- Not much of an update today, folks. I'll be spending the day watching the Worlds. It's the classic matchup, Canada vs Russia this morning, and Sweden vs the Czech Republic this afternoon. It almost feels like an NHL playoff Saturday! Except, of course, it isn't...but hey! It's a hockey fix.
- Biggest news on the labour front: the NHLPA cancelled their player meeting, scheduled for 24-26 May 05.
There's a couple of ways to look at this. The most obvious: there's been little progress made, in the eyes of the PA, thus it's not worth wasting the players time debriefing them on what they already know, that they're no closer to a deal than they were when the season was cancelled.
This could also be a pressure tactic by the PA, and a little bit of "tit for tat" on their part. Remember, last January the NHL cancelled a Board of Governors meeting, one that was seen as crucial toward determining if the 2004-05 season could be saved, for the very same reason the PA is now cancelling their player meeting: "lack of progress in negotiations".
Three meetings between the league and PA are scheduled for next week, but the league could turn around and cancel those if they're in a retaliatory mood. It'll be interesting to hear Gary Bettman or (most likely) Bill Daly's take on this.
So much for optimism.
- Check out the latest from the blogosphere.
The Hockey Rodent explores how the "zero-sum game" is affecting the NHL labour talks.
Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin makes an excellent analysis of NHLPA honcho Bob Goodenow's intentions. For those of you believing Goodenow's incompetent, Silverstein's article will provide food for thought.
Tom Benjamin explodes the myth of the importance of scoring the first goal in an NHL game.
Mike Chen reviews ESPN's John Buccigros' article in defence of Gary Bettman and offers up his own spot-on analysis of Bettman's record.
There's growing speculation that Wayne Gretzky, the greatest offensive NHL player of all time and the man responsible for putting together the 2002 Olympic Hockey Gold Medal and 2004 World Cup of Hockey Championship teams, may be planning to move behind the bench of the Phoenix Coyotes whenever the NHL returns to action.
There also seems to be some debate amongst pundits and fans as to whether or not this is a good idea by the Great One.
Yes, seemingly everything he's touched in his hockey life has turned to gold, but he lacks the credentials to be an NHL coach.
That's not to suggest that Gretzky shouldn't be allowed to coach in the NHL. There've been plenty of instances where former "name" NHL players, whose only experience seems to be that they were former players, have become NHL coaches.
A few have had various degrees of success, as Al Strachan noted yesterday, even winning Stanley Cup championships.
But Strachan also noted that it's rare to see big name former players become NHL coaches, and successful ones at that.
It would be better if Gretzky were to gain experience by either coaching in the minors or being an assistant coach with the Coyotes first.
But The Great One would never stoop to going to the minors and he certainly won't be anyone's assistant.
The Coyotes are denying that Gretzky will step in as the 'Yotes new head coach, and I hope they're right.
If Gretzky were taking over a powerhouse club, one that would respect him, perhaps he'd have an easier time of it.
But the Coyotes remain a work in progress, a club that needs a seasoned hand, one that can work well with its veterans as well as bring out the best of its young players.
They don't need a neophyte, even if he is such a great Hall of Famer that most of them would hold in awe.
- CANADA 5, SLOVAKIA 4. Tom Benjamin and Jes Golbez have analysis. While a nailbiter as Tom describes, Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur struggled in this one, and if it weren't for the Canucks offensive game, this one would've ended a Slovakian victory.
Still, a very exciting, edge-of-the-seat game. Once again, Joe Thornton, Simon Gagne and Rick Nash come up big, but so did Dany Heatley, who hopefully silenced his critics with a goal and an assist in this one. A tough loss for the Slovakians, especially with an opportunity to tie it late with a power play in the final minutes.
FOR TEAM USA as they were knocked out of the tournament by the
Czechs 3-2 in a shootout. The American took an 2-0 lead into
the third period, with goalie Rick DiPietro standing on his head
as his club was outshot by a 2 to 1 margin throughout. But DiPietro
missed a screened shot by Marek Zidlicky to pull the Czechs to
within on. DiPietro then took a stupid roughing penalty which
resulted in Jaroslav Spacek tying the game. Martin Rucinsky would
score in the shootout that gave the Czechs the game.
In case you missed it, I let slip my mask of civility yesterday (May 11) and tore into Gary Bettman and Bill Daly over their comments and plans for "fan appreciation" whenever the NHL returns to action.
I don't often let that happen here, and never in my Foxsports.com columns, but every once in a while I'll read something regarding this lockout from one side or the other that upsets me so much that I toss caution to the wind and just post up whatever thoughts - expletives and all - into this column.
That's because this site was built by a hockey fan (me), maintained by that same fan, and contains the opinions of hockey fans.
Spector the freelance pundit wanna-be has to maintain a veneer of professionalism. Spector the hockey fan sometimes allows his emotions colour his comments. It also gets me talking about myself in the third person so I'll stop that now.
Anyway, after posting up said rant, I felt some pangs of uneasiness. Although I meant every word of it, and forewarned my readers well in advance that it would contain foul language and heavy sarcasm, I worried a little that perhaps, this time, I'd gone too far.
It played on my mind throughout the workday, so that by the time I came home I was fully prepared for a bombardment of angry e-mails from readers criticizing my use of profanity and promising never to visit my site again.
Heck, I even envisioned getting a nasty-gram from the NHL threatening legal action for calling Daly a nasty name on top of accusing he and Bettman of being outright liars.
Thankfully, when I checked my e-mails, there was nothing from the NHL head office or legal department, so I could stop preparing to write a retraction.
Best of all, what comments I did get from readers were strongly supportive.
So today, I'll post up their comments in the Soapbox. I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to write in. It's nice to see that there still are some hockey fans who actually give a damn about the NHL throughout this lockout nightmare.
Be forewarned, I'm posting their comments unedited so there will be some profanity ahead.
to thank you for your latest Soapbox article posted on May 11.
Keep up the good work.
Darryl Donor, Philadelphia.
wanted to say thank you for speaking what really should be said
forgot to mention that along with the current price for tickets,
Right on. You are 100% correct in your rant today. Bettman and Daly are full of shit.
When this thing first started, I sided with the owners until I started looking a little closer. Around December, I was still leaning towards owners side but in Jan/Feb I moved to the players side.
The owners are crooks and the owner of my favorite team, Dallas Stars is one of the main reasons we are in this mess. Overspending on free agents like Turgeon/Guerin/Young has madeTom Hicks charge 8 bucks to park in his parking lot. The money that isnt stolen from the parking attendants goes straight to his gold lined pocket. 4 bucks for a hotdog, 5 bucks for a drink, 4 bucks for a program all goes to help him put fuel in his G5 Aircraft. Its a f-ing joke. Whats nice to know is that he doesnt make that much money off me. When I go to the game, Im there to see the players. I don't buy anything except the seat that I am using that night.
"Fan appreciation" by lowering ticket prices, concession discounts and a new logo is just painting over a filthy worn out wall. If you dont fix the wall first, it will look good for a couple of months. After a bit, the dirt and grim show through and then you are right back at the nasty wall. Its better to completely rip the wall down and redo it altogether. Bettman and Daly are rotten to the core. Its time to demolish them and find something that will hold up the the great game.
Keep up the great work.
Lyle!!! I agree 100% that that Bettman and Daly are fucking
Don't spend your $2 ticket savings in one place LOL!!!! DEAD ON!!!!! Could that short term savings of $2 per game be any less significant at this point!?!?!??!?!
If I didn't
love watching Peter Forsberg dipsy doodling all over the ice
And they actually considered replacement players???? Talk about a cure for insomnia that the FDA would approve!!!!!
Enjoy some czech beer for me, Klaster and Pilsner Urquell are my favs (just incase the scotch is too much to stomach after this crapfest from Daly).
sit and think if I could say something in regards to this bullshit
Comment on your article.. "FAN APPRECIATION?"
