EAGLESON'S DARK SHADOW.
With concerns regarding a potential league shutdown in 2004 making the rounds of the media this past year, it's only fitting that the man most responsible for the antagonistic atmosphere between the NHL owners and their players should re-surface like a rotting, foul-smelling corpse of some long-dead swamp creature.
Former executive director of the NHLPA, Alan Eagleson, recently told the press the only reason he pled guilty to mutiple counts of fraud in both American and Canadian law courts was to avoid a long, costly legal fight.
Eagleson claimed if he had millions of dollars, he'd still be fighting the charges, until he was dead and broke.
That would've suited most NHL players who had the misfortune to be represented by him during their playing days just fine.
The Canadian Press report noted Eagleson pled guilty in a Boston court "to three counts of fraud and theft involving players' insurance premiums" in January 1997, receiving a fine of $1 million US. He subsequently pled guilty to three counts of fraud in a Toronto court, charges which stemmed from "skimming Canada Cup advertising and tournament money from Labatt, Hockey Canada and the players' union." He was sentenced to 18 months in a minimum security prison, but spent only six months behind bars. He was later disbarred from practicing law, and forced to resign from the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Eagleson says he paid his debt to society in full, having "paid through the nose" and wants to get on with his life.
That may well be, but if he wants to move on with his life, why go to the press to claim he'd still be conducting legal battles if only he had the money? And why come out with this now?
Eagleson probably believes he did nothing wrong. Most rightfully convicted criminals usually feel that way, maintaining their innocence despite the overwhelming mountain of evidence against them. In making his statements, however, Eagleson conveniently overlooksthe fact he had millions of dollars, given his nefarious activities bilking his NHLPA members for years.
The real reason Eagleson couldn't prove his "innocence " is the reams of evidence that faced him. As documented by journalist Russ Conway in his book Gross Misconduct, Bruce Dowbiggin in The Defense Never Rests, and by David Cruise and Allison Griffiths in Net Worth, Eagleson had spent the better part of two decades engaged in corrupt activities while head honcho of the NHLPA, as well as a player agent and the point man for Hockey Canada. Conway's work in particular was instrumental in bringing Eagleson to justice, earning a Pulitizer nomination.
Using his close friendship with various NHL owners and managers, Eagleson colluded with them to keep player salaries low. Many believed the boost in player salaries in the 1970s was because of Eagleson, but it was predominantly due to the rise of the rival World Hockey Association, who offered up huge contracts to lure away NHL talent such as Bobby Hull, Gerry Cheevers and Bernie Parent. When the WHA finally folded, player salaries rose far more slowly in the 1980s. This was thanks in part to Eagleson's collusions with the owners.
There was also the shoddy treatment of players who suffered career-ending injuries. Eagleson was in tight with then-NHL president John Ziegler, and was good friends with several owners and GMs, such as Chicago's Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford. Players who sought disability benefits from the NHLPA or their respective teams wound up getting little or nothing at all.
Next was his treatment of Bobby Orr, the superstar whom Eagleson used to rise to prominence, and then cast aside like yesterday's garbage when Orr's career was cut short by knee injuries. Eagleson took advantage of Orr's naivete to pilfer thousands of dollars, money the former Boston Bruins great believed would leave him set for life when his playing days were over. Instead, Orr was nearly bankrupt when his career ended. Eagleson chalked that up to the blueliner's extravagant lifestyle, but as Conway noted in his investigations, Eagleson had been siphoning away money from Orr for years.
Worse, Eagleson kept from Orr a deal that would've given him 18.5 percent ownership of the Bruins, in order to cut a more personally profitable side deal that saw Orr sold to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Then there was Eagleson's pilfering of the players pension fund. The players were told for years their fund was the best in pro sports, yet it paid a pittance once they retired. It took the efforts of former Toronto Maple Leaf defenceman Carl Brewer bringing about an investigation into where the players money had gone.
Ironically, it was Brewer, according to Net Worth, who brought Eagleson onboard as the first player agent in the NHL. Brewer and Eagleson were once good friends, and Brewer insisted any contract negotiations be done through Eagleson.
When Brewer's tried to get the active players to support the retired players in their legal battle against Eagleson, the crafty NHLPA president took advantage of the active players ignorance by claiming the former players were trying to drain the pension fund for their own purposes.
