Click here to return to Spector's Soapbox Archives


Regardless of how we NHL hockey fans felt about the lockout, about who were the good and bad guys, about who's to blame for the way things went over the last year, it's good to finally see the NHL back in action.

Time will tell which side - if any - this new CBA favours and what the fallout of the league's new rules will be, and if the NHL's efforts to woo back disgruntled fans and attract new ones will be successful. Nobody knows for certain if the National Hockey League can improve it's visibility amongst American sports fans over the next six years.

But as a long time NHL hockey fan, I'm happy that things are back to normal.

It's been refreshing, after months of almost daily lockout coverage, to finally write about the preparations for a new season.

As hectic as things got in August when the UFA market opened up and clubs began making trades again, it was wonderful to once again track trade and free agent rumours.

Believe it or not, it's also meant scaling back my workload for this site and for my columns. Trust me, it's much easier tracking a track rumour in the press and offering up my take than it is to do sometimes hours of research for yet another column on another twist or turn in a labour dispute.

I believe that experience made me a better commentator on the state of the NHL game, and I learned a great deal - perhaps more than I wanted - on the business of hockey.

But I've gotta admit, it's much easier and a lot more fun to write about who might be on the trade block, which players are starring in training camp, which teams could emerge as contenders this season, if the new rules are worthwhile, and other issues related to the actual game.

I'm looking forward to this new season, because if there's one potential positive to come out of this lockout, it's that the NHL game will have a new look and feel and a number of teams have changed their rosters considerably.This will not be the same NHL we last saw in the spring of 2004.

Hopefully, the changes that emerged from the lockout will be positive, providing the first real steps toward a better overall product.

Yes, folks, like most of you I'm excited about the 2005-06 season.

Don't get me wrong, there's still a lingering bitterness toward both sides over a lengthy lockout that really didn't need to happen, which left scars on the face of the game that will take a long time to heal.

My love of the game is deep, but if in four years time the NHLPA decides to reject the current CBA or if in six the hard-line owners decide they need to squeeze the players more, I may give up on the NHL altogether and turn my focus toward the European leagues, the minor leagues, the Junior leagues in Canada, or the college leagues in the United States.

The owners and players may eventually be forgiven, but the lockout that robbed hockey fans of the 2004-05 season and a Stanley Cup champion will not be forgotten.

The issues of concern won't just go away in the coming weeks. They'll still be there, some percolating just below the surface, and others that could potentially boil over over the next four to six years.

For now, however, there's a new NHL hockey season starting. We finally have something to look forward to again, hockey fans.

The puck drops on Wednesday, October 5th and like all of you, I can't wait.

Hello, out there.

We're on the air.

It's hockey night tonight...


- The NHL unveiled its new ad campaign to the sports world this past week, under the catchy name of "My NHL", the centerpiece of which is a series of slick commercials designed to increase interest in NHL hockey.

Suffice to say, it hasn't exactly thrilled some hockey pundits or die-hard fans.

As a die-hard fan and wanna-be pundit, it appears to me to be little more than Hollywood-produced fluff, but I don't believe that's the NHL's target audience with this piece.

Even though I've complained about a lot of things wrong with the NHL product, I still love the game so much that I don't need a slick ad campaign to woo me back.

Mind you, I wouldn't mind one where both the owners and players promise never again to subject us to another labour dispute as the one recently passed, because that could certainly kill my love of the NHL once and for all if another one occurs again. But I digress.

No, this one is aimed at the casual hockey fan, the sports fan in the United States market that has only a passing interest in professional hockey.

The NHL needs to do a better job of marketing its product to new fans. Let's face it, those of us who love hockey don't need to have its virtues extolled to us. We already know what makes it great.

Sports fans who treat hockey as a curiousity, on the other hand, do not. They only pay attention to it when a major brawl breaks out or if someone gets seriously hurt because of an act of on-ice thuggery.

The league could've done a lot worse. Here's hoping that, even if this doesn't pan out, it doesn't prevent them from trying new methods of attracting new fans.

Still, once the league has attracted some interest, it's gonna have to retain them, and that's where improving the quality of the product comes into play.

If it's the same old boring product of the past ten years, the slickest ad campaigns in the world won't help.

- At least the NHL's new ad campaign caught someone's attention in the United States, although it's probably not the kind of publicity the league was seeking.

I can't possibly understand why Ms. Burk is upset. I mean, scantily-clad babes dressing hockey players in candle-lit dressing rooms has been a hockey tradition for decades! (Sarcasm alert! Whoop-whoop!).

That's the only part of the puff piece commercial that really had me rolling my eyes. Personally, I don't believe it's as offensive as Ms. Burk makes it out to be, especially when compared to the now-infamous Monday Night Football ad featuring a towel-clad Nicolette Sheridan and Philadelphia Eagles star Terrell Owens.

If the NHL's desire was to get folks talking about it's product, even if it's over a mildly controversial ad, mission accomplished!

- The new crackdown on obstruction is being felt during the pre-season, with a significant increase in the number of penalties.

That of course is leading to a predictable slowdown of the pace of the game, and of course an increase in complaints.

But as Damien Cox of the Toronto Star recently pointed out, this is to be expected early on as the players, coaches and on-ice officials get used to the new rule changes. People need to be patient.

In the past, we've seen the usual cycle regarding crackdowns on obstruction. Everything gets called early in the season. Some players, coaches, GMs, fans, and pundits complain. As the season progresses, uncalled obstruction creeps back in, until by playoff time there's so much blatant obstruction that one wonders if the officials are only there to drop the puck and seperate players after a fight.

Just because we're seeing a steady parade to the penalty box now doesn't mean the game is going to look that way by mid-season, or during the late-season playoff runs, or into the playoffs.

I sincerely hope that this time, the NHL intends to stick by its crackdown and ignore the chorus of complaints. If they give in again this time, the credibility of its officials will be shot. No one will ever believe them again.

In which case, they might as well remove the passages in the rule book about hooking, holding and interference, since they've been pretty much ignored anyway over the last ten years.


- As the start of the new season approaches, the number of key players sidelined by injury or illness continues to pile up.

Recently the Flyers lost their two prized UFA signings, Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher, to injury before they'd even set foot on training camp ice.

The New Jersey Devils will be without top scorer Patrik Elias for the first month of the season as he continues to recuperate from hepatitis contracted in Russia during the lockout.

Keith Tkachuk's well-publicized suspension by the St. Louis Blues, and his subsequent greivance of same, for failing his training camp medical could put a serious cramp in that club's already limited offensive arsenal.

The Colorado Avalanche lost sniper Milan Hejduk for four to five weeks due to arthroscopic knee surgery, which should send more jitters into their fans who are still reeling from the loss of Forsberg and Adam Foote to free agency.

Winger Vaclav Varada, who was supposed to bring additional grit to an Ottawa Senators team sorely lacking in that quality, is on the shelf for four to six weeks with a sprained MCL.