And that comment is.. "Wow!"
The good news is you are 100 percent right on everything you said.
The bad news is you are 100 percent right on everything you said.
How IS the NHL going to "make things right"? Good question. But I agree that "ticket prices going down" is not going to happen.
I think that the new "crisis time" is May 24th - May 31st. Nothing will happen till then.
IF something happens, it will happen then. The players union will have had their huge meeting of a large number of their members.
The owners will have the pressure of getting advertising/draft/season ticket sales/ done in time for the season.
The players will have the pressure of knowing they could get a crappy deal if the owners lose a bunch of revenue if the owner's don't get their advertising/draft/season ticket sales done in time.
Butch prediction -> Finally, a deal will be done before June 1st but not until after the players meeting.
IF no deal is done by June 1st, the NHL will bury itself. The owners will lose so much money if there isn't a deal done by June that they won't be able to pay the players hardly anything. The players AND owners BETTER get a deal done BEFORE June 1st or the NHL could do a death spiral.
Hang in there!
All I have to say is you fucken rock, with your soapbox. I have always said players salaries HAVE nothing to do with ticket prices but people refuse to listen to me. I know they wont lower prices and the dumbass Bettman even stated in his statement that he can only guarantee that they wont go any higher. I have already gotten into it with the Rangers, because I am a season ticket holder and they are getting ready to send out invoices shortly, well come to find out they are still charging us the same as last season. So I bitched and complained and this is what I was told: Well your 10% for not making the playoffs since 97 is still in effect from the previous season, and we have to mail out invoices (even though they dont know if there is going to be a season) because of upgrades, and if they dont mail them out they will be behind the eight ball. (what 8 ball, there is no fucken season yet) But he told me that depending on how many renewals they get back and also depending on how many responses they get like mine, then that will determine the reduction of prices. I say bullshit, were in NY I know how James Dolan operates, so stop trying to blow smoke up my ass! Anyway, I just wanted to say I think your letter is awesome and I couldnt have said it better myself.
YOU SUCK BETTMAN!
were so dead on with the Soapbox today. The bottom line for fans
is that they get to see the games and enjoy watching the world's
best players perform against one another.
that the Red Wings had lost some season
THANK YOU FOR THE NHLFA PLUG!!!!!!!!!
May 1st some of us discussed the topic of
voices like yours to be heard!
is a shame that the NHL has no intention of cutting ticket prices
in any meaningful way, and I'm totally with you in that the suggestion
that they will is bullshit or, at very best, an illusion.
reason that a lot of the teams bring out third jerseys
the *teams* want the (increased) revenue from the sales
teams are bringing out new logos? Unless I'm given a new
Again, it's not for the fans.
Don't say you weren't forewarned, folks, I'm pissed off today and not in the mood for NHL bullshit.
In a recent column regarding the follies that is the NHL player lockout, Eagle Tribune pundit Russ Conway noted the following:
The league already plans a "Fan Appreciation" promotional blitz once play resumes, including reduced ticket prices, concession discounts, prize giveaways and public appearances by celebrity hockey fans.
Newly designed player uniforms are planned, and the league will unveil a new logo featuring the Stanley Cup in place of the old orange and black shield.
So, NHL fans, do you feel the league's appreciation yet?
The NHL has no choice but to have a "Fan Appreciation" promo blitz. Indeed, I've noted several times on this site and on Foxsports since last fall that we can expect the league and its teams to offer up little goodies as enticements to woo back disgruntled hockey fans.
"It's our way of showing our appreciation for all your support in the past and throughout this difficult work stoppage". Get used to hearing that phrase, or a reasonable facsimile, a lot once the lockout ends.
But don't expect those cuts to ticket prices to be either substantial or long term. In fact, you'll be lucky if those prices stay down for the entire first season following the lockout. Ditto for those potential concession discounts.
Ticket and concession sales are the principal bread-and-butter of the owners, and they're not going to just allow those prices to be significantly slashed over the course of the next CBA.
They'll chop them just enough to entice you back through the turnstiles on a regular basis and then BLAM! Right between the eyes with a markup that'll leave your heads spinning.
As for prize giveaways, they'd better be an improvement over those stupid t-shirt cannons and on-ice turkey bowling on Thanksgiving during intermission.
Public appearances by celebrity hockey fans? I didn't think such a beasty existed! Ok, ok, I know there's a handful of 'em around, but unless they can catch Kiefer Sutherland between filmings of "24" or Shania Twain between concert tours, I wouldn't get too excited about rubbing shoulders with celebrity fans.
Shiny new uniforms for the players? Who bloody cares! New uniforms won't hide the fact the NHL's been slipping off the radar of sports fans in the good ol' US of A. What, are these uniforms supposed to reflect light or something? Is that how they're going to attract attention?
And a new logo! Be still, my pounding heart! Yes, by gum, that's a sure fire seller, let's redesign the league logo, that'll put the butts in the seats for sure!
The most galling, though, is the claims of Bettman and Daly and the owners that they've staged this lockout for the fans.
When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the lockout last Sept. 15, the league claimed to be doing it for the fans, who paid $43.57 per ticket on average during the 2003-2004 NHL season.
"We're going to make it up to them over the long term," NHL vice president and chief legal counsel Bill Daly told The Eagle-Tribune. "The bottom line is we're doing this for the game and for the fans, ultimately, more than any other constituency. When we get our expenses under control, the pressure to continually raise ticket prices to try to make revenues meet the expenses will certainly correct itself."
Don't piss on my shoes and tell me it's raining, you asshole!
Claiming they were staging this lockout for the fans is a lie, ok? A big, fat, shiny fuckin' LIE!
This lockout was never staged by the league for the fans. The fans never entered into the equation.
Both sides in this lockout had their reasons, but never once were they thinking of the fans. If they were, they wouldn't have allowed negotiations to become so contentious, so bitter and hateful, that it would cost an entire season.
Lie number two is claiming ticket prices will drop under a salary cap.
Several months ago, the Hockey News polled the owners of the 30 franchises to inquire if ticket prices would be reduced under a new CBA. Less than six clubs either had started reducing ticket prices prior to the lockout or expressed assurances they would do so under a new CBA.
The rest offered the standard line that they'd have to await for the next CBA to be implemented before making a decision.
Sounds reasonable, right?
What they're actually doing is waiting for the new CBA to find out how it'll affect their individual markets so they'll know the minimum amount to cut those ticket prices and for how long.
That's not a cynical viewpoint, folks, that's just the way things are.
Indeed, last fall, Pierre Boivin, President of the Montreal Canadiens, told Stan Fischler his club wouldn't be cutting ticket prices.
Of course, the Habs can get away with that. They know their club is widely popular in Quebec, and have since 1997-98 led the NHL in average attendence.
When Toronto Maple Leafs season ticket holders met with Gary Bettman last fall, he couldn't assure them that ticket prices would drop under a new CBA. Bettman told them that wasn't decided by the league but rather by the market of each club.
Ticket prices have no correlation with players' salaries, gang. That's determined by the marketplace. That's why teams like the Wild, Blackhawks and Predators, who had some of the lowest payrolls in the NHL, charged some of the highest ticket prices, while teams like the Rangers and Stars with some of the highest payrolls weren't even in the top ten in ticket prices.
That's why tickets to attend a Leafs game are one of the most expensive in the league, while tickets for a Sabres game are among the cheapest.
Let's suppose for a moment the NHL succeeds and gets a $37 million salary cap across the board. The league average ticket price last season was $43.57 and that was with the average payroll at $44 million.
So if salaries are capped, ticket prices are gonna drop significantly, right?
Some savings, huh? Try not to spend those two whole bucks in one place, ok?
