By Pat Hoffman.

Which Way will The North Winds Blow?
By Patrick Hoffman

Going into the Olympic break, it looked like Dominik Hasek was the best goaltender in the Northeast Division. In 43 games, he had 28 wins, a 2.09 goals-against average and a stellar .925 save percentage. However, he got hurt during the Olympic tournament, which most hockey pundits predicted, and all of a sudden, a new top goaltender emerged in the division: Buffalo Sabres' goaltender Ryan Miller. It looks as if Miller will once again have the chance to control the winds in the Northeast as the 2006-07 NHL season gets ready to drop the puck.

Buffalo Sabres

In his first full season with the Sabres, Ryan Miller established himself as one of the top, if not the best, US-born goaltenders in the game. Miller was among the league's top ten in wins (30), goals-against average (2.60) and save percentage (.914) and he led his club to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals. He did all of this despite missing a month with a broken thumb.

As of right now, the backup duties rest with Martin Biron. Biron won 21 games while posting a 2.89 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage for his hockey club. The problem for Biron is that he wants the chance to start many games for the Sabres this season. However, with Miller being resigned, the chances do not look great for the 29 year-old goaltender.

Montreal Canadiens

If it were not for the stellar goaltending of Cristobal Huet, the Canadiens would probably not have made the playoffs. Huet won 18 games, had a 2.20 goals-against average and a remarkable .929 save percentage. This past summer, Huet resigned with Les Canadiens for two years, which will make fans ecstatic, as the native of France proved to be a fan favorite game after game.

David Aebischer will battle Huet for the No. 1 role but will most likely take a back seat to Huet and be the backup goaltender. Aebischer won four of the seven games he played for Montreal but was unimpressive with a 3.73 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage. However, because GM Bob Gainey wants two valuable goalies to compete for the No. 1 job, he signed Aebischer to a one-year, $1.9-million contract.

Ottawa Senators

With Hasek out of the picture, a lot of pressure has been removed within the Sens' organization. GM John Muckler went out during the off-season and signed Martin Gerber. Gerber won 38 games, had a 2.78 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. However, Gerber still has a lot to prove after he lost his starting job in the playoffs to eventual Conn Smythe Winner Cam Ward.

The role of backup goaltender will most likely be given to Ray Emery, who won 23 games, had a 2.82 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. However, the Senators struggled with Emery between the pipes during last year's Stanley Cup playoffs. As always, Ottawa's goaltending will be the most-watched facet of the team this season.

Boston Bruins

When Andrew Raycroft struggled out of the gate for the B's, Hannu Toivonen came in and outplayed Raycroft and was the No. 1 goalie until an ankle sprain sustained in January ended his season. Toivonen won nine games, had a 2.63 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.

After Toivonen got hurt, Tim Thomas stepped in and provided some solid goaltending for the Bruins. He won 12 games, had a 2.77 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Thomas's acrobats and never-quit style of goaltending kept his club in the playoff hunt into the Olympic break.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Speaking of Andrew Raycroft, Toronto has penned their playoff hopes on the 2004 Calder Trophy winner. Raycroft struggled last season as he only won eight games, had a 3.71 goals-against average and a .879 save percentage for the Bruins. If Raycroft can find his game, the move will have been a brilliant one for GM John Ferguson.

The backup goaltending duties will be a battle between Mikael Tellqvist and Jean-Sebastien Aubin. Tellqvist was once considered the Maple Leafs goaltender of the future but he has yet to establish himself as a consistent goaltender. Aubin spent most of last season down in the AHL but played well for the big club when he was called up. Maple Leaf fans will be on pins and needles watching the goaltending of their favorite hockey club.

Sept. 21: A Look from the Atlantic

In the first of six installments, I will look at the goaltending in each division of the National Hockey League. Let's start out in the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference. Will Martin Brodeur be dethroned? Will this finally be the year in which 15-year man Rick DiPietro provides consistent goaltending out on the Island? Will there be a goaltending controversy down in Philly? Will the Penguins future suddenly become the present? Will Henrik Lundqvist follow up last season's performance with an even better sophomore season? All this and more in: A Look from the Atlantic.

New York Rangers

The Rangers were one of the top defensive teams in the NHL, finishing fourth out of 30 teams. Many hockey pundits would say that everything went through "Route 68" but if one was to dig a bit deeper, they would find that the goaltending of Vezina Trophy finalist Lundqvist was the big reasons that the lights were up on Broadway this past season. Lundqvist posted stellar numbers this past season as he won 30 games, posted a miniscule goals against average of 2.24 and had a sparkling .922 save percentage. Ranger fans have not seen this kind of goaltending since Mike Richter reigned the Rangers goal for 13 seasons. Lundqvist struggled down the stretch as he tried to play through a hip injury and that certainly cost the Rangers a victory in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New Jersey Devils. However, look for Lundqvist to come back stronger than ever and look for him to prove that last year was no fluke.

Kevin Weekes holds the title of backup goaltender for the Rangers. Weekes had 14 wins while posting a 2.95 goals against average and a .895 save percentage. Weekes struggled at home this season, often drawing the well-known boo birds of Madison Square Garden. However, he stole some games on the road for the team and provided some quality goaltending when Lundqvist needed a rest. For him to succeed this season, he must cut down on the softies he lets up and be a bit more consistent on home ice when he is given the chance to do so.

With the possibility of Weekes missing the beginning of the season due to a tweaked groin, 2004 first round draft pick Al Montoya will most likely start the season with the big club. He had a solid season with the Hartford Wolf Pack last year and is looking to make a name for himself down in Hartford again this season. However, with Lundqvist solidified in goal, Montoya could eventually become trade bait.

New Jersey Devils

After a slow start and some problems adjusting to the new rules, Martin Brodeur went onto win over 40 games (43) once again while posting 2.57 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. He was one of the main reasons that the Devils got so hot towards the end of the season to help them clinch the Atlantic division. Look for him to play between 55-70 games.

The backup goaltending duties for the Devils have yet to be established. Last season, that role belonged to Scott Clemensen, as he won three games, had a 3.35 goals against average and posted a .881 save percentage. With Brodeur playing the majority of the games, you would expect his backup to be quite rusty. However, there are rumors floating around that former Devils goaltender Mike Dunham will sign with the club. He would certainly be an upgrade over youngster Clemensen.

Philadelphia Flyers

Is there a goaltending controversy looming over Philadelphia? Last season, the Flyers had a 1/1a goaltending system. 2004 playoff hero Robert Esche won 22 games, had 2.97 goals against average and a .897 save percentage. In the beginning of the season, Hitchcock gave Esche the opportunity to be the number one guy but Esche never seemed to be able to take control.

1a goaltender Antero Niittymaki continues to challenge Esche for the role of number one goaltender. Niittymaki was spectacular in a 17-consecutive start stretch dating back to late December into January and he used that momentum to win 23 games and post a goals against average of 2.97 and a save percentage of .895. To top it all off, he was a Silver medalist and a tournament MVP in the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

New York Islanders

The first overall pick in the 2000 NHL entry draft has yet to find his niche out on the Island. While winning 30 games and posting a goals against average of 3.02 and a respectable save percentage of .900, Rick DiPietro, the new Islanders lifer, has yet to excel as the Islanders starting goaltender. He has been unable to provide his hockey club with a consistent regular season and he still has some trouble positionally. If he wants to prevent further embarrassment of his team, he will need to have a strong regular season and try to push his club into the playoffs, certainly no easy task.

As of now, the role of backup goaltender will be between Wade Dubielewicz and former Devil, Ranger and Thrasher goaltender, Mike Dunham. Dubielewicz won two games last season but look for him to get in more games this year if DiPietro or potentially Dunham cannot give the Islanders want they want: solid goaltending.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The time is now for Penguins young phenom goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to become the go-to man in net. The 21-year old played in 50 games last season and put up respectable numbers for the worst defensive teams in the NHL, as he posted a 3.25 goals against average and a .898 save percentage. This kid has great athleticism, an abundance of side-to-side quickness and a drive to put the Penguins back on the map.

The backup goaltender for the Pens is Jocelyn Thibault. He was a free agent flop for the hockey club as he went 1-9 in 16 games for his club while posting a 4.46 goals against average and a .876 save percentage. What the Pens could use is a solid veteran presence in net but that has yet to be seen down in PA.


