- Biggest gamble: The Detroit Red Wings trading for Todd Bertuzzi. They're taking a chance on "Big Bert" returning to form in time for the playoffs, and remember, his post-season record isn't that great. At least the return wasn't too much.
- Biggest shock: The Edmonton Oilers trading Ryan Smyth to the Islanders. That's the final kick in the nuts this year for Oilers fans who've dealt with their team sucking ass this season after suffering the heartbreak of coming so close to winning the 2006 Stanley Cup and the bitterness of Chris Pronger's departure. If I'm an Oilers fan, I'd be getting awfully tired of seeing my team's best players dealt away over the last twenty years because of my team's inability or unwillingness to retain them.
- Deadline winners: The Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders were the biggest winners over the frenzied final days leading up to the deadline. They gave up very little to gain a lot.
- Deadline losers: I hate tagging any teams as losers at the deadline, as there are usually good reasons for teams doing little or nothing at the deadline. But if I must, I'd list the Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers.
- Give some respect to NY Islanders GM Garth Snow and Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.
Snow was considered a laughable choice as the Isles GM, but thus far this season he's made moves that have benefitted his team, not the least being his shocking acqusition of Ryan Smyth. Yes, he gave up a first rounder and two prospects, and Smyth may not re-sign with the Isles after this season, but Snow brought in immediate help without gutting his current lineup.
Holmgren has put up with a lot of abuse from angry Flyers fans over the current plight of the team, but in recent weeks he's done a lot to quiet those criticisms. He dumped some expensive dead weight for returns of promising youngsters, added some draft picks, and cleared over $24 million in cap space in anticipation of shopping in this summer's UFA market.
Nicely done, gentlemen.
- Tampa Bay Lightning GM Jay Feaster didn't make any blockbusters, but his recent additions may have given his team a shot at a lengthy playoff run this spring. He added defensive depth on his blueline by landing Shane O'Brien from Anaheim, and grit for his forward lines in Jason Ward and Karl Stewart.
Sometimes, it's not the big trades that can carry a team to playoff success, but the little ones, and these moves could make the resurgent Bolts a much tougher playoff team.
- Why all the draft picks moving? There was an unusually high number of draft picks on the move leading up to this year's deadline, especially first round draft picks. Ordinarily, teams guard their first rounders like gold, refusing to part with them for love or money, but they were being freely tossed around this year.
Two schools of though on this. First, this year's draft pool isn't considered a particularly deep one, which may explain why so many teams were willing to part with those picks. Another suggests that some teams may be putting less emphasis on drafting and developing talent, preferring instead to acquire established talent via trade and especially the UFA market, where stars as young as 25 can be had for the right price.
I'd say it's a little from column "A" and a little from column "B".
- Full disclosure time: I was assisting Eklund on deadline day, contributing trade rumours I'd picked up in the media (as I only deal with media generated rumours). He asked me several weeks ago if I'd help him out, it was a one-day business offer so I took him up on it.
I didn't bother mentioning it leading up to deadline day because I didn't want to distract from Eklund's contributions to Sportsnet's deadline show. Besides, I was but one of his many contributors so I saw my role as a minor one.
- Another full disclosure: I give Sportsnet's "Trade Deadline Bash" a thumbs-down.
In the past I used to switch back and forth between Sportsnet and TSN on deadline day, finding their coverage fairly equal.
This year, I started out watching TSN on broadband and Sportsnet on TV, but after about two hours in I gave up and switched to watching TSN exclusively.
TSN was breaking more trades and stories faster than Sportsnet, stuck to the facts and provided more interviews with the players who were traded.
Put simply, I found Sportsnet's party atmosphere too much of a distraction.
Like The Globe and Mail's William Houston, I feel Sportsnet deserves credit for trying something different, and hopefully they won't be afraid to keep looking at different ways of improving and presenting their deadline day coverage.
I just don't want them to return to the frat party coverage next year.
Can those who run CBC sports and Hockey Night in Canada possibly get their lips off the keesters of the Toronto Maple Leafs long enough to actually look around and realize there's some quality hockey elsewhere in Eastern Canada on Saturday nights?
Case in point: the much-anticipated rematch between the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres following their electrifying punch-up two nights prior.
For those who missed it, here's a clip courtesy of YouTube:
Everyone in hockey was talking about this game. I'll bet the majority of hockey fans in Canada, regardless of their favourite team, was eagerly awaiting the rematch on Hockey Night in Canada.
And what do we get nationwide? Or at least, here in the Maritimes?
The struggling Maple Leafs against the doormat Philadelphia Flyers.
Braaa-vo, CBC. Clap......clap.....clap.
