Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010-11 Eastern Conference Preview

With the start of the NHL season just days away, it's time to take a look at each of the league's 30 teams. In the first of a two-part series, here's a look at the Eastern Conference.

Tampa Bay Lightning
The good: Are just one good break away from winning the division, if a four-team midair plane crash could really be described as a good break.
The bad: Every time they win the Stanley Cup, the entire league needs to take a year off to recover from the shock.
What to watch: Their hotshot new center who came out of nowhere, was signed to minimum salary deal, and looks suspiciously like Steve Yzerman with a fake moustache and glasses.

Montreal Canadiens
The good: Could contend for the Stanley Cup if Carey Price can handle the pressure of being a starting goalie in Montreal.
The bad: Could also contend if Patrick Roy returns to action after inventing a time machine, which seems equally likely at this point.
What to watch: If you must park you car on a Montreal street during the playoffs, at least have the sense of humour to fill the trunk with unpopped popcorn kernels first.

Pittsburgh Penguins
The good: Thanks to their participation in the Winter Classic and the accompanying HBO reality series, will finally get some media attention.
The bad: Have shown an impressive ability to win the big game, but realistically can't rely on playing Washington every night.
What to watch: Whether Sidney Crosby can find chemistry with his first line wingers, two cardboard cutouts of Sidney Crosby.

Washington Capitals
The good: Haven't choked away a soul-crushing loss in over three months.
The bad: In search of a challenge, Alexander Ovechkin is insisting on playing the entire season left-handed.
What to watch: Coach Bruce Boudreau, who always maintains an air of professionalism when arguing with referees despite their inability to resist repeatedly poking him in the tummy.

Toronto Maple Leafs
The good: Nazim Kadri's failure to develop into a blue chip prospect is really just a clever ruse to prevent him from getting traded to Boston.
The bad: Have struggled with unrealistic fan expectations, in the sense that fans have expected them to ice 12 forwards who know how to play hockey.
What to watch: The team should be well prepared for the rigors of an 82-game regular season, thanks to their 82-game preseason.

New York Islanders
The good: Have placed the hopes for the blueline on the shoulders of Mark Streit, which should work out fine as long as they remembered to make sure he doesn't have a weak labrum first.
The bad: John Tavares failed to live up to expectations last year, as fans who shook his hand reported that their leprosy barely improved at all.
What to watch: Owner Charles Wang recently spent $250,000 to upgrade the Coliseum's 38-year-old locker room, which for the first time this season will feature electricity, running water and walls.

Carolina Hurricanes
The good: The retirement of Rod Brind'Amour has made entire roster, on average, about 300% more attractive.
The bad: In an attempt to appeal to NASCAR fans, coaches have instructed the players to skate as fast as they can but only ever turn left.
What to watch: Paul Maurice's lips, as he seems to mutter "At least I'm not still with the Leafs" over and over again during blowout losses.

New Jersey Devils
The good: Apparently signed some Russian free agent who's pretty good; you'd think there would have been some media coverage about that.
The bad: Are pretty weak at backup goaltender, which could come up three or even four times this season.
What to watch: The look on Ilya Kovalchuk's face when he realizes he's going to spend the next 15 years of his life executing the neutral zone trap in New Jersey.

Buffalo Sabres
The good: Front office should be well-rested after recent four month vacation.
The bad: Word has got out around the league that Ryan Miller is surprisingly weak on 3-on-0s.
What to watch: Tyler Myers' neck, which at its current rate of growth will be awarded its own expansion team by 2012.

New York Rangers
The good: Have only four more years until the Derek Boogard contract comes off the books.
The bad: Marian Gaborik played in 76 games last season; regression to the mean tell us that this year he will play -16.
What to watch: Whether the NHL's new rule against blindside elbows to the head also applies to coaches who get frustrated with their own players.

Philadelphia Flyers
The good: Their players are far less likely to suffer catastrophic injuries at the hands of Chris Pronger than those from other teams, unless they do something stupid like attend practice.
The bad: Entire roster lives in fear that they're half a bad game away from losing their jobs to Michael Vick.
What to watch: Might eventually decide to try having one of those things… what do you call them… with the big pads and funny mask… you know what, forget it, it's probably not important.