A Good Fit: The story of the "New" NHL Goaltenders
By Patrick Hoffman

Prior to the 2005-06 NHL season, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association decided to trim down the equipment of NHL goaltenders. The League and its partner decided that this would be a great idea because it would help to increase scoring, give more of the net to the shooters and it would also help goalies to show their athleticism. The result: A LOT more goals.

Teams scored a total of 7,443 goals, and that does not even include the 145 goals rewarded to clubs winning a shootout. The 2005-06 season marked the largest percentage increase in goal scoring since 1929-30, when the goals-per-game went up from 2.9 to 5.9 due to a rule change that allowed passing inside all three zones. This season, the average goals-per-game was 6.1. In 2003-04, the average goals-per-game was 5.1 so as one can tell, goal scoring was at a premium this season.

However, was goal scoring up due to changes in goaltenders' equipment or because of new rule changes? Sure, some goaltenders may have struggled with the equipment changes but all in all, they turned out to be just fine. Calgary Flames goaltender and Vezina Trophy winner Mikka Kiprusoff had a stellar season as he posted a league-leading 10 shutouts, 2.07 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, which was good enough for third among all goaltenders. New Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo, a goaltender who has always looked beastly in net with his big pads, big trapper and waffle, managed to post up some solid numbers as he finished the 2005-06 season with a 2.97 goals against average, a .914 save percentage and four shutouts. Big goaltenders like Tomas Vokoun of the Nashville Predators (2.67 goals against average, .919 save percentage, four shutouts) and J.S. Giguere of the Anaheim Ducks (2.66 goals against average, .911 save percentage, two shutouts) also enjoyed a successful NHL campaign this past season.

Folks, equipment size has nothing to do with how well a goalie plays. It is the goaltenders' job to stop pucks and he will do that whether he is wearing equipment of huge or miniscule proportions. The goaltenders' job description demands athleticism so if a goalie has that, he should not have to rely on his oversize equipment to stop pucks. He should be able to rely on his talent and with that, everything else will fit nicely.

Seeing Red

As we all know, goaltender Dominik Hasek signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings after deciding not to bring back Manny Legace. I have to ask Red Wings GM Mr. Holland "What the hell are you thinking?" The time to build for the future of your hockey club is now and instead, you go out and sign a 41-year-old injury prone goaltender. Have you not learned from the past, a.k.a. the 2003-2004 NHL campaign when he appeared in just 14 games before a groin injury ended his season.

I really didn't have a problem with Legace. Yes, he was playing with a star-laden team but he still managed to crack the top 10 in many goaltending statistical categories. He did have a rough playoff campaign with the team but I still felt he deserved one more chance to prove his worth to the team. Legace is a goaltender that has quick feet, great lateral movement and a great glove hand, all skills that are valued by NHL clubs today. Yes, Hasek also has those qualities and much more but he is always just one stretch away from a groin pull.

I have a funny feeling that Hasek will get hurt within the first two months of the season leaving the tending duties to Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard, not exactly a tandem to brag about. For Red Wings fans sake, I hope that he proves me wrong and has a great season for you guys. However, I just cannot see that happening.

Patrick Hoffman, a graduate of Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, is a contributing writer to Spector's hockey. He has also contributed articles to "Blueshirt Bulletin," "The Fischler Report" and nhl.com Feel free to e-mail him at patrickhoffm@gmail.com


From Manning the Pipes to Manning an Organization: Garth Snow

I know that many hockey fans, especially New York Islander fans, are questioning why Garth Snow, a man with no experience as a general manager, was hired to take the place of Neil Smith, someone who was a GM in the National Hockey League for 12 years with the New York Rangers. I am still questioning this myself but I believe that Garth Snow may turn out to do just fine on the Island because it is believed by many that goaltenders have the strongest hockey sense. This is why you often see goaltenders thrusted into the role of hockey broadcasters or analysts. They are able to see the game from all angles and look at the game in many different pieces.

Garth Snow has been in the NHL for 12 seasons. He has been with five different teams as a player (Quebec, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Islanders), played for and with many different players, many different gm's, coaches and through this, probably has somewhat of an idea of what he is getting himself into. Managing in New York, especially a club like the Islanders, will not be a walk through the park. Snow will really need to step up to the plate and bring this club some stability, as Mike Milbury and team owner Charles Wang have not been able to do that. Snow is being pushed into a burning fire for his first job as a general manager and now he has the very difficult task of putting the flames out.

It should also be noted that Snow has been with the Islanders for the past four seasons, which means that he knows the organization inside and out and has a good idea of what will be good for his hockey club. While with the Islanders, he was nothing but a class act and a team player and right now, the Islanders need that kind of character. Is Snow the right man for the job? Only time will tell. Will Snow give it everything he's got? Like he did throughout his career, he most certainly will try.


The NHL: A Better Product

It was a crazy year for the NHL as fans saw increased scoring, superstar rookies, returns to greatness, surprise teams, the Olympics, etc. You get the idea. One thing that can be said about the NHL this year is that it produced a great product and put hockey back on the radar screen. One person who would agree with me is our very own Lyle Richardson, a.k.a. Spector.

In this interview, you will find out Lyle's views on the new product, the new rules, the salary cap, how the league can market itself better and of course, this would not be an interview with Lyle Richardson if we did not discuss free agency. Enjoy!

PH: What was your overall view of this year's NHL season?
LR: Overall, the product was a significant improvement over what we saw in the previous ten seasons.

PH: How do you think the NHL improved its product?
LR: The NHL improved its product with its rule changes that cracked down on obstruction, which helped to open up the offensive side of the game. Once again the game has flow, and even if goals didn't increase substantially, I think scoring chances and opportunities did.

PH: Is there anything that the league can do to make its product even better for next season?
LR: For one thing, get rid of that stupid delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. I understand the desire to keep the game going, but most of those incidents are accidental, not intentional, and I don't believe they merit a penalty. I'd also like to see more restrictions on the size of goalie equipment, which I think is still too large. Given today's technology, goalies can be kitted out in smaller gear that can still offer them maximum protection.

PH: Do you think that the Stanley Cup playoffs provided fans with the best kind of hockey this season? Why?
LR: Yes, I do, for the same reasons that it did during the regular season. The league maintained its crackdown on obstruction and that continued to add to the excitement of the playoffs.

PH: What can the league do to better its playoff ratings and make the game more attractive to the casual fan?
LR: Stick to its rule changes and promote the product like crazy. In Canada, it's no problem as it is a hockey-mad nation, but the game remains a tough sell in the US and hockey needs to sell itself to American sports fans. Greg Wyshynski of The Fourth Period had a great suggestion of using different camera angles compared to those used today as a means of opening up the game's excitement to American fans.

PH: Who do you think this year's surprising players were?
LR: Teemu Selanne and his comeback was very surprising to me. I think everyone thought he was finished. Jonathan Cheechoo's breakout made him the most surprising, I think, along with Brian Gionta's performance.

PH: Which teams surprised you the most this year? Do you think they can be just as good next season?
LR: Buffalo and Carolina definitely surprised me and a lot of other folks who cover the NHL. I think you'll see a lot of GMs copying the way those clubs were built. And yes, I think they'll be every bit as good next season, provided they keep their core players.

PH: July 1st proved to be an interesting day. Why do you think there were so many signings during the first day of free agency?
LR: Because some general mangers caught the buying fever. Actually, it was as TSN's Bob McKenzie noted, because there were plenty of non-playoff teams with lots of cap space willing to spend in hopes of buying their way into the playoffs.

PH: Do you think that teams have adjusted to the new cap system put in place? Do you think any teams are struggling with it?
LR: Most of them have adjusted, but I don't think the big market clubs like it. Their GMs were used to spending whatever they wanted on whomever they wanted and don't have that luxury now. I think the Devils, Lightning, Thrashers and Canucks struggled with the cap last season, and by the looks of things, the Devils and Thrashers will continue to have some cap problems. The Lightning and Canucks appear to have learned from their mistakes.

PH: Is there anything that you would like to tell your loyal readers?
LR: Thanks for your continued support, and stick around this summer as it is going to be another interesting one.


