can't keep up in the new game.
the sole panel member to have played in
As I've said many times since the start of the season, there needs to be time to allow the players and on-ice officials to adjust to the new rules.
Powerplays aren't going to dominate games forever. At some point, there will be fewer penalties called because the players will know what constitutes a penalty, or more specifically, what they can and cannot get away with.
Similarly the on-ice officials also need time to adjust and break years of calling games a certain way.
It's only been a couple of months but despite some obvious growing pains I like what I've seen thus far. The games have flow again, they're more exciting to watch, and much of the energy-draining clutch and grab tactics have been minimized.
I realize folks are going to complain about how it's not hockey, that it's going to upset the delicate sensibilities of many self-proclaimed "purists", but a quick look through NHL history reveals the one constant is change.
Some folks go on about how scoring stats are now inflated because of these rules. You know what? That complaint about inflated stats has been heard throughout NHL history for one reason or another.
When Maurice Richard became the first player to score 50 goals (in fifty games, no less) in 1944, some dismissed that record because he did in during World War II, when some of the NHL better players were serving overseas. The inference was that the Rocket accomplished his feat against inferior opposition.
When Bobby Hull became the first player to break the fifty goal plateau in 1966, critics complained he never would've done it if he'd played in an era without the slapshot and the curved stick.
When Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito went on to set mind-boggling offensive records in the early 1970s, their efforts were dismissed because they did it against "watered-down opposition".
And when Wayne Gretzky shattered almost every scoring record imaginable, he heard the same criticism as Richard, Orr and Esposito before him.
Hockey fans who followed the game in the 70s, 80s and early 90s look back fondly on those times because of the more wide-open playing style generated then. Few will look back fondly on the Dead Puck era of 1995-2004.
Some complain that the physical aspect of the game has been taken away. I dunno what games these folks are watching, but I've seen plenty of physical play thus far this season.
What I have seen is a blessed reduction in uncalled obstruction that had turned the NHL product in mostly a turgid affair that was only worth watching come playoff time, and even then was still capable of eliciting yawns at times (the 2003 Stanley Cup finals).
Some are upset that the role of the enforcer may be on its way out. And this is bad how, exactly?
Listen, I didn't shy away from the rough stuff during my minor hockey/rec league days, and I've never shied away from watching it in the NHL. I still believe that if the NHL truly wants to market itself as a major league sport in the United States, it'll have to do away with fighting, but I've always enjoyed a good tussle between two evenly matched opponents.
My biggest complaint was that the so-called enforcers turned into one-dimensional players, known only for their pugilistic skills rather than their playing skills.
I have no problem with tough guys who can also skate, shoot, stickhandle and pass. There are Hall of Famers, like Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Bobby Orr, who could handle themselves when the need arose and didn't need a goon to fight their battles for them.
Heck, former Montreal Canadiens enforcer John Ferguson was one of the most feared men in the sport, but he could also play, regularly placed on a line with Jean Beliveau and Yvan Cournoyer in the 1960s. Yes, he was there to watch their backs, but he had to be able to play in order to stay on their line for more than a couple of shifts.
Tiger Williams may hold the NHL record for penalty minutes, but the man could also play the game, as witnessed by his regular shifts with Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald in the late 70s with the Maple Leafs.
I was a big fan of former Maple Leafs Wendal Clark because he could shoot, skate and hit as well as he could fight. Former Detroit Red Wing Bob Probert proved he was just as good as Clark until his personal demons got the better of him.
That's one reason why I'm a big fan of Calgary's Jarome Iginla. Nobody has to fight his battles for him and he's not shy to drop 'em when challenged.
If these new rules mean the end of the one-dimensional goon, I'm all for it. We'll still see fights in hockey, but now they'll be involving players who are much more complete than the so-called enforcers of the past thirty years.
Now obviously if some problems should arise because of these new rules, they should be addressed quickly, rather than to be allowed to fester and mutate as they did over the past ten years because of the apathy of those running the NHL.
But a more open game with more players of skill bringing more flow and excitement to the product certainly looks and sounds good to me.
