Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: An NHL year in review

Is it over yet?
This is the time of year when anyone who writes about hockey feels obligated to come up with a year in review piece. But 2011 seems different. After all, is it even worth looking back at a year that was largely marked by tragedy, concussions, franchise instability, and over-the-top violence?

Well, my mother used to tell me that "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". But my editors currently tell me that "If you don't say anything at all, we don't have to pay you". So apparently we'll be doing a 2011 year in review after all.

Here's a look back at some of the NHL's most memorable moments of the past 12 months.

January 1 - In a request that he will later wish he had worded slightly differently, Gary Bettman prays to the hockey gods that the millions of fans tuning into that night's Winter Classic will get to see Sidney Crosby have one of his best games of the entire year.

January 28 - Phil Kessel is picked last in the all-star draft while Alexander Ovechkin makes a show of taking his photo. Ovechkin later apologizes and promises that he won't take a photo when Kessel is drafted for the 2012 all-star game, since he'll probably just hit pause on his DVR while watching from his living room.

February 28 - In arguably the biggest deal of trade deadline day the Washington Capitals send David Steckel and a draft pick to the Devils in exchange for Jason Arnott, a player so old that he can actually remember a time when trade deadline day was interesting.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Scouting the World Junior Championships

While the NHL enjoys a holiday break over the weekend, hockey fans will be gearing up for the traditional Boxing Day start of the World Junior Championships. Ten of the world's top hockey nations will convene in Calgary and Edmonton for a two-week tournament to determine which country's teenagers will bring home the gold.

Let's take a look at the teams competing for medals in this year's tournament.

The good: Have spent the last few days paying inspirational visits to the less fortunate, such as children's hospitals and also the prison camp where last year's silver medal team is kept.
The bad: Are expected to make it through at least one playoff round, and it will probably get annoying having to constantly explain to Alberta hockey fans how that works.

The good: Every American kid on the roster has been dreaming of winning this tournament ever since the moment they realized they weren't good enough to play football, basketball or baseball.
The bad: Dominant goaltender Jack Campbell returns for the third straight year, and you have to think one of these years somebody's going to take a closer look at that fake ID.

Czech Republic
The good: Scouts agree that top player Martin Frk looks just like an NHL superstar, in the sense that he won't be playing because of a concussion.
The bad: For reasons nobody can quite figure out, have spent the weeks leading up to the tournament arguing over whether their coach should have to be able to speak French.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let's make a deal: A look back at this season's biggest trades

After sending the overpaid underacheiver
to Ottawa, the Coyotes understood what
it felt like to be a Canadian voter
The Phoenix Coyotes finally made the long-awaited Kyle Turris trade over the weekend, dealing the disgruntled center to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for young defenceman David Rundblad and a draft pick.

The trade was a rare early-season blockbuster in a league where most trades seem to happen at the trade deadline or in the offseason. It will also be the last NHL deal for a while, since the league-wide holiday trade freeze went into effect on Monday.

So while NHL general managers step away from the negotiating table for a well-deserved break, let's take a look back at some of the significant trades the league has seen since the end of training camp.

The trade: The Devils send David Steckel to the Leafs for a fourth-round draft pick.
The view from Toronto: Steckel gives the team a faceoff specialist who can take the first draw after a Maple Leaf penalty, which is always in the defensive zone, as well as the second draw after a Maple Leaf penalty, which is always at center ice.
The view from New Jersey: Steckel's main role last year with the Capitals was being the guy who'd go up to Alexander Ovechkin before every game and remind him to occasionally score a goal or two, although I'm sure someone else will remember to do that.
Final verdict: The deal saw the Leafs acquire an above-average fourth line center, which I think we all agree was their only major weakness heading into the season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A brief history of Teemu Selanne

NHL scoring dropped dramatically after
the league outlawed the lens flare stick.
Teemu Selanne will be wearing an away jersey tonight in Winnipeg, but he won't be hearing many boos. In fact, Jets fans are likely to give him a hero's welcome.

It's been over 15 years since Selanne last played an game in Winnipeg, but fans there haven't forgotten the magic moments he created as a Jet in the early 90s. Once the NHL announced the return of a franchise to Winnipeg, fans circled tonight's game on their calendar for what's sure to be an emotional reunion.

So as Winnipeg prepares to give Selanne a long-awaited ovation, let's take a look back at the career of one of hockey's most beloved superstars.

June 11, 1988 - Selanne is drafted with the 10th overall pick by Winnipeg Jets general manager John Ferguson Sr., who must then explain to his confused son why he's not immediately trading him for a terrible backup goalie.