Eagleson even dipped his beak into the profits made from rink-board advertising, money that made it's way into private accounts in his and his family member's names.
The list of criminal activity goes on, but they're too numerous to mention here, and have already been noted in great detail in the aforementioned books.
Suffice to say, there isn't enough money in the world to buy Eagleson the innocence he believes would be his, if only his pockets were deeper. The evidence speaks for itself. He was a liar, a cheat and a thief. The only reason he didn't spend years in prison was thanks to our defective justice system, whereby a rich man can indeed enter the kingdom of heaven, via early parole and time spent in trendy, white-collar prison.
Is it any wonder, then, that the players distrust the owners so much? Granted, the NHL "governors" had treated their players shabbily for decades prior to Eagleson's arrival on the scene.
However, "the Eagle", as he was known, had been brought in by the players in hopes of getting a fairer shake from the owners when it came to their contracts. Eagleson betrayed their trust, committing a far worse sin than anything the owners could have done. With the owners, at least, the players knew where they stood. Eagleson took advantage of the players inexperience, and lack of education, and used it to his own ends.
Small wonder, then, that NHL ownership has such a difficult time dealing with Eagleson's replacement, Bob Goodenow. Eagleson was a glad-handing, back-slapping politico who happily got in bed with the league board of governors to both his, and their, profit at the expense of the very players Eagleson claimed to represent. Goodenow, on the other hand, is almost militant in his efforts to get a better deal for those he represents.
A growing number of today's players weren't in the NHL during Eagleson's dark days running the NHLPA, but there's enough remaining who'll ensure they, and those who come after them, never again get the screws put to them as they did when Eagleson was around. And there's enough of them remaining from the 1992 strike and 1995 lockout with long memories and plenty of influence who'll ensure the negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement are every bit as tough as the 1994-95 negotiations.
This, then, is Eagleson's legacy. His deceipt and corruption created the contentious climate that exists today between the league owners and their players. Like an dark shadow, the evil Eagleson committed hangs over the National Hockey League, and probably will remain for years.
So why has he chosen this time to speak to the media? What possible purpose does it serve now?
As any long-time hockey fan worth their salt knows, this month is the 30th anniversary of the famous 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the then-Soviet Union.
Eagleson tells anyone who'll listen (and for a long time, many believed him) that he was the mastermind behind the famous series, which changed the face of professional hockey forever.
It's true that thanks to Eagleson NHL players participated in this tournament. Without the NHLPA president's efforts, it's unlikely most of those who participated would've taken part, either because of their own feelings or the misgivings of the owners of their respective clubs.
However, it was not Eagleson's idea to hold this tournament, and he had very little to do with getting the Soviets onboard. As duly noted by Joe Pelletier of the website 1972 Summit Series.com, it was the efforts of the following who made the series a reality: "Joe Kryzcka (president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association), Charlie Hay (chairman of Hockey Canada), Doug Fisher (board member of Hockey Canada) Lou Lefaive (Hockey Canada), Allan Scott (business manager of Hockey Canada),Gordon Juckes (Canadian Amateur Hockey Association), Aggie Kukulowicz (Russian speaking Winnipeger who ran Air Canada's office in Moscow who, as a former pro hockey player, was able to make many friends in various hockey federations) and Robert Ford (Canadian Ambassador in Moscow)."
It's obvious Eagleson doesn't want to be forgotten for his role in the historic series. In a roundabout way, he's making sure his name gets into print, to prompt a reminder that, without him, the Summit Series never would've happened.
Watching the game tapes (currently playing on ESPN Classic Canada throughout September), Eagleson is hard to miss. Indeed, as the series progressed, he would take a more prominent role, first in dealing with disgruntled players on his team,as well as butting heads with Soviet officials when the series moved to Moscow for the final four games.
Fans of the Summit Series will remember Eagleson's role in the Eighth and final game. Furious that the goal judge hadn't turn on the goal light when Yvan Cournoyer scored to tie the game 5-5 mid-way through the third period, he was storming toward the goal judge when he collided with several Soviet security guards.
A scuffle ensued, and Eagleson found himself being bodily moved from the arena. If it hadn't been for Team Canada forward Peter Mahovlich, who saw what was happening and led the charge of several players over the boards and into the crowd of security guards, Eagleson may have been on his way to a Soviet jail. Instead, the players rescued the dishevelled Eagleson, and escorted him across the ice to their bench, where he stayed for the remainder of the game.