Atlanta Thrashers
The good: Will no longer fail to meet fan expectations, as that would require both expectations and fans.
The bad: Must improve on disappointing all-time record in nationally televised games of 0-1.
What to watch: Your lunch, around Dustin Byfuglien.

Florida Panthers
The good: Could introduce a "take a slapshot at an orphan" promotion and still not be the most hated sports team in Miami.
The bad: Warm local weather makes good ice quality difficult to maintain in May and June, theoretically.
What to watch: If they're on: something, anything else.

Ottawa Senators
The good: Hey cool, Mike Fisher was totally in that latest Carrie Underwood video!
The bad: Although come to think of it, why was he wearing a Predators jersey?
What to watch: Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliot will battle for the job of third-string goaltender, which will be important since the team has decided not to employ a first or second-string goaltender.

Boston Bruins
The good: Tuukka Rask can learn plenty from veteran Tim Thomas, assuming he aspires to someday be a ridiculously overpaid backup.
The bad: The long-term loss of perennial 90-point man Marc Savard has left the team with a deep hole at fourth-line center.
What to watch: Their amateur scouting department, as they spend every evening watching Maple Leaf highlights and high-fiving.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tips for dominating your fantasy hockey draft

After drafting my fifth Red Wing, I
realized my magazine was from 2002.
As the days count down to the start of the NHL's regular season, hockey fans are preparing for an annual September tradition: their fantasy hockey drafts.

A strong draft can give you an enormous advantage in your league, one that could translate into a spot in the winner's circle at the end of the season. The key is to be prepared, and to go into your draft with a focused strategy.

Here are some fantasy draft tips that will help you dominate your league this year.
  • Remember that a new coach can have a big influence on a team's offensive output. So make sure to factor in the impact of Tom Renney in Edmonton, John Maclean in New Jersey, and whoever will be coaching the Rangers by mid-December.

  • Instead of using traditional categories like goals and assists, suggest that your pool move to more advanced stats like Corsi and Delta SOT that do a better job of measuring a player's true value. This will give you an advantage during the draft, since your opponents will be distracted thinking about how much they'd like to punch you.

  • If you're lucky enough to get the first overall pick in your draft, be sure to take Alexander Ovechkin. Because if you don't and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis finds out about it, uh oh, here come the blog posts.

  • Be sure to come to your draft with a nice thick magazine. This will give you something to hit your laptop with in case your wireless connection keeps cutting out.

  • Make sure to move Carey Price up your rankings if you play in a league that awards points for bitter, bitter tears.

  • Every year there are a few players who greatly exceed even the most optimistic projections, and who can almost single-handedly determine the winner of a pool. You should probably try to figure out who those guys are going to be this year and then draft a whole bunch of them.

  • As of this week, Vesa Toskala had yet to sign with an NHL team. Until he does, don't forget to reduce your scoring projections for every player in the league by about 25%.

  • Consider using a late pick on Wade Redden if you're looking for a sleeper on the blueline who can quarterback a powerplay and put up decent point totals. You did say you're doing an AHL pool, right?

  • It's always a good strategy to load up on players from teams like the Maple Leafs and Senators, who should finish the season strong since they won't have to save up their energy for the playoffs.

  • Don't be "that guy" who goes to a hockey game and yells at the players to let them know they're on your fantasy team. To really get their attention, you'll need to whisper it from under their bed just as they're falling asleep.

  • Don't forget, before spending a first round pick on Ilya Kovalchuk always check with Gary Bettman first to find out if it's OK.

  • Be aware of your league's roster rules and the potential consequences of not following them. For example, failing to have two NHL goaltenders on your roster can result in invalid lineups, forfeited matchups, and a front office job offer from the Flyers.

  • If you had Olli Jokinen on your team last year and were constantly disappointed by his lacklustre performance, for God's sakes don't go out and reacquire him for this season.

