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It's that time of year again, folks! A time when ghosts, goblins and monsters prepare to prowl the land, when the telling of chilling tales becomes popular.

And like every year at this time, some NHL teams (and their fans) make the frightening realization that all is not well, when their game is bedeviled by terrors seemingly beyond their control, where avenues of escape are limited and the wrong decisions could doom their season.

Given that this season is the first after the long nightmare that was the recent player lockout, heightened anticipation was the dominant feeling amongst many fans. The NHL was up and running again, new rules promised to make the game more exciting, and there were teams that went into this season with high expectations.

Take the Calgary Flames, 2004 Stanley Cup finalists and Western Conference champions, whose followers had every reason to be excited about their club's prospects heading into this season.

The Flames are led by Jarome Iginla, whom The Hockey News itself dubbed "the best player in the world". They'd also re-signed goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, whose stellar play made the Flames march to the Finals possible, to a long-term contract. The Flames also possessed what many experts and observers (including yours truly) considered the best blueline corps in the game, and management had added veteran depth at forward to help Iginla carry the offensive load.

Best of all for the Flames, they'd done it by spending wisely, leaving themselves plenty of cap space to not only cover off potential injuries, but also to perhaps qualify for some revenue sharing at season's end.

But as the NHL schedule approaches Halloween, Flames fans have been the victims of cruel tricks and few treats so far.

After 13 games, the Flames have 10 points, sitting 12th overall in the Western Conference as of this writing.

Iginla leads the team in goals and points, but the former Richard and Art Ross winner is nowhere to be found in the top forty points list, and while he's among the top fifty goalscorers, he's done near the bottom of the list with five goals in 13 games.

At least "Iggy" is leading the team in scoring as expected. He's been getting inconsistent help from linemates Tony Amonte and Daymond Langkow while the rest of the Flames forwards have been firing popguns, particularly on the powerplay.

And with the exception of rookie standout Dion Phaneuf, their blueline corps hasn't been the dominant force many believe it would be prior to the start of the season.

Roman Hamrlik sits second in team scoring, but he hasn't been played as well as hoped. Robyn Regehr has missed most of October with a knee injury and his absence has hurt them. Jordan Leopold hasn't regained his strong form from 2003-04, while the rest of the "d" has also been a disappointment.

Kiprusoff got off to a slow start earlier in the month, but thankfully for the Flames appears to have regained his form in the last half.

All may not be lost for the Flames, of course. "Kipper's" improvement bodes well for the rest of the season, Iginla is notorious for slow starts and should catch fire as the season progresses, and Regehr's return in the next couple of weeks should provide a welcome boost to the blueline corps.

But this slow start does have more than a few Flames fans worried that this team which gave them so much hope in that wild spring of 2004 may have been a one-trick pony, one that has turned into a broken-down nag that may not make it to the post-season, let alone another miracle run to the Finals.

The woes of the Flames, however, pale in comparison to those of the Atlanta Thrashers, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Flames hated provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.

It's one thing for a team to come off a heady, miracle trip to the Stanley Cup finals and have a slow start. It's another for teams that build frenetically in the off-season and boosting post-season hopes only to see them in danger of being dashed early.

The Thrashers, Blackhawks, Penguins and Oilers raised plenty of eyebrows as well as expectations in the shortened off-season following the ratification of the new CBA with their player acquisitions.

The Thrashers had added veterans Marian Hossa, Bobby Holik, Peter Bondra and Greg de Vries. With the mid-month resigning of star Ilya Kovalchuk and the promising Kari Lehtonen between the pipes, they were expected to challenge for top spot in the Southeast Division.

The Blackhawks brought in Nikolai Khabibulin, Adrian Aucoin, Martin Lapointe and Jassen Cullimore to boost their previously sagging defence. With promising young forwards like Tyler Arnason, Kyle Calder, Tuomo Ruutu and Mark Bell joined by returning veteran Eric Daze, the 'Hawks finally appeared poised to ice a balanced club that would bring back the Chicago faithful.

The Oilers made news early in August with their stunning acqusitions of expensive veterans Chris Pronger and Mike Peca, whose leadership and experience were to boost the young Oilers roster. Perhaps in no other NHL city were expectations as high as they were in Edmonton.

Well, perhaps in one other NHL city: Pittsburgh. The long-suffering fans in the Steel City must've thought Christmas had arrived in July when their club won the draft lottery and the rights to teen phenom Sidney Crosby. Team owner and captain Mario Lemieux was coming back for another season. Best of all, management engaged in a free-agent spending spree that had never been seen of this financially troubled club.

Thanks to the new CBA, the Pens were major players in the UFA market, snapping up Ziggy Palffy, John LeClair, Sergei Gonchar, and Lyle Odelein and obtaining Jocelyn Thibault in a trade with Chicago. Suddenly, this team went from doormat to given serious consideration by some observers as a potential Cup contender.

Sadly, the veteran depth brought in by these clubs only serve as sore points as these clubs struggled and stumbled through the month of October.

The Thrashers goaltending woes due to injuries have been well-documented, but what's been overlooked is the fact this team's overall defensive game, in a nutshell, sucks.

In Chicago, Khabibulin has yet to play even remotely close to the form that carried the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup. Injuries have also taken their toll on young (Ruutu, Calder) and old (Aucoin, Daze) alike.

The Oilers goaltending problems and lack of scoring punch have also been well-documented, as well as providing endless fodder for the trade rumour mill.

But the struggles of the Penguins have been the most newsworthy, with the sole bright spot the play of Crosby, who has not only led his team in scoring but is also emerging as an on-ice leader.

Put simply, the Penguins have lacked good goaltending and defence and have seemingly lacked chemistry, as their sole win in 11 games clearly demonstrates.

These respective horrific starts was not what the fans of these clubs had envisioned, nor was it expected by their respective front offices, who must surely be feeling the heat as October turns into November.

Finally, there are the teams that for years have dominated the NHL which are finding themselves in the unlikely position of struggling early for a playoff berth.

The New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers were expected to retain what has for the last ten seasons been seemingly their rightful place among the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

The St. Louis Blues, long a dominant force in the West, had lost much of their offensive punch in recent years, but their goaltending and defensive depth were expected to keep them in playoff contention.

Instead, this has been a month these teams and their fans would rather forget.

The Devils blueline was hurt by the twin losses of the Two Scotts (Niedermayer and Stevens). Worse, their once-vaunted defensive game struggled under the new NHL rules, as all-star goalie Martin Brodeur faced more rubber than he's been used to over the years, while the club's offence sputtered.

They've also been dogged by trade rumours, for when forward Patrik Elias returns, they'll have to dump salary to make room for him.

Still, the Devils only sit 9th overall in the East, and presently have 12 points in 11 games. They appear to be rounding back into form but also faced a scary situation when Brodeur sprained a knee late in the month, although it's not expected to keep him out of the lineup for too long.