This isn't an anti-Leafs diatribe. I don't hate the Toronto Maple Leafs. I also grudgingly understand that the ratings of Southern Ontario (aka "Leafs Nation") carries weight with CBC brass.
But I'm willing to bet even a majority of denizens in "Leafs Nation" were looking forward to the rematch between the Sens and Sabres, if for nothing else than to hope to see these two rivals of the Leafs beat the snot out of each other again.
CBC and HNIC acknowledged the Sens-Sabres tilt in their pre-game show, and that was it. They ignored the excited fan buzz over a game that would have a playoff quality to it to televise a sleeper.
Don't tell me that this Flyers-Leafs match was already planned weeks in advance and the schedule couldn't be changed, because that's a crock of BS.
Oh, but we got scoring updates throughout the game from Ottawa. And it was so nice of Bob Cole, who was doing the play-by-play for the Leafs game, to point out during the third period of that game that the Senators and Sabres have quite a rivalry going since last spring's playoffs.
They certainly have, Bob. Of course, we have no way of finding that out for ourselves on CBC this season, since your employer has a policy of Leafs uber alles.
And, oh goodie, when the Leafs slaughter of the sad-sack Flyers was complete, HNIC switched over to the Senators-Sabres game, but only after the Leafs game was done.
They could've cut over when the Leafs victory was assured, like, oh, say, mid-way through the third, particularly when the Senators and Sabres were tearing it up at Scotiabank Place, but no, HNIC just had to milk every second of the Leafs beating the Flyers like a pinata while a more entertaining game was going on in Ottawa.
Look, stop insulting our collective intelligence, CBC. Stop calling your flagship sport show, "Hockey Night In Canada", or at least stop calling it that for the first game of your Saturday doubleheader.
Just call it "Hockey Night in Toronto" for Game One and leave it at that. After all, it's been that way for years.
It hasn't truly been "Hockey Night in Canada" since Molson's stopped sponsoring the show in the late-1990s. The only time it becomes Hockey Night "In Canada" during the regular season is during the second half of the Saturday doubleheader from one of Canada's western franchises.
If CBC and the folks at HNIC were truly paying attention to Canadian hockey fans, the Senators-Sabres game would've received national coverage.
If it were really "Hockey Night in Canada", the Sabres-Senators game would've been televised, not a yawn-fest between the mediocre Leafs and the league's cellar-dweller.
And yes, Leafs fans, your team is mediocre. So's my Montreal Canadiens. If those two clubs weren't wallowing in mediocrity, they wouldn't be struggling to make the playoffs this season. The Leafs and Habs are at best "first round and out" teams. So spare me the "Spector's anti-Leafs, pro-Habs bias is clouding his judgement" nonsense.
You know, until this past Saturday night, despite the obvious bias toward the Leafs by CBC, I hoped that the public broadcaster would retain its decades-long deal with the NHL to televise games on Saturday nights and during the playoffs.
See, I'm a bit of a traditionalist and the thought of no more HNIC on CBC didn't sit well with me...until the night of February 24th, 2007.
This was the last straw for me. I'm so thoroughly disgusted by CBC Sports' incompetence, I now hope TSN gets the contract.
Sure, TSN will cater to "Leafs Nation" too, but I betcha TSN would be savvy enough to pre-empt a scheduled Leafs game if a more exciting matchup was gonna happen in Ottawa or Montreal.
With all or most of the NHL teams approaching or passing the 60 game mark, here's a look at they're doing down the stretch.
Today, a look at the stern Conference (as of the standings on February 24th).
BUFFALO SABRES: They've been perched atop the East throughout the season, but injuries are starting to pile up for the Sabres, and there's some concern about the quality of their blueline depth. Still, throughout it all the Sabres continue to dominate, and once they get some of their injured players back for the playoffs, should be a formidable opponent.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Once again the Devils are amongst the league's elite teams, thanks as usual to Martin Brodeur's outstanding goaltending and their defence-first system. There are concerns regarding their offensive depth, but critics should know by now never to rule out the Devils. They're a team nobody wants to face in the post-season.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Staged a stunning mid-season turnaround to vault themselves from also-ran into legitimate playoff contender. Their resurgence has been led by Vincent Lecavalier (having a career season) and Martin St. Louis (rediscovered his scoring touch). Still, there are worries over the quality of their goaltending tandem and their defensive depth, which could carry over into the playoffs.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Thanks to their young guns, led by Sidney Crosby, the Pens have surprised many observers with their vast improvement this season. They're a young, exciting team but their weak defensive game has at times proven costly. If they're to go deep in the playoffs, they must improve this critical area of their game.