  • Sure, it's always more fun to play in a pool with an "easy money" guy who puts together a terrible team that finishes dead last every year. But John Ferguson Jr. already told you that he's busy this week, so stop calling him.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Signs you're getting cut this week

He should never have
fought Georges LaRock.
Hockey-starved fans are in a good mood these days thanks to the official arrival of the NHL preseason. Teams opened training camp last week, with exhibition games starting tonight.

History tells us that the preseason will bring a handful of feel-good stories, as virtual unknowns come out of nowhere to make their NHL dreams a reality. But unfortunately that's the exception, and most of the long shots won't come close to making it.

With some teams inviting over 60 players to camp and only 23 jobs available, teams will move quickly to trim down their rosters. And with less than three weeks until the season opener, plenty of players will be sent packing as early as the next few days.

Since I know that many of my readers are aspiring NHL players, I think it's only fair to set expectations now – before the cuts start. So if you're currently attending a training camp, please review the list below for some subtle signs that you're going to be getting bad news this week.
  • When you ask the coach how long your shifts should be, he replies "How would I know, I'm not the late-night manager of a gas station convenience store."

  • Instead of learning the correct pronunciation of your name, the team's play-by-play guy spends exhibition games referring to you as "Cutty McPack'n'Cry".

  • You're so woefully and indisputably terrible at hockey that Glen Sather only gave you a three-year multimillion dollar free agent deal, instead of the four years you were asking for.

  • You overhear the head trainer asking the coach whether you having your heart cruelly ripped out and stomped on in front of all your friends and family should be listed as an "upper body injury".

  • Every time you run into anyone from the team's AHL affiliate they seem to be overly friendly towards you, saying things like "Nice to see you, Jeff" and "Talk to you again real soon, Mr. Finger."

  • Your scouting report in the team media guide is only a half page long, but it contains over a dozen references to the term "Grimson-esque".

  • At the completion of the first shift of your preseason debut, the NHL interrupted the game with a ceremony honouring you for becoming the league's career leader in giveaways.

  • In NHL 11, the only category where you have a decent rating is "filling out unemployment insurance forms".

  • After leaving you bleeding on the ice after elbowing you in the head and then crosschecking you in the throat during a scrimmage, Chris Pronger can't even be bothered to stomp on your leg.

  • While it's true that training camp can sometimes provide an opportunity to earn the respect of the coaching staff by instigating physical altercations with teammates, everyone just seems annoyed with your continued efforts back at the hotel to start a team pillow fight.

  • Daniel Alfredsson just guaranteed that you'd make the team.

  • When you ask the team's union rep about submitting your annual escrow payment, he tells you not to worry about it since they don't accept food stamps.

  • They say that players who aren't expected to make the team are usually given high jersey numbers, which makes you feel pretty confident since you were given an eight turned sideways.

  • The league has asked an arbitrator to nullify your contract since it's unrealistic to expect that you'll still be playing hockey by the end of it, which is odd since you signed a one-year deal.

  • Dan Ellis keeps telling you how much less stressful your life will be next week when you're making minimum wage.

Friday, September 17, 2010

NHL referees and linesmen head to the bargaining table

Everybody click that ad over there,
baby DGB needs a new pair of shoes.
There's plenty of concern these days about an impending work stoppage in the NHL. From the hiring of potential hard-liner Donald Fehr as NHLPA head to the bitter fight over Ilya Kovalchuk's contract, there's good reason to believe that players may be headed to the picket line in time for the 2012-13 season.

But there's more labour strife on the horizon, and this time it comes with a much closer timeframe. The NHL's referees and linesmen have been without a contract since August 31, and while negotiations on a new CBA are ongoing there are reports that the league is in the early stages of contacting potential replacement officials.

What's behind the stalemate? Sources tell me that while money is a focus, it's only part of the discussion. As it turns out, NHL referees and linesman have a long list of issues they'd like to see addressed in a new agreement.