The NHL is lying to its fans. That's right, I'm accusing Bettman and Daly of lying. They know goddam well ticket prices are based on what each market will bear, not on players salaries. They're feeding us bullshit when they claim that once their expenses are "under control" that ticket prices will also be controlled.
They're just hoping that enough of you will be too stupid or apathetic to notice.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will charge whatever the hell they please because they're the largest hockey market in the NHL and there's a high demand for their product. If they lower prices, it'll be only for the short term and won't be a significant drop.
The same goes for other popular hockey markets.
Struggling franchises - large or small - will cut their prices because they'll more desperately need to lure back fans. Once those numbers at the turnstiles improve, watch those prices nudge higher.
The only good thing I can see coming out of this mess is when the next CBA is set to expire, and those ticket prices haven't dropped substantially, and the salary cap hasn't really changed things, more fans will realize that they were lied to, and hopefully won't buy the snake oil being peddled as gold by the NHL.
Don't think for one second, NHL fans, that the league, owners and players have any real concern for you. They don't. If they did, they never would've allowed this stupid fuckin' lockout to occur, let alone drag on for months with no end in sight and nothing but childish, petty sniping between the two sides.
We're nothing but walking ATMs for these people. They don't give a fat flyin' fuck about us, so long as we keep plunkin' down our money like a bunch of stupid crack-brained sheep for their overpriced watered down product and overpriced water-down concessions.
That's what's pissed me off so much about this. Both sides have done potentially irreparable harm to the NHL, yet both sides seemingly don't care about the damage they've done, to their product and to their loyal fans.
You wanna make it up to me, Gary and Bill? Then stop fucking lying about ticket prices and players salaries. Tell the goddam truth, because otherwise you're gonna reap the whirlwind in six years time when the next CBA expires, and I wouldn't wanna be you when that shitstorm descends.
Next, work with the players, not against them. They're your product whether you like to admit it or not, and boys, you're gonna need them over the next six years. You've gotta sell a product that's colder than a witch's tit in the United States right now, and you'll need the players to do that for ya.
Finally, make some real changes to improve the game. Bring me back the game as I know it can be played, rather than the cure for insomnia you've passed off over the last ten years.
Hockey Hall-of-Famer Brad Park said it will take more than discounts and promotions to revive professional hockey.
"They can have all the gimmicks they want, but it's the product that's going to decide what happens," he said. "They've got huge problems and a lot of making-up to do with the fans. It will recover, but not for years."
The answer, Park said, is a more open, physical brand of hockey that encourages creativity and offense -- unlike today's defensive-minded style.
"Players today have no concept of the history of the game and how it got to where it is," he said. "They don't know the game from 20-30 years ago. That's what made the game. You couldn't get a ticket back then. But they let it slide and the management people are too afraid of making a mistake.
"After all this, they've got to find a way to turn the fans on with action."
Amen to that, Brad.
Hello there, hockey fans, and welcome to "Overreaction Theatre", or if you're American, "Theater". Today we serve up a couple of real dandies for you...well, they're not that thrilling, but it does makes for a bit of fun at the expense of the characters involved.
ACT ONE: THE ATTACK THAT NEVER WAS, OR, THE ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT KILLER NASH RAMBLER.
Pretty sad when the only way someone at the World Hockey Championships can contain Team Canada's offensive juggernaut that is Rick "Raging Bull" Nash is to file a complaint claiming he made an imaginary attack against a referee and a linesman during Canada's game with Sweden on Saturday.
Are Swedish team officials that worried about running into Nash again that they're trying to get him suspended with a faux claim of poor sportsmanship?
Now I'm not pinning the blame on the Swedish players or coaches, who are obviously innocent of this bit of mischief, but rather their GM, Claes-Goran Wallin, who it must be noted "did not witness the attack".
Yet he somehow, 36 hours after the game, sent a copy of this taped "attack" by Nash to IIHF officials.
Wallin said the Swedes decided to file a complaint because of reaction in Sweden and the complaint is about principle more than anything else.
"We don't want to see that again, we don't like it when players attack referees," said Wallin before the decision was handed down. "That is the only thing. This has nothing to do with suspending Nash. The game was over."
"This is for hockey's future. This is for the kids, parents. They should know you do not attack the referee. I don't think he will be suspended. The only point from us is the referees should not be attacked by anybody."
Oh please! Can you just see the sanctimony dripping from every word? Who is this guy, Mrs. Lovejoy?
Thankfully the IIHF officials weren't taken in by this claptrap.
Tournament chairman Shoa Tomita, the IIHF's top man here in this city, conducted a review of the incident - including so-called explosive footage from Sweden's TV3 - and concluded the whole thing was blown way out of proportion.
Tomita said there was incidental contact between Nash and referee Viacheslav Bulanov and linesman Miroslav Halecky but it was in "process" of playing the game and not confrontational.
Get bent, Wallin. Instead, worry about your club stinkin' out the joint in their recent 5-1 loss to Team USA.
- ACT TWO: TRENCH WARFARE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP GIVING A DAMN ABOUT NEXT SEASON AND LEARN TO LOVE THE VERBAL BOMB.
In this seemingly neverending story that is the NHL lockout, now the longest labour dispute in sports history (wonder if Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow celebrated the occasion? Y'know, a little cake, some champagne, hats n' horns? Or maybe a quiet celebration over coffee in a Starbucks or Tim Hortons in some little out of the way town?), there are two certainties we've come to count upon.
One, the two sides can't seem to agree on anything.
Two, we can expect both sides to occasional lob verbal bombs at each other via the media, kinda like the way trench warfare was conducted back in the First World War, when on slow days the two sides would fire a few salvoes of artillery just to keep the other side on their toes.
Seems the league believes the NHLPA is misinforming the players as to what their latest proposal contained. Here's NHL VP Bill Daly:
"It's just another example of what we have faced since the start of this negotiation, a lot of misinformation from the Union to the players, and a constant manipulation of the process. It appears more and more as if Bob is simply intent on continuing the fight, and trying as hard as he can to do whatever it takes to avoid making a deal.
But the NHLPA believes the NHL's proposal is so baffling that they can't even explain it properly to the players. Here's NHLPA Senior Director Ted Saskin:
"I am surprised that Bill would be upset at us having informed the players. We did note that Gary withdrew part of their tax proposal after it became clear how ill conceived it was. I challenge Bill to release their proposal to the public if they believe it is not being fairly analyzed. We are totally confident that anyone who reviews the league's May 5th 'floating payroll tax' proposal would be equally puzzled by its intentions and would also see just how unworkable it was."
So much for all that "optimism" about being on the same page and that it's all just a matter of getting the numbers right, eh?
If talks are supposedly going well, if as the NHL claims things are progressing, then why is Daly harrumphing so forcefully in the press? Why is he apparently jeopardizing negotiations? And why would Saskin respond in such a manner? What purpose does it serve?
Ah, mebbe all these two are doing are engaging in a little PR sideshow to deflect attention from the negotiations.
Still, given how much damage both sides have done to their league, it certainly seems as though Daly and Saskin are getting their knickers in a twist over nothing.
Especially since, away from negotiations, they get along quite well, even going out for a few brewskis at a Montreal pub a few days before implementation of the lockout.
As Michael Corleone would say, "It's not personal. Just business."
- It's said one should go out on a song, so I'll end today's "Overreaction Theatre" with the following little lyric from Green Day's "Jesus of Surburbia", which I think aptly sums up the current state of the NHL:
Amazing what changes a couple of days can bring.
Two days ago, Team Canada was swaggering through the World Hockey Championships.
Sure, they'd struggled a tad against a plucky Latvian squad to eventually win 6-4, but then they blew past a clearly overmatched Slovenian squad 8-0, then rode Martin Brodeur's goaltending and the lethal offensive combination of Joe Thornton and Rick Nash to a 3-1 victory over Team USA.
And then the wheels fell off.