The Philadelphia Flyers were a team that also made a lot of noise in the off-season by signing free agents Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje.

Given their already deep roster, the Flyers were being considered by many to be the "Beasts of the East". Instead, the Flyers have been scary for the wrong reasons.

Forsberg has played as well as expected and Rathje appears to have adapted well to the new NHL rules, but Hatcher appears to be struggling, getting caught flat-footed at times by speedy forwards freed from obstruction.

The Flyers aren't having trouble scoring, and while their defensive game needs some adjustment, it should improve over time. The real worry, however, is between the pipes.

Goalies Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki have not looked sharp, as their stats to date clearly show. Esche was coming off a strong 2003-04 season, a solid performance in the 2004 playoffs as well as being one of the few bright spots for Team USA in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

Niittymaki meanwhile was one of the top goalies in the AHL and a key reason for the Flyers farm team, the Phantoms, winning the Calder Cup this season.

Expectations were high for these two, as it was believed that finally, the Flyers had the quality goaltending needed to carry them to their first championship in over thirty years.

Instead, Esche and Niittymaki have been brutal, struggling to adapt to the NHL's new offensive minded style. If their play fails to noticeably improve as the season wears on, they could become the Flyers achilles heel.

Finally, there's the Blues, who find themselves dead last in the Western Conference by end October.

The Blues have been, in a word, awful. Nothing has gone right for them. Perhaps the best example of their woes has been the saga of Keith Tkachuk, their best scoring winger, who reported to camp overweight and earned a two-week suspension, and then cracked his ribs in a recent game after being back for only two.

Given their lack of offensive punch, average goaltending and struggling defensive game, as well as the uncertainty over the sale of the franchise, this figures to be a long, miserable year for Blues fans.

Some of you might be wondering why the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets haven't been featured in this compilation. Put simply, expectations weren't that high for these clubs going into the season, and since this year's Halloween theme is high expectations cruelly dashed early, they don't fall into that category.

Now I know some of the fans of these clubs I've singled out are still optimistic. Some of you may write in to remind me that it's only one month into the season, that there's plenty of time for the fortunes of these clubs to turn around.

Indeed, I'd written not two weeks ago that fans of struggling teams shouldn't work themselves into a panic yet, that it was far too early in the season to get worked up over a bad start.

I still believe that, but this is Halloween, the scary season, and to sing "Don't Worry Be Happy" doesn't seem appropriate here when it's the time of year for fear.

Yes, it's possible most of these clubs could reverse their fortunes, that these Halloween horror stories could have happy endings by season's end.

But it's also possible that their early stumbles could be signs of real problems ahead, which could mean a season of hope becomes a nightmarish one best left forgotten.

Happy Halloween, everyone.




The remnants of Hurricane Wilma are passing by the Maritime provinces as I write this (rain, wind, the kind of evening that makes you glad to be inside a warm house with a nice glass of scotch warming the belly), so now's a good a time as any to ruminate on the complaints about the new rule changes and how some goalies are adjusting.

But before I do, with Halloween coming up, this Sunday will see my annual "NHL Tales of Halloween Horror" as I look at those clubs off to horrific starts. This has become as much a tradition for me as "The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror", and just as much fun. Well, for me to write it, anyway. For fans of those clubs that are presently struggling and stumbling along, not so much, probably.

- I've been hearing and reading of some complaints regarding the new NHL rules, specifically how it's watering down the physical part of the game and not allowing defencemen to clear opponents from the slot and around the net.

Good points all, but I think it's a little too early for some to start judging these rules to have failed or to be potentially ruining the game as some critics have. After all, it's still only October!

That's not to say these concerns shouldn't be voiced or written, and I agree that if the NHL turns a blind eye they have the potential for serious problems down the road.

But let's not start chucking the baby out with the bathwater, gang.

I like what I've seen for the most part thus far under the new rules. The game has opened up and the players have more room to move. There's little of the uncalled obstruction that was sucking the life out of the game, resulting in better scoring chances and more flow to the game than in the dead puck era of recent seasons.

In short, the game is entertaining again.

There are going to be some problems, of course, but I'm hopeful that the league and the players (since they're now working together toward improving their product) can work out these problems as the season goes on.

If they're left unaddressed and start to detract from the overall product, fine, raise hell. In fact, I'll be amongst those yelling the loudest.

But thus far, even with some of the problems that are arising, most of the games I've seen this season have been a helluva lot more entertaining than the insomnia-inducing product of the past ten years.

Let's give it time and allow both sides to suitably address the problems.

- Jes Golbez has compiled a list of goaltenders who have struggled thus far under the new NHL rules and regulations regarding their equipment.

Some very interesting names have appeared there, and Jes gives us a very good rundown of why these goalies are struggling.

In some cases, like Martin Brodeur and Olaf Kolzig, it's the team in front of them. Brodeur's blueline is no longer the rock of hockey Gibraltor it once was and he's obviously struggling to adapt. Kolzig meanwhile has a rebuilding bunch in front of him and they're giving up an awful lot of shots.

In some cases, like Jose Theodore, it appears to be the result of a slow start, of not having as much playing time during the lockout to stay sharp.

For others, there are a myriad of reasons.

Hopefully as the season wears on, we'll find out which of these goalies can adjust and get their game back, and which ones may have had their flaws exposed by the new rules.

- There are also some goaltenders who are doing quite well in the "new" NHL.

Some are familiar names, like Ottawa's Dominik Hasek, Phoenix's Curtis Joseph, Nashville's Tomas Vokoun and Florida's Roberto Luongo, who are posting numbers every bit as strong under the new rules as they did in the obstructionist age.

Hasek's critics may claim that's because of the strong Ottawa club in front of him, but let's face it, "the Dominator" has looked sharp between the pipes for the Sens.

The Panthers have improved this season, but while Luongo's not seeing as much rubber as in past years, he's still playing very well, silencing his critics who claimed he wouldn't do as well without the bigger pads of previous years.

Vokoun has been one of the best kept secrets in the NHL for some time playing for the unsung Predators. He's posted up strong numbers for several seasons now and appears to be continuing that trend in the "new" NHL.

"CuJo", meanwhile, has been one of the few bright spots for the Coyotes this season, despite getting yanked after one period in a game on Monday. Still, you've gotta be impressed by Joseph's play thus far, especially having suffered an early groin injury.

Then there's the unfamiliar names. Labarbera in Los Angeles. Lundqvist in New York. Ward in Carolina. Are these guys for real, or will they fade as the season progresses? They've all been highly touted when they were prospects and so far they're getting the chance to strut their stuff.

Minnesota's Manny Fernandez is leading the list and is actually outplaying Dwayne Roloson so far. Not bad for a guy that was thought to be on the way out of Minny. It doesn't hurt that he plays for a strong defensive club, either. Still, it'll be interesting to see how long Fernandez can keep up this pace.


