Monday, September 7, 2009

This way to coverage at the T.C. Tourney

Ah, the joy of ownership of intellectual property....

I've decided to post my summaries of the games of the 2009 NHL Prospects Tournament back at the place where I started blogging in the first place: my page at  The site formerly known as Connect now is called NHL Fans, and it has recently undergone some technical changes which make it more like Facebook and other social networking sites (ugh).  Even so, I steadfastly refuse to sign up for Facebook or Twitter or those other places, and have elected to remain on board at NHL Fans. 

I will still keep the bulk of my writing material here at the Odd Man Rush, but my profile page will direct you to my NHL Fans page, which is where my blogs for the Prospects Tourney will be.  The user agreement for NHL Fans states you cannot post material which you post on NHL Fans anywhere else on the web.  I'd rather not test the powers that be (not this week anyway), so I'll provide a link to where you need to go.  In the meantime, I gotta get ready for Day 2.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

T.C. Tourney Update

So here we are, about 26 hours prior to the start of the 2009 NHL Prospects Tournament, something I suppose qualifies as the unofficial start of the hockey season for me personally (this, despite working a Traverse City North Stars preseason game two nights ago - against the Alpena IceDiggers - , which truly was a warm-up for all parties involved, on-ice and off-ice).

The only real revelation I have to offer since my last offering about the Prospects Tourney is that the NHL Network will indeed NOT be returning to reprise their (tape-delayed) coverage.  Tourney director Pete Correia informed me Thursday night that the NHL Network would not be able to get their television crew to Northern Michigan to call the games.  Safe to say that'll be a bit of a disappointment for everyone not living near T.C. or traveling to Northern Michigan over the Labor Day weekend. will be providing updates, coverage and blogs from Centre I.C.E., so hopefully I'll be able to pose the question to Brad Holland, Mike Morreale, or Dan Rosen (all three of whom I was able to chat with at last year's tourney) regarding the NHL Network's absence.  Either way, it looks to be an excellent tourney will be on deck, with some top notch talent taking the ice tomorrow (which I had previosuly outlined last week).  Outside of, it'll be difficult to find coverage of this tournament (but I know somewhere that'll provide coverage - HINT, HINT, WINK, WINK....).

One final strange observation I noticed with the eight rosters was that Columbus' and Minnesota's lineups were mostly comprised of free agent tryouts.  Perhaps in the case of the Blue Jackets, it illustrates the dearth of yougn talent already on their main roster (Filatov, Brassard, Mason, Voracek, et al).  Meanwhile, it shows how Minnesota seems to be drawing more from the U.S. junior/NCAA ranks, as prospects choosing this route for development are ineligible for this tournament, thanks to NCAA eligibility rules.  It'll be interesting to see how this affects both teams' chances at wrestling the crown away from Dallas, last year's champs.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The deal of a lifetime....literally

Top story of the week: Roberto Luongo is apparently a Vancouver Canuck for life. News broke Wednesday that the prolific netminder inked a 12-year contract extension worth $64 million.  For those doing the math at home, that’ll be a salary cap hit of $5.33 million starting next season and ending after the 2021-22 season.

Normally, this news wouldn’t strike me as odd, considering the Canucks have locked up their goalie, their captain, their franchise player (sorry, Daniel and Henrik). And $5.33 seems about the present-day market value for an elite level goaltender.

No, what threw me off was the length of this deal.

Now let’s think about it for a minute. He has this upcoming season remaining on his current deal, so when this new extension kicks in, he’ll be age 31 when it starts. Perhaps more importantly, “Bobby Lu” will be 43 when this deal ends.

While I certainly look at the length of this deal as asinine, I also see it as symptomatic of a trend spiraling WAAAAY out of control.

And do we have to blame for this? None other than New York Islanders owner Charles Wang and GM Garth Snow (at the time, newly christened in his role as GM). Wang and Snow signed middling goaltender Rick DiPietro to a $67.5 million deal….over 15 YEARS.  At the time, it was the longest contract signed in pro sports history (and Snow was only 5 months removed from his role as DiPietro’s backup in net on the Island).