I'm left wondering, however, if the players had known what Eagleson was up to, would they have mounted that spirited charge to save him?
If there is one thing Canadians do better than anyone else in the world, it's re-writing their history.
While the British, Americans, French and other peoples celebrate and commemorate proud moments of their glorious past, Canadians seek to revise their history, to make it dull and unassuming, to "explode the myths" of the exciting part of their history and turn it instead into a plodding, tedious read that sucks the life out of their past.
Canadian history is as vibrant as any other nation, but you'd never know it from reading Canadian history books, or studying Canadian history in university. For some reason known only to government and academics, Canadian history is tought to be drier than a popcorn fart.
Thus, the great battles that have shaped Canada's history are scarcely made mention, and when they are, it's almost as though it's an embarrassment to the notion of Canada as "the peaceable kingdom". The great men and women who shaped the nation, from the aboriginal peoples, through to the first British and French settlers, to those who came from Central and Eastern Europe to settle the West at the turn of the 20th century, and those of other nations who emigrated to Canada and played their part in building the country, rarely get mentioned, and when they do, it's as an afterthought.
Some Canadians, be they teachers, scholars, politicians or members of the press, seem to take great delight in debunking and revising great moments in their country's history.
So it came as no surprise to me when an article appeared recently in the Toronto Star serving up a big ol' heaping helping of revisionism of the 1972 Summit Series, a hockey matchup held dear to the hearts and memories of most Canadians.
In the article, Star reporter Ken Campbell acknowledged that, yes, the Summit Series changed for the better the face of professional hockey in both North America and Europe. But he chides Canadians for overdosing on nostalgia on this, the 30th anniversary of that famous clash between Canadian NHL'ers and the best players from the former USSR. He takes it upon himself, like any good revisionist would, of debunking the "myths" Canadians have supposedly built up over the years about that series. To wit:
- Czechoslovakia upsetting the Soviets on home ice during the 1972 World Championships was every bit as earth-shaking, if not more so, than Canada's rollercoaster ride with the Russians later than year.
- The 1980 Miracle on Ice had a greater impact because a team of underdog US college kids upset the Soviets in the Olympics, which boosted American morale during a low period in their history and sparked an increase in American-born hockey players.
- Canadians are more fond of 1972 because, until the 2002 gold medal win at the Olympics, they had little to celebrate in internation hockey.
- The Summit Series wasn't even front page news in the USSR.
- The calibre of play wasn't anywhere near as good as it would be in subsequent international tournaments featuring Canadian professionals.
- Series hero Paul Henderson doesn't deserve to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Soviet stars Valeri Kharlomov and Alexander Yakushev are more deserving of induction than Henderson.
- Vladislav Tretiak's goaltending performance was not that great and is no basis for considering him one of the best goalies in hockey history. Campbell also claims Canadian forwards found it easier to find the mark on Tretiak as the series progressed and they got more in shape; that he wasn't able to steal any of the final three games in Moscow when his team was being outplayed, plus the goaltending for Team Canada was also not up to par.
To be fair to Mr. Campbell, he has raised some valid points in his article. It is true Canadians, particularly those of the Baby Boom generation (which, I'm sorry to admit, I belong to, although just barely, having been born on the tail end of the "1946-1964" Boomer era) are guilty of overdoing it with their nostalgia for the Summit Series. Since 1987, the 15th anniversary, each commemoration of the "Canada-Russia" series, as it was originally known, gets bigger than the last one.
Yes, Canadians still tend to think of themselves as THE hockey nation, which leads to a tendency to overlook other important events in internation hockey if they don't involve Canada. The drop in TV ratings during the World Juniors after an early elimination of the Canadian squad is an example of this. Ditto the lack of fanfare in Canada regarding Czechoslovakia's emotional upset of the Soviets in 1972.
The goaltending wasn't the best, although I believe Tretiak played well in the first five games of the series, and Tony Esposito only had one bad game for Team Canada. Ken Dryden was my childhood hero, but even I admit that, quite frankly, his performance against the Soviets in that series sucked.