The dispute between former NHLPA player committee member Trent Klatt and new PA Executive Director Ted Saskin over the method of the latter's hiring is still ongoing.

While not the hot topic it was back in September, this story continues to simmer, with Klatt and "over 60" NHL players recently filing suit with the National Labor Relations Board in the United States.

To date the NHLPA refuses to comment officially, except to suggest the NLRB may not have jurisdiction over the PA because it's based in Canada.

Klatt meanwhile has started his own website, listing his grievances and hoping to rally support from other active NHL players.

His efforts caught the attention of Toronto Globe and Mail reporter James Mirtle, who noted Klatt's site and the potential for litigation over Saskin's hiring.

James also pointed out my dismissal of the original reports of player "mutiny" as sensationalistic may have been premature, although he was also kind enough to point out I've followed this story as it has evolved.

At the time, I believed the stories did smack of sensationalism, particularly given the tiny number of PA members (then believed around 15) believed among the "mutineers", the comments by one of them, Bryan McCabe, over how this probably wasn't going to amount to much, and the overwhelming backlash against them by the majority of the PA membership.

But James is correct to note the seriousness of this situation, even though those who filed suit with Klatt are still a tiny minority. This won't be an easy grievance for Klatt's group to prove, but any filing to the NLRB isn't to be taken lightly.

Feeling the heat from the complaints of Klatt and the other dissidents, Saskin subsequently offered to put his hiring toward a secret ballot, but that's been stymied by some of those aforementioned clubs, who are refusing to forward their ballots until there is more clarification on how he was hired.

Saskin has been spending some time in recent weeks visiting with the teams where most of these dissenters are, specifically the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Islanders, in hopes of clearing the air.

Thus far his efforts appear to be achieving mixed results. There was a report of NY Islanders goalie Garth Snow calling Saskin a backstabber - an obvious reference to how he replaced former Executive Director Bob Goodenow - before storming out of a meeting.

Klatt's primary beef with Saskin is over how he was hired, justifiably claiming it violates NHLPA bylaws. But as Tom Benjamin points out, Klatt has broadened his attack to that of the CBA itself, specifically escrow and how it was explained to the players.

Tom suggests that this may not have been as much about Saskin's hiring but about the deal Saskin brokered for the players. He believes that the unhappiness by those remaining hardliners and Goodenow loyalists could be the real problem, which may be why Saskin is having trouble getting his deal confirmed.

It's believed that Klatt was one of the hardliners on the player executive during the lockout, leading to suggestions that he wasn't happy over Goodenow's ouster and the new CBA, which contained the salary cap the PA under Goodenow stressed for years it would never accept.

The executive, more specfically NHLPA president Trevor Linden, would have more to answer for on that issue. It's unclear if Linden acted unilaterally but if he had, we might've heard more of an uproar about it and far sooner than late August or early September.

The perception of the deal for most players seems to have been
favourable, given the large majority that voted to ratify it. While much was made in the media recently about how much escrow was being deducted from their first paycheques, CP's Pierre Lebrun said on HNIC that most of the players were "philosophical" about it, meaning perhaps they're adopting a "wait and see" approach to the escrow issue.

If the players are upset about escrow, they're keeping their dismay to themselves thus far.

It's also unclear from Klatt's website if the 1.9% Saskin and the executive apparently told the players would come from their pay would be over the entire season or the intial deduction. From what I read on the subject following the ratification of the CBA, it did seem clear that escrow payments could fluctuate depending on revenues, hence the reason why it would be reviewed quarterly throughout the season.

It also seems clear that revenues projections could be higher than
anticipated for this season, meaning those escrow payments will decrease.

I've heard suggestions that Saskin had his own agenda, that he was more concerned with garnering power for himself than in negotiating a good deal for the players.

It seems odd, however, that Saskin wouldn't try to negotiate the best deal he could, given the support he had throughout those negotiations from the player executive, of which Klatt was a member.

It was this executive, back in March, during a meeting in Palm Springs that determined there had to be a change from the PA's previous hardline stance against a salary cap. As a member of the committee, Klatt either would've voted in favour of this or dissented. If it were the latter, it's unusual that he would have an issue with escrow now, especially since he's now retired and this new deal wouldn't affect him.

Indeed, if Klatt weren't in favour of changing negotiating tactics or escrow why he didn't voice them at that time, rather than nearly two months after the deal was ratified by the PA membership?

Getting back to Saskin, for him to deliberately keep the PA membership in the dark over the key points in the new deal simply doesn't make sense if he wanted to ensure a long-term tenure as the PA's Executive Director.

Unless, of course, Saskin was banking on the players own ignorance and their desire to get a new deal in place rather than risk the loss of another season.

Don't forget, however, there are player agents involved in this too, and if they felt Saskin was negotiating a deal that would screw their clients, the uproar would've been deafening from their ranks. Counting on player ignorance would be a helluva gamble to take, given the very real potential of increased dissension in the PA ranks that could threaten his job.

Given the involvement of the player executive, who gave this deal their blessing prior to it being presented for ratification by the rank and file, it seems strange that they would allow anything in it that would be of obvious detriment to them throughout the deal to go through.

In the short term, this deal doesn't favour the players. They agreed to a 24 percent rollback plus face another potential clawback on their salaries via escrow if revenues fail to grow as estimated.

But the rollback would only be a short-term pill to swallow. Should revenues rise, so too does the salary cap, which would mean increases in salaries over the long run.

Higher than estimated revenues also mean less money clawed back in escrow, to the point where the percentage paid in would be miniscule and would be returned to them at season's end.

Of course it remains to be seen if those revenues rise as hoped over the life of the new CBA, because if they don't, it could indeed become an albatross around Saskin's neck.

That could be of more concern to the majority of the PA membership perhaps than how Saskin was hired, which may be why Klatt has now apparently included that in his attacks against the new Executive Director.

If the NLRB does rule in favour of Klatt, that could make this situation even messier and raises a number of questions.

Would Saskin then be forced to step down? Would he fight the NLRB's ruling? If he were unsuccessful, would he still be eligible to be considered for the job? Would the PA be forced to drop him entirely and then seek out new applicants for the position? What if the majority of the players still want Saskin to remain in the job?

The NHL and the team owners may be privately enjoying the dissension within the PA ranks, but it's something they should also be concerned about.

Saskin is perceived as more conciliatory than his predecessor in negotiations, which would go a long way toward improved negotiations between the two sides. The last thing they'll want is for Saskin to be ousted and replaced with another hardliner like Goodenow.

If that were to happen, it's possible the new PA director could opt to return to the negotiating table in 2009, meaning another summer of labour uncertainty when the league is in the midst of growing its product.