After taking 2-0 and 3-1 leads over Team Sweden, the Canadians were outplayed and outworked by the Swedes, who not only tied the game but then took the lead 4-3. Not even Nash, "The Brampton Bomber", tying the game 4-4 could rattled the determined Swedes, who eventually won the match 5-4.
Seventeen hours later, the tired Canucks found themselves down 2-0 and 3-1 to Team Finland before rallying late in the third, thanks again to the offensive heroics of the "Nash Rambler", to salvage a tie.
So what's gone wrong with Team Canada?
Heart isn't the problem, as witnessed by their comeback effort against the Finns on Sunday.
Could it be because too many of their players didn't have much ice time in meaningful games throughout the lockout?
The rosters of their opponents are more well-stocked with players who've had a full season of European hockey under their collective belts than the Canadians.
One need only look at the Canadians who've been playing consistently well in this tournament - Nash, Thornton, Dan Boyle - to see which ones have had the benefit of playing in Europe during the lockout.
Then again, one has to wonder why Sheldon Souray and Brendan Morrison, who also played practically an entire season in Europe, are struggling so.
The struggles in this tournament of the big name Canadians - notably the defensive ones - on the big ice and their lack of playing time this season has come into play as anticipated by more than one critic (and that includes yours truly).
Wade Redden has been Canada's best defenceman, followed by Boyle and Chris Phillps. Scott Hannan has been inconsistent, while Souray, Robyn Regher and Ed Jovanovski haven't been anywhere near as effective as hoped.
Meanwhile checking forwards Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Mike Fisher and Brendan Morrow have themselves been plagued by inconsistency. Even the vaunted goaltending duo of Brodeur and Roberto Luongo hasn't been as sharp as was expected.
As noted many times by TSN's hockey analysts, Team Canada appears tentative in playing their defensive game in this tournament, thanks to a combination of the big ice and lack of playing time of too many players.
Rather than play the physical style they're noted for, most of the Canadian blueliners and checkers hang back, afraid of their speedy opponents using the extra space of the European ice to their advantage.
Those defensive problems were exposed by the Latvians and the Americans, but were fully exploited by the Swedes and Finns.
The Canadians will have a day of rest today before facing off against the Ukraine on Tuesday for what should be - should be - an easy win. After that, they'll be facing off against either the Russians or Czechs as their first opponent in the playoffs.
Not an easy assignment for a team struggling defensively. Both those clubs have plenty of speedy offensive firepower and use the big ice to their advantage, especially against opponents prone to defensive mistakes.
If these defence problems aren't corrected by then, Team Canada will need to keep up their offensive game and hope for big games from Brodeur.
Otherwise, this tourney could be over much quicker than Team Canada and its fans hoped.
- Happy Mother's Day, and don't forget, today is the 60th anniversary of VE day.
- TEAM CANADA SUFFERS FIRST LOSS. But on the plus side, at least Dany Heatley and Shane Doan broke out of their scoring slumps, so here's hoping we can go the rest of the tournament without seeing more silly articles from bored sportswriters making Heatley's scoring slump out to be the end of his career.
Give full marks to Sweden, they didn't quit or get rattled when down by 2-0 and 3-1, and took advantage of Canada's shaky defensive game to rally and win 5-4.
It would be unfair to blame Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur for this loss, considering how often he was hung out to dry by his blueliners. And as TSN's Pierre McGuire observed, Canada gave up far too many point shots, which against a team like the Swedes can be lethal.
Rick Nash and Joe Thornton continued their scoring ways for Canada with a goal each in this game.
Canada gets the chance to bounce back on Sunday when they play Finland, but if they continue to struggling defensively they may find themselves in tough against the Finns.
- MSG Network's Stan Fischler makes the following claim in his latest article:
Several sources tell me that not only players but a lot of agents have grown disenchanted with Goodenows performance.
One insider informs, The deal hes being offered by the league now, he could have had last August. Hes got a lot of explaining to do.
I can assure you, another source tells me, that a top player agency in the United States has had it with Bob. He knows that Plan A waiting for the owners to crumble has failed. Now the players want to know whats Plan B?
Another source reports, The players are telling Bob to make a deal.
But Goodenow has successfully rebuffed critics in the past and, so far, seems to be holding out against them.
Sure sounds bad for Goodenow...except that in nearly every article Fischler has written since the imposition of the lockout, he's written pretty much the same thing: Goodenow's hanging by a thread, the players are getting tired of Goodenow, the agents are fed up with him, the players and agents may rise up and smite the evil Goodenow, blah,blah, blah.
Go ahead, check out his archives if you don't believe me.
As with the reports from pro-NHLPA pundits claiming the owners are getting fed up with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (which appear far less frequently than Fischler's almost weekly claims of impending doom for Goodenow), claims of Goodenow's imminent demise should be taken with a grain of salt.
While I have no doubt that both men have personal stakes in this holdout, since their respective jobs could be on the line if the next CBA doesn't favour their side, it must be remembered they represent the desires of their employers: Bettman the owners, and Goodenow the players.
The closest Goodenow came to having his job threatened probably was when a few of the higher paid players attempted to do an end-run around him last February and contacted Bettman directly.
Those efforts failed to save the season, and incurred the wrath of the rank-and-file players furious at what they saw as betrayal by a wealthy handful, as evidenced by Jeremy Roenick's apology to the player reps during a PA meeting following the cancellation of the season.
If Goodenow was in danger of being overthrown, it would've happened then. As for agents, a few may be grumbling, but like those owners unhappy with Bettman, they're standing behind their man.
Goodenow has the support of the rank-and-file, which comprises the core of the NHLPA. As long as they're backing him, and as long as influential agents such as Don Meehan, JP Barry, Pat Gillis, Rich Winter and Pat Brisson support Goodenow, he isn't going anywhere.
Ultimately, Goodenow, Ted Saskin and NHLPA president Trevor Linden are steering the PA ship...for good or ill.
- Fischler also makes the following claim:
Dozens of careers Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Dom Hasek, to name a few have been victimized along with an enormous amount of players lost cash.
I agree that there are careers victimized by this lockout, but surely to Buddha Fischler could've come up with better examples than Messier, Francis and Hasek.
Messier's career was over years ago, he's just too stubborn to admit it. Francis has all but retired having run out of gas in 2003-04. Hasek, well, given how often he's burned bridges with his comments, I doubt anyone will miss him or feel sorry for him. Besides, he's coming perilously close to the end of his career anyway if he isn't already there by now.
- This might piss off James Mirtle, who holds National Post columnist Cam Cole in high regard (as do I) but I have to respectfully disagree with Cole's assessment of the NHLPA:
You wonder if the players have come to realize how non-essential they are, in the grand scheme, and how painless it has been for us to go these months without ever once having cause to type their names.
If the players were that non-essential in the grand scheme, Cam, then why doesn't the NHL simply return next season with replacement players?
The reason, quite simply, is the NHL cannot sell itself without the best players in the world, which the vast majority of NHLPA members are.
As I've said countless times throughout this lockout, and which the NHL confirmed by backing off their replacement player scheme, is the NHLPA members ARE the NHL's product.
If they weren't, the NHL could ice replacements, secure in the knowledge that season ticket sales, attendance figures, broadcasting deals and ratings, merchandise sales and corporate sponsorship would remain unaffected.
If the NHL could count on $2.1 billion in revenues with replacement players, rather than NHLPA members, then the argument would hold true that the NHL game, not its players, are the product.
Bottom line, gang: there is no NHL product without the players. They are the product, like it or not, and the reason why most fans pay those outrageous ticket and concession prices (which have nothing to do with their salaries) to attend NHL games.
- Wondering what to make of the NHL's latest offer to the players?
As for my opinion, well, you'll just have to wait until Monday for my next article on Foxsports.com. Hey, can't post all the good stuff here, y'know. Gotta save some for the moneymaker.