OTTAWA SENATORS: Like the Lightning, the Sens staged a mid-season resurgence that has battling for one of the top four spots in the East. Key to their improvement is the goaltending of Ray Emery and their strong play at both ends of the rink. As usual, however, questions regarding their heart and grit continue to dog the Sens, which aren't likely to subside when they hit the post-season.
ATLANTA THRASHERS: After ruling the Southeast Division for most of the season the Thrashers were supplanted by the Lightning. Inconsistency from several key players, notably starting goalie Kari Lehtonen, and a lack of depth at centre are cited as the chief reasons for their recent struggles. Their hopes of finally making the playoffs aren't as strong as they once were, and they could find it a battle the rest of the way.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: A two month slump dropped them from fourth to 10th overall before a mini-rally buoyed them into seventh. Still, there are concerns over team chemistry, which has fallen apart since mid-December. Injuries to key veterans might become a factor. With the playoff race tightening up, the Canadiens are in danger of falling out of contention, and cannot afford another slump.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: The defending champs have not been playing with the same intensity that brought them the Stanley Cup last season, and face the embarrassing possibility of missing the playoffs. Several key players, including playoff heroes Cam Ward and Eric Staal, have not played as well as expected this season. The Hurricanes must find that missing gear if they're to defend their title in the 2007 playoffs.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: A mid-season slump nearly knocked them out of contention but thanks to Ted Nolan's coaching and Rick DiPietro's goaltending the Isles are still in the chase. The recent acquisition of Marc Andre Bergeron could provide a much-needed boost to their powerplay, which could in turn keep them in the race the rest of the way.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Led by captain Mats Sundin the Leafs have fought their way into the playoff race at the most important time of the year. Still, they'll need more than just Sundin to get them over the hump. Goalie Andrew Raycroft must step up his game, and they'll be hoping to get back winger Darcy Tucker from injury soon. The Leafs will need a full team effort to make it.
BOSTON BRUINS: A few weeks ago the Bruins appeared to be in free-fall, but a recent acquisition of Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobesaw appears to have rejuvenated this team. They still have a fight on their hands to make the playoffs but their recent play of late suggests they're not to be taken lightly down the stretch.
NEW YORK RANGERS: The Rangers aren't out of it yet, but they're skating on very thin ice. Jaromir Jagr continues to be bothered by a shoulder injury, Henrik Lundqvist isn't playing at the same level he was a year ago, and Brendan Shanahan's out indefinitely with a concussion. If the Blueshirts are to make the playoffs, they'll need to rally over the coming weeks or start planning their April tee times.
FLORIDA PANTHERS: Management hasn't given up on their playoff hopes, but barring a stunning charge down the stretch, the Panthers won't be able to dig out of the deep hole they've dug for themselves in the standings. Looks like another long off-season of rebuilding is in store in Florida.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: A promising young team that is still at least another year or two away from playoff contention. Management should consider bringing in a playmaking center for Alexander Ovechkin's line, otherwise expect the rebuilding to continue in Washington.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: The season from hell is nearly over and not soon enough for disappointed Flyers fans. The rebuilding began with the trading away of Peter Forsberg and more veterans could be on their way out either via trade or free agency. Expect management to make some major roster changes in the off-season.
With all or most of the NHL teams approaching or passing the 60 game mark, here's a look at they're doing down the stretch.
Today, a look at the Western Conference (as of the standings on February 20th). On Sunday, the Eastern.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS. Their acquisition of Peter Forsberg clearly indicates this team is going for the Cup this season. Although they've stumbled slightly over their last ten games, the Predators remain atop the Western Conference. With depth at all positions, they appear poised for a lengthy playoff run.
ANAHEIM DUCKS. The Ducks have stumbled in the second half, dropping to second overall. Injuries and inconsistent play have hampered them since the Christmas holidays, fuelling speculation management could swing a trade. There's plenty of depth on this team to make them a serious playoff club but they must get their "A" game back to avoid slipping further in the standings.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS. One of the hottest teams in the league thus far in the second half. No longer the exciting run-and-gun Canucks but instead a more defensively sound team. The Sedin twins continue to lead the club offensively, and with goalie Roberto Luongo determined to make the playoffs for the first time in his career, the Canucks should be in good shape down the stretch.
DETROIT RED WINGS. Remain one of the top clubs in the West, thanks (as always) to a good mix of veteran talent and rising young stars. It's believed management will try to bolster their scoring depth by the trade deadline, but even if unsuccessful there's enough talent on this team to keep them among the best in the league.