My spies have supplied me with some of the officials' demands:
  • When we agreed to the clause in the last CBA about always giving 110%, we didn't realize it was referring to our escrow payments.

  • We're willing to accept the league's demand that we no longer publicly vow to target Canucks winger Alex Burrows with bogus penalty calls, as long as everyone agrees that we can still secretly vow to target Canucks winger Alex Burrows with bogus penalty calls.

  • We don't want to seem like spoilsports, but we're really not big fans of that "everyone in attendance wins one free slice of pizza if the referee takes a puck in the throat" promotion.

  • Every time anyone calls a penalty against Tomas Kaberle, they get an angry phone call from his father.

  • We're getting a little tired of ignorant coaches calling us blind, when in fact many of our members don't meet the technical standards for legal blindness in several states and provinces.

  • Let's just say that it's not exactly fun breaking up fights between Colton Orr and Matt Carkner knowing that one linesman is inevitably about to get 230 lbs of dead weight dropped on top of him.

  • We just want the same thing any other union gets: Time-and-a-half for working overtime.

  • Whenever we skate onto the ice we can't tell if the fans are saying "boo" or "I hope somebody boo-urns your house down you soulless cretin", although now that we see it written down like that it probably doesn't matter very much.

  • We find this whole "mandatory penalty for high-sticking" thing way too restrictive, and would prefer to go back to it being optional like during the 1993 playoffs.

  • Hey, just a thought, but maybe when the league feels like taking a break from buying high-def TVs for the video review war room they could invest a few dollars so that we don't have to call them on a phone with a twisty cord from 1983.

  • If we're being completely honest, not a single one of us knows what that trapezoid thing behind the net is supposed to accomplish.

  • Now that Brian Gionta is apparently going to be named captain of the Canadiens, it's going to be murder on our knees having to kneel down every time he wants to discuss a call.

  • Look, we know the media has a job to do, but it would be nice to be able to work just one game without Ines Sainz throwing herself at us afterwards.

  • While we understand that the mascot with the hot dog gun is popular with fans, that still doesn't explain why he gets to kick in the door to our dressing room and fire off multiple rounds at point-blank range during every intermission.

  • It's been years since any coach was kind enough to offer us a donut.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A hockey fan's guide to the NFL

Hey Peyton, on a scale of one to ten
how popular is the NHL down there?
With the NHL season is still three weeks away, sports fans got a boost this weekend with the return of the NFL. By the beginning of next month, both leagues will be in full swing and often competing head-to-head.

But while the two leagues share a spot on the fall calendar, the similarities often end there. Football and hockey offer up vastly different products, with significant differences in rules, strategy and even terminology. It can all be very confusing for a hockey fan trying to keep tabs on professional football.

In an attempt to simplify things, I've compiled a hockey fan's guide to the NFL. Clip and save this handy list in case you find yourself getting confused in the weeks ahead.

NHL: Delusional Jets fans actually think their team has a chance of returning to Winnipeg.
NFL: Delusional Jets fans actually think their team has a chance of returning to the Super Bowl.

NFL: "Safety" refers to a player who lines up deep in the secondary and is responsible for covering passing plays.
NHL: "Safety" refers the act of not doing anything that might make Zdeno Chara angry.

NFL: Although they realize that it's probably unrealistic given the rate of injury, every player starts the season with the goal of playing in 16 games.
NHL: Rick DiPietro

NHL: Every year, fans can look forward to a gruelling two-month marathon known as "the Stanley Cup playoffs".
NFL: Every year, fans can look forward to a gruelling two-month marathon known as "Brett Favre decides whether or not he wants to play this year".

NFL: A "dime back" refers to a sixth defensive back, who enters the game on likely passing downs.
NHL: A "dime back" refers to what you'd better be ready to give Patrick Kane once he's paid you for his cab ride.

NFL: There are several teams in the southern United States, who regularly play in front of sold out crowds filled with rabid fans with a deep appreciation for the sport.
NHL: There are several teams in the southern United States.