I suppose I can see what Wang and Snow were thinking with this deal. They’ll sign DiPietro to a reasonable deal (from the dollar amount) that locks their goalie (the franchise cornerstone who made the aforementioned Luongo expandable for the Isles), the guy they are going to build have be the cornerstone for years to come, to rebuild this once-proud franchise.  And as prices for top-notch players are likely to continue to escalate, he'd be come at a fixed cost that'll be locked in.

We all know the rest. DiPietro has been injured for the majority of the past 1 ½ seasons with concussion, hip and knee problems. Even when healthy, it’s safe to say he’s never really been considered an elite goaltender, and considering the extent of his injury history, his potential may never come into full fruition. Surely a far cry from what Wang and Snow had envisioned.

And of course, DiPietro is guaranteed all that payola. And in this day-and-age of current finances in the NHL, that means a hefty bite out of the Isles’ salary cap….until 2021. And a buyout of his deal, should he be forced to retire early, will take even longer to clear off the books.

Apparently all 29 other GM’s in the NHL took notice. But despite the criticism of the Isles’ deal with DiPietro, many other GM’s in the league seemed to follow in Wang’s and Snow’s footsteps by signing elite level players (either current franchise cornerstones or free agents waiting to cash in on July 1st). A short list of lengthy contracts which have been doled out is below, with the length and cost of each deal, as well as the age of the player when the deal kicks in (I’ll have you do the math on how old the player will be when the deal ends):

• Alex Ovechkin – 13 years, $124 million (22)
• Mike Richards – 12 years, $69 million (23)
• Daniel Briere – 8 years, $52 million (29)
• Henrik Zetterberg – 12 years, $73 million (28)
• Brian Campbell – 8 years, $57.12 million (29)
• Johan Franzen – 11 years, $43.5 million (29)
• Vincent LeCavalier = 11 years, $85 million (29)
• Marian Hossa – 12 years, $62.8 million (30)
• Mattias Ohlund = 7 years, $26.25 million (33)

Quite the trend indeed.  Every player listed will be in their mid 30’s to early 40’s when their contract ends.

Maybe this is just me talking, but the length of these contracts seem quite irresponsible. Granted we’ve been spoiled in recent years by the brilliant and lengthy careers of NHL legends (Gretzky, Messier, Sakic, Yzerman, Bourque, Chelios, Andreychuk, Francis, Hull, Stevens, to name just a few), and there continues to be advances in conditioning and training methods, sports nutrition, medical and surgical procedures, and rehabilitative techniques. But take into account the average NHL career still only lasts 5.5 seasons.  And it’s not exactly checkers (no pun intended) these guys are playing. Hockey is perhaps the most physically demanding of all competitive sports.

Only a select few are able to play NHL-caliber hockey into their late 30’s/early 40’s, and in nearly all cases, they are players of the Hall of Fame ilk.  Even so, they must find ways to stay injury-free. That’s one of the biggest X-factors of all that can shorten a player’s career (not to mention team politics, young players coming up in the minors, and just sheer luck).

And how many times have we seen athletes (in all sports) have themselves a career season in the last year of their contract, sign a multi-million dollar deal (either with their current team or the highest bidder), never to be heard from again for the sake of relevance?  I'm not saying that's going to happen to Luongo or the other players listed above, but you've gotta admit players who cash that big paycheck seem to take a little (if not more) of the edge of their game that got them to that pointn in their career in the first place (read: money and job security makes athletes soft).

Apparently the owners and general managers who orchestrated these deals can justify that the reward is greater than the risk, but time will tell if these contracts prove to be wise or foolish. At the moment, I’m leaning towards the latter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Heatley to San Jose? Not if recent history has a say