The league's fanbase doesn't appear to have been hurt by the lockout, but the potential for another work stoppage could change that.

Undoubtedly, they'll be watching this situation closely, as will those of us who follow the NHL-NHLPA labor relationship.

One thing is certain: this is a long way from being resolved, and the end result will have far reaching implications for the league, the team owners and the players.

And ultimately, for NHL hockey fans.


Just because there's been nothing of late to really justify ponticating on a single subject...

- Martin Havlat gets a five-game suspension for kicking Boston Bruins defenceman Hal Gill this past Saturday.

Should've been ten games, in my humble opinion. OK, so Gill didn't get seriously hurt by Havlat's boot to the nads, but anyone who's ever played or follows this game knows you don't ever kick an opponent intentionally with your skates.

Those of us who've played this sport even on a recreational level would never kick an opponent even if we're being manhandled like Havlat was by Gill.

What's sad about this is that Havlat is a truly talented player, albeit one with a mean streak. Nothing wrong with that, as Peter Forsberg has long played with one and is one of the most respected players in the league because of it.

Havlat, on the other hand, has a reputation for sneaky dirty play during his NHL career that is making him the heir apparent to Claude Lemieux, one of the dirtiest players in recent league history.

Havlat can play a gritty, rough style and still be effective. He doesn't need to stoop to dirty play. Here's hoping he can reflect on that during his five-game suspension.

- I've read a few reports in the wake of Brett Hull's retirement citing how ironic it is that Hull, one of the most vocal players to speak out against obstructionist hockey, is retiring just five games into a supposedly new era where the game has now opened up.

There's talk of the game passing Hull by or that he got too comfortable during his layoff.


Hey, I know that Hull was no big proponent of off-season conditioning. I've heard that his idea of conditioning was old-school; spending the summer on the golf course like the players did in his dad's day.

But "the Golden Brett" didn't last 18 seasons in the NHL, the last ten in the "Dead Puck" era of obstruction masquarading as defensive hockey, five of those years toiling for the demanding Scotty Bowman in Detroit and Ken Hitchcock in Dallas, without proper conditioning. So he'd grit his teeth and go out and do what he hated in order to play the game he loved.

The game didn't pass Hull by, nor is there irony in his retiring now that the on-ice product is finally opening up.

Brett Hull retired because he's 41 years old and his body, no matter what condition it may have been in, simply isn't up to the rigours of an NHL schedule.

It should've been obvious to those watching Hull in the second half of the 2003-04 season and in the post-season that he was getting past it. It was as obvious to me as it was watching the once-great Ron Francis playing his final games as a shadow of his former self for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I'm sure Hull would love to be five or ten years younger in order to enjoy the advantages the new rules would bring to his offensive game, and to thrive with all that extra space to maneouvre into position for his lethal one-timer.

- With Hull's retirement, it's gonna make it interesting for the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee to decide the first-vote inductees in a couple of years.

Hull, Mark Messier, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis and Vincent Damphousse will all be eligible together at the same time, and since the HHOF usually only inducts three players at the maximum in a given year, it's gonna make for some interesting debates as to who is most deserving on the first ballot.

Messier is a lock, no question, but after that it gets interesting.

Hull was a great offensive player but Francis was a more complete forward. MacInnis and Stevens both had great careers, with the former noteworthy for his big shot and the latter for his big hits.

The only guy on this list who obviously won't get into the Hall in his first year of eligibility is Damphousse, and there may even be some questioning as to whether or not he truly belongs there.

If it were up to me, Messier, Hull, Francis, Stevens and MacInnis all go in the same year. Hey, if they could waive the wait period rules for Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, they should make a one-time exception for these greats who've all packed it in within a two-month period.

- I know we NHL hockey fans went a long time without our favourite sport to cheer for, and I know we're all emotionally charged up about having it back.

But in surfing around the 'net and chatting with a few fans, some of you are getting a little too wrapped up in this.

What I mean is, it's far too early to start gloating over how well your team is doing or panicking over how poorly they're playing.

It's October, for pete's sake! The season only officially started two weeks ago!!

Give it some time, folks. It's a long way to mid-season, let alone the post-season, and there's a lot of hockey to be played, with many twists and turns in the road.

It's gonna take until at least November before we get some grasp of what teams could become dominant and which ones may be in danger of becoming doormats.

Early season predictions are one thing, and it's fun to good-naturedly rag your buddy who cheers for a team you hate when said team is playing poorly and yours is off to a good start.

But it way, way, WAY too early to be gloating or panicking.

Relax, revel in the fact that hockey's back. There will be plenty of time to get worked up later on.

- So the NHL is supposedly more "fan friendly" in this brave, new post-lockout world, eh?

Try telling that to New York Rangers fans who subscribe to Cablevision, for any broadcasts of Rangers games on OLN will be blacked out for those who subscribe to Cablevision, even if they pay the extra money to have OLN as part of their Cablevision package.

The good folks at Hockeybird.com have more details on this. Essentially it seems to be a pissing contest between Cablevision, who owns the Rangers and Comcast, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers as well as the OLN network.

I'm surprised the NHL hierarchy didn't see this potential problem when they signed the deal with Comcast.

Angering hockey fans in one of the largest sports markets in the United States isn't a smart way to start off the new NHL.


I may incur the wrath of some of my friends in cyberspace and the blogosphere FOR saying this, but I like the shootout.

As my wife put it the other night, "at least now I know I'm going to see a winner".

Too true. In the past few years, even with a five-minute four-on-four overtime period, too many teams would play it safe late in a game, playing for the tie for the easy point and take their chances in OT.

Now, with the new rules opening up the game again, playing for the tie can be lethal late in a game, but now at least we know there will be a winner in a game. It won't end unresolved.

And look at the fan excitement whenever a shootout occurs! I don't recall hearing any fans booing when it was obvious the game was going to a shootout in any of the highlights or games featuring a shootout that I've seen thus far, and that includes in Toronto and Ottawa.

There was some grumbling from a few Maple Leafs about it after losing twice in shootouts to the Senators, but as my wife said, "Shootouts only suck if you lose".

And she's a die-hard Leafs fan, folks, meaning she wasn't at all impressed with her club's inability to beat Dominik Hasek in their two recent shootouts.

Now I definitely wouldn't want to see a playoff game decided by shootout, but in the regular season, I'm all for it.

- I'm not, however, for the "Overtime Loss" point. In essence, the tie hasn't really left us, as the teams still receive a point each for making it to overtime.

That, folks, is BS on a stick.

You wanna add more drama and excitement to regular season overtimes and the shootout? Make the winner gets two points and the loser gets nothing.

- Kudos to NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell for suspending Atlanta Thrashers defenceman Andy Sutton for four games following an ugly incident on Friday against the Maple Leafs, where he viciously drove the head of Leafs forward Darcy Tucker into the end board glass.