The calibre of play, in particular Team Canada's, wasn't very good in the first half of the series, but did improve in the second half as the players got back into game shape and took the Soviets more seriously.
I believe Paul Henderson should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame for his heroics in the Summit Series, but I can certainly understand the argument against putting him in. Indeed, I'm baffled as to why Russian greats like Kharlomov and Yakushev haven't been elected into the Hall by now, given their tremendous careers in international hockey. "Yak" was the Soviet equivilant of Phil Esposito in his style of play, while Kharlomov was one of the most breathtaking players I've ever seen.
However, in his other points, Campbell is clearly trying to re-write history with very little basis to support his claims.
First of all, he overlooks the basis for the high opinion of Tretiak's playing career. It was not solely his performance in the Summit Series, but rather his accomplishments throughout his playing career that garnered Tretiak his well-earned reputation as a great goaltender.
These include playing for 10 World Championship teams, earning 4 best-goaltender awards from those tournaments, plus playing on three Olympic gold medal teams, and being named the 1981 Canada Cup MVP. His acrobatic performance that earned his out-played Red Army team a 3-3 against the Montreal Canadiens in the now-classic 1975 New Year's Eve Super Series game didn't hurt, either.
Tretiak's play in the first five games of the Summit Series earned him respect. His impressive resume after that was what put him into the Hall of Fame.
Before making my next point, I must clarify I'm not belittling Czechoslavakia's accomplishments in 1972, nor those of the 1980 US Men's Olympic squad in pulling off the greatest upset in international hockey history.
That being said, in 1972 the overwheming majority of NHL players came from Canada. The insular NHL never considered, prior to the Summit Series, that players from other nations would make welcome additions to the league, unless, of course, they had grown up in Canada and learned the game there, like Czechoslovakian-born Hall-of-Famer Stan Mikita.
Sure, the Miracle on Ice sparked an increase in hockey interest in the United States, but the expansion of the NHL from 1967 to 1980 also played a significant role, as well as the more exciting, wide-open offensive style of the 1980s. The Miracle also would've done nothing to convince NHL honchos that Europeans could play at the NHL level if the international tournaments with NHL professionals hadn't occured between 1972 to 1979.
It's worth pointing out that only a handful of players from the Team USA roster went on to successful NHL careers. It would take sixteen more years before the United States would be considered a genuine hockey power.
As for the 1972 Worlds, while Czechoslovakia's win served notice their nation was emerging as a hockey power in it's own right, that was limited solely to Europe. Again, what would the inward-looking NHL have cared? Did that convince the league, it's players and fans, of bringing an international flavour to the North American game? Only the Summit Series brought about that radical change in opinion of the calibre of European players when matched against Canada's best professionals.
Furthermore, the Summit Series was an 8-game matchup, unlike the 1972 World Championships and the 1980 Olympic games, which were one-game, winner-take-all tournaments. The Canadians had the time to recover from their shock, their woeful conditioning and their arrogance.
Obviously, overconfidence and arrogant pride played a part in the Soviets shocking losses in the '72 WCs and the '80 Olympics. If those tournaments had the same format as the Summit Series, one has to wonder if the Czechoslovakians or Americans could've pulled out victory against a re-grouped Soviet team. The former probably could've, but not the latter, as I suspect those game, but over-matched, US college boys would've wilted in the heat of an 8-game series against the Soviets.
As for the Series not making headlines in the USSR while it was being played, there's a good reason for that: they lost. Had the Soviet squad won, the state-controlled media would've trumpeted the victory far and wide. Indeed, Tass and Pravda would've happily pointed out how the USSR's superior hockey system and players laid waste to the decadent capitalist Canadian pros.
Finally, and most important, Campbell is incorrect when he notes Canada has had little to celebrate on the international hockey stage. While there was a fifty-year gap between Olympic gold medals, Canada since 1972 has had success in international tournaments. Witness the 1976, 1984, 1987 and 1991 Canada Cup victories. The 1994 and 1997 World Championship titles. The 10 Gold Medals in the World Juniors. That's nothing to be sneered at, nor to be dismissed blithely.
There were other international tournaments where the calibre of play was much higher than the Summit Series, with the Canada Cup, World Cup and the past two Olympic tournaments standing as obvious examples. None of these series, however, elicited the same powerful emotions as the Summit Series did in Canada.