NHL: "Dump and chase" refers to the strategy of shooting the puck deep into the opponent's zone and then attempting to retrieve it.
NFL: "Dump and chase" refers to a typical night in college for Najeh Davenport.

NFL: Teams will occasionally score from up to 60 yards away as the result of a play called "the Hail Mary".
NHL: Teams will occasionally score from up to 60 yards away as the result of a play called "playing against a team that employs Vesa Toskala".

NFL: "First and ten" refers to the down and distance at the start of an offensive drive.
NHL: "First and ten" would be Brian Burke's answer to the question "What kind of draft picks did you give up for Phil Kessel, and how many scouts did you fire afterwards?"

NHL: For decades, opponents of the Montreal Canadiens have been haunted by the ghosts of legendary players of the past.
NFL: For decades, fans of the Oakland Raiders have been haunted by the ghost of owner Al Davis.

NFL: "Bump and run" is a defensive technique that focuses on slowing down the receiver at the line of scrimmage.
NHL: "Bump and run" is Daniel Carcillo's strategy against any player who is tougher than Marion Gaborik.

NHL: John Madden is occasionally photographed cavorting shirtless in the back of a limo.
NFL: Oh good lord let's hope not.

NFL: "The Music City Miracle" refers to a last-second kickoff return that allowed the Tennessee Titans to advance in the playoffs.
NHL: "The Music City Miracle" refers to an Ottawa Senators third-liner managing to marry Carrie Underwood.

NHL: The Toronto Maple Leafs are often called "the Dallas Cowboys of the NHL".
NFL: The Dallas Cowboys are often called "the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NFL" by people who are trying to get Jerry Jones to hang himself.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dear son, welcome to life as a Leaf fan

The horror...
Last month my wife and I welcomed our first son to the world. Like any proud father, I didn't want to waste any time teaching him the important values that I hope he'll carry with him throughout his life. So a few days ago, I sat him down for a very important discussion.

Hey little guy. Wakey wakey. Daddy wants to share something very important with you.

Do you see this friendly looking blue thing right here? That's a Toronto Maple Leafs logo. It probably looks familiar, since there's at least one on every item of clothing you own right now. And that's because you're going to be a Maple Leafs fan, just like your dad.

I want to tell you all about the Leafs. I want to teach you about Dave Keon and Borje Salming and Mats Sundin and Teeder Kennedy. So let's look through daddy's old scrapbook together and I'll tell you all about it.

Look, here's a picture of George Armstrong. He was called "Chief". He's scoring the clinching goal into an empty net to beat the Montreal Canadiens. Look how happy everyone looks! Do you see all the people cheering? They're happy because they just saw the Leafs win their most recent Stanley Cup.

What's that? No. No, there's aren't any pictures of this that are in color.

Because they didn't have color photography back in 1967, that's why. Well I'm sorry, that's just the way it is. Look, if you want to see them in color so badly, go ask your sister if you can borrow her crayons.

Hey, come on now little buddy, stop crying.

It's not like Leaf fans haven't had anything to cheer about since then. Let me tell you about 1993. That's the year that the Leafs went on a magical run and almost made the Stanley Cup finals. They had Dougie Gilmour's spinorama and Felix Potvin's brilliance and Wendel Clark punched out Marty McSorley's eyeball. It was probably the greatest stretch of hockey I've ever seen.

Yes, that's right, 1993.

Well of course that seems like a long time ago to you, you're two weeks old. Right, OK, I guess that was 17 years ago, sure. Nice math skills, Archimedes, do you have a point?

I said stop crying!

Look, I never said being a Leaf fan was going to be easy, OK? But I'm not raising you to be some sort of front-running bandwagon jumper who elbows his way to the head of the line when the team is winning and then bails out as soon as times get tough. The world already has too many Senator fans.

No, you're going to stick this out until the bitter end, and here's why: It will be worth it some day.

If you don't believe me, ask a Chicago Blackhawks fan. They hadn't won a Stanley Cup since 1961, but that all changed this season. For a few years they finished in last place just like the Leafs, but now they have a roster full of young stars that they drafted and their team is …

What? No. No, the Leafs can't just go out and do that too. Because they don't have any draft picks, that's why. Because they gave them all to another team, OK? I don't know, because it seemed like a good idea at the time!