Patrick Hoffman, a graduate of Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, is a contributing writer to Spector's hockey. He has also contributed articles to "Blueshirt Bulletin," "The Fischler Report" and nhl.com Feel free to e-mail him at Feel free to e-mail him at phoffman@stonehill.edu


There is no I in Team
By Patrick Hoffman

Were the New York Rangers a fluke this past season? This is a question that has been floating around NHL circles ever since the team got knocked out in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New Jersey Devils. In that series, everything that the Rangers had during the regular season from stellar goaltending, a good defensive system to an offensive spark, had disappeared. Jaromir Jagr was injured in Game One of the series after going after Scott Gomez and he never returned to his true form. Henrik Lundqvist, a Vezina Trophy Finalist for his outstanding play during the regular season, appeared tired and vulnerable. The Rangers defense, much due to the disappointing play of Sandis Ozolinsh, looked porous and all of these factors allowed the Devils to crush the Rangers hopes of advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

However, as a true hockey fan and not just a Ranger fan, I believe that a 100-point season justifies the fact that this season was not a fluke. Yes, many things did go through Route 68 this season but Jagr had a terrific supporting cast. Martin Straka rejuvenated his game on Broadway as he finished with 76 points (22 Goals, 54 Assists). Michael Nylander also enjoyed a very productive season as he tallied 79 points (23 Goals, 56 Assists), good for second on the team behind Jagr. When he was healthy, Martin Rucinsky was also quite productive, as he racked up 55 points (16 Goals, 39 Assists) in 52 games.

The rest of the offense, though not as productive as the four players mentioned above, all helped in their own ways to contribute to this winning team. Petr Sykora, basically forgotten by the Anaheim Ducks, came over to the Rangers in early January and gave the Rangers some second line scoring power, as he ended up with 51 points (23 Goals, 28 Assists). Rangers rookie Petr Prucha, though not as gifted as star rookies Mr. Crosby and Mr. Ovechkin, managed to crack the 30-goal mark and finished with 47 points for the season, not bad for someone who was drafted in the eight round of the 2002 NHL Entry draft.

The team, predicted to finish close to the very bottom of the NHL and allow many, many goals, finished the season in the top ten in the league in goals allowed. Night in and night out, the Rangers got great defense from Marek Malik and Michal Rozsival, a combined +63 on the season. Darius Kasparaitis, though not always necessarily clean, was always able to deliver a big hit to get the team and the home crowd going. Tom Poti was able to silence the boo birds at the Garden this year with his much improved defensive play and Fedor Tyutin was able to give Ranger fans a glimpse of his offensive abilities as he quietly tallied 25 points (6 Goals, 19 Assists) this year.

Besides Jagr, the backbone of this team was rookie goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. He went 30-12-9 with a 2.24 goals against average and a save percentage of .922, while ranking in the top five in the latter two of the categories mentioned above. He came up with timely saves, he kept his team in games that they should have never been in, he was a leader on the ice and most importantly, the team played with confidence when he was in net. Kevin Weekes, though not always pretty, was a solid back up to Lundqvist. In fact, he was the man in net when the Rangers clinched a playoff spot for the first time in eight seasons. Weekes was also a good team supporter and Ranger coach Tom Renney has always been a big fan of his. Hopefully next season, this tandem will once again be able to bring success to the Rangers.

This was not a fluke, folks. For the first time in eight seasons, this team was put together the right way. The team was able to work together, get contributions from everyone and play with a winning attitude. Yes, Jagr played a HUGE role in the teams' success but remember, there is no I in team.

He likes what he sees: An interview with Spector himself, Lyle Richardson

Here we are at the Olympic Break and what a great hockey season it has been so far. Fans have had the opportunity to see wonderful plays and highlights, surprising teams like the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres, and they have also been able to watch the game come back in full force as more and more fans continue to return to the arena day in and day out.

Here with me to discuss the great game of hockey is the owner of Spector's Hockey, Lyle Richardson. Lyle Richardson was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to provide the readers of Spector's Hockey with his views of the new rules, surprises, disappointments, trade deadline predictions, playoff predictions and with this article being timely, the Olympic Games.

PH: To this date, what do you think of the new NHL?

LR: Overall I really like what I've seen. The game has opened up more and is generating more offensive chances. Goals are up only slightly but I think the chances have increased, and that's what we should see, not a big increase in goals but in the scoring chances. That's what generates excitement. It's not all perfect, of course, as there are still a few problem areas that must be addressed in the off-season (like that stupid rule about shooting the puck out of play), but if this rules committee is allowed to address them, the on-ice product should only improve, especially as the players get used to the new style.

PH: What has surprised you about this season? What has disappointed you this season?

LR: The overwhelming response of hockey fans to the NHL's return. I honestly believed there would be a minor backlash that could create a dip in fan support, but that hasn't happened, which has led to revenues being much higher for this season that projected, leading to an anticipated rise in the salary cap.
As for disappointment, there is still the fact that the salary cap hasn't prevented some teams from making stupid free agent signings. It's not unexpected by me, of course, as I've been saying this since the lockout began, but I was hoping the cap would at least bring about better restraint from some GMs.

PH: After the break, what can fans expect from teams like the Rangers, Hurricanes, Sabres and Predators? Do you foresee any collapses?

LR: I don't think those four clubs can expect a major collapse. One or two of them must slump a little, but overall I think they'll be positioned among the top five of their respective conferences when the season ends. Only overconfidence and a rash of serious injuries to key players could hurt them. Of the four, I think the Predators have the most concern about a slump, as their front office is concerned about their blue line depth, so look for them to go shopping by the deadline. It's nice to see these teams preparing for the playoffs.

PH: We all know that this is your favorite time of year, the NHL trading deadline. Do you see any big deals happening? Which teams are looking to upgrade? Which teams are looking to dump players?

LR: Like every trade deadline, it's difficult to predict. The salary cap comes into play here which of course could make it tougher to teams to swing major deals of marquee talent, but I still believe we'll see plenty of action in terms of lesser talent, just like every trade deadline. In the East, the Lightning, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, and Thrashers could be seeking an upgrade depending on their placing in the standings, while Western clubs like the Canucks, Oilers, Kings, and Mighty Ducks could also be busy. As for teams looking to dump salary, check out the bottom feeders in each conference and you'll have your answer. If your club is at least 15 points out of a playoff berth, expect them to be trying to get post-season contenders to take some salary off their hands.

PH: We know that the playoffs commence in April but what kind of predictions can you offer us at this point? Which two teams do you see in the finals? Why?

LR: I never like to make playoff predictions during the season, sorry. I will say, however, that the Hurricanes and Rangers are looking very good in the East, whilst old Western favourites, the Stars and Red Wings are also well positioned. That being said, the possibility exists of their being upset in the first two rounds, so you just never know.

PH: How do you think the Olympics will be, hockey-wise? How will the game compare to the NHL game? Which players do you think will thrive in the games?

LR: The Olympics will be what it's been since 1998, a showcase of the best professional talent. The games will be very exciting and well-played, and those players with speed and skill will thrive on the big ice.

PH: Tell us which teams will be coming home with medals? Why?

LR: Canada, Czech Republic and Sweden, although Slovakia and Finland could be dark horses. Canada has incredible depth that they can easily fill any drop-outs from injuries. The Czechs are very dangerous as they are perhaps the only club that can match Canada's depth. Sweden always has the horses but seem to come up short in international competition involving professionals.

PH: Do you have any other words that you would like to share with the readers of Spector's Hockey?

LR: As always, thanks for your support through the good times and the lean times (like the lockout). It's the growing number of readers who make my work that much more worthwhile and are helping me reach my goal of one day being a full time hockey writer, which could become a reality this year.


One in a Millian: The True Hockey Fan

In the United States, people know that hockey is the fourth major sport. It is ranked below baseball, football and even basketball. Hockey coverage gets buried in newspapers and on sports telecasts and it is a wonder how the sport even has a television deal in the US.

One fan who puts hockey above all else is Millian, the host of: "The Blueline: Hockey Talk Radio". Millian is a true hockey fan through and through and one can definitely tell that from listening to his show. He provides listeners with a deep knowledge and passion for the sport like no other hockey radio show out there.

Millian was nice enough to take time out of his schedule to tell readers of Spector's Hockey about his love for the game, his radio show and his NHL predictions. So without further adieu, I present to the readers of Spector's Hockey a true hockey fan: Millian.

PH: How did you get hooked on hockey?

M: Getting hooked wasn't an option. Hockey was something I was born into. One of the earliest memories I have as a young child, circa age 3 or 4, is watching hockey on TV. I didn't understand the game, what was going on, who the teams where, but what I did know is that when the guys huddled together and patted each other on top of the helmet, it meant something good happened-- it meant they were scoring goals. So growing up I lived in a few different places, mainly east coast, some places with hockey some desperately without it. So, I tried to absorb as much of the sport as possible through what little means I had. From my earliest childhood to modern day, hockey has always been a part.