Montreal Canadiens fans hopeful for a big season from their Habs got a scare when Canadiens forward Michael Ryder suffered an ankle injury last weekend, although he's listed as day-to-day and could be back in action soon.

The Phoenix Coyotes are probably thankful they signed Curtis Joseph after former starting goalie Brian Boucher suffered a groin injury during a shootout and could miss at least two weeks. Mike Leclerc and Mike Comrie have also felt pain in that particularly area.

Paul Kariya will miss at least two pre-season games for the Nashville Predators as he nurses a groin injury.

The Detroit Red Wings Chris Osgood has also joined what the Arizona Republic called "the Groin Club", as he'll miss the start of the season having been sidelined for up to three weeks.

The Boston Bruins have lost UFA pickup Dave Scatchard with a groin injury (he's listed as week-to-week, which isn't a promising assessment). Brian Leetch also tweaked his groin, as did Travis Green. The Boston Globe noted all three didn't play elsewhere during the lockout.

Rick Nash, the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise player, has also been sidelined with injury, although he's expected to start skating soon.

And Jason Allison suffered a hip injury early in training camp and remains sidelined.

In most of these cases, these absences could have an effect on how their respective clubs start the season...or could give a hotshot prospect a chance to earn a job and strut their stuff.

Should make for an interesting October.

- According to the 2004-05 THN Hockey Yearbook, the Montreal Canadiens were rated a "B-" and projected to finish 8th in the Eastern Conference.

In the 2005-06 edition, THN ranks the Habs a "C+" and projects them to finish 10th in the East, behind the projected 7th place Atlanta Thrashers and the 8th place Toronto Maple Leafs.

So let's see now, Montreal's retained their core players, have a burgeoning crop of youngsters already on the roster that are a year older and wiser, have other promising kids looking to move up from the farm, are entering into an NHL season where rules changes designed to open up the game should favour a fast-skating club like the Habs, and were the only NHL team that had everyone on their roster playing competitive hockey either overseas or in the AHL during the lockout.

While there are still some questions about Montreal's blueline corps, it's markedly better than that of the Thrashers, who also have some questions about their checking line depth. The Thrashers also had five players who didn't play a single game during the lockout.

The Leafs, meanwhile, have some key players who are getting older, some others who have lengthy injury histories, a blueline corps better than the Thrashers but no better than Montreal's, and 8 players on their roster who didn't play during the lockout.

Those lockout player numbers, by the way, come courtesy of THN's 2005-06 Ultimate Pool Guide, currently on sale.

Sorry, but I fail to see how the Habs can be ranked below the Thrashers and Maple Leafs. The Canadiens have more depth in players either in their prime or approaching it, more promising youth in their system, are a faster club, and have more players who got a year of competitive hockey under their collective belts than the respective rosters of Atlanta and Toronto.

Just my own take, I'm sure I'll hear from Thrashers and Leafs fans willing to prove otherwise. Write in, keep the discourse civil, and I'll post your comments in "The Fans Speak Out".


- The next several updates here will be done short n' sweet, just like the blogger crowd does (and I mean that in a good way!). Got a lot on my plate this week so things'll be done in brief rather than my usual long-winded style for the next few days (and the crowd goes wild!).

- Looks like the Pavel Datsyuk contract soap opera may be finally drawing to a close. Red Wings GM Ken Holland told AP on Monday that barring the unforeseen, Datsyuk should re-sign and return to the Wings by the weekend.

Wings fans may be breathing a sigh of relief, but remember, folks, this deal may only be for two years, after which Datsyuk will be free to test the UFA market.

Suggesting that his first loyalty isn't to the Wings, but to whoever is willing to pay him the most.

- The NHLPA has filed a grievance on behalf of St. Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk, who failed his training camp physical last week. There's been talk that Tkachuk was at least 25 pounds over his playing weight.

So lemme get this straight: Tkachuk shows up to training camp doing his Fat Bastard impression, and the PA is filing a grievance?

Keith, you're a hockey player, a professional athlete. You're one of the highest paid players in the NHL heading into this season. Although your off-season lasted far longer than usual because of the lockout, you had a responsibility to keep yourself in game shape in preparation for the day when you would return to action.

Most of your teammates and NHLPA brethren certainly had no trouble staying away from the fat pills during the same time. You know you're supposed to report to training camp in shape to pass your physical, yet you then have the chutzpah to get the PA to complain on your behalf? Un-freakin'- believable!

Here's hoping this silly grievance is dismissed and Tkachuk is sentenced to spending a month sweatin' to the oldies with Richard Simmons.

On the lighter side, here's Jes Golbez's take.

- The brouhaha over Ted Saskin's hiring by the NHLPA player executive continues to brew.

The Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey made mention of a Sports Business Journal article claiming Saskin may have inflated the salaries of NFLPA boss Gene Upshaw and MLBPA honcho Don Fehr when he negotiated his contract with the PA.

In an e-mail justifying his salary, Saskin noted that Gene Upshaw, the head of the NFLPA,was making in excess of $3 million, while Billy Hunter, who represents NBA players, was making $2.8 million.

In the fiscal year ending Feb. 2004, Upshaw made $2.559 million and he has acknowledged that a recent raise boosted his salary to a little less than $2.7 million. As for Hunter, he earned $1.695 million in 2004. He also has received a raise, but he said it was to nowhere near the $2.8 million cited by Saskin.

This certainly has the potential to add more fuel to the fire over how Saskin was hired.

Up to now, most of the PA dissidents have said they have no qualms about Saskin running the PA, but rather the method of his hiring. This has the potential to cast him into a negative light with the players.

- Toronto Globe and Mail hockey columnist Eric Duhatschek reported last week we hockey fans shouldn't blame the lockout for the recent rash of retirement of long-time NHL stars.

Nice to see somebody in the media agrees with me, since I said the same thing on the same day as Duhatschek and then followed it up again on Sunday in response to an ESPN article that suggested the lockout robbed us of a chance to say farewell to these retired players.


-We're barely a week into the NHL pre-season and already the grumbling about the rule changes has begun.

Brett Hull had some choice words about NHL Executive VP Colin Campbell:

"(T)he league needs to get guys like him out and bring in people who have positive attitudes."

Toronto Sun reporter Steve Simmons writes two veteran goalies aren't happy about the new regulations regarding their equipment:

Dominik Hasek hates the smaller pads. Eddie Belfour hates the smaller gloves.

Is it me, or are the majority of complaints coming from the older players?

Here's what Calgary's Jarome Iginla had to say about 28 penalty calls in a pre-season game featuring his Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks:

"It seemed a little more cut and dried for the refs," said the Calgary captain, who played his first pre-season clash. "It was a tough game as far as penalty killing and powerplay but I think we'll be able to adjust.

"There will be more scoring chances and you can still get some big hits -- I got pumped on one there -- so it's going to be really good."

"There's certain habits we've gotten into. Pretty much every player wants to hook when they get beat," he explained. "When you take it into a game, you see the team that adjusts best will get out of the gate. Everyone will adjust eventually but it's going to be about the team that adjusts the quickest."