One of the stories that has dominated the hockey landscape this summer has been the Dany Heatley saga. Not long after a disappointing season last year (both for “The Heater” and the Sens), the story broke that Heatley wanted out of Ottawa.  (Hmmm, where have we heard this one before?)  A week and a half ago, Heatley reinforced his stance after staying silent this summer by clarifying to the media that “over the last two years and more recently over the past year, I feel my role was diminished. This past season, it diminished a lot more.”  The story has sparked plenty of headlines this offseason, from interest to outrage.  Apparently, Dany has decided he and current Sens coach Cory Clouston don’t and won’t see eye-to-eye on Heatley’s ice time (which was reduced after Clouston replaced Craig Hartsburg as head coach, and strangely coincided with improved play from the Senators). A potential trade to Edmonton went POOF! when Heatley vetoed the move to northern Alberta (ah, the joy of the no-trade clause), and Sens GM Bryan Murray has been unable to find another suitor with enough cap room or one willing enough to meet Ottawa’s asking price (and we certainly know one place Dany-boy isn’t going to).  Edmonton has since retracted their offer, and now the L.A. Kings have pulled their name from prospective destinations for the two-time 50-goal scorer.

Meanwhile, out on the West Coast, another headline seemed to coincide nicely with Heatley’s reiterations. Recent rumblings of discontent rippled through the wire this past week when San Jose coach Todd McLellan stated to the press that the Sharks’ captaincy (as well as the assistant captaincies) will be up for grabs this training camp.  In short, Patrick Marleau no longer wears the “C” by the bay, this following an MVP caliber season. For now, anyway. Perhaps this could be a way for McLellan to shake things up for these perennial under-achievers, or there may well be a rift of some sort between coach and captain. The true answers will have to wait for what the future unfolds, but for now all that can be done is to speculate. And much speculation has indeed taken place.

Predictably, these two seemingly separate stories have somehow become inter-twined, as the rumor mill has been working overtime to perpetuate countless Heatley-for-Marleau trade rumors. Now, by this point, you can see where I’m going with this. “He’s about to propose a trade between the Sharks and Senators sending Heatley to the Bay and Marleau to the Canadian capital”, you say. “Could he be any more obvious?”

I will admit, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Marleau-for-Heatley deal happen. With the recent deal sending Christian Erhoff and Brad Lukowich from San Jose to Vancouver for prospects Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi (freeing up nearly $5 million in cap room for the Sharks), the buzz has intensified. But a straight-up for these two A-listers will require more maneuvering. Swapping Heatley’s bloated contract ($7.5 million) for Marleau’s ($6.3 million, in his final year of his current deal) saves Ottawa only $1.2 million. With the Sens currently $2.8 million OVER the salary cap (at least according to the most recent numbers I can find), additional purging must be done by Ottawa. Additionally, at a glance it appears San Jose will need to sign a few more players for depth for 2009-10 following the departures of Mike Grier and Marcel Goc, the retirements of Jeremy Roenick and Claude Lemieux, and the non-tendering of RFA Lukas Kaspar.

But all of this forecasting and prognostication leads me to this question: What ever happened to the big "one-star-for-another-star” trade?

One of the things I was expecting to see in the salary cap era was a little more creativity in the trading department. But the general managers of the NHL’s 30 teams have greatly disappointed me in this department. The majority of deals seen these days are salary dumps or out of desperation at the trade deadline. Sure, in several cases they fit a glaring need for at least one team involved, but the economics of the present-day game take into account getting “more bang for your buck” even more than ever. I’d think trading one proven star for another would be a wiser investment than dealing for middling players and prospects with promise and potential, but every scenario is weighed differently. Plus, most GM’s don’t seem to be willing to part with “sure things” in order to make the missing piece of the proverbial puzzle fit. And let’s face it, bloated contracts of under-achieving (or in this case, disgruntled) players are scrutinized even more than ever.

The vast majority of the trades in the salary cap era involving A-list superstars have involved sending mid-level NHLers, prospects, and draft picks in the other direction. It’s only fitting that Heatley was involved in the last true superstar-for-superstar swap when the Sens sent Marian Hossa (along with Greg de Vries) to Atlanta to get Heatley prior to the start of 2005-06.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the Joe Thornton-from-Boston-to-San Jose deal nearly four years ago, or the Hossa trade from Atlanta to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline two seasons ago just don’t have the same amazement factor to it, since an elite level player didn’t go in the other direction. I know GM’s today are always factoring in the maximum value they can get for a superstar, and Bryan Murray is undoubtedly taking this approach. But I can’t help but feel the longer Heatley stays in Ottawa, the greater the animosity will build in the Sens’ lockerroom. That kind of caustic environment in the clubhouse typically ends in a disasterous result on the ice, essentially ending the Sens’ season before it starts. Seems unwise to me to keep a malcontent player around, but I’ve been wrong about these things before. I can only see him giving his best effort night-in and night-out in an Ottawa sweater for the sole purpose of padding his trade value and marketability, enabling a quick getaway from the city he once rejoiced.