No, daddy is not crying. Hey, isn't there an episode of The Backyardigans you should be watching?

Look, kid. I know it seems hopeless. I know it even seems a little bit cruel to raise you as a Leafs fan. I know that whenever you see Daddy thinking about the Leafs he's making angry faces and muttering mean words and drinking from one of his special grownup bottles.

But here's the thing, son: Some day, the Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup. It won't happen this year, or the next, or even the one after that. But it will happen one day. And when that day arrives, all the near misses and the lost seasons and the jokes and the blown calls and the sleepless nights will just make it all that much sweeter.

When that moment comes, some day a very long time from now, you're going to appreciate it in a way that only a true fan can. Because you'll have earned it.

That's why you're going to be a Leaf fan, son, whether you like it or not. But if those nice folks from Children Services ask, you chose this of your own free will, OK?

Now let's go get you changed. I think somebody made a Toskala in his diaper.

Monday, September 6, 2010

An in-depth review of NHL 11

Today is one of the most anticipated days on the hockey calendar, as it marks the annual release of the new version of EA Sports' enormously popular NHL video game series.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy, and I can report that this year's version, NHL 11, includes plenty of new and upgraded features. Unfortunately, it includes a few bugs as well.

Here are some of my first impressions after several days with the new game:
  • One heavily promoted new feature sees the introduction of broken sticks, which will crack or even shatter completely at the slightest contact several times each game. In an additional attempt at realism, the same technology was also applied to each of Rick DiPietro's body parts.

  • The game features revolutionary puck physics that are hyper-realistic. When a shot is deflected you can see the puck fly into the stands. When a pass is deflected you can see the puck roll into the corner. And when the Flyers lose a game in the finals you can see the puck get tossed into an abandoned dumpster behind a convenience store near Chris Pronger's house.

  • Unfortunately there are several bugs, including a strange offseason roster glitch I ran into in franchise mode. After finally winning my first Stanley Cup after decades of trying, I went to my roster screen and noticed that half my team was suddenly listed as playing for Atlanta.

  • The game includes an improved breakaway and shootout system that promises to completely revolutionize the way you randomly swing your stick back and forth before skating into the goalie without even getting a shot off.

  • Fans of "Swingers", rejoice: You can finally make a player's head bleed again, although in a slightly different manner than previous versions. This year, instead of throwing a body check or winning a fight, you now cause blood to pour out of an opponent's ears by forcing him to listen to the Leafs' pre-game theme song "Free To Be".

  • Negotiating long-term deals with free agents is so realistic that the game kept interrupting me with empty threats about voiding contracts I signed while playing NHL 10.

  • The game includes an elaborate new "Ultimate Team" mode that allows you to build a dream team by mixing and matching trading cards, a feature that will no doubt prove extremely popular with gamers who accidentally buy NHL 11 because the game store was all out of Pokemon.

  • There seems to have been some sort of audio mix-up with EA's FIFA soccer game. When I played a game in Montreal, the crowd just kept doing old soccer chants from the 1980s.

  • The game features a fully customizable sound system with a slider for each element of background noise. For example, you can slide the music from "high" to "low", the crowd noise from "loud" to "silent", and Pierre McGuire from "excruciatingly loud" to "oh good lord even when I turn off the game I can still hear him in my nightmares".

  • Oops…. Typo alert! For the 19th version in a row, the year listed in the game's title doesn't match the year in which the game is actually released.

  • The game features an in-depth sneak preview of the 2012-13 version. To access it, follow these steps: Put down your controller; turn off your game system; and watch poker reruns on TV while drinking scotch and crying.

  • Gone are the days of nondescript pixelated fans in the background; crowd detail is spectacular this year. For example, if you zoom in on the fans in the first few rows of the ACC crowd during overtime of a Leafs game, you can actually tell which stock prices they're absentmindedly looking up on their Blackberries.