October 8, 1992 - Veteran Jets defenceman Randy Carlyle refuses Selanne's request for his jersey number 8, then wonders why the rookie is walking away mumbling something about "payback" and "revenge" and "Bruce Boudreau in 20 years".

March 2, 1993 - Selanne breaks Mike Bossy's rookie goal-scoring record and then famously mimes shooting his glove out of the air, while a young Artem Anisimov watching at home imagines how everyone would probably think it was really cool if he did something like that too someday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A look at this year's top rookies

Nugent-Hopkins has been lighting up
NHL goalies and also Roberto Luongo.
With a third of the season in the books, there's no question that one of the best stories of the early season has been rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers.

With 32 points in 30 games, Nugent-Hopkins isn't just running away with the Calder Trophy but is staying within striking distance of the Art Ross. That seems far-fetched, of course, but there's no denying that the 18-year-old Oiler has been a revelation so far.

But while Nugent-Hopkins is a fantastic story, he's not the only rookie making an important contribution this year. Several young players are exceeding expectations in their first NHL season. Here's a look at some of the rookies making an impact around the NHL this season.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton - Is undoubtedly the best young player the Oilers have had in this lifetime, according to the kid tending bar who just made you feel incredibly old.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto - By playing a regular shift for the Maple Leafs, is gaining invaluable experience in what not to do while killing penalties.

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado - Is currently second in the entire league in the "games worth of Andy Sutton suspensions caused" category, although most experts assume that several players will pass him by the end of the season.

Luke Adam, Buffalo - Has been working hard since the season opener, since he knows the Sabres need to know you've had at least a dozen above-average games during your career before they'll throw a salary cap-destroying contract your way.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to be an NHL ironman

One of the NHL's ironman streaks came to an end on Thursday when Lightning forward Martin St. Louis missed the team's game against the Rangers after being hit in the face with a puck during practice.

That snapped St. Louis's string at 499 games, which was good for third among active NHL streaks. But St. Louis was still well back of Doug Jarvis's all-time record of 964, a mark that no NHL player has managed to so much as get close to in almost 20 years.

Will anyone ever again challenge Jarvis's mark? Maybe not. But if you're an NHL player hoping to start your own ironman streak, here are some common sense tips that could help you get started on the road to the record book.

DO: Stay healthy by avoiding collisions that would increase your risk of suffering an injury.
DO NOT: Worry about collisions that carry absolutely no physical risk, such as running Ryan Miller in front of the entire Sabres roster.

DO: Hit the gym often to make sure you're in peak physical condition.
DO NOT: Bother working out any body parts other than "upper body" and "lower body", since those are the only ones that anyone ever injures.

DO: Feel confident that the NHL's recent changes to Rule 48 will drastically reduce the risk that you will suffer a serious head injury.
DO NOT: Attempt to actually understand how the league applies Rule 48, as this will cause a serious head injury

DO: Follow the example of current league ironman Jay Bouwmeester by focusing all of your energy on training and conditioning that will allow you to continue your streak.
DO NOT: Allow yourself to become side-tracked by frivolous distractions, such as playing in postseason games.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Take the quiz: Should you fire your coach?

"Hey, why does that guy watching practice
with Feaster look like Bob Boughner
wearing a fake mustache and glasses?"
The NHL's coaching ranks were shuffled last week, with three head coaches losing their jobs. That's an unpleasant reality of the business, and ideally we'd all just move on afterwards to focus on some better news.

But the hockey world being the tough place that it is, it didn't take long before all eyes turned to the remaining coaches of teams that aren't meeting expectations. Would there be more teams making changes in the near future? Who might be the next to go? And most important of all, would it be the right call?

Surveys have shown that the majority of DGB readers are active NHL general managers, so I know this is an important topic. So if you're in charge of a struggling NHL team and you're wondering if now is the time to fire your coach, here's a simple quiz that can provide the answer.

After a tough loss a few weeks ago, your coach retreated to the privacy of his office. From outside, you could overhear him:
a.) Angrily smashing furniture at the realization that the team won't go 82-0.
b.) Calmly reassuring his assistants that it's OK to lose the occasional game, as long as it doesn't happen more than once a month.
c.) Excitedly phoning Gary Bettman to ask if this is one of those losses where the league magically give out a bonus point for no real reason.
d.) Wondering why the Anaheim Ducks keep calling his cell phone every time his team loses.