I guess I’m not necessarily advocating for a Heatley-for-Marleau trade. I could outline a number of reasons either for or against the deal. However, I really don’t care what the Senators choose to do with their disgruntled sniper. But I know I’ll continue to hear about it regardless of how this situation turns out. I’d simply like to see one of these ridiculous trade rumors come true. Brian Lawton aside (simply based on his inexperience), the days of the maverick wheeling-and-dealing GM seem to be dead. It’s disappointing to see the end of the era of the big trade. These re-runs of “Deal or No Deal” are a huge let-down, since we already know how they will end.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The List: Absurd Fantasy Hockey Team Names

One of the strange little things I like to do from time to time is conjure up names for bands, most of which border on absurdity and act as a feeble attempt to humor myself and those around me. I think I started doing this after seeing the movie P.C.U. (dubbed “The ‘Animal House’ of the 90’s”) back in college (back when Comedy Central used to run it on a seemingly continuous repeating loop). After the gang at 'The Pit' christened their band Everyone Gets Laid, I figured I’d try my hand.
This behavior has now carried over to naming my fantasy hockey team. While listening to hockey podcast The Program this past weekend, someone in the chat room announced their fantasy team would be named “The Patrick Kane Taxi Service”. Not much explanation needed, and it’s good for more than a few laughs….how perfect!
So in trying to come up with something at least equivalent in wittiness, I thought up of a few team names you may (or, more than likely, may not) encounter in your fantasy leagues this upcoming season. Mind you, very few of these team names start with a specific locale and are followed by a pluralized noun (i.e. the Chicago Blackhawks), and some of them could even double as a band name. But who cares? Normal is boring. So here goes:
  • Sean Avery’s Sloppy Seconds
  • Raycroft for Vezina
  • Third-String Goaltenders
  • The Taylor Hall Sweepstakes
  • Lower Body Injuries
  • Healthy Scratches
  • Chris Pronger (Hearts) Kittens
  • The Dany Heatley School of Driving
  • Lanny McDonald’s Mustache
  • Craig MacTavish’s Helmet
  • Bobby Clarke’s Front Teeth
  • Phoenix Red-Headed Stepchildren
  • Training Camp All-Stars
  • Lockout Hall-of-Famers
  • Bordering on Irrelevance
  • One-Game Wonders
  • Theo Fleury’s Highchair
  • Brian Gionta’s Stilts
  • Kris Draper’s Missing Teeth
  • Jeremy Roenick’s Sense of Shame
  • Phil Kessel's Left Nut 
  • 43-Year Cup Drought
  • Tampa Bay Musical Chairs
  • MLSE Billionaires
  • The Broad Street Ballerinas
  • Fans Dressed As Empty Seats
  • Fire Bettman
  • St. Balsillie
  • Anemic Power Play
  • Kerry Fraser Is Still Wrong
  • The Ghost of Clarence Campbell
  • Worst Playoff Beard Ever
  • Dan Bylsma’s Burrito Fetish
  • Don Cherry’s Dry Cleaners
  • Melrose’s Mullet-teers
  • Pierre McGuire’s Bald Spot
  • Vote For Rory 
  • The Curse of Sarah Palin
  • D.F.L. (Dead F---ing Last) 
Yeah, some of these are obvious, some are silly, some are just in bad taste (you be the judge), but these are the measures I resort to for cheap amusement. If your sense of humor is in line with mine (and even if it’s not), feel free to add your favorite name for your fantasy hockey team, however funny, irreverent, ridiculous, or head-scratching it may be.