Now I'm no fan of Tucker's, never have been, but nobody deserves that kind of shot.

I'm glad to see Campbell responded quickly, although if it were up to me I would've suspended him for a couple of more games. Still, he didn't sit on his hands on this one.

- Regardless of whether or not LA Kings forward Sean Avery actually called Edmonton Oiler Georges Laraque a "monkey", his big mouth is writing cheques his body can't cash.

It's nice to see the NHL paid close attention to the incident, which ultimately couldn't be proven because no third party heard the remark.

The league had previously forced Avery to apologize after he denigrated French-Canadiens several weeks ago, but he should've been suspended and fined for those bigoted remarks.

If Kings head coach Andy Murray and GM Dave Taylor are smart (and they are), they'll rein in Avery before his yap does some real damage to the team, whether by upsetting team chemistry or causing a late penalty that costs them a game.

- It's still v-e-e-r-r-y early in the 2005-06 season and a long way to April and determining playoff positions and scoring leaders and such, but there have been a few notable surprises to start this season. For example:

* The hot start of the New York Rangers, wHOM almost everyone but the biggest die-hard Rangers fans had written off this season.

Yet after six games, the Blueshirts sit atop the Atlantic Division standings and for the most part have looked sharp and played very well.

Amazing what an injection of affordable UFA signings and youth can do for a club, and a head coach who isn't being undermined, eh? Too bad it took seven years for the Rangers front office to wake up to that fact.

As I wrote earlier, this season is a long way from over and the Rangers could very well miss the playoffs as predicted, but it's quite obvious that if they do, it won't be without a fight.

And that'll give their fans reason to cheer and to have a future to actually look forward to.

*The cold start of the Pittsburgh Penguins, after it seemed almost everyone picked them to be one of the best teams in the East.

Except for yours truly, courtesy of my season preview:

How well this team performs depends on how well this roster gels, as well as the health of owner-captain Mario Lemieux. Could still be touch and go to make a playoff berth.

Well, it's obvious that this roster still needs to gel, especially when it comes to defence. Mario is still healthy but from what I've seen still seems to be shaking off some rust. And it could still be touch and go to make the playoffs.

The natives are already getting restless, booing the Pens in Saturday's loss to the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Now of course, there's still plenty of time for the Penguins to turn things around and there's plenty of talent to do it, but they're definitely gonna have to work a lot harder to do it.

At least Sidney Crosby is playing as well as I expected, not only leading the Pens in scoring but also ahead of all NHL rookies.

* The sluggish start of the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks.

Granted, their records at face value don't look so bad, but there've been some games where they needed some luck to win and some games where they not only lost but looked lost.

Still plenty of time for these clubs to turn things around, but there seems to be some adjustment going on to the new rules.

- Finally, a tip of the cap to Brett Hull, who yesterday announced his retirement after a nearly twenty year NHL career that saw him play on two Stanley Cup winners, a World Cup of Hockey winner and a silver medal US hockey team in Winter Olympics of 2002, as well as such receving individual accolades as the Hart and Pearson trophies (1991) and the Lady Byng (1990), and potting 741 career goals (including a mind-blowing 86 back in 1991).

He was also one of the few players unafraid to speak his mind about the state of the game. His 1998 post-game interview where he said the NHL product "sucked", along with Mario Lemieux's "garbage league" remarks a year prior, started the league down the long road toward the improvements we've seen thus far this season, which will hopefully carry forward.

Hull obviously wanted to play this season, but after five games he felt that physically he no longer could compete. Rather than float through the season, collecting his paycheque and taking away a roster spot from a more deserving player, he decided to call it quits. A classy move.

I'll leave it to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for the final word on the career of The Golden Brett:

"The National Hockey League will miss Brett's skill, his scoring touch and
his fun-loving attitude. He was a splendid athlete, a passionate player and someone who never hesitated to speak his mind. His achievements further cement the Hull family legacy of hockey greatness."

For once, I agree with Bettman.


There's been a lot of media chatter lately regarding escrow, which is a percentage of players salaries withheld and placed quarterly in an escrow account until season's end.

At that time, it is determined what percentage (if any) of the players salaries exceeded the set percentage teams would spend on those salaries (for this season, 54%, based on projected revenues of $1.7 billion). That percentage would then be returned to the team owners.

TSN.ca recently reported that the first escrow amount would be 12 percent, which players can expect to see deducted from their paycheques on October 15th.

That's led to speculation that many players, while aware of what escrow would mean to their salaries, may not be very pleased with having that much deducted from their paycheques.

In turn, that could raise more questions about the leadership of new NHLPA honcho Ted Saskin, who negotiated the new CBA on behalf of the players.

Saskin is already under fire by at least fifty NHL players over how he was hired to replace Bob Goodenow, who was fired by NHLPA president Trevor Linden around the time the new CBA was ratified.

If revenues should come in by season's end at the anticipated $1.7 billion, or worse, fall short of that mark, the players could expect to see between 10-12% of their total paycheques going to escrow, which in turn would go to the owners.

That would surely make life more miserable for Saskin than it already is, what with his facing a review of his hiring by the PA thanks to a complaint lodged by those aforementioned NHL players with the National Labor Relations Board.

Should revenues continue to drag in the coming years and fall short of annual projections, this would be something that could become a genuine pain in the ass for the players.

So much so, in fact, that it could become the impetus for the players to demand the PA leadership re-open labour negotiations after four years, as stipulated under the terms of the new CBA.

Still, it's something the players would have themselves to blame. After all, the escrow clause was explained to their player representatives and was noted on their secure website when the CBA was explained to them for ratification. They knew what this could possibly entail, yet voted for it overwhelmingly.

It would be pointless for them to bitch about escrow scarcely three months after the large majority of them ratified this new CBA.

But before anyone hits the panic button over that possibility, as TSN noted there is some good news for the players on this issue:

...the actual amount of salary the players will have to forego won't be fully and actually determined until the end of the year, when league revenues for this season are calculated. If the revenues are greater than budgeted, which is not out of the question given the seemingly strong bounce-back factor for the NHL in the early going, the financial blow to the players will be softened somewhat.

Indeed, based on the very early going here, there is reason to believe revenues could be higher than the projected $1.7 billion.

Season ticket renewal rates are three percent higher than they were in 2003-04. Granted, the overall 7% reduction in ticket prices play a part, but there can be no denying that the league's base of die-hard fans didn't take the anticipated hit from the year-long lockout.

Even teams in non-traditional hockey towns, according to the above report, have seen an increase in season ticket sales.

Furthermore, as reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

# Sales of single-game tickets hit record levels in September, with more than 500,000 sold as of Sept. 19th.

# As of tonight (October 5), when all 30 teams are in action to open the season, at least 23 teams were expected to have a season-ticket renewal rate of 90 percent or higher. Only eight attained that figure going into 2003-04.