Seems to me Iggy's got that positive attitude Hull's looking for.

- The New York Post's Larry Brooks believes the introduction of the shootout was a rotten idea from the start, in part because it could expose players to injury. He cites Phoenix Coyotes goalie Brian Boucher's groin injury suffered in a shootout loss in exhibition play.

So what's the difference between Boucher getting injured in a shoot out and, say, getting injured in a breakaway situation?

Lots of folks aren't happy over the prospect of regular season games ending with a "gimmick" like a shootout, but to use the threat of injury as a reason to complain about it is pointless, bordering on silly.

The NHL has justifiably taken a lot of grief for failing to address the lack of excitement in its product in recent years, and it's folly to expect their introduced changes to please everyone.

But would we rather have the league braintrust continue to insist there's nothing wrong with their product? Would we rather have the same old clutch and grab tactics continue that sucked the life out of the product over the past ten years?

Jeebus, folks, be glad they're even acknowledging their game has problems and are looking at potential solutions, rather thancontinuing to play the "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil" monkey game.

I don't expect everything the league tries to be perfect, but now that they're actively working in conjunction with the players on rule changes, I commend the front office for finally making a serious attempt.

Perhaps the shootout will be a rotten idea. Maybe after a few seasons there will be an overwhelming demand to eliminate it from the NHL product.

The owners, GMs, coaches, players and pundits can grumble all they want, but if the fans enthusiastically support it, even cite it as a major reason why they're coming out to the games, the shootout will be here to stay.

- What was Keith Tkachuk thinking, showing up to Blues training camp overweight and out of shape?

One report had Tkachuk over 25 pounds above his playing weight, none of it muscle.

I guess the kind of workouts Tkachuk engaged in throughout the lockout were 12 ounce curls and multiple reps with his fork.

Here's a guy who's supposed to be the Blues best forward, who's to be looked to for leadership and experience on a team in transition this season, who's also making a league maximum $7.6 million bucks, and who's been making a living as a pro athlete long enough to know that you must maintain your conditioning throughout the off-season, however long that off-season may be.

The Blues have enough areas of concern this season without having to add Keith Tkachuk's irresponsible behaviour to the list.

- Looks like the supposed tempest in a teapot that was the method of Ted Saskin's hiring as NHLPA honcho may take longer to resolve than originally believed.

The Toronto Star's Rick Westhead, who's been following the dissension amongst the NHLPA's ranks in recent weeks over Saskin's hiring, reported up to 13 player reps have decided to indefinitely delay participating in a secret ballot on this issue.

It seems the ranks of the small group of dissidents upset over how the player executive, headed by NHLPA president Trevor Linden, hired Saskin may be growing a bit, as more players become aware of the circumstances and seek clarification.

Whether that number swells into a sizeable group that challenges the PA executive's handling of this issue still remains to be seen, but it's become apparent that this matter isn't going to die out as quickly and quietly as foreseen.

- ESPN's Mark Kreidler considers it "a disaster" for the NHL's identity that Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis and Al MacInnis all retired within a two week period as the league emerges from the lengthy lockout.

It's an out-and-out disaster, is what it is -- and not because the NHL cannot withstand the loss of players like Francis, Messier, Stevens and MacInnis from its talent pool. The league has plenty of talent. What it doesn't have is an identity, and it just bled a few more precious drops with the loss of these players.

Nobody plays forever, and there's a solid case to be made that each of these old warhorses was too far on the downside of his career for another year to have made any difference. But what any league coming out of a deep freeze longs for is that sense of normalcy to sell to fans: "We're back on track. See? There's Mess skating around."

Sorry, Mark, but if we hockey fans saw Messier skating around again in somebody's training camp, we'd be cringing. As great as "The Moose" was for most of his long NHL career, the past five seasons are best left forgotten.

The changing of the guard was inevitable, and it was age and injury, not the lockout, that forced those great players to retire. It's doubtful MacInnis and Stevens would've played if there had been a 2004-05 season, while Messier and Francis would've been ghosts of themselves.

Besides, there are bright new stars out there that, with the NHL's new rule changes designed to open up the game, have become the faces of the new NHL. Indeed, they were before the lockout.

Jarome Iginla, Ilya Kovalchuk, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley, and Roberto Luongo are already established and their popularity should continue to grow.

Trust me, Mark, they were drawing far more press in the NHL's last two seasons than those aging heroes you refer to.

Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf, Thomas Vanek, Kari Lehtonen and Jeff Carter will be commencing what should be long, successful NHL careers.

They too will help fill the gaps left by those one-time greats.

This is no disaster. This is a time to get excited about the new fresh faces and the potential excitement they'll bring to the NHL.

Now is not the time to weep about the departure of former greats, but rather to look toward the future, which upon the shoulders of the aforementioned young stars the league's hopes rest.

The NHL didn't die when Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky retired. It won't die with Messier, Stevens, Francis and MacInnis calling it quits.


- Recent news that the two most highly touted acqusitions of the post-season for the Philadelphia Flyers, Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher, were sidelined by injuries before even stepping foot on training camp ice had to create a sinking sensation in the gut of Flyers fans and of team GM Bob Clarke.

I wrote last month that signing those two were a gamble, that as great as their careers have been, their injury history in recent years made them risky signings.

Now I realize the new season hasn't even started yet, and those injuries they suffered may not be that serious and may not sideline them for long, but it had to send up some warning flags in the City of Brotherly Love.

Forsberg and Hatcher could return to action, stay healthy throughout the season, and lead the Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup.

Then again, they might not. Hatcher's and Forsberg's recent boo-boos should serve as a warning to the Flyers and their fans that their presence guarantees squat.

- Speaking of players with injury histories, how were Leafs fans responding to news that, one day into training camp, Jason Allison was forced out for a day because of a hip injury?

Again, it's too early to just write off Allison and Eric Lindros, who's only perhaps one more head shot away from retirement. Both could remain healthy, return to form, and lead the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup.

Then again, well, see what I wrote earlier about Hatcher and Forsberg and the Flyers.

- So, Bruins fans, who's gonna blink first? Nick Boynton and Andrew Raycroft or Bruins GM Mike O'Connell?

Of the two, I'd say O'Connell is more worried about Raycroft's status than Boynton's. He's got the blueline depth (such as it is) to cover for the absence of Boynton, but O'Connell knows his team is nowhere without quality goaltending.

Hence the recent news of O'Connell extending an invitation to Bruins training camp of former B's starter Byron Dafoe (who's declined to comment), is in talks (or was in talks) with former backup Felix Potvin and signed Tim Thomas from Finland. They're obviously insurance moves in case Raycroft decides to hold out into the start of the season.

They're also leverage moves in hopes of pressuring Raycroft to rejoin the Bruins.

But, Raycroft could opt to wait and see how the Bruins make out without him to start the season, which could then shift the leverage to his side, and of course put more pressure on O'Connell to find a way to free up salary to re-sign Raycroft.