SAN JOSE SHARKS. Despite their depth of talent they remain a puzzle. At times they can play like the best team in the league, at others (such as their last ten games) they can play like one of the worst. Consistency remains a challenge for the Sharks, something they'll need if they're to go deep in this year's playoffs.
DALLAS STARS. Could be poised to make some noise down the stretch. They survived a series of injuries to key forwards, including Mike Modano, who recently returned to the lineup, and bolstered their offence acquiring Ladislav Nagy from Phoenix. Just the return of Modano alone has made them a much stronger club. Should they get the rest of their injured forwards back, they could be a dangerous playoff team.
CALGARY FLAMES. Still renowned for their strong defensive game, the Flames have been playing better offensively this season. There are some concerns, however, over that vaunted defence, as at times this season they've struggled in that regard. There's some concern goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is being overused. They're a strong home team but possess one of the league's worst road records, which doesn't bode well if that carries over into the playoffs.
MINNESOTA WILD. Like the Flames the Wild have one of the worst road records in the league, but in recent weeks that appears to be improving. Since January the Wild have solidified a hold on one of the final playoff berths in the West. A big reason is the return to action of star forward Marian Gaborik, who with Pavol Demitra have given the Wild a lethal offensive punch that was missing earlier in the season.
EDMONTON OILERS. Barring a miraculous turnaround, the Oilers could miss the playoffs only one year after going to the Stanley Cup finals. Injuries and inconsistency have dogged them in recent weeks. Unless this team can start scoring more, their playoff hopes will be soon dashed.
COLORADO AVALANCHE. Could miss the playoffs for the first time since moving to Denver 11 seasons ago. The goaltending has been shaky at times, and their blueline corps still hasn't recovered from losing Rob Blake to free agency last season. The one bright spot is their forwards, particularly their promising youngsters. Avs management could be looking toward rebuilding.
ST. LOUIS BLUES. The Blues have made notable improvement since hiring Andy Murray as head coach earlier this season, but not enough to make the playoffs. Still, their resurgence should provide hope to their fans for next season. For now, the main concern is whether or not Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin and Eric Brewer end up shopped by the deadline or re-sign before July.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS. If not for injuries to their key players, including top scorer Martin Havlat, the 'Hawks might be in the thick of the playoff race in the West. Now, the only thing Blackhawks fans have to look forward to is the annual firesale of impending UFA veterans.
PHOENIX COYOTES. After battling back last month into playoff contention the Coyotes were unable to sustain their strong play, sliding once again out of the race. They've already dealt away Ladislav Nagy and re-sign Shane Doan, so now the question is, which players might they ship out at the trade deadline.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS. Another season of unfulfilled promise is nearly over for the Jackets, and questions are being raised over the management skills of Doug MacLean. Still, hiring Ken Hitchcock as head coach should give him a pass for another year, as should the potential re-signing of winger Fredrik Modin. It'll be interesting to see what moves MacLean makes at the deadline and during the off-season.
LOS ANGELES KINGS. The rebuilding process continues in LA under first year GM Dean Lombardi, who dealt away overpaid center Craig Conroy and troublesome forward Sean Avery, and could be shipping out one or more of his impending UFAs by the deadline. The one bright spot this season was the play of young Kings like rookie sensation Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov and Mike Cammalleri, which should provide hope for next season.
As the 2006-07 NHL regular season heads into the homestretch, the question, once again, for Canadian hockey fans is, "Which of Canada's six teams has the best chance to bring home the Stanley Cup for the first time in fourteen years?"
The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers confounded the hockey experts and surprised their own fans by making it to the last two Stanley Cup finals, only to come up one game short.
The Flames remain one of the better teams in the Western Conference, although not as dominant as they were a year ago. Strong goaltending and stingy defence are their hallmark, but it remains to be seen if their offence is good enough to carry them deep into the playoffs. Flames fans will point to Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius, Matt Lombardi and the returning Craig Conroy as proof of an improved offence, but the proof is in the playoffs, not the regular season.
The Oilers, on the other hand, have fallen out of the playoff race by eight points as of this writing, and are in danger of missing the big dance altogether. Their goaltending has been okay, but their overall performance has been inconsistent this season. Unless GM Kevin Lowe can pull off a season-saving trade, or this current roster can regain the overachieving form of last year's playoffs, the Oilers will be on the golf course in early April.
The Montreal Canadiens, the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup, are free-falling in the standings like they did a year ago. Goaltender Cristobal Huet saved them last season, but there doesn't appear to be a saviour comng this time around. They're going to miss the playoffs, but even if they somehow squeak in, they're at best a first-round and out team. Mediocrity reigns in Montreal with no end in sight.