- A FRANCHISE PLAYER WITH REAL CONCERNS. Forget this recent baseless speculation over 24-year-old Dany Heatley's status as a franchise player.
Instead, focus on Team USA's Mike Modano.
Up until the 2003-04 season, Modano was the franchise player of the Dallas Stars, their most recognizable face and marketable player.
And for good reason. Throughout his NHL career, Modano could be counted on to pot over 30 goals and 80 points per season, and was a reliable playoff performer to boot.
But in his last NHL season, Modano's totals fell off sharply, netting only 14 goals and 44 points in 76 games. In the Stars early post-season exit, he was nowhere near the playoff force he once was.
His performance improved during last fall's World Cup, leading Team USA with 6 points, albeit all assists.
But thus far in the World Hockey Championships, Modano has been ineffective, posting only one point (a goal) in four games for Team USA, whilst supposedly lesser-talented Americans like Mike Knuble, Erik Cole, and Mark Parrish lead the team in scoring.
It's been a tough couple of years for Modano, who inherited the captaincy of the Stars when Derian Hatcher departed via free agency in the summer of 2003, and never looked comfortable in the role.
There were also reports that people he'd trusted to look after his finances has squandered millions in investments, even putting his Stanley Cup ring up for sale on eBay.
Obviously Modano's had a lot on his mind throughout the last NHL season, and of course the fact he hasn't played a meaningful game prior to the Worlds since last September's World Cup tournament must be factored in.
But one shouldn't overlook the fact that Modano will be turning 35 next month, and has been playing at a high level in the NHL since 1989. It's possible that time may be starting to catch up with him.
- BLUES OWNER TO BAIL? That's the speculation coming out of St. Louis, as this recent Post-Dispatch article claims Bill Laurie is thinking of selling the Blues.
Laurie's supposed reasons? According to Bernie Miklasz:
(1) He's losing money. (2) The NHL is a joke. (3) National TV revenue has declined. (4) The sport's overall exposure and image are at an all-time low. (5) Even when play resumes, the Blues will face a massive project, trying to clean up the residue of the extensive league shutdown. The Blues will have to rebuild the fan base, sponsorships, corporate support, etc. (6) And for every dollar the Blues sell in tickets, they're taxed at a rate of 12.6 percent by the city and state. The Rams and the Cardinals have a much easier time of it, because the Rams had their stadium paid for entirely by public money, and the Cardinals' owners have received tax breaks. The Blues, meanwhile, face the highest tax levy by a team in any professional sport.
Miklasz does temper his comments by stating his belief that Laurie will await the outcome of the next collective bargaining agreement and then re-assess his situation.
If there's any shred of truth to this, one is left to wonder just how many other owners are thinking the same way.
- TEAM USA TIES FINLAND. The Yanks had their hands full with the Finns on Friday, blowing a 3-1 third period lead, falling behind 4-3 before rallying to tie the game with 40 seconds left when the puck bounced into the Finnish goal off Mark Parrish.
I'm betting Team USA goalie Ty Conklin would love to have that fourth Finnish goal back,a long slapshot from the blueline by Jarkko Ruutu, but one can't pin this near-disaster on Conklin alone. His teammates did little to protect the lead, and had to play desperation hockey to tie the game.
- NHL-NHLPA MEETINGS END. And the crowd yawns.
Here's the pulse-pounding, hope-raising aftermath:
Director Ted Saskin released the following statement:
Following Friday's session, Mr. Daly released this statement:
"We met for approximately 3-1/2 hours yesterday and for approximately 4-1/2 today and further discussed the conceptual framework first raised at our April 4 meeting. Both sides intend to spend the next several days continuing to work internally, and at this point, we are hoping to meet again in New York on Tuesday, May 10."
Yabba-dadda-doo. Be still, my pounding heart.
At least the reliable Bob McKenzie has the inside scoop:
There doesn't appear to be any reason for excess optimism, but neither does there appear to be any concrete evidence for pessimism either.
Gawd, I need a drink...I know it's only 9 am on a Saturday as I write this, but I'm sure it's after noon somewhere in the world...
Snark aside, McKenzie does provide specifics of what the two sides discussed in terms of a payroll range and luxury tax system, but there's few reliable reports of what that system will look like.
Even if both sides agree to a payroll range system, there are many other contentious issues (salary arbitration, entry-level salaries and bonuses, revenue-sharing) that could derail these negotiations.
Still, at least they're going to hold two meetings next week, and there does seem to be progress in negotiating what the eventual cap system will look like.
See, I'm trying to be optimistic....work, booze, WORK!
You know it's been a long lockout when hockey pundits sensationalize a player's scoring slump at the World Hockey Championships without researching the facts.
"Last year at the world championship in Prague, Heatley was a sensation, potting eight goals in nine games as Canada won gold for the second successive year.
After the disastrous car accident that killed his teammate and friend, Dan Snyder, and the difficulties of overcoming his own serious injuries from the tragedy, the performance suggested Heatley was on his way back to becoming one of the country's brightest stars.
But at the World Cup last fall, Heatley seemed curiously out of place, not nearly as dominant on a gold medal-winning team that had athletes like Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier sucking up prime ice time."
And so did Joe Thornton, who is currently tied for the scoring lead in this year's Worlds with Rick Nash, who didn't attend last year's Worlds and didn't even get an invite to attend training camp for Canada's World Cup team last fall, despite having tied for the NHL goalscoring lead last season. The more experienced players for the most part got the bulk of the ice time at the World Cup, while guys like Heatley and Thornton saw lesser roles.
Now, back at the tournament he dominated last spring, he is goalless in two games against Latvia and Slovenia, a bit part while Joe Thornton and Rick Nash have dominated the scoring headlines.
Did I mention Thornton only had a checking role with Team Canada during last fall's World Cup? And that Nash wasn't even considered worthy of an invitation to Canada's World Cup squad? Of course, it doesn't hurt that Thornton and Nash have played together in Switzerland throughout the lockout, hence their incredible chemistry thus far in this tournament.
Theories, of course, abound as to the reason for Heatley's lack of production. Some cite the absence of Buffalo centre Daniel Briere, who effectively aided and abetted Heatley's offensive notions the last two years at the worlds.
Cox - or these mysterious "some" he alludes to - appears to be insinuating that Heatley can't find the back of the net on the international stage without Briere setting him up.
The fact that, at the time of last year's Worlds, Heatley was fully recovered from the injuries he suffered in that terrible car accident and was finally in game shape doesn't seem to enter into Cox's story.
Others wonder about a left eye injury picked up last fall while playing in Switzerland, an injury Heatley insists has healed but leaves his pupil permanently dilated.
"The only problem I have is with reading really fine details on a piece of paper," he said. "On the ice, it's fine."
He moved to Kazan Ak Bars of the Russian league partway through the season after the eye injury and after pleading guilty to lesser charges in connection with the accident that killed Snyder, but he was unproductive there as well, picking up three goals and one assist in 11 games.
Heatley suffered the eye injury on November 6th. He rejoined his Swiss club on January 14th but didn't play again right away. Cox neglects to mention that, in the sixteen games Heatley played for SC Bern of the Swiss Elite League, he had 14 goals and 10 assists for 24 points.
He signed with Kazan AK Bars on February 11th. Cox also neglected to mention that, in the four playoff games Kazan AK Bars played, Heatley had three points (two goals and one assist) to lead that club in post-season scoring, including the winning goal in the only game that club won in the playoffs.
Who knows why Heatley struggled offensively in Russia. Perhaps team chemistry may have had a lot to do with that, for despite being stacked with top NHL talent, Kazan AK Bars struggled to make the playoffs and then were eliminated 3 games to 1 in the first round. One can hardly fault Heatley for that.
The accident, the injuries and the lockout that has seen Heatley play everywhere but with the Atlanta Thrashers over the past year have combined to, at the very least, muddy his once unquestioned status as an NHL franchise player.