So far, no word on either side. If I were a betting man (and I'm not, but just for jollies in this case), I'd say Boynton signs before Raycroft, and the latter will stretch his holdout into the start of the season.

And hey! Weren't the Bruins supposed to have so much money available after dumping most of their roster prior to the lockout to re-sign their best players and re-stock with free agents?

Funny, then, that they went overboard in the UFA market, rather than re-signing their best goaltender and arguably their best blueliner first before making their forays into unrestricted free agency.

So now it's the same old story again in Boston: two key players staging holdouts. And this time, because the Bruins actually spent too much on other players!

-What's up with Stan Fischler's hate-on for Sidney Crosby?

In his recent "Bluelines" column, Fischler wrote the following: "Chew on our prediction: Alex Ovechkin in Washington will outshine Sid Crosby from Day One in the NHL and forever!"

Now of course Fischler's entitled to his opinion, but this isn't the first time he's slammed Crosby in recent months, taking the kid to task for his Reebok signing to his agent's idle chatter during the lockout of Crosby potentially playing overseas.

Time will tell who's the better player, of course, and Fischler's prediction may indeed come true, but I just don't understand his seeming dislike for the kid from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

- Steve Walkom, the NHL's new head of officiating, is telling everyone the league's latest crackdown on obstruction is "for real".

For the sake of the game, Steve, it had better be.

In the meantime, this cynic will believe it when he sees it...especially during the playoffs!

Go through an entire regular season and post-season with your officials calling the game under the new crackdown, Steve, and you'll make a believer out of me. I've heard this BS from the league too many times.

Again, I'll believe it when I see it. Spare the empty rhetoric, Steve, and just get 'er done!

- Gotta agree with James Mirtle's take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Hey, they've signed lots of "name" talent, and yes, they've got Sidney Crosby and yes, Mario will be back for hopefully more than half a season, and yes, these recent signings have increased season ticket sales.

But will they be a good team?

They've just had a major roster turnover, with a lot of news faces having to get used to what few old ones remain in Pittsburgh.

And as Mr. Mirtle points out, this resembles the kind of team building the New York Rangers engaged in over the last ten years, and we all know how that turned out.

Now I'm not trying to run down the Penguins, and I hope they actually do show significant improvement to bring back the fans, but I think a playoff berth could be touch and go, depending on how long it takes this roster to gel.

- Speaking of the Pens, Mario Lemieux is once again saying (but this time for the last time and by gum he means it) that his team will lose money this coming season because of arena issues.

This comes despite having spent more money on improving their roster which should in turn improve season ticket sales which should in turn give them more money at the turnstiles, right?

And then there's that little matter of revenue sharing, although by spending around $32 million thus far the Pens might not qualify for very much this season.

Once again, it's about the arena, the 44-year-old Mellon Arena, which seats 17,800, but apparently that kind of capacity isn't enough for the Pens to make money even with a supposedly improved roster.

Granted, Mellon Arena is an older building, but unless the place is falling apart, is it really that bad a place for the Penguins to play?

Perhaps the problem isn't the arena seating, but the location?

Now, now, Pens fans, don't get up in arms with me, I' m not advocating relocating your team to another city. Bear with me on this.

Building a new arena is no guarantee that it'll increase the numbers at the turnstiles, which has me wondering if building a new arena has more to due with potential development of the surrounding real estate, or what you might be able to fit into a new arena, like, say, a casino?

If any of you Pens fans has any knowledge of this arena situation, why not drop me a line to enlighten me and the readers, and I'll post it in "The Fans Speak Out".

I'm not here to mock, I'm here to learn, and right now, what I'm seeing of this "I need a new arena to survive" line from Lemieux and company doesn't add up in terms of hockey revenue.

- Jose Theodore is stirring up trouble in Montreal, or at least TQS seems to believe so:

Television station TQS played and replayed tape of Theodore making a rude gesture - pointing the middle fingers of each hand - during a photo shoot at the Bell Centre on Tuesday. The picture also appeared in local newspapers on Wednesday.

While it cast the Canadiens' highest-paid player in a negative light, Theodore said it was a playful gesture made after team photographer Bob Fisher asked him to do something with his two hands. He said he was only trying to make the photographer laugh.

"It was a fun day for everybody and the media were following us around, which is good," said Theodore. "It was funny at the moment but the way it came out in the media wasn't fair.

"Bob Fisher is a guy I've done pictures with for 10 years."

And yet, TQS will wonder why Canadiens management has trouble luring players to Montreal.

I gotta give Theodore credit, he's put up with a lot of crap from the Montreal media in recent years, yet he still wants to remain a Canadien for the remainder of his career.

Love him or hate him, Theodore's got character. You have to in order to put up with the media BS fishbowl that surrounds the Canadiens.

- Memo to Pavel Datsyuk and your agent: stop playing silly-ass games about your contract status and pick where you're gonna play next season so the rest of us can stop reading about it every damn week.

If you choose the Wings, fine. If not, they'll adapt. You're not the whole team, even if a few nervous nellies in Motown think you might be.

Jeebus, didn't you learn anything from having Steve Yzerman as your captain? Didn't any character rub off on you at all?

Now I realize this is part of your ploy in negotiating with the Wings, and that you're just waiting to see where you'll get the best money to ply your craft next season.

I don't begrudge you that. I do, however, begrudge you the way you're doing your negotiating via the media, especially the Russian media, who have a habit of, shall we say, embellishing their reports.

Just do your negotiating behind closed doors, make your decision one way or the other, and then go out and play hockey.

Thank you.

- And finally, we've seen some big name players calling it a career lately.

Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Ron Francis all opted to pack it in after lengthy and stellar careers within a two week period.

I've read a few reports blaming the lockout for their retirements.

While the lockout is to blame for a lot of the NHL's problems, the retirement of these four players had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Stevens and MacInnis were still nursing injuries throughout the period of the lockout and it's highly unlikely we would've seen them play again even if the 2004-05 season hadn't been lost to the lockout.

For them, the lockout spared them busting their asses trying to get back into game shape, and allowed them the healing time - both physically and mentally - to get their priorities straight.

Anyone who watched Francis struggle with the Maple Leafs in the 2004 playoffs understood that age was finally catching up to him. As for Messier, as great as he was in his lengthy prime, his retirement should've happened around the same time his buddy Wayne Gretzky called it a career.

If anything, the lockout was a mercy for Francis and Messier, sparing their legions of fans the sad sight of these once great players toiling as mere shadows of themselves.

Age or career-ending injuries brought about the retirement of these four great players. The lockout was blameless.


Earlier this week came news that a small group of players, headed by NHLPA player executive member Trent Klatt, were considering a lawsuit to contest the method of hiring Ted Saskin to replace Bob Goodenow as NHLPA Executive Director.

It was unknown at the time if this small group (believed to number less than 20) were truly representative of how the majority of the NHLPA membership may have felt or if they were speaking solely for themselves.