It went from being a simple tournament to raise money for the NHL players pension fund to a clash of societies, ideologies, and beliefs. As Phil Esposito once said, it was "our society versus their society".
The Cold War was going strong in 1972. The Soviet Union was "the big, bad Russian bear", of which we knew little about, other than their government's quest was to spread Communism throughout the world. We were already wary, even at times frightened, of what the Soviets might be capable of. Those who remember that time know it was a period of apprehension; of two superpowers, the US and USSR, engaged in a high-stakes game of nuclear "chicken" with the fate of the world in the balance.
Furthermore, Canada is a nation that suffers from a huge inferiority complex, which is only natural when one's immediate neighbour is the United States of America. It was even stronger in '72 than it is today.
But if there was one thing Canadians knew in 1972, it was that hockey was the one thing they were better at than anyone else in the world. It was "our game", with the sole proof being the National Hockey League was made up almost entirely of Canadians. Always had been, always would be. So when the Soviets picked apart Canada's top professionals in the first four games of the series, Canadians faith in the game, and to a degree, in themselves, was badly shaken.
When the Soviet players proved they were the equal, and could possibly the better, of Canada's best professional hockey players, is it any wonder the emotions of Canadians ran high as the series progressed? Is it any wonder why it became the major shake-up to both Canadian hockey and it's fans as their collective eyes were opened to the possibility European hockey players could find a place among their professionals and play at a high level?
Campbell seems unable to comprehend the true reason why Canadians who watched that series have such fond memories of it. It's not nostalgia for happier times. It's not because of the calibre of play. It was the pure raw emotion the series evoked which bound Canadians in a way rarely seen before or since.
How much did that series touch Canadians? Allow me to give a personal example. I was 9-years-old in 1972, growing up in rural Nova Scotia. Like most Canadian boys at the time, I was hockey-mad. The rest of my family - my male cousins aside - were not.
Yet during the Summit Series, particularly in those final four games in Moscow, my family was glued to the TV set. My father, who favoured baseball and football over hockey. My mother, who rarely watched sports. My sister, who had no time for pro sports. My grandparents, who never watched sports.
And more than just my family. The teachers at my school. The minister of our church. The lady who ran the post office. The family who ran the general store. Practically everyone I knew was wrapped up in the drama that was unfolding on ice during September 1972.
I've never seen this phenomenon since. Even the intensity and excitement of the Canadian Men's and Women's hockey teams quest for Olympic Gold in 2002 pales in comparison to what the country went through during the Summit Series.
To lose to the Soviets in that series, given the nature of the times, would've struck a blow to the Canadian psyche. It was Canada's long-overdue introduction to the rest of the hockey world, and to the realization that Canadians weren't the best hockey players in the world by default anymore. It was the end of hockey innocence, and the reality that the hockey world was changing, forever, right before our eyes.
It's something that'll probably never be experienced again. Hockey, and the world, has changed dramatically since 1972. The Summit Series touched a nerve amongst Canadians, regardless if they were hockey fans or not. For most, it's considered perhaps the proudest moment in their sporting history. Hence the tendency, as time goes by, for Canadians to "gorge themselves" as Campbell puts it, on nostalgia for the series every five years.
Yes, Canadians have a regrettable tendency to deny their history, to revise it and re-write it until it's so politically correct that it's devoid of the real life stories that created it in the first place.
Thankfully, polls indicate that, where the Summit Series is concerned, most Canadians have spurned the revisionist pablum Mr. Campbell, and others of his ilk, are trying to feed them.
If only Canadians could reject the revisionism of the rest of their history.
- The warm feelings of nostalgia for the 1972 Summit Series took a hit recently, when Canadian hero Paul Henderson took to task Bob Clarke, his Team Canada linemate, and current Philadelphia Flyers GM, for the latter's role in one of the ugliest moments in that emotional series.
As most of you are probably well aware by now, Henderson - he of the three game-winning goals, including the series clincher in Game 8 - made headlines with his opinion of Clarke's two-handed chop to the ankle of Valeri Kharlomov, the Soviet team's best forward, during the sixth game of the series.
Clarke's lumberjack job broke Kharlomov's ankle and hobbled him for the remainder of the series. It's a moment most Canadian hockey fans aren't comfortable remembering, as it was a deliberate - and successful - attempt to injure. It was a hatchett job delivered by a player reknowned throughout his Hall-of-Fame career for dirty play, ordered by Team Canada assistant coach John Ferguson, himself one of the roughest players to ever lace up skates.