- First Steve Yzerman, now Mario Lemieux has taken his name off the Team Canada roster for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Some may suggest that it won't seem like Team Canada with Lemieux or Yzerman. Toronto Sun reporter Lance Hornby whose story I linked to did.
I say, thank goodness they won't be there. If anything, they did Wayne Gretzky and Team Canada a big favour by taking themselves off the roster.
Listen, I'm a big fan of both players, but it's been painfully - PAINFULLY - obvious that they're no longer the players they were in Salt Lake City nearly four years ago when they helped Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men's hockey in fifty years.
Lemieux has been plagued by injury and illness this season, Yzerman by his nagging knee.
But worse, both have for the first time ever showed their age. They can no longer play at a high level.
Some (wrongly) accuse the new NHL rules, but it's obvious to anyone not wearing rose-coloured glasses that Father Time has finally caught up to them.
After all, if they were the players they once were, they'd be thriving under the new rules, which has opened up the offensive side of the NHL game.
Lemieux has always been known for his offensive wizardy, and long before he became a "complete player", Yzerman was too.
To win gold again Canada must ice the best team possible, made up of players in their prime who can get the job done.
They don't need two once-great but now fading players taking away ice time from more deserving ones because of their legacies. The goal is to win gold, not give roster spots to players by divine right.
Has it really been ten years since the Montreal Canadiens trade goaltender Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche?
John Meagher of the Montreal Gazette had a good article yesterday on the Roy trade and its aftermath, focusing predominantly on Roy's side of the story.
For the man dubbed "St. Patrick", the wounds from the night of December 2nd, 1995 and his subsequent trade on December 6th have apparently never fully healed.
Some hockey fans, indeed, more than a few Habs fans, love to play the "What If" game about that episode. It even appeared in a special Hockey News publication ("Great Debates") during the lockout last fall.
I took the time to review that debate last year, and I'm reposting it today for two reasons. First, because my readership dropped substantially because of the lockout there may be a large number of you who didn't read my take on this topic. Second, because it has, after all, been ten years since the biggest shock to the Montreal Canadiens in recent history took place.
I'll also be dropping in additional comments (italicized for your protection) to further address certain points in the original piece.
"It's by now an infamous piece of Montreal Canadiens history. A simmering behind-the-scenes feud between then-Habs head coach Mario Tremblay and goaltender Roy exploded on the night of December 2nd, 1995 in a home game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The struggling Canadiens were blown out 11-1, their worst home ice loss in franchise history,with Roy kept in goal for 9 of those Wings tallies. Furious with Tremblay's refusal to pull him earlier from the game and with the razzing of the hometown fans burning in his ears, Roy blew his stack when he was finally yanked, stomping past Tremblay to tell then-Habs president Ronald Corey he'd played his final game for the Canadiens.
But what if Tremblay had pulled Roy earlier in the game? What if they worked out their differences? What if the Canadiens fired Tremblay rather than trade Roy? Would Canadiens history have been different?
Most point to the Roy trade as the moment when the Canadiens seven year decline into also-ran status began, initiating one of the darkest periods in the team's long, illustrious history.
Spector's Note: The truth is, the Canadiens were in slow decline prior to that. Trading Patrick Roy merely hastened their demise.
Former GM Serge Savard had done a fine job in the 1980s, including drafting Roy in 1984, but by the early 90s, his attention was more on his outside business interests than on the Canadiens.
As a result, he made trades and draft picks that were questionable, and despite the team's surprise Cup win in 1993, Savard's Canadiens were already on a downward spiral.
Denver Post hockey columnist Adrian Dater does a fine job (in the "Great Debates" piece) in pointing out that there was "too much friction" between Roy and the team's front office for him to remain with the club for much longer.
Those tensions began in 1993, when a poll in a Montreal newspaper showed a majority of Habs fans felt it was time for Roy to move on. This of course came months before Roy carried the Canadiens to their 24th Stanley Cup, and he used that poll as motivation to prove his critics wrong."
Spector's Note: The role of the Montreal fans, especially on the night in question, cannot be overlooked. Canadiens fans are considered among the most demanding in the NHL, especially those residing in Montreal, where decades of success spoiled them.