Judging by the recent response to their actions, they're not only in a distinct minority, but they're feeling the backlash from a number of their fellow players.

Notables such as Colorado's Joe Sakic, Calgary's Jarome Iginla, Arizona's Shane Doan and Vancouver's Ed Jovanovski laid into the dissidents, calling their actions "crazy" and "garbage".

Most importantly, the most high-profile agents in the NHLPA all lined up behind Saskin, including Don Meehan and Don Baizley.

Even Bryan McCabe, considered one of the players unhappy over how Saskin was hired, recently admitted the majority of players appear happy with Saskin running the show.

Saskin, to his credit, announced he'd consent to having the 30 member executive board vote again on his new five year contract, this time by secret ballot, rather than via conference call as occurred two weeks ago which formed the basis for the complaint by Klatt and the others.

That may seem akin to closing the barn door after the horse has fled, as it seems at this point that Saskin would easily win that vote too. Call it taking the high road or covering his butt, Saskin is at least showing a willingness to face the issue rather than ignoring it, although he's been dismissive of the apparent efforts to oust him.

Saskin is obviously the man the players want for the job as executive director. He was the point-man in negotiations for the players during the lockout, and has a good relationship with his NHL counterpart, Bill Daly.

Indeed, Saskin may be the main reason why the players didn't get screwed in the new collective bargaining agreement, despite the yowlings of some folks in the media to the contrary.

It's important to note that for the most part, the complaints aren't about Saskin, but how he was hired for the job. As I've noted in an earlier article on this matter, that should be taken up during the next general meeting of the NHLPA to ensure the guidelines for hiring are more strictly adhered to in order to prevent any potential abuses of the system in the future.

Something else should also be taken into consideration with this, and that is the likely weariness amongst the majority of players over labour-related issues.

The year-long lockout was a draining experience, one that obviously most of them want to put behind them in order to get back to playing NHL hockey. There appears to be little taste left for labour squabbling, and almost none for internal rifts about NHLPA policies.

It remains to be seen if Klatt (who recently retired) and the others in his group will pursue this any further, or what other tidbits of internal NHLPA information will be leaked to the media.

But if the recent comments of those players and agents going on the record about this are any indication, this could soon become little more than a mild after-shock from a rough labour war.


What a difference a week can make.

Last week, I commented on reports in the Toronto Star and Sun that suggested some NHLPA members might be ready to mutiny against their leadership over the way Ted Saskin was hired to become the Executive Director.

I dismissed the notion of "mutiny" since there was little specific information to suggest this was indeed the case. Other than mention of player executive members Trent Klatt and Arturs Irbe's unhappiness over the process and of an even divide between the player reps on an initial vote confirming Saskin's hiring, there was no mention of specific names or real indication of what the supposedly disgruntled players would do to contest the hiring.

However, this situation appears to be as serious as originally reported, as indicated by follow-up articles this past weekend by Toronto Star sports business reporter Rick Westhead (who initially broke the story) and New York Post hockey columnist Larry Brooks.

You can read the details by clicking the links above. To summarize, a militant group of 15 players (and possibly more, according to Brooks), led by Klatt, have hired hired Bob Lanza, former chief counsel to the NBA players' association and a partner with New York law firm Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, to launch a court challenge over the method of Saskin's hiring.

Furthermore, some players are stepping forward to publicly comment on the situation. Montreal Canadiens defenceman Sheldon Souray suggested the players haven't "learned the lesson that the union wasn't being run as it should". Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tie Domi stated Saskin should re-sign to allow for a better method of searching for potential candidates for the job, although Saskin should be allowed to "put his hat in the ring".

Domi's teammate, Bryan McCabe, called the way the vote was conducted on Saskin's hiring " a travesty".

When Saskin claimed this was a "media circus" generated by a few agents with their own agendas, that spurred Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour into denying agents were behind this.

Westhead also reported that several veteran players were barred from the conference call on Saskin's hiring, even though retired player and former NHLPA president Mike Gartner was allowed to sit in.

But dumping Saskin now may cost the Players Association as much as $2 million in severance, based on the contract he apparently negotiated exclusively with NHLPA President Trevor Linden.

As Westhead originally reported, this definitely looks like a split within the ranks of the NHLPA. How serious that split is, however, remains to be seen. It's unknown if this "growing number" of players that Westhead referred to is significant, or if it's remains a significant minority.

What is apparent is there were, and still are, some players who were unhappy over the change of direction the PA took with CBA talks, the perception (real or not) over how former NHLPA head Bob Goodenow may have been forced out, and how the executive went about hiring Saskin.

While some players, such as Montreal's Craig Rivet, have stated it's not about players being unhappy over Saskin being in the job of Executive Director but how he was hired for the post, it's possible that unhappiness over how Goodenow was replaced and/or Saskin's handling of the CBA negotiations may be behind this challenge to his hiring.

It's also possible that there is a serious difference in opinion between those supporting PA President Linden and others who didn't agree with his decision to change tactics.

In short, what we might be seeing here is your basic power struggle for control.

Saskin supposedly wants to meet with Klatt and Lanza soon, probably to try to smooth things over and avoid any real challenge from the players toward his hiring.

Saskin might hoping to nip this challenge to his authority in the bud before this movement grows, but most likely he's genuinely worried that Klatt and company could legally toss him out of the job.

The direction this meeting takes could have potentially serious consequences for those who currently run the NHLPA, as well as the potential direction it takes down the road.

None of this is going to adversely affect the new CBA over the next six years, but the impact might be felt when it comes time to re-negotiate.

There's some talk in cyberspace that this could lead to the eventual decertification of the NHLPA, but I have my doubts it will lead to this.

For all the talk of internal strife amongst the PA ranks, there's been none of decertification amongst the players, likely because they prefer negotiating with the league as an union rather than taking their taking chances as individuals.

One should never rule out any possibility, but this one seems very remote.


One of the things that also gives me a good chuckle whenever I visit NHL hockey message boards is the trash talking that goes on between fans of different teams.

Some of it can be crude and insulting, but most is usually done in fun.

My favourite bit of trash talking involves the creative use of mocking names fans have for rival teams.

With training camps set to open next week, and with the start of the 2005-06 season a little over two weeks away, here's my list of my favorite "creative nicknames" I've seen on the message boards throughout the years.

Feel free to whip these out in the spirit of good-natured trash talking:

ANAHEIM MIGHTY DUCKS: "Anawhine". "Mighty Sucks". "Flighty F***s".

ATLANTA THRASHERS: "Fatlanta". "Trashers". "The Trash".

BOSTON BRUINS: "Bosdumb". "The 'Ruins". "Chowdah-heads".

BUFFALO SABRES: "Buffa-load". "Snortin' Goatheads".

CALGARY FLAMES: "Call-girlie". "The Lames". "The Blames".

CAROLINA HURRICANES: "Carawhinea". "Hurri-lames". "Hurri-cants".

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: "Escargot". "The Blackheads". "Dead Hawks".