There's the sensationalism I mentioned earlier. I disagree with Cox, for if anything, what Heatley's gone through since that car crash killed his friend and changed his life and how he's handled it shows to me the depth of character that has made him an NHL franchise player.
Cox also didn't bother to inform us that Vincent Lecavalier, who as he put it burned up the ice time with Team Canada last fall at the World Cup, played 30 games for AK Bars yet potted only 15 points. Are we to assume that, based on this performance, Lecavalier's status as a potential franchise player is also "muddied"?
Thankfully, Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell isn't buying into this nonsense.
Don Waddell is optimistic that when the NHL gets going again, Heatley will again be a major asset.
"There's no doubt in my mind that he will be the player he was before," said Waddell, GM of the U.S. entry in Innsbruck. "He has matured as a person and as a player. He wants to be one of the best players in the world."
Waddell would know, having stood by Heatley through all the fallout from the car accident and Snyder's death, and having watched the kid come back from physical and emotional injuries to pot 25 points in 31 NHL games last season, become the MVP of the 2004 Worlds, post up impressive numbers with the Swiss Elite League, and be the best offensive player for his Russian Super league club in their albeit brief playoff appearance.
Heatley is struggling to hit the mark offensively thus far in this tournament, but slumps like that happen to most players at various times in their careers.
Obviously he's not worried about it nor allowing it to affect his game, as witnessed by this report of yesterday's 3-1 victory by Team Canada over Team USA:
Canada's Dany Heatley, the MVP of last year's world championship, was held scoreless fore a third straight game, but had his best game of the tournament, creating a handful of dangerous chances.
Eventually the pucks will start going in for Heatley, either in this tournament, with the Thrashers this fall if the NHL gets a new CBA in place, or in Europe if it doesn't.
Cox finishes his piece with the following:
(A)ssuming Canada nails down one of eight spots in the playoffs, there's the possibility of three more games, including the gold medal match, by which time Heatley's dry spell might be a distant memory.
Or an even bigger story than it is now.
It'll be a bigger story only to bored hockey reporters looking for anything other than lockout news to cover.
If Heatley loses his scoring touch throughout the next NHL season, then it'll be a big story. Until then, Cox and Jones would do well to find other things to focus their attention upon.
No, this isn't about the negative coverage of Brian Burke, or Brian Burke speaking out about negative coverage. It's about (a) Brian Burke being interviewed for a general manager's job and (b) negative media coverage of hockey in the United States.
OK, it's not much of a headline but it's the best I can think of at 6 am on a Thursday morning....come on, coffee, WORK, damn you....
- The Vancouver Province yesterday reported former Canucks GM and current TSN analyst Brian Burke has interviewed for the vacant post of general manager of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
If the new owners of the Ducks have any sense at all, they should give Burke serious consideration.
The Ducks are in the same position the Vancouver Canucks were back in 1998-99. They're losing fans, losing money, and their franchise player had left the club.
Yet under Burke's stewardship, as Ben Kuzma noted in his article, the Canucks "turned from laughable to profitable."
He rebuilt the club into a popular playoff team, obtaining key players, retaining others, and did it without wasted spending.
Still, as Kuzma pointed out, former Sharks GM Dean Lombardi is also in the running and could present a serious obstacle.
He did a fine job of building up the San Jose Sharks, and he"projects a calmer boardroom image" than Burke. If there was an undoing for him, it may have been his obtaining expensive, fading veterans (Teemu Selanne, Adam Graves) or signing others to fat contracts (Owen Nolan,Vincent Damphousse) in the last years of his tenure.
I'd love to see Burke get the job, if for no other reason than it'll continue the feud between himself and Al Strachan and Larry Brooks.
- An American hockey fan recently wrote in complaining about the negative coverage I and other hockey pundits have given the sport and how it's hurting the game in America.
Yes, it's true, there is a lot of negative coverage of the NHL of late, but no wonder! There's a labour dispute going on that has already had serious consequences for the NHL, and the fallout when it ends will have a lasting impact on the league's future.
That being said, in an earlier article on the subject for Foxsports.com, I noted that the game remains quite popular at the high school, university and minor league level in the United States, and that the American development systems are turning out some very talented young players.
The problem is, unfortunately, that the game remains out of the mindset of fans of big league sports. Coverage prior to the lockout was declining on television, whilst sports sections tended to relegate hockey coverage toward the back pages.
The game may still have local appeal at the minor levels in the United States, but overall it remains a local curiosity, and needs the NHL to truly showcase the game on a national level. Yet over the past decade, the NHL product has been so dull it's driven away curious fans and taxed the patience of its die-hards.
The lack of concern about the fate of the NHL during this lockout throughout the mainstream US media is merely reflective on the lack of concern from the American sporting public toward the sports at the national level. When the NHL news is as bad as it's been during this unresolved labor dispute, it's tough to find anything positive to write about.
If the game is to gain popularity, it needs a stable, entertaining NHL product to do it. Then you'll see more positive coverage from the media. While it's easy to blame the press for being part of the problem, in this case, I'd have to disagree, not because I'm a free-lancer, but rather because the press in this instance is merely reporting the facts: the NHL is in big trouble and desperately needs to improve its product.
In other words, don't shoot the messenger.
- SLOVENIA NO MATCH FOR TEAM CANADA! screams the headline.
To which I respond, no kidding. I quit watching after the second period, secure in the knowledge there would be no miracle comeback for Slovenia, and not even caring if they actually, somehow, managed to put the puck past Canadian netminder Roberto Luongo in the third.
The only thing Luongo was in danger of in this game was dozing off.
It's not enough that Slovenia got beaten like a rented mule by the Americans on Sunday. They draw Team Canada as their next opponent, who promptly whupped the poor Slovenians 8-0, out-shooting them 56-12 in the process.
Pity poor Slovenian netminder Gabar Glavic, who saw more rubber in this game than a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada Highway.
(Yes, folks, it's cliche day here at Spector's Hockey. Tune in later on this summer for "Flowery Prose Fridays" and "Mixed Metaphor Mondays").
Yes, we've all enjoyed watching the Yanks and Canucks turn Team Slovenia into pinatas. Now let's look forward to a real game for these two clubs, which will be on Thursday when they play each other.
Somehow, I doubt the score will be 7-0 or 8-0.
In the meantime, let's give the Slovenians a round of applause for coming out and trying.
- Speaking of the Americans, I noticed they too had their problems with Latvia, barely beating this plucky bunch 3-1.
Somehow, I don't think American hockey fans are taking this as badly as some Canadian fans did when Team Canada struggled a tad to beat the Latvians 6-4.
- Only one game into the Worlds, and someone in the media is actually concerned about Dany Heatley's "scoring drought".
Mr. Jones, sir, you have too much time on your hands.
Ok, ok, I know, yes, it's a legitimate concern now that, two whole games into this tournament, "Heats" only has one assist for his efforts.
But Shane Doan has no points thus far, and offensive blueliners Ed Jovanovski and Sheldon Souray have yet to hit the tally sheet themselves.
Meanwhile, Patrick Marleau and Ryan Smyth have but one point more than the "snakebitten" Heatley.
The Atlanta Thrashers star is too good a player to go too long in a tournament without popping some points. Unless he's hiding an injury, I expect his timing will come back to him soon.
Look, if he isn't lighting the lamp by the time Canada makes it to the medal rounds - and yes, I feel confident in saying that - then fine, let's all worry about Heatley's lack of production.
Until then, let's find something else to worry about.
Besides, as long as the dynamic duo of Joe Thornton and Rick Nash continue racking up the points, it won't matter that much if Heatley struggles to find his scoring touch.