The Vancouver Canucks, the 1994 Stanley Cup finalists, appear to be another version of the Flames. Strong in goal, playing an overall sound defensive game, but lacking quality offensive depth. Goaltender Roberto Luongo is determined to make the playoffs for the first time in his career and he'll likely achieve it, but without a deeper offensive attack, his exploits won't be enough to carry the Canucks to the Cup.
The Toronto Maple Leafs recently commemorated the 1967 Cup champion team, the last one to bring the big mug to "The Big Smoke". Don't expect this season's version of the Leafs to break that drought, despite the best efforts of Mat Sundin, their sometimes under-appreciated captain, who's the reason why the Leafs have clawed back into post-season contention. Put simply, they lack the depth at key positions to get the job done.
Finally, there's the Ottawa Senators, the team that is usually the best Canadian team in the regular season but always comes up small in the post-season. After a slow start to the season the Sens have climbed back into the upper echelon of the Eastern standings, but it remains to be seen if they have what it takes this season to finally go all the way.
So which is Canada's team?
None of them are. I simply don't see any Canadian team that looks good enough to bring Lord Stanley's mug back to Canada for the first time since 1993.
Barring a miraculous turnaround down the stretch, the Habs and Oilers are toast at worst, first-round-and-out at best.
I'm not convinced the Canucks and Flames have the offensive depth needed to carry them to the Finals.
The Leafs lack a big-game goalie, their defensive game is average at best, and their over-reliance on Mats Sundin won't get them past the second round, provided they make it that far.
The Senators have folded so many times under playoff pressure that I cannot bring myself to believe that this is the year they finally shed their choke artists label.
Don't get me wrong, my fellow Canadians, nothing would make me happier than for one of the above to prove me wrong and go all the way to Cup glory this season. Yes, even as a Habs fan, I'd cheer loudly for the Maple Leafs if they could finally bring their Cup drought, and the nation's, to an end.
And yes, I realize that anything can happen come playoff time, when a hockey fan should always expect the unexpected.
But I just don't see these teams stacking up against the top clubs south of the border.
Maybe next year, Canadian hockey fans.
Not this year.
- What the hell's wrong with the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks? Two months ago, these two teams were among the hottest in the NHL. The Habs were within five points of the Buffalo Sabres for the Eastern Conference lead, while the Ducks were comfortably perched atop the Western Conference standings.
Now? The Habs have slid from fourth to eighth overall in the East and are in danger of falling out of the playoff race altogether, while the Ducks are barely clinging to first in their division and could find themselves dropping like a stone in the standings if they're not careful.
Sure, injuries and illnesses have been contributing factors, and mid-season slumps aren't uncommon for any team, but what the Canadiens and Ducks have been going through in recent weeks goes beyond a slump.
Whatever it is, both club had best find a way to snap out of their respective malaises soon.
- The Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes were last year's Stanley Cup finalists, but both clubs face the distinct possibility of missing this year's playoff dance.
The Hurricanes, the defending Stanley Cup champs, are barely clinging to one of the last playoff berths in the East, whilst the Oilers are (as of this writing) ten points out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
It's not unusual for a Stanley Cup finalist to miss the playoffs the following year. It's a rare occurance when a defending Cup champion misses the big dance (the 1970 Montreal Canadiens and the 1996 New Jersey Devils are the only two clubs in modern NHL history to achieve that dubious honour).
But there's been no time in modern NHL history (certainly not in my memory, anyway) where the two Cup finalists in one year missed the playoffs the very next one.
I wish I had the time to delve into the NHL history books to find another occasion when that's occured but sadly the upcoming trade deadline is taking up all my time. If anyone out there can find an example of this happening, please toss me a line with a reference and I'll post it in a future Soapbox.
- There's some very interesting analysis of late regarding the NHL's finances that's well worth reading.
The National Post's Mark Spector (no relation, "Spector" is my nickname) recently reported the NHL's gate receipts are painting a portrait of a false economy.
"In a confidential NHL document obtained by the National Post, the league's overall gate receipts climbed just 4.9% through Dec. 31, despite an average ticket price hike of 5.9% across the league this season.
More alarming is the fact that gate receipts are down in nine U.S. markets, which means in a gate-driven league with negligible U.S. TV deals, more than one-third of the 24 American clubs are not making as much money in ticket sales as they were last season -- despite higher prices in most cases."
Tom Benjamin also noted a report that the salary cap is due to rise again next season, potentially to $48 million, and that Canadian teams account for one-third of the league's revenue.
Tom also had a recent post which breaks down how escrow works, how the salary cap is determined, and how league politics goes into determining both.