COLORADO AVALANCHE: "Colo-Rag-O", "Ava-lames", "The Av-nots".

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: "Columbutt". "Boo Jackets" "Blue Jerks".

DALLAS STARS: "Dull-ass". "Cowboy Wannabees".

DETROIT RED WINGS: "Hokeytown". "Dead Things". "The Things".

EDMONTON OILERS: "Edmonchuk". "The Spoilers". "The Soilers".

FLORIDA PANTHERS: "Floridud". "Panturds". "Swamp Kitties".

LOS ANGELES KINGS: "Hell-a". "The Things".

MINNESOTA WILD: "Mini-Soda". "Mild".

MONTREAL CANADIENS: "Mound Royale". "Hab-nots".

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: "Knoxville". "Predaturds."

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: "Screw Jersey". "Devilled Eggs". "The Sopranos".

NY ISLANDERS: "Screw York". "The Piles". "Fishsticks".

NY RANGERS: "Screw York". "The Rags". "Ranger$".

OTTAWA SENATORS: "Snottawa". "Senaturds".

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: "Filthy-delphia". "Cryers". "Broad Street Sissies."

PHOENIX COYOTES: "Fee-nuts". "Wile E." "Desert Mutts".

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS. "Zits-burg". "Waddlin' Ducks".

ST. LOUIS BLUES: "St. Boo-is". "The Boos".

SAN JOSE SHARKS: "No way Jose". "Snarks". "Fishheads".

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: "Tampa Gay". "Blightning". "The Dolts".

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: "Taranna". "Maple Laffs". "Make Believes".

VANCOUVER CANUCKS: "The Wet Coast". "Cannots". "Canuckleheads".

WASHINGTON CAPITALS: "Washingturd". "Crapitals". "The Craps".


Since NHL teams got back to re-stocking their rosters under the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, I've posted a few articles pointing out some of the potential flaws that have already arisen with the new deal.

I still believe those flaws I referred to could become major problems if they're left unchecked, forming the basis for yet another owner-induced work stoppage.

Despite these flaws, there are parts of this new CBA that should have a positive impact upon the NHL.

First, the most obvious: the salary cap tied to a percentage of league revenues, with a cap floor and ceiling. Narrowing the gap between the big markets and the rest of the teams had to be done.

It should to some degree limit some of the wilder free-spending we saw under the old deal by certain big-market teams.

More important, however, is that it sets a minimum amount for all teams to spend on payroll, meaning certain small markets won't get away with spending far below other small and mid-market clubs.

Yes, the players gave in to a salary cap, which they said they'd never do, and it would've been a crushing defeat for them if it weren't tied to fluctuations in league revenues.

Sure, in the short term, like the next two seasons, revenues are probably going to be lower, which in turn will push down the cap limits, but those revenues aren't going to decline constantly over the next six seasons. At some point, and I'm guessing by season three, league revenues will be on the rise.

Should the new rule changes to open up the game actually have the desired affect, that could also increase the NHL's popularity, as well as revenues.

That's going to push up the cap limits, and by the latter years of the CBA, it's quite possible we'll see a cap ceiling of $45-$47 million and a floor of $30 million.

That means the losses the players see now could only be short term ones.

What I also like is the increased revenue sharing, which the recipients have to spend on payroll rather than pocketing the money. As for the possibility of a team accepting that revenue share but chopping payroll to maintain roughly the same amount every season, there hopefully will be something within the CBA to prevent that.

Bottom line: no more excuses from small markets about not having enough money for payroll to compete with the rest of the league. They'll get more, and they'll have to spend it wisely.

Another good thing we've seen thus far is older veteran UFA players accepting a lot less than what they used to get under the old CBA to sign with teams, whilst younger players just entering or in their prime are getting the most money.

That's the way it should be. Sure, it may stink for older UFA players, but then again, those guys made millions under the old deal and should be well set for life. If they still wanna play when their skills have deteriorated, it's only right that they should accept less.

I also like the raise in the minimum salary from $185K to $450K. For fringe players, this will guarantee them the opportunity to make really good money for their efforts, particularly if they can stick with an NHL team for more than half a season, rather than bouncing up and down between the parent club and the farm team.

Another good point is teams being able to take players to arbitration, especially if that player had a lousy season yet claims he's worth the same money or more based on a peer from another team.

Again, fairness comes into play. If a player can take a team to arbitration, so too should a team have that right.

This, however, has the potential to blow up in a team's face when they use this tactic to low-ball their best players (hello, there, Florida Panthers GM Mike Keenan), as it could drive said player into early free agency.

That's what happens when you use this as a tool for evil instead of good (please note: that's a tongue-in-cheek remark. Please spare me the e-mail complaints about my calling Mike Keenan evil. He's not evil. He's a hard-ass).

Speaking of early free agency, that's perhaps the most key part of this new CBA for the players, especially those under 27 years of age.

The next time you read or hear a pundit chortling over how the NHL players got screwed with this new CBA, toss this back at them and watch them hum and haw or sputter the "it's too early to tell" cop-out.

As I noted in earlier articles, early free agency has already become a leverage tool for top players and their agents. It's what in part drove the Boston Bruins to re-sign Joe Thornton, the Montreal Canadiens to re-sign Jose Theodore, and the Tampa Bay Lightning to re-sign Vincent Lecavalier to hefty long-term contracts.

Under the old CBA, those guys had to wait until 31 to become eligible for the riches of unrestricted free agency. Now, after only seven NHL seasons, they're eligible by their late-twenties. That's obviously having, and will continue to have, a lot of impact upon contract negotiations, particularly for the game's top players.

There's going to be a lot more teams in the future taking the same route as those aforementioned clubs this summer to retain their best players.

I'm also pleased to see the December 1 time limit to re-sign restricted free agents. While we only saw a handful of holdouts beyond December under the old deal, this will hopefully cut down on the number of early season RFA holdouts, which rarely accomplished much and only served to dull the holdout player's skills and create friction between the player, management, fans and the media.

It also increases the potential for offer sheets, especially before the deadline, which could make things interesting early in the season.

Performance bonuses are also gonna be tougher to achieve under this CBA, especially those for entry-level players. That's the way it should be. If you excel, you deserve to be rewarded, and if not, you don't. Simplicity.

As with the old CBA, there's plenty of things in this deal that can favour both sides. But just like the old CBA, what's going to determine if this deal works for both sides is the human factor.

If owners and general managers can spend responsibly and seek the best deal for their dollars, we may see fewer overpaid players and more earning their rightful amount.

If players and their agents can demand reasonable amounts for salaries, rather than using comparables that are out to lunch, we may see more teams afford to retain their best players or bid competitively for free agents.

If those flaws I've noted in earlier articles are suitably addressed (most tie into contract negotiations) over the next few years, the period of this new CBA could go swimmingly, setting up easier and far less acrimonious labour talks between the league and the NHLPA down the road.

If these things don't happen, we could see the same nonsense we saw under the old CBA, raising the same old arguments and complaints, and potentially pushing the NHL into yet another lockout it can ill afford to have.