Henderson called the chop "the series low point", going on and on about how disgraceful Clarke's tactics were, not just in that series, but throughout the former Flyer captain's NHL career.
Never been a shrinking violet when it comes to criticism, Clarke responded to Henderson's harsh words as only he can: with both barrels.
He sneered that Henderson's pro hockey career was built around scoring that famous series winning goal, and reminded the world Henderson, a born-again Christian, seemingly had no problem with Clarke's actions back in '72. Clarke then wondered why Henderson waited thirty years to take him to task.
Henderson wound up back-pedalling from his comments, claiming he was quoted out of context, and went so far as to contact Clarke to apologize.
Welcome to hockey's version of "Grumpy Old Men"!
Henderson raised a valid point, that the attack on Kharlomov was disgraceful and poor sportsmanship. But Clarke is also justified by taking Henderson to task for his silence on the matter for the past thirty years.
If nothing, Henderson's comments should further fuel sales of the Summit Series DVD, which features all eight games in their entirety, as well as boosting ratings for the airing of the final four games on ESPN Classic Canada, beginning with Game Five on September 22nd.
In the end, the "Kharlomov chop" was a low-point in a series that had plenty of highs and lows. If Henderson didn't want to be a hypocrite, he should've spoken out in 1972, rather than 2002. As for Clarke, it's not a moment he's proud of, but one he believes was justified.
Lost in the hype is the part played by the man who told Clarke to "give his (Kharlomov's) ankle a tap". No one is sniping at John Bowie Ferguson for his part in this drama, but there's a good reason for that.
"Fergie" was perhaps the most feared brawler the NHL had ever seen. He was a player who lived by a hard code, and the respect (based in no small part on fear) obviously carried over in his off-ice career. For his role in the attack on Kharlomov, Ferguson offers no apologies, and stands by his decision.
He may be a senior citizen who's gone through heart surgery, but it's apparent that, 30 years later, no one is willing to take Ferguson to task for ordering "the tap".
Ferguson also hinted he'd have a chat with Henderson regarding his comments at the upcoming 30-year reunion of Team Canada.
Any bets Henderson is praying words is all Ferguson wants to have with him?
Speaking of Bob Clarke, anybody catch his barrage against the Philadelphia media a couple of weeks ago?
He came out firing in an interview with a Philly newspaper, taking the local press to task for their criticism of his efforts as the Flyers GM. Naturally, this spawned several rebuttals in the Philadelphia press.
Philadelphia may be the City of Brotherly Love, but that obviously doesn't apply if you're the general manager of their NHL franchise, and a sports reporter for the local press!
Remember, folks, the NHL is going to crack down on obstruction this season. They're really, really serious about it. Honest. And it'll last beyond November, just you wait and see!
I want to believe them. I really do. I hope they can pull it off.
But let's face it: when you've been fed unfulfilled promises as much as NHL fans have since 1993, when Gary Bettman first took over as league commisioner, you tend to get jaded.
Let's check back in February and see how well this promise is being carried out, shall we?
A good sign if you're a Buffalo Sabres fan: local businessman Mark E. Hamister has made a bid to purchase the club. More good news: there may be others planning to make a partnership bids.
These bids could bode well for hopes the team will remain in Buffalo. It would be a tragedy for the Sabres, a club with over 30 years in the NHL, a team that gave us Gilbert Perreault and Dominik Hasek, which has a devoted fanbase and a running rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs, to be lost because of the bungled handling of its former ownership.
While it's heartening to see the NHL has installed safety netting behind the goals to reduce the risk of fans getting struck by flying pucks and becoming seriously hurt or killed, I'm left wondering why it took the death of a young fan to prompt the league into implementing a measure that should've been in place a long time ago.
Flames and Oilers to play an outdoor game at Commonwealth Stadium next season?
Great idea! Get the game back outside for one night. It should rekindle memories of pond hockey and pickup games at the outdoor rinks for the players, and will showcase the game in a unique environment.
Mind you, anyone who has ever spent a night playing hockey out of doors in Alberta in February knows how brutally cold it can get at night.