- The funeral for Toronto Maple Leafs Hall of Famer Red Horner, who died of old age (or "natural causes" for the PC crowd) last week, was held on Monday. I neglected to mention his passing a week ago, so to atone I'll put this link to a Toronto Star bit that covered the funeral and the remembrances of fans and former players of a man who was one of the first great stars of the storied Leafs.
- Yet another reason to hate the Toronto Sun's Al Strachan: ripping off the title of Nirvana's biggest-selling hit and using it as a headline for his article on Slovenia's 17-year-old Anze Kopitar, who may become a first round pick someday.
A good article on Kopitar, but please, Al, or whoever was responsible for putting that headline on his latest column, don't ever do that again.
- Don't forget, hockey fans, the NHL and NHLPA are meeting on Thursday. That is, if you still care...and if you think any "progress" will be made...sorry to interrupt your gardening and such, yes, I know, the NBA playoffs are on and the Yankees really suck so far in this young MLB season....
Actually, I think John at Boltsmag sums it up best.
- Finally, Tom Benjamin had a bit yesterday about the lack of fury amongst hockey fans over this neverending labour dispute.
I found the following remark interesting:
Hockey fans are not furious. For the most part, they either don't care or (and this is amazing to me) they have been convinced that game will not survive anyway unless the owners have their way. This is supposedly short term pain for long term gain.
I'm not surprised by the number of fans who are convinced the NHL cannot survive unless the owners get their way. Most of the e-mail I've received throughout this lockout are from those very fans.
If the owners get what they want, mark my words, very little is going to change in the National Hockey League. The best players and the fringe players will make their money. The big market clubs will continue to sign whoever they wish whilst small market clubs complain that they cannot afford to retain their best players or make a go of it in their respective cities.
Teams will find loopholes in the next CBA to circumvent any hard salary cap. Ticket prices won't be noticeably slashed, concessions will be still be ridiculously expensive, and any improvements in the on-ice product might only be marginal.
The only changes you'll see will be in the salaries of the rank and file players, since they're the ones who'll be impacted the most by a hard cap. That still won't stop teams from overpaying average talent. Nor will it make inept general managers responsible ones.
I'll try not to rub it in by saying, "I told you so".
No, not an apology for having written it, but rather for some of the grammatical errors in the article itself. You see, I dashed this off early yesterday morning before I went to work and unfortunately didn't have time to proof read it. My thanks to "Dale" for writing in to point out these errors.
That being said, at least one reader agreed with my take on Stan Fischler seemingly picking on Sidney Crosby for no good reason. That'll appear in my next "Fans Speak Out" update.
- MSG Network's Stan Fischler has since March taken a shot per month since March at Junior A sensation Sidney Crosby.
Here's what Stan had to say back in March:
Sid Crosby says of his multi-million dollar Reebok deal: It wont go to my head. Dont believe him! Crosby may be good but he still hasnt scored an NHL goal. (Anyone remember Alex Daigle?)
Here's what he had to say a month ago:
Good Question Dept. Does Sidney (Im The Greatest Even Though I Havent Scored an NHL Goal) Crosby have a mind of his own? Or is it always his agents?
Here's Stan's latest:
As for The Kids drawing potential, he might sell out rinks the first time around. But if the 17-year-old turns out to be a latter-day Al Daigle or Greg Joly, his drawing power will be from Dudsville. Our advice to Crosby: Hey, Sid, you want to go to Europe. Good-bye. Please. GO!
Now I can understand somewhat where Stan's hate-on for Crosby is coming from. The kid's agents have been making subtle threats for months that their client make either become a free agent or sign overseas.
Crosby also stirred up a bit of controversy during the World Junior Hockey Championships by saying on one day that if it were up to him he'd play as a replacement player, only to backpeddle the next day once his agents explained the facts of life to him.
That being, if he played under the NHL's then-proposed entry-level system, which would only pay him $850K with no bonuses, he'd be screwing not only himself but every entry-level player under the next CBA.
Since then, Crosby has wisely dummied up regarding his future plans, letting his agents do the talking in that regard.
It's possible that Crosby, who is already dangerously close to overexposure here in Canada, could become the next coming of Alexandre Daigle. I doubt it, given his skills and attitude, but it's still possible.
I may not agree with Mr. Fischler's stance throughout this lockout, indeed, more than one blogger considers him little more than a media mouthpiece for the NHL.
Regardless, if he believes Crosby can't think for himself, or that his big money contract with Reebok will go to the kid's head, or that he's over-rated and has yet to prove himself at the NHL level, he's entitled to that.
But Stan, please, you've been around this game for decades. You may be considered "the Hockey Maven" in the United States, and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame for your efforts, but you should know better than to act catty toward a promising young player.
Suppose Crosby doesn't turn into a bust, Stan? Suppose he turns into the next Gretzky? Or at the very least, a damn fine NHL star, the poster boy the league's been lacking since Gretzky retired and Lemieux's worn-down body limited his effectiveness?
You won't be pissing on the kid then, will you Stan? In fact, I'm betting you'll be lining up to sing his praises? And perhaps to pucker up?
As I said earlier, I can understand to a degree your nasty opinion of Crosby, but the kid has never come across as being holier than thou.
He's not the one calling himself "The Next One", your buddies in the media are doing that, Stan, due in no small part to Wayne Gretzky himself suggesting Crosby may one day break some of the Great One's scoring records.
Why shouldn't the kid sign a big deal with Reebok, Stan? They're looking to capitalize on Crosby by getting in on the ground floor, before he starts his NHL career.
Should it go to his head and he turns into a bust, the amount of money Reebok has invested in him is chump change for a sports equipment company of their stature.
But should he turn into a superstar, their small investment today will rake in many millions.
Believe me, they're not going to lose sleep over it. And if Crosby tanks, it'll be the last major endorsement deal he ever sees. If anything, that's additional pressure on the kid to prove himself in the bigs.
Someday, should Crosby become a big NHL star, you'll be wanting to interview the kid when he has a big night, Stan. If, miracle of miracle, he ends up with the Rangers, Islander or Devils, you'll get a chance to see him play 40 nights a week during the regular season.
You'll be looking to interview the kid for an intermission or the post-game show.
Now Crosby doesn't strike me as one who'd hold a grudge. Then again, he's only seventeen. He may not even know who you are, Stan, and probably doesn't even read your columns.
But his agents do. Count on it. And while Crosby might not limit access for an interview, his agents might. After all, they have long memories, and it's their job to make sure their meal ticket doesn't face questions from a hostile interviewer.
Oh, but Stan Fischler has clout in New York as the "Hockey Maven". Nobody would refuse an interview with Mr. Fischler, not even Sidney Crosby, right?
There's a first time for everything, isn't there? And if Mr. Crosby turns into the next big thing since the Great One himself, he'll be able to pick and choose who interviews him, because he won't need a cranky "Hockey Maven" to sell him south of the border.
Just as it's possible that Crosby could become an NHL bust, it's also possible that, because of your catty comments, Stan, he or his agents could limit your access to him.
Finally, Stan, have you taken leave of your senses with your last bit of "advice" for Crosby to play in Europe?
If the kid is as good as the scouts and the media and Gretzky himself proclaims, he could be that marketable face the league has been lacking since 99 retired.
At a time when the NHL's image has never been lower in the USA than it is right now, it'll need a handsome, talented, aw-shucks young superstar to start putting the product back into the minds of the American sporting public.
You don't want that kind of player wowing the fans in Europe when he could be putting butts in seats and in front of TV screens throughout North America.
He could be the player that puts the NHL back on the map in the United States.
If Crosby is the man I think he is, he'll graciously allow Fischler to interview him. But I hope he makes Stan squirm for a while first!
If Crosby does turn into The Next One as predicted, it would make an entertaining sidebar watching the Hockey Maven kissing up to him.