PH: Growing up, which team or teams did you follow and who were your favorite players?

M: Ah, the magic question that all of my "Blue Team" members have asked. Who is my team? And the answer is…I don't tell. I don't tell because, when I do my program I want to be seen as truly objective, and not appear to have any bias. While I have a team that is close to my heart, never have I had such an admiration for all 30 teams in the league, than I do now.
Through my years, I have seen many players that have contributed important things to the game. Nailing down a few favorites is virtually impossible. It's much like music. I can't say that there is one band or artist who truly sums up my taste. It's not even a style of music, as much as it is the various and random composition that catches my ear, and gets filed in the mental Rolodex.

PH: How did you get involved in hockey communications? Prior to your talk show, did you do any hockey-related work?

M: I don't really consider my work to be in the field hockey communications, honestly. What I do is just random commentary on the world's best game. It began as a private little pet project, yet has blossomed into something that brings people a weekly shot of happiness. Prior to this, I had done nothing except watch hockey.

PH: What made you decide to start a radio show dedicated to hockey?

M: I have had many careers including music, I.T. and finally radio. I had scored a talk radio show on an AM station doing a program about internet technology around 2001. With talk radio firmly in the veins, I began to explore options. Opportunity for radio and a better life led me to Las Vegas, my current home, where I was able to get more favorable terms at an AM station locally to do more things.

After doing music radio, political and news radio, comedy writing, and on-air production, one thing I had always neglected to do, was a show talking about hockey.
With the labor dispute settled, and hockey back on, the time was ripe to deliver mental stimulation and alternative approaches to sports radio. In August 2005, I launched the pilot episode of "The BlueLine: Hockey Talk Radio" to a small but interested audience. That same audience is now growing in record numbers every week, and I am grateful to have each and every one of them.

PH: Tell us about your hockey radio show. What is it about? What does it cover? What do you hope to accomplish with it?

M: The BlueLine: Hockey Talk Radio is a program dedicated to the sport of NHL ice hockey, geared toward fans who simply love the game. The show goes way beyond what last night's score was, or who looked great in goal. I apply my analytical nature, my sarcastic humor and some radio production skills that I have acquired over the years to deliver a show that is unlike any other out there.

I like to focus on the situations surrounding the players and the teams, as opposed to what their stats are. I choose to call out players that other forms of media like to anoint and coddle. As much as I respect NHL players as a whole, I have no qualms about telling a player publicly to grow up or to let another know, very prominently, that its time to consider retirement. This show doesn't base opinions on stats and scores, or someone's career in juniors. Instead, the show looks critically at the finished product that shows up nightly on the ice.

The show is a weekly program, available on Fridays directly from the website at www.bluelinetalkradio.com and via podcast, found on the website, Itunes, and most of the prominent podcast sites on the net. I was totally floored to find out that the show comes up #1 on Yahoo for "Hockey Radio" and "Hockey Talk Radio"
The show covers NHL ice hockey. I don't know much about other leagues or junior teams or even the Olympics. I am an admitted NHL snob. It covers the game from the average fan's perspective and not from the statisticians or pro scouts' opinion. It includes a healthy dose of all the teams, production and sound effects, and my ever-present simmering sarcasm. Bottom line, it's about having fun with the both the sport and the show's supporters.

PH: What do you want listeners to get out of your show?

M: I try not to take many things in life too seriously. I want my listeners to simply have fun with the show, without taking my commentary too seriously. People in everyday life have gotten themselves so bent out of shape and high-strung worrying about the little things. Once in a while, it's ok to laugh. It's ok to have fun and bust some chops.

For my show, I want to give them something different, something separate from the droning that every sports channel happily provides. I will be the first to admit that I am not a hockey "expert", and I don't claim to be one. I would bet that places like TSN or ESPN would probably laugh me out the door, as soon as I spoke. As I tell my listeners and show friends, I am just a smartass with a microphone, who happens to watch hockey. I do this because I love the game, and feel the game doesn't get the attention that it deserves.

I am also a big believer in brutal honesty. I have no reason to sugarcoat my opinions in order to get my point across. One thing seriously lacking today in the media is people willing to step up and speak their honest thoughts. For speaking honestly on regular radio threatens revenues and team contracts. One thing I take pride in is that I don't have to answer to a big corporation, and I don't get told what to say and when. That makes a huge difference in show quality and content.

I want my listeners to have a place where they can go and be a part of something. A place where it's ok to speak your mind, have a laugh, and enjoy the media for what it was meant to be-a place to freely pass opinions, and be able to have an open and honest discussion about it. Did I mention that I want my listeners to have fun?

PH: Internet-radio is quite the growing industry these days. Hockey-wise, what do you think it can accomplish as a whole?

M: Since I have had ties to AM radio, getting involved in internet radio was a minefield. I have been called everything from an underground garage station to a radio pirate, by AM's trying too hard to hold onto a dying technology. Internet radio, in all forms, has been traditionally the underdog.

Hockey is the greatest sport on earth to me. I consider it well beyond the label of just a "sport" to being something more of an ingrained lifestyle. Unfortunately, being submerged well beneath the ocean of football, baseball, basketball and NASCAR highlights, hockey doesn't get to come up for air all that often. Even when it does, it's not allowed a fair share of the oxygen available.

Hockey is too often treated as the ugly, freckled stepchild of the American sport persona. This bothers me. How does a sport that involves that many levels of skill, precision, dedication and testicular fortitude, get treated like a circus sideshow.

I want to prove that there are more than enough of us to be taken seriously. I want to demonstrate that we are just as legitimate as a sport as all the others. The show provides an outlet to unite hockey fans from all over the world, under one independent umbrella. No longer do we have to hope that ESPN or Fox or whomever, start taking an active interest in this game. I am using an underdog media, covering the underdog sport, to eventually make a massive footprint that everyone gets to be a part of.

PH: What do you think of the NHL this season? Has it surprised or disappointed you in any way?

M: I am happy that we simply have a season. That was one of the most unfulfilling years that I can remember. I think the fans of the game have repeatedly shown their dedication by making the game as solid as ever. There are going to be those who have lost interest due to the stoppage, but I would question whether they were ever "true" fans in the first place. Every "true" fan I have met is excited and thrilled to have their game back. Those fans are the ones who keep the hope alive.
The rule changes had a long period of excitement, however, I am seeing things come back to earth. Teams are finding ways around the new rules, in that, I see teams starting to trap again, I see goalies still leaving the crease and playing the puck, and I still see obstructions from time to time.

All in all though, I would say the game is really great. I believe that it moves faster now than ever, and that plays are more exciting to watch develop. I believe that it is still a game in transition, that it will take a season or two more to truly realize the intention of the changes.
I don't mind the new rules and alterations, as I find it very important for things to move with the times. As long as there is progression towards the change, and an honest effort to bring it about, I can be OK with that. I am pretty satisfied with the current state of the game. It had its down times and its well on its way, in my opinion, to its best times ever.

PH: Who is your pick to win the Stanley Cup this year? Why?

M: At this point, around three quarters through the season, we have had the usual suspects and the dark horses. Most people believed that Ottawa, Philly, Detroit and Dallas would be in the mix. Not many saw the emergence of Carolina, Nashville or even the NY Rangers breaking out of their shell.

This year is totally difficult to make a single decision due to the new rule changes in the playoffs, which we have never seen. Another X-Factor is the Olympics, which historically has generated at least one dark horse Stanley Cup finalist in previous years.

If it's TV ratings that the NHL is after, then the NY Rangers should win the cup. This gives the biggest TV market in the world the ability to tune-in to the games.
If the NHL wants to prove that the lockout benefits the smaller teams, then Nashville or Carolina need to raise Lord Stanley.

If anyone has mercy on the soul of a city, Philly or Toronto need to win, seeing as how both cities have over 50 combined years of championship drought.
In my humble opinion, I am going to say that the Olympics will skew the finals away from the teams who are sending the most players. I see a final that could work out to Buffalo vs. Nashville or even a Detroit-Carolina rematch, which coincidentally occurred during a previous Olympic year.

The actual winner when the cup is raised is the NHL fan. By proving that, despite the adversity, the lockout, and all of the disinterest of mainstream sports fans, that we're back in a big way, and here's our big silver trophy to prove it. As for a team, I have no idea.

PH: Anything else that you would like to tell the readers of Spector's Hockey?

M: Yeah. Listen to the show!!!