Tyler at mc79hockey takes a look at this and how it pertains to the Edmonton Oilers, noting that the Oilers may not be as poor as their collective ownership claimed to be during the lockout.
- Yep, you heard right, folks, the salary cap is set to rise to possibly $48 million by next season. It could reach over $50 million for the 2008-09 season.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, watch for another divide between the big market teams and the lesser clubs to widen yet again.
The lockout was never about making all 30 NHL teams competitive. It was all about getting rid of Bob Goodenow as NHLPA director, emasculating the PA's more militant members, and increasing the franchise values of the owners.
The big markets and perhaps a few mid-market teams will comfortably afford to spend up toward the cap. The small markets will likely fall increasingly behind as the cap rise.
Remember, this was the system some small market owners claimed they needed to have to survive. If it fails them, they won't be able to blame the "greedy" NHLPA this time.
- Speaking of escrow, I have a theory that it may be a contributing factor when agents negotiate new contracts for their clients.
I'll use Tampa Bay's Brad Richards as an example. Eyebrows were raised last summer when he signed a lucrative, long-term contract worth $7.8 million per season.
As talented a player as Richards is, some critics suggested the Lightning overpaid to retain him, noting that San Jose's Joe Thornton, the NHL's Hart and Art Ross winner, took home $6.67 million per season.
I'm not knocking Richards for signing that deal. His agent did a good job getting it for him, and the Lightning were the ones willing to offer up that kind of coin. Good for Brad.
But I wonder how much escrow played a part in Richards' contract talks.
As we know, escrow amounts will vary from season to season and quarter to quarter.
If a player is making $7 million and his escrow payment averages out over the season to be ten percent, he could end up paying back to the league over $700K.
Perhaps free agent players and their agents are using escrow to drive up their asking prices over what they might've sought in the past as a means of ensuring a comfortable "buffer zone" within their salaries to absorb the escrow hits.
If so, escrow really won't have done that much to keep player salaries under control.
Before the lockout, Richards and his agent might've sought between $6.5-$7 million, effectively doubling what he was receiving in salary prior to the lockout.
But with escrow, Richards ran the risk of making less than that had he signed for that amount. If he'd signed for $7 million and paid 10 percent in escrow for this season, he'd actually take home around $6.3 million.
Now, with $7.8 million, if it's ten percent, Richards' take home pay would be around $7.1 million.
Thus, he and his agent may have sought more than what he may have felt he was worth to ensure his take-home pay by season's end would come in closer to his true value after escrow takes its bite.
Canadian sportsnetwork TSN recently reported on this year's version of the Pittsburgh Penguins drawing comparisons to the Edmonton Oilers of the early 1980s.
It's an apt comparison. The Pens kiddie corps is led by 19-year-old Sidney Crosby, who's only led the NHL in scoring since December, achieving a feat only one other player, Wayne Gretzky, accomplished when he too was a fresh-faced 19.
Crosby teammate, 20-year-old rookie Evgeny Malkin, is second on the Penguins in points, and leads the NHL rookie scoring race.
Another rookie, 18-year-old Jordan Staal, has potted 20 goals in 53 games this season, including an amazing 5 league-leading shorthanded markers. A thirty-goal season is not out of the question.
Sophomore blueliner Ryan Whitney, the big brother at 23, currently has 41 points, ranking amongst the top offensive blueliners, and only 7 back (as of this writing) of league leader Niklas Lidstrom.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, 22, in his third NHL season has carried the load in goal for the Pens. In 45 games he's posted a 26-12-7 record, with a .909 save percentage, a 2.76 GAA and four shutouts.
In the early 80s, the Oilers kids crew was led by the young Great One, Wayne Gretzky, who was on his way to rewriting the NHL record book.
His young teammates at the time were relatively unknown in the first two years of the 1980s, but it wouldn't take long until Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson would establish themselves as household names for hockey fans, making the Oilers an elite team.
The early 80s was a special time for the Oilers and their fans. It was a young team, with young stars, full of energy and excitement. They were a likeable bunch back then.
As happy as I was for the Oilers when they won their first Stanley Cup in 1984, it seemed to me that something changed in them after that. They were great, deserving of their success and accolades, but they seemed to leave something behind after that.
Maybe it was because, as they matured into champions, they were so damn good, that between 1984 to 1990 they were so much better than everyone else, and they knew it.
Maybe it was because they'd grown so fast, from fun-loving, energetic pimply-faced kids who sang on the bench during stoppages in play, to occasionally arrogant stars who knew they were the best in the business. For me, at least, they weren't as much fun to watch after 1984 as they were in the years leading up to their first Cup championship.