# Nineteen teams have sold at least 1,000 new full season-ticket equivalents, and 10 have sold at least 2,000. Those teams include Anaheim, Boston, Dallas, the New York Rangers and the Penguins, who expect to draw around 16,000 fans per game this season after attracting only 11,877 per game in 2003-04 (the Penguins are not releasing specific season-ticket numbers).

# On Sept. 17th alone, more than 124,000 single-game tickets were purchased through the Ticketmaster system. That was nearly four times more than the busiest single-game ticket sale day in September, 2003.

Here's what Saskin had to say about this, courtesy of the NY Post:

Saskin informs the players that the revenue projection is "very conservative," and does not include the $65M from the OLN television contract or the $10M from the league's satellite radio deal. He also states that the revenue projection was on a "contemplated significant drop in attendance . . . that does not [match] the current 3-percent rise in season-ticket renewals.

"The forecast of year-end revenues is significantly higher [than $1.803B]."

As cited in the memo, if league revenues reach $1.85B, escrow for the season will amount to 9.5 percent. Should revenues reach $2B, escrow will be $1.7 percent. If, however, revenue is $1.6B, then players will be hit with a season escrow of 22.6 percent.

Another factor not included was a recently announced multi-million dollar deal that would see streaming broadcasts of NHL games to Europe.

As I wrote about the subject on Tom Benjamin's blog, it's possible that this could be only a short-term problem for the players.

As revenues increase, the amount of money the players pay into escrow declines. By season three of this deal, the amount they pay into escrow might become a pittance, which they'd also get back by season's end if revenues have risen higher than anticipated.

Even though overall ticket prices were decreased by 7%, the increase in season and single-game tickets appears to be generated more by the excitement of hockey fans to have the NHL back in action than in that reduction in ticket prices.

I therefore anticipate that over the next two seasons ticket prices are likely to remain frozen at their current prices or increased, since it's obvious reduction of prices is not what brought the fans back to the games.

An increase in revenues this season also means an increase in the salary cap for next season, which Tom Benjamin suggests would see teams overspend further, which in turn could keep the escrow payments for players at a high rate.

I'm not convinced, however, that all teams or a majority of them will spend more:

Even with an increased cap, not all teams (hello there, Calgary and Edmonton) will be spending more. As always, it'll be the big markets spending up to an increased cap ceiling. Teams like the Flames and Oilers will likely keep it in the mid-$30 millions, and clubs that refuse to spend more (Wild, Predators) will keep it close to the mandated floor as possible.

Thus, it is possible that by the mid-point of this CBA, the amount players pay into escrow could drop significantly, possibly even to where they get their money back.

Even if it doesn't reach the latter stage, this could then go back to what I referred to in July, where I stated that the players and their agents could just mentally write off a certain percentage for escrow when they negotiate their contracts. That would certainly give a partial explanation of why some players sought the high salaries they did since August 1.

Despite the talk of this CBA levelling the playing field for all teams, the higher the salary cap goes (and it will go higher as league revenues recover), the more likely we'll continue to see what we saw under the old CBA, that being big market teams willing to spend and smaller markets opting to stick closer to the mandated cap floor.

Even revenue sharing isn't going to necessarily push those small market teams into spending more. They won't pocket that money since they're bound by the CBA to spend it on payroll, but there's nothing to prevent them from allowing UFA players to walk away or to trade away players in the off-season for cheaper ones, and then using the revenue sharing money to bring them up to or just over the league minimum salary.

In other words, I'm anticipating this to balance out somewhat, to the point where the money spent by big market clubs on the league maximum would be off-set by those who spend close to the minimum.

It also seems that, once revenues go past $2 billion, the amount of escrow to be paid by the players would be a pittance, especially since that, once revenues reach 2003-04 levels again ($2.2 billion), the amount of revenues to be paid for salaries increases to 55%, and to 56% should it reach $2.4 billion.

If the level of excitement for the "new and improved" NHL continues and carries over into attracting new fans and more sources of revenues, this could become a reality.

That would mean escrow becomes little more than a minor annoyance for the players, one that could be negotiated away in six years time, particularly if it's found not to be as lucrative for the owners as they may have hoped, or at least kept minimized if the owners seek to increase its bite.

The escrow issue could well determine how long the current CBA lasts, as well as labour relations between the NHL and NHLPA over that period


Another season, another NHL player takes a blow to the eye, and once again we face the debate over whether the wearing of visors in the NHL should be mandatory or left to the players personal choice.

As everyone knows by now, Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin was struck on the left orbital bone by a puck just seven minutes into the team's season-opening game at the Air Canada Centre last Wednesday.

It was a sickening sight on national television in Canada, watching Sundin drop to the ice like a sack of potatoes, throwing off his gloves and frantically grasping at his left eye.

Fortunately for Sundin, he wasn't struck directly on the eye and the orbital bone was broken or cracked, meaning he'll only miss a few weeks of play.

One would think, after seeing Bryan Berard's career nearly finished and Steve Yzerman's Hall of Fame career nearly brought to a screeching halt due to eye injuries, that players who don't wear visors would use their common sense to protect their eyes.

Yet more than one dumb-dumb on the Maple Leafs said they wouldn't wear a visor despite seeing what happened to their captain.

I'm not picking on the Leafs, as there are far too many dingbats in the NHL skating around refusing to wear visors, despite the obvious risk to their eyesight. Some claim the visor reduces their visibility, but it has more to do with the idiotic culture of machismo that permeats the NHL than any reduction in visibility.

This isn't the first time I've written about the need for visors in the NHL. From March 2000:

In a horrifying accident, the Senators Marion Hossa clipped Toronto defenceman Bryan Berard flush in the eye with his stick. If there was ever a prime example of why visors must be worn, not only in the NHL, but in all levels of hockey, the image of Berard on his knees, holding his face while a widening pool of blood stained the ice beneath him should be enough to most folks with common sense to be convinced.

The question immediately being raised, of course, is why, in this day and age, more NHL players aren't wearing visors. Why doesn't the league make it mandatory? After all, it had no problem passing a law making the wearing of helmets mandatory back in 1979.

The reason why lies in the league's glorification of maschismo. In it's efforts to promote the game, the National Hockey League actively promotes how tough its players are. One need only to see a recent commercial on ESPN, in which facial scars of several NHL players are shown in close-up detail, to realize this fact.

How often is it noted during the playoffs that players actually hope to be seriously cut from a stick-foul, which would then warrant a four-minute penalty to the opposing team for the infraction, rather than a two-minute one? How many times do we hear about players trying to play through serious injuries, putting off possible season-ending surgery, particularly during the playoffs. It's as if the game is reveling in a "tough-guy" image, as if to say "our athletes are tougher and more macho than those wimps in pro basketball, football and baseball".