Habs fans have always been super critical of their best players, with rare exceptions (Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur). For all the fingerpointing as to who was to blame for Roy's eventual departure, the fans at the Forum that night deserved their fair share.
"Dater also noted that "there were tensions between Roy and some teammates, who viewed him as too much of a dressing-room lawyer and selfish". Speculation of those tensions flew for months before Roy had his memorable blow-up on national television."
Spector's Note: The rumours ran lrom the bizarre(Mathieu Schneider's supposed affair with Roy's wife) to the more plausible (Roy's criticism of Kirk Muller's captaincy). The biggest problem was that the coaching staff of the day, headed by Jacques Demers, placed Roy above his teammates, which only exacerbated the situation.
More than once, Demers tolds the media Roy was his only franchise player. That was true, but it sent the wrong message to his teammates. Demers could've handled the situation better to diffuse the tensions but didn't.
"Roy dislike of Tremblay also added more fuel to the fire, as Dater correctly noted, the netminder considered Tremblay as "too young and inexperienced " to coach the club. Coincidentally, Tremblay roomed with Roy during the netminder's rookie season."
Spector's Note: In the Meagher piece, Roy doesn't blame Tremblay or then-GM Rejean Houle, but rather then-team president Ronald Corey for hiring these two in the first place. Roy makes a good point, after all, if Corey had hired someone with more experience behind the bench, the situation that led to the Roy trade wouldn't have happened.
Corey did a lot for the Canadiens during his tenure, after all, he hired Serge Savard (himself a novice) as general manager in 1983 and the club went to the finals three times, winning the Stanley Cup twice, during Corey's tenure. He was also a major factor in the building of the Bell Centre as well as the classy transition of the club from the Forum to their new venue.
But in hiring Houle and especially the fiery, inexperienced Tremblay, Corey accelerated the team's dramatic decline in the late 1990s and the early part of this decade.
"There are other reasons why Roy wouldn't have remained with the Canadiens.
For one thing, according to a report several years ago in the Montreal Gazette, Savard was working on a deal that would've dealt Roy to the Chicago Blackhawks before he was fired and replaced with Houle.
According to the Gazette, the plan was to trade Roy to Chicago for Eddie Belfour, whom the 'Hawks apparently had no intention of re-signing when his contract expired following the 1996-97 season. Houle is believed to have killed that deal when he took over as GM.
That would raise interesting speculation as to how the careers of Roy and Belfour would've been different had that deal gone through.
But suppose Tremblay had pulled Roy earlier in the game? Roy wouldn't have lost his temper, but you can bet that tensions between the two would've continued to grow, eventually forcing Houle to choose between his talented but tempermental netminder and his coach.
Given that Houle chose Tremblay over Roy in 1995, it's a good bet he would've done the same thing later on."
Spector's Note: Houle's been slammed mercilessly for his inexperience as general manager hastening the club's decline and justifiably so, but a lot of folks forget that, at the time, he was praised for his "gutsy" decision to move Roy and for the return he received - Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. All three were considered highly promising players back then.
Houle was (and remains) a nice guy, but he obviously wasn't a very good general manager. Still, not everything he touched turned to crap. He drafted Mike Ribeiro, Andrei Markov and Michael Ryder in 1998, and acquired Sheldon Souray from the New Jersey Devils. All four have gone on to become very important players for the resurgent Canadiens.
"Even if Roy had outlasted Tremblay, two things would've ensured that he wouldn't have remained in Montreal much longer: the decline of the Habs and rising player salaries.
By 1998-99, several years of bad trades, a rash of serious injuries and a lack of quality roster depth sent the Habs into a spiral, missing the playoffs for an unprecedented three consecutive seasons from 1999 to 2001.
Given Roy's competitive nature, it's highly unlikely he would've wanted to stick around while the Habs were engaged in a major rebuilding process. He would've wanted to play for a legitimate contender, so it's safe to assume he would've demanded a trade.
Even if the Habs resisted the notion of trading him, it's highly unlikely they would've afforded the high cost of paying his salary. By 2000, Roy was pulling in $7.5 million per season with the Colorado Avalanche. The Habs had consistently made Roy one of the highest paid netminders in the game, but even St. Patrick's asking price would've likely been out of their range by the turn of the century.