Seriously, about the game, I want the readers to always remember what a great thing we have with this sport, and no matter how you feel about the rule changes or the current state of the game, simply enjoy being a part of it. Be mindful of the destination, but live, love and breathe the journey it takes to get there.

About the show, I invite everyone to visit my website and check out the show. One thing that I try not to do is to silence opposing viewpoints. If you wish to dispute anything I say, I make my email and instant messenger names available, and as long as I am around, I am happy to chat with everyone. This is "our" show, and I will respect the opinion of anyone who respectfully disputes mine. I have gone so far as to let others guest host segments of the show to offer up different spins. If you enjoy the show, that is always nice to hear too. I want to know that I am keeping my people happy. My listeners pay me with their time, and it's my job to give them their money's worth.

About life in general, we live in times where it's often frowned-upon to have fun, to be yourself and laugh at the silly and simple things. No matter what the situation may be, always look for the best in everyone and everything and enjoy what simple pleasure it brings.
I am honored to be covered in Spector's, and I want to thank them, Hoffer's Net, as well as everyone who took their time to read this article. I hope to make your acquaintance through the show, and feel free to break the ice at anytime by e-mailing me at: BlueLineRadio@yahoo.com



The 2005-06 NHL season is already half over and for the most part, it has been a great season for the game and its fans. Players and fans alike seem to enjoy the new rules, the high-scoring affairs (except for the goaltenders of course), the shootouts and all of the rookie standouts that are currently playing. One man that would agree with me is Canadian hockey author, Kevin Gibson.

Mr. Gibson, a life long Toronto Maple Leafs fan, is the author of two hockey books: The Official Book of Team Canada from Eh to Zed: The World Junior Championships (2003) and more recently On The Ice for Thee: 85 Years of Team Canada vs. The World. Presently, you can find Kevin writing the daily hockey report for www.640toronto.com and he is also a reporter for The Hockey News at Leafs home games. You can also find Gibson's musings at Eklund's HockeyBuzz by visiting www.hockeybuzz.com

Recently, Kevin was nice to enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk about how the NHL season is going, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Olympics and what he does best, trade rumors:

PH: What do you think of the NHL this season? Give us your opinion on the new rules, shootouts, etc.

KG: I do not mind the shootout, just as long as they keep it to the regular season. I am getting tired of some of the penalty calls. For example, if lint from the tape on your stick touches a player, you get a penalty. One rule I hate is the one where if you are trying to ice the puck when your team is shorthanded and the puck goes over the glass untouched, you get a delay of game penalty. That's dumb! The last thing you want when you are shorthanded is the clock stopping and a face-off in your own end. Get rid of that penalty call when teams are shorthanded.

PH: At the present moment, do you think the league can do anything else to make the league even better?

KG: Bring back the flashing puck, just kidding. Cancel the all-star game, permanently. What a complete bore. The first round of the playoffs should be the best 3 out of 5. Get rid of the two referee system, and go back to one ref and two linesmen. Let the linesmen call minor penalties besides too many men on the ice. Some refs think calling the most penalties in a game is a competition.

PH: Which teams have surprised you thus far? Do teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres have what it takes to be playoff contenders?

KG: Carolina, Buffalo and the Rangers have all been playing well. Buffalo and the Rangers have the goaltending to carry them in the playoffs, but I am not sure about the Hurricanes. Atlanta is starting to gel so watch out for them if they can get a healthy goalie.

PH: Which teams have been disappointments to you?

KG: Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Both seem to have soap opera issues off the ice and there is also not much happening on the ice.

PH: If you had to pick the NHL's first team and second team all-stars for the first half of the season, which players would you choose?

KG: I will take 5 Ottawa guys for my first team: Spezza, Heatley, Alfreddsson, Chara and Redden. My second team would include: Ovechkin, Forsberg, Thornton, McCabe, Regehr. In net, I would Ryan Miller and Marty Turco, respectively.

PH: While we are it, how about an all-rookie team?

KG: Crosby, Ovechkin, Svatos, Phaneuf, Beachemin and Lundqvist.

PH: What is going on with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season? What is with the inconsistency? What do they have to do to come out of it?

KG: Pat Quinn changes the lines too often and he does not give players time to gel. He also plays four lines evenly when he should really leave the lines alone and play the fourth line sparingly. The Leafs are a 7th or 8th placed team.

PH: With the trade deadline a few months away and the Winter Olympics looming ahead, do you foresee any big deals being made? If so, which teams will be dealing?

KG: St. Louis will be looking to unload Weight (pardon the pun) and Tkachuk. Pittsburgh will be dealing Recchi. Montreal may have to part with Theodore in the hopes of upgrading for the playoffs and the same goes for the Leafs with Belfour.

PH: What are your Olympic predictions? How well will Team Canada place this winter?

KG: Gold: Canada, Silver: Sweden, Bronze: Czechs.

PH: Have any other hockey related thoughts that you would like to share with the readers of Spector's Hockey?

KG: Drink milk, it does a body good and read www.hockeybuzz.com everyday.

Again, make sure to check out Kevin's rants at www.hockeybuzz.com and make sure to visit http://www.teamcanadahistory.com to learn about his book on Team Canada and every NHL player that has represented Canada internationally, whether it was in the Olympics, World Junior Championships, the World Championships or the Summit Series/Canada Cup/World Cup.


First Impressions

Well folks, the puck has finally dropped and the NHL 2005-06 season is underway. Now, I am a New York Rangers fan but since I go to school in Massachusetts, I watched the Bruins take on the Canadiens. Here are a few things that caught my eye:

. The gifted players will be able to work their magic behind the net this season. If you watched the game, you saw this with Joe Thornton. Because of the new obstruction rules, defensemen could no longer clutch and grab a guy behind the net and instead had to rely on good foot work and stick play, which can be a tough task when covering Thornton. Thornton made lots of little plays behind the net that created quality scoring chances from the likes of Glen Murray and Sergei Samsonov. This year, watch for guys like Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya and Mario Lemieux to work their magic behind the net.

. Believe it or not, the referees were letting boys be boys during the game. Each team had only one penalty in the first period and two each in the second. This was obviously different in the pre-season, where penalties were being called left and right.

. The good goalies are going to be just fine with the new equipment regulations. Jose Theodore used big pads last season but he certainly looked at home with the new ones. Goaltenders like Theodore, Brodeur and Luongo (Shut out the Thrashers in the season opener with 34 saves) will adjust to the new regulations because they are skill-goaltenders. On the other hand, let's see how goalies like Garth Snow and J.S. Giguere handle the new equipment.

. If players respect the rules, there is going to be wide open hockey. This game had an abundance of flow since the teams were not taking penalties. You saw a bunch of odd man rushes, good chances from the slot, where normally, a player would take a vicious beating, and you also saw many outlet passes. Once all the teams adjust to the new rules, all of the games could be just like this and that should definitely provide for some entertaining hockey.

. Defensemen are going to need to learn how to really skate this season. There are going to be lots of odd man rushes, two-on-ones and breakaways and as a result, defensemen will need to learn how to not get caught flat-footed and how to be careful when pinching to keep the puck in the zone. This happened a few times to the Bruins d-men, as it led to Montreal's first goal of the game.

Overall, it was just great to see the game back on the ice. It was nice to see the fans back and to see how supportive they were. The goal is to keep bringing them back to the rink night in and night out because if the league can do that, the game is going to be just fine in the long run. Here's hoping that the league can do that!


The Real Deal

Despite what some pundits have been saying, a.k.a. Stan Fischler, I believe that Sidney Crosby is the real deal for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the National Hockey League. Will he be the next Wayne Gretzky? That is highly questionable considering all the accolades of the Great One's career. However, what I do know is that he will be a bonafide superstar in this league for many years to come.

Let's start with the obvious. The kid has raw talent. In two seasons with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, El Sid had 303 points (120 Goals, 183 Assists) and added 58 points in postseason play. Sure, the QMJHL may not have the best defensive hockey in the world but you still need to know how to be able to put points on the board and Crosby has that ability. Sidney even showed glimpses of his raw talent in his first intra-squad scrimmage, when he had a hand on four goals while playing on a line with veterans Mark Recchi and John LeClair. According to various reports, the second assist was a model example of Crosby's superior vision and hockey instincts that allowed him to amass 183 assists in 121 junior games.

Crosby is also a very tough competitor. While playing in the playoffs last season, Crosby was constantly being run at by opposing players. He never went into hiding and he always took the punishment that he received. In the end, he still managed to accumulate 45 points in the postseason.