For the past several years, it's been very obvious that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has favoured the Toronto Maple Leafs in it's hockey coverage on the long-running Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC).

That bias became even more apparent this past week, with the release of HNIC's schedule for the upcoming 2005-06 season.

The Ottawa Senators will receive national coverage ten times. The Montreal Canadiens - the most storied franchise in NHL history - a record-low nine times.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will make 27 appearances, thus ensuring the Leafs will be on Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night throughout the '05-'06 regular season.

At least for the Western teams, there will be a more even spread of appearances on HNIC, thanks of course to the doubleheader concept. The Vancouver Canucks will appear 15 times, the Edmonton Oilers 13 times and the Calgary Flames (the defending Western Conference champions and the first Canadian team in a decade to make it to the Stanley Cup finals) 10 times.

CBC defends its coverage by claiming the Leafs pull in larger ratings than any other Canadian NHL team.

I, however, have a feeling it has more to do with local bias than with ratings.

I grew up on Hockey Night in Canada in the 1970s, rarely missing a Saturday Night broadcast. I cannot lay my hands on HNIC's broadcast schedules from those days (and if anyone has a copy or a link, I'd appreciate if you'd forward it to me), but I do recall that their coverage was split almost 50-50 between the Leafs and their long-time rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens were riding high in the 70s, as their last great dynasty dominated the NHL, particularly in the latter part of the decade. By contrast, the Maple Leafs wallowed in the early 70s and were a good, but not great, hockey team in the last half of that decade.

The Canucks, the only other Canadian team at that time, rarely received national coverage, owing to their location. "Doubleheader Saturday" was not part of HNIC's lexicon in those days. For young hockey fans like myself, the Canucks were as mysterious as the Los Angeles Kings, Oakland Seals and Kansas City Scouts. The only time you saw them was when they travelled to the Montreal Forum or Maple Leafs Gardens.

Regardless, HNIC appeared to give Canadian hockey fans fair coverage of the Habs and Leafs.

That trend carried over into the 1980s. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames had joined the NHL by that point and were setting the NHL afire, but like the Canucks, their location made it a rarity to watch coverage of them during the regular season, except when they travelled East to play the Canadiens and Maple Leafs. Only during the playoffs, when the Oilers were invariably the last Canadian team still standing by the semi-finals (what's now called the Conference Finals), did we get to see the greatness of Wayne Gretzky and friends on a regular basis, if only for a few weeks.

The Canadiens were no longer a dynasty but they were still a very good hockey team, one that went to the Finals twice in the decade and won the Cup in 1986.

The Leafs, by contrast, wallowed through their worst decade in franchise history. There's no nice way to describe the Maple Leafs of the 1980s, except to say they sucked on toast.

Still, I seem to recall HNIC provided fair coverage of both teams throughout that period. As a Canadiens fan, I never had a beef with that. After all, this was "Hockey Night in Canada", not Hockey Night in Montreal, and that meant providing fair coverage to the two Eastern based teams, even if one of them was awful to watch.

Actually, there were three Eastern based teams in the 1980s, but we rarely saw coverage of the Quebec Nordiques on a national level, unless they were playing the Leafs or Habs. Bit of bias there too, perhaps?

Maybe not. I do recall seeing the Nords quite a bit on La Soiree Du Hockey, the French version of HNIC on Radio Canada during that time. Perhaps that was a conscious decision to televise the Nordiques on the French channel as they were more popular inside Quebec than outside.

If anyone can shed any light on this, I'd love an e-mail with a reference since I cannot seem to find anything via Google or Yahoo on this.

This coverage carried on into the 1990s, with a seemingly even split of Eastern teams on HNIC, and then followed up in the late-90s with coverage of Western Canadian clubs.

But ever since the rise of the Maple Leafs in the 1998-99 season as one of the NHL's dominant regular season teams while at the same time the Canadiens fortunes faltered, there's been an undeniable bias toward the Leafs.

With the relocation of the Quebec Nordiques to Colorado in 1995, the Canadiens became the team covered by Radio Canada every Saturday Night on La Soiree du Hockey.

Still, one would think that CBC and HNIC would want to provide English language coverage of a hockey club that rivalled the Maple Leafs in terms of cross-Canada popularity.

During that time period, the Ottawa Senators - reborn in 1993 - emerged as one of the top clubs in the NHL, yet inexplicably they received far less coverage than the Maple Leafs.

One would assume CBC and HNIC would want to play up the intra-provincial rivalry that had grown during that time between the two clubs by showing more Senators games during the regular season. That, however, appears to be something they only save for whenever the Leafs play them in the regular season and playoffs.

The number of Canadiens games on CBC has dwindled whilst the increase in coverage of the Senators appears to be marginal. If it weren't for the fact those clubs play the Maple Leafs each six times per season, they'd rarely appear on HNIC.

At least the Western Canadian teams received a more fair spread of coverage. Flames fans may be outraged over their club, the first Canadian franchise to reach the Stanley Cup finals in a decade, getting less coverage than intra-provincial rivals from Edmonton or the high-priced Canucks of British Columbia, but at least the balance of coverage isn't as disproportionate as that of the Leafs when compared with their Eastern rivals.

I have a difficult time believing the Maple Leafs are a much bigger and better draw than the Canadiens. I can somewhat understand them being bigger than the Senators, although I don't believe that justifies the Leafs coverage dwarfing them.

But the Canadiens have been a long-standing rival of the Maple Leafs for decades. They may have struggled in recent years, but that never stopped HNIC from giving the Leafs equal time when they were one of the worst teams in hockey, so why are the Habs being shut out?

They're just as popular throughout Canada as the Leafs. They a longer and more illustrious history than the Leafs, and most certainly have had more championship success over the past forty year since the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup.

As long as the Leafs are winning, it seems, they get the major coverage, and when they stink, they'll get as much as the Habs and Sens. It's not coincidental Leafs coverage was expanded at the time the Habs fell on hard times.

But what happens this season if the Leafs should struggle badly and the Senators and Canadiens out-perform them?

Don't laugh, Leafs fans, because that remains a strong possibility heading into this season. Even if you don't want to believe, suspend your disbelief for a moment and just consider the possibility.

Are Canadian hockey fans really going to want to watch a struggling, inept Leafs team every Saturday night when there could be two better alternatives to watch in Montreal and Ottawa?

What about fairness? It's supposed to be "Hockey Night in Canada", meaning we get to see all three Eastern teams on a regular basis, rather than one club dominating the coverage.

They can be fair with the coverage of Western Canadian teams, but it's all Leafs all the time when it comes to Eastern coverage.

It's not as though Habs and Sens aren't going to be a good draw. It's not as though CBC's ratings are going to suffer if -horror of horrors - they're seen more often on Saturday nights.

The Canadiens weren't considered bad for ratings ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty years ago. They're a rebuilding club, one that made the post-season two of the last three NHL seasons and upset their long-time rivals, the Boston Bruins, in two thrilling first round series. Why are they ratings poison now?