- Regarding the Joe Thornton trade, this is a move that will likely help both clubs, but I don't think it's fair for some in the Boston media to make him out to be the scapegoat for the team's troubles this season.
Yes, I know that Thornton has come up small in his post-season play for the B's, but I really didn't like how the Boston press ran him down in the 2004 playoffs when he was playing with a serious rib injury.
Worse, the Bruins front office didn't bother to back up their captain, knowing full well he was playing in pain.
I have to admit that I was surprised when the Bruins made that lucrative contract offer to Thornton this past summer, but I was shocked when he decided to sign it.
I doubt very much he took that contract because it was the best he could find. True, he was a restricted free agent meaning that another team would've had to have made an offer sheet, and there simply may not have been anyone willing to do so, or even to make a trade for his services at that time.
Joe had already spent a year overseas and probably didn't want to do that again now that the NHL was back in action. He also said he wanted to come back because he loved playing in Boston and wanted to play with guys like Sergei Samsonov and Glen Murray again.
But let's face it, the damage had been done between Thornton and the Bruins braintrust. While he was their leading scorer this season, he no longer appeared to be enjoying himself out there.
There's been talk of too much too soon for Jumbo Joe, that he shouldn't have been made the club's captain at such a young age. That may have true, perhaps the burden of the captaincy was weighing down on Thornton.
He'll get his chance at a fresh start in San Jose, and early returns certainly appear positive.
But the Bruins management didn't handle this well. Their unwillingness to stand by Thornton following last year's upset at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens poisoned the atmosphere between the two sides, and set in motion the inevitable parting of ways.
- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman finally took World Anti-Doping Agency head Dick Pound to task for his recent comments about 30% of NHL players taking performance enhancing drugs:
'We've sent a letter to Mr. Pound demanding to know on what he based his inflammatory statements,'' Bettman told the Toronto Sun on Saturday. ''Everything he says is anecdotal. We deserve specifics, not hearsay and innuendoes. Dick Pound insulted our players with his accusations. It wasn't fair, appropriate or right.''
Pound meanwhile maintains he has "conclusive information from club doctors, coaches, trainers and some players. I don't want to say more right now.''
Excuse me, Mr. Pound, but with all due respect, if you're gonna make a blanket statement about NHL players taking drugs, you'd better be prepared to publicly support your statements. Being the head of the WADA doesn't mean you can make unsubstantiated claims.
Put up or shut up.
- So let me get this straight: the NHL fines Ottawa Senators head coach Bryan Murray $10,000.00 and suspends all-star defenceman Zdeno Chara for the latter's instigating a fight in the final minutes of the Sens-LA Kings game on Friday.
Yet when Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan does the same thing in a game a few weeks ago against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Doan gets away unscathed and head coach Wayne Gretzky doesn't get fined because essentially, Doan isn't that kind of player.
Wouldn't be any favoritism being shown to the Great One by the league's front office, would there? After all, it would be a bit of an embarrassment to fine Gretzky, wouldn't it?
And if there's one thing the league doesn't want, it's embarrassment...although that certainly doesn't explain why Sean Avery is still playing.
- Oh and for you Avery fans, I realize he's playing the role of "superpest", but his mouth is writing cheques his body can't cash.
It's one thing to be outspoken, but it's quite another to be a bigoted(his comments about Europeans and Quebecers), hypocritical (supporting the PA's position in the lockout and then blaming its leadership when it failed) jerk.
- I see some fans and pundits here in Canada are getting a tad upset over Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe's dream of his province icing a "Team Quebec" in international play.
Let's just see this for what it is, folks, merely an election ploy by a wily politician to encourage more votes for himself in La Belle Province and to further stoke anti-French sentiment in English Canada, thus furthering the Bloc's cause of seperatism.
Good luck getting Mario Lemieux, Martin Brodeur, and Vincent Lecavalier to play for you, Gilles. Lecavalier already let his sentiments be known:
"Canada is a real country." "I'm a proud Canadian".
- And finally, kids, this public service tip: beer and Gordon's gin doesn't mix, which explains my inability to update this site yesterday.
Remember, friends don't let friends drink stupidly...