  • Unfortunately, it looks like the game's graphic design team got a little lazy when it came to player models. I was playing a game against the Canucks, and two-thirds of their top line looked exactly the same.

  • Finally, here's a neat bonus offer: Look for a proof of purchase coupon inside the box. Collect ten, mail them to the NHL head office along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, and you'll receive a personally signed letter back from Gary Bettman congratulating you on becoming the new owner of the Phoenix Coyotes.

(Previous game reviews: NHL 10 | NHL 09)

Friday, September 3, 2010

A behind the scenes look at the Kovalchuk negotiations

You must be this tall to get
your contract approved.
It's official: The Ilya Kovalchuk saga has stormed past ridiculous, made a left at debacle, and is now heading full speed towards farce. Two months since the start of free agency, six weeks after Kovalchuk's first contract with the Devils was signed and rejected, and one week since a second attempt was submitted to the league, there's still no resolution to this mess.

We thought we'd have an answer by now, as the league was set to render its verdict on Kovalchuk's latest deal on Wednesday. But instead, amidst reports that the league was now playing hardball and demanding changes to the collective bargaining agreement, we got a two-day extension. Now we're told to expect a decision some time today.

Or, maybe not.

If there are any hockey fans left who are still interested in this ongoing travesty, they can take some comfort in the knowledge that the league and the players are at least working hard on a solution. In fact, sources tell me that most of this week was taken up by frantic negotiations between the league, the Devils and the NHLPA. Based on what I've been told, I've put together a timeline of this week's events.

Monday, 9:00 a.m. - Gary Bettman arrives early and begins reviewing the Devils' newest contract proposal, but admits to finding it difficult to concentrate with Donald Fehr sitting ominously in the back of his office cracking his knuckles.

Monday, 1:15 p.m. - Lou Lamoriello explains to a frustrated Bettman that while he understands his concerns, he still insists on submitting the contract in Comic Sans font.

Monday, 4:45 p.m. - Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly attempt to consult with the league's Executive Vice President In Charge of Not Having One of Your Best Players Go To Russia Just so You Can Prove Some Sort of Point, before remembering that he's been on vacation all summer.

Tuesday, 1:15 p.m. – A smiling Bettman shows Daly a series of encouraging notes reading “Keep your head up, Gary” that some kind stranger has been leaving on his windshield throughout the negotiations, although his mood changes when Daly points out that it they seem to be in Scott Stevens' handwriting.

Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. - Both sides begin to work in earnest to avoid a second round of arbitration. Nobody wants to risk a repeat of Brian Burke's twelve straight hours of testimony from the last time, especially since the only question anyone got to ask him was “How are you?”

Wednesday, 10:45 a.m. - A potential breakthrough: Kovalchuk agrees to the league's demands that he confirm his intentions to play into his 40s by crossing his heart and hoping to die, but only if the league rescinds its controversial request that he also stick a needle in his eye.

Wednesday 1:30 p.m. - The league agrees to allow the contract to include a limited no-trade clause that kicks in towards the end of the deal and prevents the Devils from trading Kovalchuk to a southern US team, a concession they feel comfortable making given that none of those teams will still exist in ten years.

Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. - Bettman begins to consider threatening the NHLPA with the voiding of Roberto Luongo's 12-year, $64 million contract that was signed last summer. The idea was originally suggested to him by an anonymous stranger on the subway who bore an uncanny resemblance to Mike Gillis wearing a wig and fake moustache.

Thursday, 10:30 a.m. - With no agreement in place, a second arbitration hearing looms. The two sides begin the process of finding a new arbitrator to replace Richard Bloch, who is still recovering after his recent mysterious accident that left him battered, unconscious, and surrounded by shards of broken glass and grape jam.

Thursday, 11:30 p.m. - NHLPA negotiators attempt to ease league concerns over the length of Kovalchuk's contract by pointing out that while a 15 years may seem like a lot, you have to keep in mind that the way things are going at least three or four of those seasons will be cancelled by work stoppages.