Then there's the comments made by notable colour commentators and game analysts, who insinuate that because a player wears a visor, he's somehow less than manly.

The argument has been raised by so-called "purists" of the sport that the rise in injuries is due to the added protection players now have with modern equipment. The reasoning goes that players feel better protected, hence they now play with a lack of respect for their opponents than those of yesteryear.

There can be no question that today's hockey players are far better protected than those in the past. However, a look back at hockey's early days reveals the players were as bad, if not worse, in treating their opponents with lack of respect as today's players are. Reports from that time showed the players back then, wearing far less protective equipment, used their sticks with a recklessness that would make their contemporaries today shudder.

The reason there was "more respect among players" twenty, thirty and forty years ago was because the rules were enforced far more strictly than they are today. The equipment steadily improved during that time period, yet you didn't see as many serious stick infractions as you do today. In all sports, it's natural to see advances in protective equipment. For those people who decry "going to such extreme" in the case of visors, remember that forty years ago, goaltenders didn't wear masks to protect their faces, nor players helmets to protect themselves from concussion injury. At the turn of the century, players didn't wear shoulder pads either. Are we to assume that we should ask today's players to do the same?

And that, folks, is where the reality of the situation lies. Had the NHL made the wearing of visors mandatory, Bryan Berard wouldn't be facing the real possibility of losing an eye, and his career. It's a little something called common sense. Injuries like broken bones, pulled and torn muscles and ligaments will eventually heal. The loss of an eye is permanent. Players must be protected from the possibility of this type of injury, whether accidental or deliberate.

For those who claim otherwise, the following statement aptly applies: there's a thin line between tough and stupid. The smart person knows where that line is. Pity the NHL, in all it's supposed wisdom, hasn't found that line yet.

Since I wrote that over five years ago, there have been more incidents of eye injuries, the most notable and recent being Yzerman and Sundin. I've also learned in that time that the NHL left the issue of visors up to the NHLPA, which in turn left visors to the players personal choice.

Perhaps now, if players won't listen to common sense, they'll listen to the financial implications involved as noted in Saturday's Toronto Star which could end up costing them money.

Regarding the number of pundits clamouring for mandatory visor rules, HNIC's Don Cherry this past Saturday asked the question, "what skin is it off your nose?" if the players don't wear visors.

Here's why, Don; first, we're sickened watching players rolling around in pain on the ice in a pool of their own blood clutching their eyes whenever they're struck by a puck.

Second, as per the Star article, it's now going to cost that player's in terms of their contracts, as well as their team's payroll, should they suffer an eye injury because they didn't wear a visor. Not only that, but if the irresponsibility of a player leads to an eye injury that sidelines him for a lengthy period of time, it hurts the team.

The number of games that Sundin will miss could end up costing his team long-term this season, possibly affecting their post-season hopes.

Third, hockey fans pay the salaries of these players, and we expect those players, especially our favourite ones, to protect themselves as best as possible from injury so that we can enjoy their talent.

We accept that injuries are part of the game, but when an obvious one like an eye injury could've been prevented, we questioned the sensibility of that player.

In each instance of eye injuries, no one has lost an eye or seen their careers ended, although Berard came very close. But it's only time until that happens.

The NHL and NHLPA cannot avoid this issue forever, in fact, it was discussed during the last round of collective bargaining, but the time for discussion is over.

Bottom line: Sundin wouldn't have suffered an eye injury if he'd worn a visor. He wouldn't be lost to the Leafs for several weeks, and would've been on the ice to lead his team against the Montreal Canadiens during the club's season debut on Hockey Night in Canada.

Those top NHL players who wear visors haven't had their performance adversely affected by wearing one. There's nothing macho about losing an eye and having a playing career prematurely ended.

I don't care how much NHL experience commentators who rail against visors have had; that experience doesn't mean they're right to denigrate players who wear visors and attempt to exert pressure on their favourite players to reject wearing them.

The NHLPA membership is apparently set to vote on making visor mandatory this coming Tuesday.


It's time to make the wearing of visors mandatory.

Jes Golbez, The Puck Stops Here, and Jim Kelley have more on the topic. Here's hoping they don't revisit their words in five years time on this subject as I have.


With the 2005-06 season finally kicking off, here's a few quick predictions.

- Sidney Crosby will have a fine NHL career, and might indeed break some of Wayne Gretzky's scoring records during that time, but he will not be the top rookie this season. There are several others (Alexander Ovechkin, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf to name just three) who will probably have better rookie seasons.

- Ilya Kovalchuk will re-sign with the Atlanta Thrashers. Although both sides insist there's been no progress in negotiations talks, and Kovalchuk could eliminate himself from NHL action by playing in Russia next week, but the fact he's in New York for a few days increases the odds he'll re-sign.

- Dany Heatley will prove the media naysayers wrong and will return to form this season with the Ottawa Senators. I felt that way long before the pre-season began and he started lighting it up with Jason Spezza and Byron Bochenski.

- The Buffalo Sabres will trade one of their three goalies within the first month of the new season. Sure, they could carry all three, but that would mean cutting a player from another position.

- Wayne Gretzky is not going to coach the Coyotes into the playoffs. Not everything The Great One touches in hockey turns to gold, and the Coyotes are going to suffer with him behind the bench. This team needs a veteran hand behind the bench to motivate the veterans and develop the youngsters, not a neophyte with zero coaching experience.

- The Toronto Maple Leafs won't make the playoffs. There are simply too many questions about the health of key veterans and concerns about their blueline depth and overall team speed.

- Even with Chris Pronger and Mike Peca, the Edmonton Oilers have concerns at other areas in their roster and are going to have to fight hard to make the playoffs.

- The Nashville Predators will have to swing a trade at some point to address their serious lack of depth at centre.

- Nick Boynton is going to get an offer sheet from another team, and the Boston Bruins won't have enough cap room to match, leaving a big gap to be filled on their blueline.

- If you're a fan of the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, you're going to have to look toward next season, because there won't be much to cheer about this season.

- The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning will have to address the lack of experienced depth at their fifth and sixth defenceman positions.

- Vancouver Canucks d-men Ed Jovanovski and Mathias Ohlund are going to be seeing a lot of ice time this season to off-set the club's lack of blueline depth. They have little cap room to add other players and will have to free up cap space first if they're to address this problem.

- Chicago forwards Tuomo Ruttu, Kyle Calder, Tyler Arnason and Mark Bell should all have their best seasons thus far in their young careers.

- The shrinking of goaltender equipment isn't going to improve offence as much as some think. Most of today's top goaltenders are far more athletic and the current restrictions on their equipment isn't likely to adversely affect their games.

- Allowing the two-line pass, however, will open up the game more.

- Fast teams will benefit from the NHL's crackdown on obstruction…provided that lasts throughout the season and the 2006 playoffs.

- The Florida Panthers will not trade goaltender Roberto Luongo this season.