Which means this could be one of the fastest played games in NHL history! I doubt the players and on-ice officials will wanna play three periods in -40 weather, especially if there's a windchill!
Finally, the NY Post's Larry Brooks took the Calgary Flames to task for the contract they recently signed their franchise player, Jarome Iginla, to.
Brooks sneered the Flames "caved", that they didn't use the leverage they had under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and signed Iginla to the "most inflationary contract" of the off-season.
The Post reporter also claims Iginla, who won the Art Ross, Richard, and Pearson awards last season, wasn't worth the two-year, $13.5 million contract he got, particulary in comparison to the New Jersey Devils Patrik Elias, who had better numbers than Iginla in the three seasons prior to the Calgary sniper's breakout performance in 01-02, but makes considerably less.
This is the same Larry Brooks who suggested back in April his beloved New York Rangers should make Iginla such a whopping huge offer sheet that the Flames would have no chance to match it, in order to bring "the league's best player" to Broadway.
It's true Elias had better numbers than Iginla (218 pts to 185 pts) prior to the start of last season. However, when taking Elias 61 points and Iginla's 96 points into account, Iggy outpoints Elias 281 to 279. Oh yeah, and Elias hasn't won any individual hardware yet.
The Devils got a bargain on Elias, no question, on his current deal, but you can bet your ass Elias wasn't happy with that deal prior to Iginla getting his big contract. The arbitration award his former linemate, Petr Sykora, got last summer was duly noted.
Brooks also claims the real reason for the rise in player salaries has nothing to do with the current CBA and "almost" nothing to do with Group III signings, but rather, the "inept negotiators" who run the teams.
Kinda like the ones the Rangers were using in the late 1990s, eh Larry?
As proof positive the sixth seal of hell has been broken, the poster child for busted draft picks, Alexandre Daigle, appears to have cemented a place on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster. Preliminary reports indicate Daigle looked good in pre-season, leading to speculation perhaps "Alexandre the Grate" hasfinally matured.
Perhaps it's true, but I'd hold off on the celebrations of Daigle's great comeback until season's end. Fans of the Senators, Flyers, Lightning and Rangers have seen this act before. Daigle goes to a new club, looks promising, then fades to nothingness.
Is Rick DiPietro's future in doubt with the Isles? There are stories the former first overall draft pick isn't too thrilled over the prospect of another season battling bus-lag in the AHL. In a recent interview, DiPietro railed over how the deck appeared stacked against him this season.
Expecting to land the backup role to Chris Osgood this season, DiPietro instead found himself trying to "dethrone the king (Osgood)". The youngster cited a double-standard, whereby if Osgood or veteran backup Garth Snow made mistakes, it was written off as just a bad game, whereas if he made the same mistakes, it's interpreted as he's not ready for the NHL.
That sort of talk doesn't sit well with GM Mike Milbury, who's reknowned for his thin skin when verbal salvoes are fired at him by disgruntled players. But does Milbury trade DiPietro, as some suggest? If he does, Dipietro will join Tommy Salo and Roberto Luongo as former Islander goalie prospects to be dealt away.
If Double M does move the kid, and like Salo and Luongo, DiPietro becomes a star, it'll resurrect questions over Milbury's management abilities.
Seems the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are facing a protection dilemma regarding their goaltenders.
The NHL waiver draft is October 4th, and both clubs are trying to decide if they should protect either their veteran backup netminders, or two promising youngsters.
For the Sens, they must choose between Jani Hurme, who's been in the backup role in Ottawa for the past two seasons, or prospect Martin Prusek. The Habs must decide between former starter Jeff Hackett or promising Mathieu Garon.
Of the two, the Senators seem to have the easier choice. Prusek suffered a knee injury in camp, and has no NHL experience. By protecting Hurme, it's unlikely a team seeking a veteran backup netminder will take a chance on Prusek.
Some justify protected Prusek on the basis of his making less money than Hurme. However, when the difference is $400K, that's pocket change for even a tightly-run financial ship like the Senators.
For Montreal, it's a tougher decision. Garon has seen limited NHL action, and at times looked good in those appearances. He's a highlythought-of prospect, and has had a good pre-season.