As mentioned above, Crosby will be playing with Mark Recchi and John LeClair, two guys that have had a multitude of success in the league. They will be able to teach the kid a thing or two about going to the net, standing up to bigger guys and winning battles along the boards, all tools that are necessary for a complete game.

Crosby will also be under Lemieux's wing for his first season in the NHL, a positive influence for any hockey player. Through Lemieux, Crosby will be able to learn about daily life in the NHL, the cities, the right people to talk to, etc. This should help Crosby ease into his first year in the league.

Crosby is also a very poised and confident young man. In interviews with the media, he is the consummate professional. Crosby is a kid that loves to talk hockey and he will never back down from a question. Crosby even did extremely well on the Jay Leno show.

Sidney is going to be the face of the new NHL and with good reason. He already has major endorsement deals with Reebok's new hockey line and Gatorade and I am sure that there will be more to come. The new rules will give Crosby the opportunity to become the first superstar of this new NHL era and that is exactly what the league wants to happen.

Analysis of the Top Ten picks of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft

While everybody else in the major sports world was talking about the Major League Baseball trading deadline, the 2005 NHL Entry Draft took place at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa. The excitement level at this draft was extremely high and positive due to the fact that the supposed "next one", Sydney Crosby, was going to be taken as the number one pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is a kid who has the potential to not only carry the Penguins on his back, but also the NHL and put the game of hockey back on the map.

As expected, forward Sydney Crosby was taken first overall by the Penguins. This kid is going to make things happen in the steel city. He is strong, has great acceleration, has tremendous vision and is just a natural talented hockey player. These tools are going to be a great fit in the "new" NHL where speed, vision and goal-scoring ability are the keys to a great hockey club. Not only is Crosby a natural hockey talent, but he is also a very composed, honest and smart young man. He knows what is expected of him not only by the Penguins, but by the league as well. He knows that he is going to have to put in an abundance of hard work to reach what is expected of him.

Crosby will be a perfect fit for the Penguins. Currently, the Penguins are in a rebuilding stage and right now, they are rebuilding this team around youngsters who are all under 20 years old: Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and 2004 first-round pick Evgeni Malkin. This will create some excitement for the fans, players and city of Pittsburgh and it may even help generate interest to move the Penguins into a new arena in the upcoming future. These next few years are going to be really exciting for Mario Lemieux and the Penguins.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks found someone to play with Sergei Fedorov in forward Bobby Ryan. Ryan is a natural goal scorer who is plays like a power forward, has good hands and can finish. The knock on Ryan is that because he is so big, he is not as quick as say former Anaheim Mighty Duck Paul Kariya was. However, since the new NHL is based on open ice, great vision and natural talent, the Ducks will find players to help setup Ryan in the future.

The Carolina Hurricanes believe they got an absolute steal when they were able to draft defenseman Jack Johnson with the third pick. Johnson is going to be a great fit with an already strong core of defensemen in Frantisek Kaberle, Aaron Ward and Bret Hedican. This young man is big, mobile and what many believe to be NHL-ready. He compares his style of play to that of former Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov but Johnson said that when he gets into the NHL, he "Just wants to be Jack Johnson."

With the fourth pick in the draft, the Minnesota Wild took forward Benoit Pouliot. He is a finesse player who is a great skater and should fit in with the likes of Brian Rolston, Marian Gaborik, Wes Walz and highly-touted Mikka Koivu. The Wild are hoping that Pouliot is just another building block in what is starting to become a very skilled hockey club.

In a somewhat surprising move, the Montreal Canadiens took Carey Price with the fifth pick. Should anyone be surprised that the Canadiens drafted a goaltender? No. However, the Canadiens already have a solid core of young goaltenders in Jose Theodore, Mathieu Garon, Yann Danis and Olivier Michaud. Yes, this man put up better numbers than Olie Kolzig did while with the Tri-City Americans but the Canadiens should have used this pick to address positional problems such as defense.

Gilbert Brule was taken sixth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hope that Brule will be a nice fit with their other young superstar, Rick Nash. Brule is a young, energetic player who plays with an abundance of grit and toughness. Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean, is a man who is keen on hard-working guys who like to go into the corners fight for the puck and make plays happen, which is what Brule has the ability to do.

The Chicago Black Hawks took forward Jack Skille with the seventh pick. Skille has an abundance of speed and can put the puck in the net. However, the Hawks will have to wait as Skille will be attending the University of Wisconsin to play college hockey so that he can further develop his game.

In another surprise move, the San Jose Sharks took forward Devin Setoguchi. It was a surprise in that this young man was off the board. He started out the season with 21 goals in 37 games with Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League and then slowed down tremendously as he only had 12 goals the rest of the way. Team Canada did not even invite him to the junior team training camp this summer. He definitely has skills but there were definitely better picks available at that point in the draft.

The hometown favorites, the Ottawa Senators, took defenseman Brian Lee with the ninth pick in the draft. In the next few years, the Senators may lose defensemen Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara to unrestricted free agency so this was definitely a smart pick by Senators GM John Muckler. Lee has a tremendous offensive upside as he is very mobile and can setup people, two key aspects in the new NHL. However, Senators fans will have to wait at least a couple of years to see Lee as the young man will be attending North Dakota in the fall to further develop his hockey skills at a high level of play.

Another mobile defenseman, Luc Bourdon, was taken tenth overall by the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks already have a solid defensive core in Ed Jovonaski, Mattias Ohlund, Brent Sopel and Sami Salo. Bourdon will further bolster the Canucks' defense.

Other Notes:

. During an interview with TSN, number one pick Sydney Crosby was composed, calm, natural, honest and really charming, qualities that the image of hockey needs right now. Here is a guy who is supposed to be the savior of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the new NHL and yet, this does not seem to phase the young hockey phenom.

. Defenseman Marc Stall was absolute steal for the New York Rangers. Here is a guy who many thought would be taken in the top five of the draft but was actually taken as the 12th pick by the Rangers. The Rangers are going through a rebuilding period and who better to rebuild around than prospects Marc Staal, Alvaro Montoya and Hugh Jessiman.

. Bobby Ryan, who was taken as the second overall pick by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, scored huge points with his GM Brian Burke and the media by being honest about his father, who spent a few years in prison. Some scouts were worried how this would affect the youngster but it seems as if it has not haltered him from being able to make it to the NHL level.


Things that New York Rangers fans Missed, Didn't Miss and are looking forward to in the 2005-2006 NHL season

There were probably an abundance of New York Ranger fans that were happy about the cancellation of the 2004-2005 hockey season. The reasons are quite obvious:

. The Rangers have not made the playoffs since the 1996-97 season, when they were ousted in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Philadelphia Flyers.

. Most of their high-priced free agents turned out to be busts, a.k.a. Eric Lindros, Theoren Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Bobby Holik, Darius Kasparitis, etc. The list could go on and on.

. The quality of hockey at Madison Square Garden has been terrible for over seven years now. Heck, some fans wonder if you could call it hockey that the Rangers actually played.

What Ranger fan in their right mind would want to see this kind of hockey team night in and night out? For Ranger fans, it has been very hard to get excited for an upcoming hockey season, given the fact that the team would probably overspend on a free agent and miss the playoffs once again.

With that being said, those of us loyal Ranger fans actually missed hockey this year:

. Fans missed the possible opportunity to see Brian Leetch in a New York Rangers uniform one last time.

. Fans may have possibly missed the opportunity to see Mark Messier officially play in his last game with the Rangers and the NHL.

. Fans missed the exciting "Let's Go Rangers" and "Potvin Sucks" chants.

. While it may have never happened, the fans missed the opportunity for the Rangers to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, ending an eight year drought.

Now that the NHL and NHLPA have settled their differences, Ranger fans actually have many things to be excited about:

. Fans have a chance to see their top prospects for more than just a few games. Fans will more than likely get to see the top goalie in Europe, Henrik Lundqvist, start a few games between the pipes for the hockey club. Fans will also get to see a lot defensemen Fedor Tyutin, Maxim Kondratiev and Ivan Baranka, forwards Hugh Jessiman (possibly), Lawrence Nycholat, Jan Marek and Zdenek Bahensky, and goaltenders Jason LaBarbera and Al Montoya. Fans will get to see if any of Sather's attempts at rebuilding this team has helped.
. With the new rule changes, the game at MSG will be wide open, something fans have not seen since they won the Cup back in 94.

. Thanks to the newly formatted season schedule, Ranger fans will get to see the Flyers, Devils, Islanders and Crosby and the Pens eight times this season. At the Garden, games against these teams are usually emotional and filled with lots of scoring and heavy hitting.