No one knows for certain what the future holds for the young Penguins. They might be relocated. Salary cap restrictions could break them up before they reach true greatness, restricting their growth into a potential dynasty in their own right. They might even buckle under the weight of heightened expectations, failing to achieve the greatness their fans believe awaits them.
Then again, they could become the most exciting and successful team since the Oilers in their heyday.
Things are going to change in the coming years. Expectations will be heightened. Rival teams will be better prepared. Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal and Whitney will be older and wiser and reaching their fullest potential as they truly grow into men. Nothing short of a championship will suffice should they be allowed to grow as players and as a team.
They're on their way to potential greatness, and like the Oilers before them, it's fun to see them growing into it, to see the promise, to see the possibilities that stretch before them. To watch them dancing and leaping and grinning, like the kids they still are, playing and loving a kid's game.
They've only just begun. They're fresh, new and exciting, and upon their shoulders rest the hopes of the NHL for at least the next five years. It's all out in front of them if they're allowed to grow together.
The Penguins and their fans should embrace this and enjoy it this season. The Pens are a fun, entertaining team led by promising young stars, bringing hope and thrills to their fans and to a league with a battered reputation.
It'll never be the same for them again after this season.
Enjoy the moment.
The impact of the NHL's salary cap has been felt on free agency and player contracts, but it's also had an impact on player movement during a season, specifically trades.
In the pre-salary cap days, trades were a frequent occurance throughout an NHL season, but under the cap that hasn't happened as much anymore.
Trades of any significance rarely occur in the season's first three months, and business only starts to pick up once the season has passed the midway point, when players salaries become more affordable to absorb under the cap.
That's led to the possibility that, over the course of this current CBA, most player movement will occur during the off-season, specifically from the time of the NHL June entry draft until the start of the NHL season in October.
The majority of movement during that time will be of unrestricted free agents signing with new teams in July and August. Once a season begins, the bulk of trades during a season will occur from early January up to the NHL trade deadline, now set for late-February. Of those trades, most could occur on deadline day.
It's apparent that there are three factors determining how many trades will be made over the course of a season, and of the quality of the players (in terms of salary) would be traded.
Those factors are salary cap space, parity in the standings, and the number of players available to be moved.
Looking at the 2006-07 season, two-thirds of NHL teams had spent over $40 million in payroll prior to the start of the season, leaving them little room under the $44 million cap to absorb significant salaries via trade, especially in the first half of the season.
In the standings this season there was far more parity amongst the teams, resulting in fewer teams willing to be "sellers". That means those willing to be "buyers" are forced to wait until February, the month of the trade deadline, when more teams would be falling out of the playoff race and thus becoming sellers.
Parity in the standings therefore had a direct impact on the number of players available for trades, since most teams battling for the lower playoff seeds in the standings were unwilling to part with the kind of players traditionally moved over the course of a season, mainly those eligible for unrestricted free agent status following the season.
That raises the question of whether or not this will be a continuing trend over the remainder of this CBA.
I believe those factors could fluctuate from season to season.
Just because 20 NHL teams spent at or over $40 million in payroll this season doesn't necessarily mean that same number will do the same thing next season, even with the salary cap rising to between $46-$47 million for next season.
True, the salary cap acts as a magnet just as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman predicted it would, but not every team will continue to spend as closely toward the cap ceiling in every year, especially if it continues to rise.
Some teams may cut back because of their market status. Some may do so due to rebuilding programs. Some may be in the fortunate situation of having the core of their rosters under affordable, long-term contracts, leaving themselves "breathing space" to boster their rosters over the course of a season.
Parity is something else that could fluctuate from year to year because of the cap. Teams that cannot afford to keep pace with the rising cap could find themselves falling out of playoff contention much sooner if they lack roster depth, whilst those engaged in full-fledged rebuilding programs could also find themselves out of contention before the mid-way point of the season.
In those cases, there will be more teams willing to become sellers, and thus more players available to the buyers.
One thing, however, is absolutely certain: trades in the first half of an NHL season will be rare occurances.
Does that mean, as a recent headline in The Hockey News ominously warned, "the death of the trade rumour"?
I don't think so. During this season, the rumour mill was as active during the first three months as it was at any time back in the pre-cap days.
As teams struggle early, that's going to give rise to media generated speculation. As long as it is possible for an early season trade to occur, there will always be rumours. First half blockbusters like the Sergei Fedorov and Joe Thornton trades of November 2005 will be few and far between in the coming years, but that doesn't necessarily mean deals of those type won't happen.