Despite their snakebitten playoff record, the Senators have been an exciting regular season team. Surely to Buddha it won't hurt the CBC's precious ratings to actually turn a little more coverage toward the Sens?

And no, Leafs fans, this isn't whining. This is about fairness. If HNIC were showing all Habs or all Sens all the time, even during years when they suck swamp water, you'd be complaining just like I am about bias and unbalanced coverage.

The CBC can claim it's all about ratings until the cows come home, but in the eyes of this Canadiens fan (and I'm sure there are thousands of Habs and Senators fans who agree with me on this), they're merely showing their bias toward their hometown favourite at the expense of Montreal and Ottawa.

You can even see it in the coverage of the game. Bob Cole and Harry Neale at times struggle to get the names right of new Senators and Canadiens, but by golly, they know every minute detail of the latest Maple Leafs call-up.

I don't always agree with Don Cherry but I do respect his hockey sense. Still, I gringe every time he turns into a blatant cheerleader for the Maple Leafs.

It's only Hockey Night in Canada when the Western Conference Canadian teams are shown. Those are the games I'll continue to watch regularly, because I know I'll see a good balance of coverage amongst those three teams.

As for the first half of HNIC's doubleheader, unless the Sens or Habs are playing, or the Leafs are up against a team I'm really interested in following this season, I'll be looking elsewhere for my hockey fix at that time on most Saturday nights.

I used to love Hockey Night in Canada, although I still enjoy their coverage of Western Canadian clubs. When they finally get back to fair coverage of all the Eastern Canadian teams, I'll love it again.

Until then, I have no interest in Hockey Night in Toronto.


- In case any of you are wondering, the above link is obviously for donations to the American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Whatever you can give, please do.

- Seems there's a mutiny afoot in the NHLPA regarding how Ted Saskin was hired to replace Bob Goodenow as Executive Director, or at least that's what the Toronto Star claimed on Friday:

"Several NHL players, including Vancouver Canucks veteran Trent Klatt, alleged in a private conference call on Wednesday night that Saskin and union president Trevor Linden (also a Canuck) sidestepped the union's bylaws when Saskin was promoted in July to replace Bob Goodenow."

Apparently Saskins' nomination as the new PA honcho didn't come from the full 35-member PA executive board as required under the PA constitution.

The conference call of its executive board on Wednesday apparently lasted several hours, with an initial vote on Saskin's contract - worth $2 million per season - deadlocked at 17-17 before it was finally ratified 29-6.

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Craig Rivet told the Star that there was no argument over Saskin's qualifications for the job, but rather some players upset over the way he was hired for the job.

So after a contentious several hours, the deal was ratified, yet the Star claims there's an apparent mutiny going on.

Sounds a little sensationalistic, don'cha think?

A mutiny is described as "open rebellion against constituted authority." Based on the available information, this looks less like a mutiny and more like a disagreement.

Mutiny suggests a majority of players, or at least a sizeable number of them, are ready to rise up to contest Saskin's hiring, or potentially overthrow him, and thus throw the NHLPA into turmoil.

That's not the impression I get from reading the Star story, as well as Philadelphia Inquirer hockey columnist Tim Panaccio's take on this:

"(A) small faction of players objected to voting outside the confines of the NHLPA constitution.

According to several people, executive committee members Trent Klatt and Arturs Irbe objected to conducting the vote on the telephone with player representatives because it violated the union constitution.

Union president Trevor Linden and board members Bill Guerin and Brendan Shanahan argued that it was easier to vote that way than to call a special meeting in Toronto, sources said. Training camps will open in less than two weeks.

"We needed someone in there right away," Flyers player representative Robert Esche said. "There are important business deals that have to be done. We didn't have time to call a meeting of the board... . The purpose of the conference call was to vote Ted in."

Esche said some disgruntled players and agents were "stirring the pot" to kill the vote, while pro-Goodenow members remained upset that he was asked to step down in July in favor of Saskin."

Primeau said the grumbling about bypassing a secret vote was "sour grapes. Some hockey players feel they have been stepped on in this entire process. Some don't like how the final [agreement] came out."

There is obviously still some rancour within the NHL ranks, but those who aren't happy over Goodenow's departure and his replacement from Saskin appear to be in the minority.

That's hardly worthy of comments suggesting the PA is facing a mutiny.

Besides, if this were a "mutiny", it comes too late to have any affect on the players salaries over the next four to six years. The new CBA was approved and ratified by the majority of the PA membership, helping to bring the NHL back to the ice after the loss of an entire season to lockout.

Was there some bending of the rules to promote Saskin to the job of Executive Director? Sure, and it's understandable why some players are upset over how he was promoted. That's not going to change things.

What those players will have to do is bring this up the next time there's a general meeting, to ensure that this doesn't happen again. It won't change Saskin's status, but it'll make sure his rehiring or the hiring of his eventual replacement is done above board.

Could some of those on the player executive - Linden, Guerin, Shanahan, Esche, and Primeau - be taking advantage of this situation to put their own agenda above the rest of the executive and the majority of players and agents?

Possibly, and if allowed to fester over time could indeed form the basis for a potential mutiny down the road, particularly if over the life of the current CBA more players grow unhappy over the impact it is having on their salaries and market value.

There's undoubtedly some lingering bitterness amongst some of the players and agents over the way the lockout ended. Considering the length of the battle and the perception that the outcome saw the players getting their butts kicked by the league and the owners, it's not surprising some feel they got the shaft. They're wrong, of course, but that perception is still there amongst a minority of the PA membership.

There's also obviously some real concern over the lack of communication between the player executive, the player reps and the rest of the PA membership, both over Saskin's hiring, and as well over the course of the lockout, where it's become evident that many of the players and their representatives were kept in the dark over the process of negotiations.

That's something the PA is going to have to rectify over the coming months and years to avoid this sort of thing becoming the potential for real mutiny, rather than the grumbling that's presently going on.

So far, however, any dissension over the new CBA has been muted. If some players and agents are unhappy , and undoubtedly they still are, they've been keeping it to themselves for the most part.

They may also be in the minority, and over time if the new CBA proves to be beneficial to them over the run of this deal, any potential for mutiny could vanish outright.

The Star called the Saskin hiring as having "the potential to become the most contentious conflict at the union since founder Allan Eagleson was accused in the '80s of misappropriating players' money."

Whoa, there! I hardly think Saskin's hiring even compares to what Eagleson did to the players during his tenure.

If Saskin had a shady past or had done things as awful as Eagleson, then yes, this would be the most contentious conflict with the union ranks.

But that's not the case here.

Eagleson lied to the players, cheated them out of benefits and stole from their pension funds, and wound up going to prison for his crimes.

Saskin negotiated a CBA that the overwhelming majority of them voted to accept, one that in the long term could be very beneficial to the players and had already proved beneficial to those players eligible for early free agency over the next two years.

Big difference.