Hackett, on the other hand, carries a hefty $3.6 million US salary, but he's a proven commodity, perhaps the most under-rated netminder in the NHL. If the Habs think they can expose him because no one will touch his contract, they should think again. The Detroit Red Wings tried that tactic with Chris Osgood last season, and saw the NY Islanders pluck "Ozzy" off the waiver wire.
Newspapers in Ottawa and Montreal claim the Senators and Canadiens are trying to shop Hurme and Hackett, in hopes of getting a decent return and thus sparring them the headache of having to choose. But they're not dealing from positions of strength here. Other clubs realize the teams may be desperate to move Hurme and Hackett with the clock ticking against them, thus the return isn't going to be substantial. Besides, why would teams trade for players they might get for nothing off waivers?
The Kyle McLaren saga continued throughout pre-season, with no sign of the blueliner's holdout ending anytime soon. Indeed, the Bruins appear to be in no hurry to move McLaren, patiently waiting for either the right offer, or for the defenceman to meekly cave in and report for duty. .
Speaking of defencemen staging holdouts, Karel Rachunek of the Ottawa Senators and Brad Stuart of the San Jose Sharks are also sitting out awaiting better deals.
However, they're not in any position to win anything. Rachunek is represented by Mark Gandler, architect of the Alexei Yashin holdout debacle. Gandler is once again trying to play hardball with the Senators, proof he's either too stupid or stubborn (probably both) to have learned a damn thing from his previous go-round with the Sens.
Apart from the fact the Sens aren't intimidated by Gandler's heavy-handed tactics, Ottawa isn't going to be hurting because of Rachunek's absence, for one simple reason: they possess one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL.
In Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Zdeno Chara, and Curtis Leschyshyn, the Sens have the depth to cover off the absence of Rachunek. The Czech hasn't been in the league long enough to establish a strong reputation that would justify his holdout, nor is he indespensible to the Senators. By staging this holdout, he's much like Tom Poti with the Edmonton Oilers last season: no leg to stand on.
The same could be said of Stuart's situation with the Sharks. Granted, he's more important to the San Jose blueline than Rachunek is to Ottawa's, but Stuart isn't indespensible. With a blueline boasting veterans Mike Rathje, Marcus Ragnarsson and Bryan Marchment, as well as promising youngsters Jeff Jillson and Scott Hannan, but Sharks can afford to play hardball with Stuart.
Stuart is in a more difficult situation than Rachunek, in that he hasn't fully recovered from off-season ankle surgery, plus his absence could give Jillson the icetime he needs to improve.
It's one thing to stage a contract holdout when you hold the cards, but when you're holding nothing but jokers, the only person you hurt is yourself.
The NY Rangers had a big scare in pre-season, when star winger Pavel Bure re-injured his twice-reconstructed right knee.
Fortunately for the Rangers and Bure, the injury isn't as serious as first believed, and the Russian Rocket should be set for launch by the season's second week.
Still, one couldn't help but notice the collective gasp that came out of New York when news of Bure's injury broke.
Despite all the money spent since 1997, the record of failure over that time period continues to hang over the Rangers like a pall, despite the predictions of success for this season.
For as much high-paid talent that resides on the Blueshirts roster this season, despite the predictions of the Rangers finally making the playoffs, the psyche of the team and it's fans is very fragile right now.
Much was made a few weeks ago about the remarks of Summit Series hero Paul Henderson regarding the slash to the ankle of Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov by Team Canada linemate Bobby Clarke, as well as Clarke's response to Henderson's comments.
However, these remarks shouldn't have come as a surprise to Clarke, nor to the press themselves. Watching the replay of the eight-game series on ESPN Classic Canada, in an pre-recorded interview segment during the sixth game, Henderson makes the same statements regarding Clarke's slash as he did to the media two weeks ago.
What's making me suspicious is Henderson's comments were recorded months ago, during the making of the DVD of the Summit Series, which went on sale on September 15th.
Surely those comments would've made it back to Clarke long before they were re-aired by Henderson in his much-publicized "rant" to the media. Indeed, as all Team Canada member's would've received an advance copy of the DVD, Clarke should've known Henderson was taking him to task. The media should've picked up on it too, given they would've also received advance copies in order to have them publicize it's release.
The way it looks to me, Henderson and Clarke were engaged in some not-too-subtle effort to bolster sales of the DVD. I can't prove it, of course, but the whole thing smells a bit fishy to me.
Just my opinion...