-It won't get much mention in the US press, but their hockey team got off to a good start in the World Hockey Championships, crushing Slovenia 7-0 and facing only fifteen shots. Mike Knuble (2 goals) and Brian Gionta (1 goal, 1 assist) were the stars for the Americans in this one.
They won as they should. No offence to the Slovenians, but they're not up to the same level as even plucky Latvia, who threw a bit of a scare on Saturday into Team Canada before falling 6-4.
The Latvians have at least some NHL calibre talent (or former NHLers) on their roster, like Arturs Irbe and Karlis Skrastins, as well as some players who've played this past year in the AHL and ECHL.
If the Yanks hadn't won this handily, they would've been in trouble.
Just like Team Canada will be if they struggle against the Slovenians.
It's obvious this American team is a different one than in previous years. They're younger and play a much faster game, and that's going to make them a strong opponent throughout this tournament.
Mike Knuble continues to show why he's not a flash in the pan, as in my opinion he was the best player on the US team yesterday. You couldn't miss him. As one reporter noted, he was seemingly everywhere.
By the way, for those of you who are wondering, I'm writing about the games I've watched. It wouldn't be fair for me to comment on those I haven't watched. I'm hoping TSN will be televising more games involving other countries besides Canada and the US.
Jes Golbez has continuing coverage.
- TSN reported yesterday the NHL and NHLPA will be meeting again later this week, not in Innsbruck Austria as originally believed but in the decidedly less European locale of Toronto, although the talks will shift over there some time next week.
Both sides are slated to meet Thursday and Friday, although TSN reports the Thursday meeting could be postponed if Commissioner Gary Bettman is called to appear before the US Congress steroid committee.
The meetings throughout this month, if both sides agree to their timetable of two per week, will I believe determine how much longer this lockout drags on.
Supporters of the owners may disagree with me, but the fact remains, they're the ones feeling the pressure right now. They must get a deal in place soon if they're to have time to market their teams for next season, especially when it comes to season tickets.
And with ESPN's deadline of June 1 to pick up their option year with the NHL fast approaching, there's little time left to waste, especially since that network signed up Monday Night Football starting in 2006.
If there's no progress by this time in June, prepare yourselves for a long, boring summer of a whole lotta nothin' goin' on, the very strong possibility of a delayed start to the 2005-06 season and the potential loss of ESPN coverage of the NHL whenever the league returns to action.
And remember, don't shoot the messenger.
- Steroids in hockey? The devil you say!
Perhaps I'm being naive but I don't believe steroids are as prevalent in the NHL as in pro baseball and football. There aren't too many NHL'ers running around with oversized muscles, since the demands of the sport means they must be leaner if they're to play well.
That's not to suggest there probably isn't some steroid abuse or abuse of other body-altering chemicals, the late John Kordic being a prime example.
And as we've heard from current players like Stephane Quintal, there is some abuse of non-prescription drugs like caffeine and sudafed designed to ramp up the player's system, but the effects seem to be minimal and obviously aren't on the same health-threatening level as steroids.
There's been in fact very little talk from former NHL players about steroid abuse, particularly from disgruntled ones who might have an ax to grind with the league.
I don't believe the NHL and the NHLPA have the power to place a "cone of silence" of that magnitude over potential steroid abusers.
As we've seen in recent years with Theo Fleury and Kevin Stevens, those NHL'ers who abuse recreational drugs eventually end up having their excesses published in the media.
If there were a rash of steroid abuse in the NHL, we'd have heard about it long ago, or at least would've heard it whispered about a la MLB's steroid scandal.
Still, it wouldn't hurt for the NHL and the NHLPA to perhaps conduct a review of their drug program to ensure it's still feasible as well as provides the help the players need if and when they require it.
Canada defeated Latvia 6-4 yesterday, and depending on your point of view, most of them are either shrugging off the rust or they've got a long way to go.
Two guys who didn't show signs of rust were Rick Nash and Joe Thornton. These two played together in the Swiss Elite League throughout the lockout, and the chemistry between them was obvious.
Now I realize naysayers will say Nash's incredible performance was against a weak team with lousy goaltending, but only the latter would be an accurate description.
The Latvians never quit yesterday despite going down by three goals after two periods. They exploited the obvious rust of Canada's defensive players to make it close (5-4 midway through the third) before Thornton and Nash (with help from linemate Simon Gagne) put the game away.
Rick Nash is one of the most lethal offensive players in the game today, and any team taking this guy lightly does so at their peril.
Watching Nash and Thornton playing together yesterday, I couldn't help but muse over the possibility of these two being reunited once the NHL returns to action.
If the Boston Bruins can't re-sign "Jumbo Joe", perhaps the Columbus Blue Jackets might wanna try to trade for him.
Of course, they'd have to losen their purse strings and it's hard to say if the Jackets would have any money left after re-signing Nash.
But if the Jackets wanted to make a serious push toward playoff contention, a line of Thornton, Nash and Nikolai Zherdev would be just what the doctor ordered and probably worth every penny.
Of course, it's always easier said than done.
Despite what appears to be growing tension between Thornton and Bruins management, he remains their franchise player and thus they're unlikely to just let him go or trade him away. And even under a salary cap system, he'll likely command between $6 million - $7 million per season, which would be too expensive for most clubs to afford.
The B's will likely have plenty of room on their payroll to absorb that, given that they gutted their roster prior to the lockout in anticipation of a hard cap system creating more affordable salaries.
Even if the Jackets wanted to obtain Thornton, the Bruins asking price would be steep, perhaps too steep for a building young team like the Jackets.
But imagine the excitement a line of Thornton, Nash and Zherdev would bring to the Jackets...and the NHL.
Now critics will say Nash is a left winger as is Zherdev, but as was evident in yesterday's game, Nash is comfortable playing the right side, especially with Thornton as his center.
Put those three on the same line, and the potential for offensive dynamite is apparent.
Some might also argue that Thornton might not be keen to go to a young team like the Jackets, as he's prefer to play for a Cup contender.
But let's face facts, with Thornton on a line with Nash and Zherdev, the Jackets would become a playoff club. It would then be up to the other youngsters on the club to develop, and GM Doug MacLean to bring in the additional depth to make this club a potential Cup contender.
Sound far-fetched? Perhaps, but then again, that's what folks used to say about the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And given the supposed tension between Thornton and the B's front office, as well as the criticism - some of it unfair - he's received from the Boston media in recent years, a change of scenery might not hurt the big guy.
The fans in Columbus already give the Jackets tremendous support, but with a dream line like that to watch, it would ensure full houses every night for years...meaning much more money pouring into the owner's coffers.
It would also ensure the Jackets would have greater exposure in North America.
Nash is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of the NHL. Many hockey fans were surprised last year that Nash tied for the Rocket Richard trophy with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk.
That's because he toils in a town NHL critics derisively consider a "hockey backwater".
That's what they used to say about Tampa Bay, where Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards were relatively unknown by most fans until two years ago, when the Lightning made their move from NHL doormat to divisional champions to eventual Stanley Cup champs.
A Thornton-Nash-Zherdev line would give the Jackets a potent combination of size, speed and skills, one that would be perhaps the most exciting line in the NHL.
It would firmly put the Jackets on the hockey map, bringing some much-needed excitement to the NHL.
Of course, this is just idle speculation on my part. The possibility of the Jackets obtaining Thornton are so long they're bumping up against the borders of fantasy.
But stranger things have happened.
And hey! Isn't this better than another article on the never-ending NHL lockout?
If you've got any comments, pro or con, about this, please send 'em in and I'll post 'em up.
- TSN's broadcasting Slovenia vs the US today. This'll be a good opportunity to get the first glimpse of this younger, revamped American squad, most of whom played in Europe during the lockout.
- Finally, I neglected to mention the passing last week of Toronto Maple Leafs legend "Red" Horner. My thanks to "Gene" for writing in to bring this to my attention and for providing a heart-felt look at Horner's career.