. Fans will also get to see a familiar face around the organization, Adam Graves. Graves will be working with community relations and prospect development and what person could be better as a spokesman for the New York Rangers than Adam Graves?

This is just an exciting time for fans of every National Hockey League team. When teams hit the ice in the fall, they will all look significantly different with new players, new stars, new management and new coaches. For most teams like the Rangers, this is a chance for a fresh start, the theme for the 2005-2006 NHL season.

He Shoots, He Scores!
By Patrick Hoffman

After a season in which no goals were scored, a goal was finally scored last night when the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative deal for a new collective bargaining agreement. All I can say is: It's about damn time! The longest work stoppage in professional sports history really should have been settled back in February, when the best deal to be had by both the owners and players was there. However, the players, along with their boss Bob Goodenow, did not think that was the case so they turned it down and it ultimately led to the cancellation of the whole season.

Though the agreement has yet to be ratified, here are the important figures:

. Players' salaries will be reduced by 24 percent.
. There will be a salary cap linked to 54 percent of the NHL's hockey-related revenue.
. No player alone can count for more than 20 percent of his team's payroll.

Folks, this was inevitable. The players had to get it through their thick skulls that they were going to have to accept a salary cap, which is exactly what they should have done way back in September, thus avoiding this whole lockout thing. Instead, they wasted a whole season and helped to destroy the game of hockey.

Now is the time for both the NHL and NHLPA to make it up to the fans. They really need to go out of their way to do this because this lockout caused many fans to pack up their "hockey bags" and go home for good. There will definitely be fans that do not come back to the game because of what this season did to them: took hockey right out of their hearts.

We all know what needs to be done: open up the game! Give us some scoring, some shootouts, some superstars and a more creative game. If the NHL and NHLPA can work together to bring these things to the game, they may just get some fans back and even add more in the process.


There needs to be more scoring. Increase the net size by a little, decrease the size of some of the goaltenders' equipment, take out the red line and call the damn obstruction penalties. All of these factors would help bring more scoring to the game. Players need some space to be creative. So, let's give the creativity back to the players because if the league can do this, goals will be scored. Look back at Wayne Gretzky during the 1980's Oilers' dynasty. He was able to be so creative with the puck because he had room to make his moves and room to skate.

Enough of these ties already. I know that many fans besides me are tired of going home after a tied game because it feels like nothing has been settled. How exciting would it be to see Jaromir Jagr or Alexei Kovalev or even Sydney Crosby go one-on-one with the goalie in a shootout? Every fan would be on their feet and I'm sure that it would boost TV ratings a bit.


Whoever drafts Sydney Crosby with the first pick of the 2005 NHL draft will certainly have to play him once the season begins. Fans are definitely going to want to come and watch this young hockey stud play, which is why it would be great if he was drafted by a big market hockey club such as the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, etc. Teams need to play and promote their stars because that is who fans come to watch every night and that is how hockey can get fans to come to games.

Let's Play!

Now that everything has been settled, let's just do this right. Open up the game, increase scoring, promote teams and their stars and I guarantee that fans will come back. No, it is not going to happen right away but it is certainly an important step to fully getting the game of hockey up and running again.

Game On!


Recently, I conducted an interview with Lyle Richardson, owner of Spector's Hockey. This was my third interview with him for this column and in each interview, the tone was extremely different. The first interview featured his passion and love for the game of hockey and what needed to be done to make the sport better. The second interview discussed how much hockey was suffering and how deep a hole the league was in.

This interview has the tone of hope for the sport, hope for the rising star in Sidney Crosby and of course, hopes of a settlement between the NHL and NHLPA:

PH: Do you believe that the NHL and NHLPA will finally reach a deal in the near future?

LR: Yes, I believe the deal will be reached by no later than mid-July, the hold up now is getting everything nice and legal.

PH: What do you think the NHL and NHLPA have learned from this mess?

LR: I agree with John Buccigross that they've learned their product sucks in the United States sports market and needs an overhaul. Other than that, I don't think they've learned very much, except that they're blindly stubborn in negotiations when they should be cooperating with each other.

PH: What does the league have to do to endear themselves to the fans?

LR: Several things. First there should be an apology, followed by real improvements to the on-ice product to open up the game and bring back the flow. The players need to become more visible and approachable away from the arena. The league needs to bring in better PR people to sell the game. Finally, both sides must ensure that another lockout never happens again. There must be more cooperation between the two sides in future negotiations. Another season-ending lockout could spell the death knell of the NHL as we know it. That's not being alarmist, merely stating a fact.

PH: When hockey finally starts up again, what kind of changes will be implemented on the ice? What kind of approval do you think fans will give it?

LR: The changes will probably and unfortunately be minimal. Remember, we're talking the NHL here, a league where the traditionalists rule and are stubbornly opposed to change. The reduction in goalie equipment, tag-up off-sides and shootouts appear to be the only change we'll see. There should be some improvement but I don't know if it'll be enough to bring about the kind of action NHL fans crave. The crackdown on obstruction is a must! If the changes don't work out as anticipated, I'm hoping they'll continue to explore other measures.

PH: When do you think the NHL will return to its prime? Do you see it happening within the next five years or so?

LR: Anything's possible and if the league continues to seek ways to improve its on-ice product and markets itself and its best players aggressively, it could return to its early 90s prime.

PH: Onto the fun stuff: What do you think some of the big off-season moves will be? Where do you think the big free agents will end up?

LR: It's too early to tell what the big moves will be until the CBA is in place; then we can get a better idea. I think we'll see the buyouts of several aging overpaid veterans, like John LeClair and Tony Amonte. Potential UFA players still in their prime, like Scott Niedermayer, will command a lot of attention, cap or no cap. Players of his caliber I see going to big market teams. I really don't see them going to struggling markets where they might not have a realistic shot at playing for a winner.

PH: Once the new CBA is in place, how drastically different are teams going to look?

LR: I agree with Buccigross that the Capitals and Bruins will be completely different than what we saw in 2003-04, given that they've got so few players under contract. Overall the CBA is going to affect every club in various degrees, and a lot will be determined by the salary cap system, buyouts of veterans and how much space each club will have on their payrolls.

PH: What do you think of Sidney Crosby? Do you think he is the real deal? Where do you think he will end up? Do you think that he has the ability to come in and help market the game?

LR: Crosby is the real deal. I don't think he's the second coming of Gretzky but I do believe that, barring potential injury, he'll be a superstar in his own right. Once he establishes himself as a bonafide NHL star, he'll be perfect to help the league market itself. As to where he'll end up, it's anyone's guess since there will be a lottery to determine who gets the first overall pick in this year's draft. I'm a Montreal Canadiens fan and I'd love to see him in a Habs jersey, as I'm sure he would since he's also a Canadiens fan, but it's up to the bouncing bingo balls to determine where he'll begin his NHL career. And no, I don't buy into the tinfoil hat brigade's theory that this lottery is rigged to send him to the New York Rangers. If he goes there, it'll be determined fair and square, not by cheating.

PH: Date for when you think a deal will be announced:

LR: As I said earlier, by no later than July 15th to allow teams time to market themselves and stock their rosters. That could result in the season's start getting pushed forward by a couple of weeks. Ideally, I'd like to see it announced by June 30th, but as I said earlier, legalese takes time.

Passion, Heart and Desire: A Simple Formula to the Game of Hockey

As of right now, June 18th, all the signs point to a deal being made between the NHL and NHLPA in the near future. It seems like the two sides are making progress, and I am using that word very carefully, every time they go to the table. Folks, I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

One man who would love to see the game back on the ice as much as all of us hockey fans do is ESPN's John Buccigross. I interviewed him a few months ago and we discussed how terrible the talks were going and how things between the NHL and NHLPA seemed as if they would never get resolved. The game was going down the drain and fans were tagging along.

Times are different now and this particular interview has a much different mood to it:

PH: First and foremost, what do you have to say about Mr. Cam Neely being inducted into hockey's shrine?

JB: Deserved. Great player. A man for all seasons, regular and playoff. Great contributor to cancer victims and their families in retirement. And he gets to go in all by himself, so he will get plenty of attention. For someone who had to retire at the age of 30, it will be one last great day for him to feel like a hockey player.

PH: When do you think the NHL and NHLPA will announce that they have finally reached a new CBA agreement and will be returning to the ice in the fall of 2005?