Happily, that means I'll be able to stay in business as Foxsports.com's "rumor guru" for a long time.
There's been a lot of columns lately both in the media and from bloggers about what's wrong with the National Hockey League. Some have been written by yours truly.
Most of the complaints and concerns - low TV ratings, sagging attendance, the quality of the All-Star Game, new jerseys marketed as a means of increasing the game's pace, etcetera - have been legitimate and must be addressed by the league braintrust.
Yet for all the problems and concerns, there are plenty of things that are good about the current NHL game. Here's my list of the top ten good things about the NHL.
1. Sidney Crosby. "Sid the Kid" has not only answered his critics this season but he's emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Pittsburgh Penguins as well as the best player in the league right now. At 19, he's leading the NHL in assists and points, and is on pace to win both the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy as league MVP. He's stepped up his game this season, and the amazing thing is, he's years away from hitting his prime. Best of all, he's a marketing dream for the NHL. Watching Crosby at this age is like watching Orr, Gretzky and Lemieux when they were 19, as you knew you were seeing a young man who was going to become something very special.
2. Alexander Ovechkin. Last year's Calder winner as rookie of the year is not suffering from a sophomore slump this season. He may not catch Crosby in the points race but is locked in a battle with Tampa Bay veterans Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis for the goalscoring lead. He's also on pace to match his totals from last season, and has to potential to do so much more if the Washington Capitals can only bring in a decent supporting cast for his immense talents, or at the very least a good playmaker to compliment his style. As it stands, Alexander the Gr8 is once again doing all he can to carry a rebuilding Caps team to respectability, and is the exciting goalscorer NHL fans have witnessed since Pavel Bure was in his prime.
3. The crackdown on obstruction. The new rules introduced last season have sped up the game, improving its quality. Yes, there are still some problems with the consistency of the enforcement of these rules, but if the league can sufficiently address them and not allow the game to deteriorate back into the "Dead Puck" era, it should remain exciting to watch.
4. Playoff races. Starting in March, the wheat separates from the chaff in the playoff race, generating the best hockey of the lengthy regular season. The hard battles from March to early April are comparable to anything seen in the post-season and well worth watching.
5. Dion Phaneuf. It never ceases to amaze me how talented a defenceman Phaneuf is at the tender age of 21. Defencemen tend to take longer to develop than forwards, but Phaneuf in his first two NHL seasons is already better than most veteran blueliners. He's got a wick slapshot, delivers crunching bodychecks, and plays as sound an offensive game as he does in the defensive. He'll soon be winning Norris trophies as the league's top defenceman.
6. Evgeny Malkin and Anze Kopitar. Their NHL debuts may not measure up to those of Ovechkin and Crosby last season, but one can't help but be impressed watching these two rookies. They possess maturity beyond their years and have pulled off highlight reel plays regularly this season. They should become superstars in their own right.
7. Superb goaltending. I've been critical of the size of goalie equipment, but one thing I can't take away from today's goaltenders is their conditioning and abilities. Scarcely a game goes by without a netminder making dazzling saves, especially the top goalies like Martin Brodeur, Miikka Kiprusoff, Roberto Luongo and ageless wonder Dominik Hasek.
8. NHL players are role models. When's the last time an NHL hockey player was suspected of using steroids? How often do you hear of an NHL hockey player being arrested, or imprisoned, for a violent crime? Or for drug possession? How many star NHL players travel with huge entourages, acting like arrogant rock stars toward their fans? These sort of things seems to occur regularly in pro baseball, basketball and football. NHL players, meanwhile, are polite, charitable and law-abiding. Sure, they're obviously not straight-laced angels; they're as human as the rest of us. The point is, they're the kind of humans you want your kids to admire and emulate.
9. The trade deadline, the draft and unrestricted free agency. "Who'll get traded?" "Who'll be the top draft picks?" "Which teams will sign the top free agents?" These questions set NHL fan buzzing with anticipation every year.These occasions attract widespread interest amongst fanatical hockey fans, which generate more excitement toward the NHL product.
10. The Stanley Cup playoffs. The playoffs may go on too long, but there's no question that the best hockey of the season is played amongst the 16 survivors of the too-long regular season. This is when great rivalries are born or maintained. Sweeps, comebacks and upsets with regular and unlikely heroes keep fans riveted, regardless of their favorite teams. Since 1999, the Stanley Cup Finals has gone more than 6 games six of seven times, with the last three Finals going the full seven games. It remains the NHL's showcase and hasn't failed to deliver hockey at its very best.
That's my list, folks. I'd love to hear your take. Send 'em in and I'll post 'em up in a future "Fans Speak Out" update.