- The St. Louis Blues won't make the playoffs. They're simply lacking the scoring depth to make it happen.

- The Los Angeles Kings roster will be the healthiest it's been in three years, even with injury-prone Jeremy Roenick on the roster.

- The Montreal Canadiens will do better than most pundits have predicted this season. The new rule changes will benefit their speed, all their players played in competitive leagues during the lockout, and their roster is the deepest it's been in years.

- Expect questions about the hiring of NHLPA Executive Director Ted Saskin to linger over at least the first half of the season.


WHY THE HABS TRADED MARCEL HOSSA. I see some of my fellow Habs fans are once again questioning Canadiens GM Bob Gainey.

On Friday, Gainey swapped young forward Marcel Hossa to the New York Rangers in exchange for checking line forward Garth Murray.

One reason why this deal was made was 18-year-old forward Guillaume Latendresse has had an impressive training camp and pre-season and earning the early love of the hometown fans.

The local fans and media were putting pressure on the Canadiens to retain Latendresse, and when this deal was made, more than a few Habs fans grumbled that Gainey bowed to pressure, that Latendresse should've been returned to Junior A for another season.

They claim Hossa was ready to blossom this season, and even a few dingbats suggested this move was made because Latendresse is French.

Perhaps Gainey is being a little hasty with Latendresse, but then again, he's a pretty good judge of talent as his managerial record can attest. Thus far, Gainey has yet to make a serious misstep as Canadiens GM.

We don't even know for certain if Latendresse has even made the club this year.

There is a risk of keeping Latendresse with the big club. The obvious free agent implications aside, he could wilt under pressure as the season progresses. He might end up demoted to the checking lines or becoming a press box denizen.

Then again, he might turn into another pleasant surprise like Michael Ryder was in 2003-04. Obviously Gainey and the Habs coaching staff have seen enough of Latendresse to know when they've got something good.

If that's the case, Gainey's critics will be once again singing his praises.

Meanwhile, forwards like Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins and Alexader Perezhogin have made strong cases for themselves for making the Habs this season.

Hossa may be finally ready to step up, but this was clearly going to be his last chance to do so since he was drafted by Rejean Houle five years ago.

Despite his skills and size (6-2, 215), Hossa rarely played a strong physical game, shying away from the heavy going along the boards and in front of the net.

He's also had a history of playing well in training camp but coming up short in regular season play. His tenure with the Canadiens farm club has been less than stellar, overshadowed by Plekanec and Perezhogin.

Maybe Hossa will benefit from a change of scenery, but he could also turn into Josef Balej, whom Gainey dealt to the NY Rangers in March 2004 to obtain Alex Kovalev.

Balej look promising, too, but he was recently sent back to the minors by the Rangers.

Trust in "Bo", Habs fans, he knows what he's doing.

HOW TO MAKE BOSTON A HOCKEY TOWN AGAIN. The Boston Globe today has a lengthy article on the efforts of the son of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs to revive the club's popularity in Beantown.

I can save him the trouble. Hey, Charlie, tell your old man the best way to do it is to build and - most importantly - maintain a winning club.

The Bruins have had the players in recent seasons that if Jacobs had been willing to spend a little more, rather than having his management engaged in ultimately useless contract standoffs with some of their better players, could've seen the club legitimately challenge for the Stanley Cup.

They've had no problem with drafting and trading well, but too many players have left Boston in recent years because they were made to feel like they were expendable parts, rather than key players in the Bruins roster.

It would also help if there were more stability behind the bench. Since axing Don Cherry over 25 years ago, the job of Bruins head coach has been perhaps one of the least secure in pro sports, a revolving door of names who rarely last over two years at the post.


The supposed "tempest in a teapot" that was the dispute over the NHLPA's hiring of Ted Saskin as Executive Director could be brewing into something more than that.

As reports last week have made clear, while the number of dissidents remain in a distinct minority, they are growing, involving primarily veteran players on several NHL clubs, especially Toronto and Detroit.

It's grown to the point where this small group of players have filed suit with the US National Labor Relations Board over the methods used by the PA player executive, headed by Vancouver Canuck Trevor Linden, to hire Saskin.

It's unknown at this time if the scale of the upheaval within the ranks of
the NHLPA will have any serious effect on Ted Saskin's tenure as PA
Director, or what the future holds for PA president Trevor Linden and
executive members like Bill Guerin.

One thing, however, is crystal clear to me: I was wrong with my coverage of the inner workings of the PA over the course of the lockout.

During that time, I rejected media reports of disconnections between the hierarchy of the PA, headed by then-Director Bob Goodenow, and the rank-and-file of the PA membership as baseless for the most part.

I had my reasons for this but I'm not going to use those as excuses.

This doesn't mean that I feel I took the wrong stance throughout the
lockout on other points.

I still feel NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the hard-line
owners fed us a lot of bullshit throughout this lockout, and the facts I
posted to dispute their claims remain sound.

I also feel that, while there are some parts of the new CBA that could work against the players, there are also parts of it that can work in their
favour, which I've cited previously here and won't go into detail again.

Like the previous CBA, I feel it's up to the owners to make it work the way they intend it to, and based on the previous track record of some and what we've seen already under the new one, the potential is there for this to blow up in their collective faces.

I do believe that those in the media claiming this deal is too one-sided for
the owners are being premature in their assessments, forgetting the lessons they should've learned ten years ago, when some of them said the same thing about the last CBA.

But it's obvious there were a number of players (primarily long-time veterans) who weren't pleased over how former PA director Bob Goodenow was ousted, as well as how CBA negotiations were handled and information passed along to the rank-and-file.

The owners must be loving this, particularly the hardliners like the Bruins Jeremy Jacobs and the Blackhawks Bill Wirtz, but if there is to be a good time for the PA to have this dissension, it's now, rather than in four to six years time when the current CBA can be reviewed or due to expire.

The dissident players , or at least those willing to go on the record, claim they don't have a problem with Saskin but rather how he was hired. Those not willing to go on the record apparently are concerned about the deal he negotiated for them.

Even though these disgruntled players remain in an obvious minority and are composed of veterans, it makes one wonder just how involved most of the membership are in PA business, or if indeed any of them care.

SEAN AVERY'S LATEST SPEWINGS: I was going to vent my outrage over the moronic comments of that knuckleheaded bigot known as Sean Avery, but I think Jes Golbez does a fine job of pointing out where Avery stands on the evolutionary scale.

The NHL's Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly issued a press release condeming Avery's racist comments, and a phone call to the Kings had Avery issue a retraction via press release the day following his remarks.

Personally, I think a suspension would've been more appropriate, but perhaps the NHL is hoping a French player will close Avery's big yap on the ice.

POSTSCRIPT: My thanks to Brad for pointing out it's Sean Avery, not Steve Avery. My bad.