JB: My original over under was Flag Day/Barry Melrose's birthday. Melrose's birthday is July 15th, so I think certainly before then we will have an announcement.

PH: What do you think the NHL and NHLPA have learned from this whole ordeal?

JB: That their sport is in trouble in terms of United States relevance. They need to work together to make the game more appealing and exciting. I'd fire almost every PR department employee and hire 22 year old kids out of college who have enthusiasm, hunger and drive.

PH: Do you have any predictions about the many upcoming free agent signings? Which team do you think will look the most significantly different after the new CBA is put in place?

JB: The Bruins and Capitals are two teams that come to mind. Columbus has lots of money and an aggressive owner. The Rangers will also look different, but they look different every year. This is all such unchartered waters that it is difficult to predict what will happen.

PH: What do you expect to see from the NHL once the game is back on the ice? (Rule changes, new look, etc.)

JB: The on ice game will not be that different if the only rule changes are tag-up offside and a shootout. I'm sure we will have tons of minor penalties for obstruction in the beginning in an attempt to retrain the players on the rules of the game.

PH: What do you think of Sydney Crosby? Do you think that he is the real deal? What team would you like to see him play for during the upcoming season?

JB: Sidney Crosby will be a great NHL player and have a hall of fame career. He is fast, smart, passionate and strong on his skates. I can visualize in my mind Crosby playing for every team in the NHL. Each vision paints a different picture, but every picture is bright, vivid and unique. It does not matter to me.

PH: Onto the fun stuff: If you had to send five guys out onto the ice for a game, who would you put in and why? (One for each position on the ice)

JB: Right Now? Center- Sidney Crosby: Because I want to watch him every night. Wingers- Jarome Iginla: He can score, hit and lead. Ilya Kovalchuk: I love watching him skate and I love his release. Defense- Nik Lidstrom: A defenseman who can't pass makes me want to plunge knitting needles into my naval. Nik is the best at it. Scott Neidermayer: The most beautiful skater in the NHL. Goalie- Rick DiPietro- With smaller equipment, hopefully, the goaltending position will rely less on bulk and more on reflexes, talent and heart.

PH: Are you ready for hockey or what?

JB: I'm ready for a 10 hour bubble bath with Angelina Jolie and a case of Bud!

A Letter from the Fans

Dear NHL and NHLPA,

You do not know me but I have been a very loyal hockey fan for 22 years. I was around for the Edmonton Oilers dynasty. I was around to watch Gretzky, Lemieux, Hull, Messier, Roy and Brodeur smash NHL records. I was around to see the NHL at its peak back during the 1993-94 season when the ratings were high and when the New York Rangers, a major market for the NHL, won a Stanley Cup to break their 54 year drought. For the past 22 years, I have been able to see all the great goals, hits, saves, individual performances, playoff performances and highlights that make the game of hockey so exciting and special.

Now, to show your appreciation for my loyalty, you guys decide to cancel the entire NHL season. You took away the one thing in my life, besides my family and friends, that I have always loved, had pride in, respected and cared for. By canceling the season, you killed something inside of me, along with killing something inside of many hockey fans. For some fans, you killed the game completely and will never be able to get them back, which is very understandable considering what you did.

As we head into the 10 month of the lockout, the rumors say that you are finally close to reaching an agreement. Please, make these rumors come true. Give back what you stole from me and a million of other fans like me: the great game of hockey. Give us something that we can look forward to for many years to come. Give us a game that will be open, exciting, passionate and fun to watch. Give us a game that will put hockey back on the map and show people what a great sport we have.

I speak for myself and many other hockey fans when I say "JUST SETTLE AND PLAY HOCKEY!

Sincerely Yours,

Patrick Hoffman.



I got up this morning and read in my local paper, The Journal News, that New Jersey State Assemblyman Craig Stanley would like to change the name of the New Jersey Devils. His reasoning behind this is as follows:

"This is an age where symbolism is very important."

"I've always cringed when people say they're going to see the Devils," Stanley said. "The merchandise, the paraphernalia is based on the actual demonic devil."

This is absolutely preposterous. If we are going to change this team name, then we are also going to have to change other team names that have bad symbolism. Say goodbye to the San Jose "Sharks," Calgary "Flames", Tampa Bay "Lightning", Colorado "Avalanche", and do not get me started on the Chicago "Blackhawks". These are all team names that have questionable symbolism.

Now, the Devils logo may be based on the actual demonic devil. However, this demonic devil is holding a hockey stick and has a smile on his face. This is not bad symbolism. This is a joke and actually goes with the saying "When hell freezes over, I'll play hockey there too."

Fans do not take this kind of thing seriously. When they tell their friends that they are going to see the Devils, their friends know that they do not mean actual demonic devils. They do in fact know that they mean a professional sports team. Many professional sports team have bad symbolism. In baseball, one has to look at a team such as: the Tampa Bay "Devil" Rays. In professional basketball, one could even say the same about the Miami "Heat" because of the flames that surround the basketball in the logo.

The point that I am trying to make here is that there are plenty of professional sports teams whose name represents a bad image. However, this image is not meant to be taken literally. If it was, than many professional sports teams would have to have their names changed.

Mr. Stanley, the New Jersey Devils will not change their name for you. It is a name that has been in sports since 1982 when it was picked out in a fan contest, the key word being fan. Just let it go because if the Devils do indeed have to change their name, you are going to cause quite a stir in the pro sports world.

Still No Deal?!

It is hard to believe that going into two days before June, there is still no deal between the players and the league. No one knows what Mr. Goodenow is waiting for because really, he missed his opportunity for the best deal. He needs to realize that the longer he waits, the worse off it is going to be for everyone in hockey including the league, the players, employees and more importantly, the fans. The longer this childish behavior goes on between the league and the union, the more fans that will leave the game of hockey. Just get a deal done!


I am growing tired of this CBA war between the league and the union. I am growing tired of hearing that progress has been made and yet, there still is not a deal in place between the two sides. I am sick and tired of this constant childish bickering between Mr. Goodenow and Mr. Bettman. They both need to get their heads out of their asses and realize that they need to put a deal in place as soon as possible or they are both going to lose more than they can afford. They are in danger of losing both the sport and its fans.

On a brighter note, since this stupid lockout has been going on, I have found other ways to enjoy the game of hockey whether it is visiting this site, playing NHL 2005 for Playstation 2, or watching the "Top 10 Lists" on nhl.com. However, what I have enjoyed the most during this lockout is listening to "The Face-off Hockey Show" on broadcastmonsters.com. The show has been the most consistent form of hockey that I can catch every Wednesday night from 9pm-11pm. The hosts, Scotty Wazz, Marc with a "c", Sean O and Jonny P, provide listeners with information regarding the NHL, the NHL CBA, NHL rumors, the AHL, the ECHL, the OHL and other Canadian junior hockey leagues.

Here are a few reasons why hockey fans out there should be listening to this fantastic show:

1) It is consistent: Unlike the labor battles between the league and the PA, the "Face-Off Hockey Show" is very consistent. It is on every Wednesday night from 9pm-11pm and can be heard both during the season and during the off-season as well.

2) Never a dull moment: During this rather bleak time in hockey, the hosts of the show provide listeners with many funny moments, jokes and clips. They give us tired hockey fans something to smile about!

3) Great guests: The show has been able to provide listeners with interesting guests such as our very own Lyle Richardson, the National Hockey Group, In the Game Trading Card Company and various members of Canadian junior hockey league clubs. The guests provide listeners with interesting hockey information whether it is about the labor negotiations, the industry as a whole, the future of the game, etc.

4) These guys know their hockey: The hosts of the show really know their hockey. They have all been around the game as players, video game hockey players, fans and analysts. Sure, they may joke around quite a bit but when it comes time to share their knowledge of the sport, they really know what they are talking about.

5) It's hockey: Folks, there really is not much to talk about in the hockey world these days but the guys over at the "Face-Off Hockey Show" always find hockey related to talk about whether it is about the NHL, NHL free agents and rumors, the AHL, ECHL, Canadian junior hockey leagues, etc. They all know the current happenings in hockey leagues all over the world so they are always able to provide listeners with plenty of hockey information.

So if any of you hockey fans out there need a break from the boring legalities of the NHL lockout, listen to the guys over on "The Face-off Hockey Show" on broadcastmonsters.com. The show really will help restore some of the lost passion that you have for the game of hockey.

For more information on the show, please go to www.faceoffhockeyshow.com

 The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in Hoffer's Net copyrighted (C) 2004 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.