When some were calling for you to make a coaching change earlier in the season, you resisted because:
a.) You have absolute confidence that he's the right man to lead your team to the Stanley Cup.
b.) You think it's only fair to give him until at least mid-season to right the ship.
c.) The coach showed you the section of the rulebook that says that teams from Ohio can't fire anyone mid-season no matter how bad they are, although come to think of it that part was scrawled in the margins and seems to be in his handwriting.
d.) You want to have a frank discussion with the coach in an appropriate setting, and have so far failed to find a suitable barn available for rent.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Is Alexander Ovechkin a coach killer?

The struggling Washington Capitals fired head coach Bruce Boudreau last week. And while Boudreau landed on his feet almost immediately in Anaheim, there are still plenty of questions about what went wrong in Washington. Most of the fingers are pointing at franchise player Alexander Ovechkin, who's numbers have dropped significantly over the past two seasons.

Is Ovechkin hurt? Has he already peaked? Or, perhaps worst of all, did he quit on his coach in an attempt to get him fired?

As it turns out, that last question came up recently at one of new coach Dale Hunter's first practices in Washington. And Bloge Salming was there with cameras rolling.

You can download an mp3 of this song at Backhand Shelf.

Full lyrics below:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A fond farewell to the NHL's fired coaches

"Wait a second," thought Getzlaf, "Why do
I have to be the baldest guy on the bench?"
It's been a bad week for NHL coaches. After a relatively stable first two months of the season, NHL teams apparently decided it was time to start handing out pink slips.

Both Carolina's Paul Maurice and Washington's Bruce Boudreau were fired on Monday, and they were joined on the sidelines a few days later by Anaheim's Randy Carlyle. Or at least Maurice was; Boudreau was busy taking Carlyle's job.

The week's action brings this season's total number of fired coaches to four once you count Davis Payne, who got a head start when he was fired by the Blues three weeks ago. No doubt they'll be joined by others as the season wears on, but for now the latest round of coaching musical chairs seems to have ended.

But before we all move on, let's take one last fond look back and the four coaches who've been shown the door since the season began.

Davis Payne, St. Louis Blues

Previous experience: Was a virtual unknown in the hockey world when he was hired to coach the Blues in 2010, but things are much different these days because it's now 2011.
Career highlight: In one of those crazy little bits of trivia that nobody ever remembers but that's still technically true, was once the head coach of the St. Louis Blues.
Eventual downfall: Like other coaches who've lost their jobs to Ken Hitchcock, just couldn't win back the fans once they'd grown tired of watching vaguely entertaining hockey.
Future outlook: Is apparently working on a long-term deal with Calgary, according to hockey experts overheard mumbling something about Flames fans being in for another decade of constant Payne.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New at Grantland: November's NHL's Three Stars of Comedy

November's three stars post pays tribute to one GM's high-concept performance art, one head coach's NHL 95-based strategy, and one player's ability to dodge a mid-air spinning slash attempt.

You can read the post here.

And if you missed it last month, the October stars can be found here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Potential issues in the next NHL CBA

After several awkward minutes, Fehr realized that
"high five me if you love escrow" was a bad idea.
So it turns out that the NBA won't be challenging the NHL's status as the only league to lose a full season to work stoppage after all. Despite dire predictions that the year would be lost, the NBA and its players managed to reach an agreement that will save most of the season.

That comes on the heels of recent agreements that saw both the NFL and MLB sign new deals without missing any games. So with three of North America's big four sports leagues having found labour peace, all eyes now shift back to the NHL. With the league's current collective bargaining agreement set to expire before next season, hockey fans are hoping that negotiations go more smoothly than they did the last time around.

So what will be the major issues in the next NHL CBA? That depends on who you talk to. As it turns out, everyone seems to have a different opinion on which issues should be top priorities. Here's a look at what various stakeholders around the NHL say they'd like to see changed in the league's next CBA:

Brendan Shanahan - Would like to increase the maximum player fine from the current $2,500; failing that, would at least like the players to stop paying it by grabbing a fistful of spare change, throwing it at me from their car window, then laughing and speeding off.

Alexander Ovechkin - I've repeatedly argued that the NHL give Russian players the chance to compete in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, although to be honest you should probably also check with some of the guys who will make the team.

Kyle Turris - Pass a rule banning pointless holdouts where the player misses two months and doesn't get anything he was asking for, or at least have someone tell my agent that you did.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby: An in-depth comparison

The NHL's two most marketable stars are back in the news this week. But while Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are both making headlines again, it's for very different reasons.

In Crosby's case, the news is good. He's finally returned after missing almost 11 months with a concussion, and his four-point performance in his first game back already has fans wondering if he can win the scoring title despite missing a quarter of the season.

Ovechkin is at the other end of the spectrum. With his numbers declining and rumours of tension in the dressing room of the suddenly mediocre Capitals, some are starting to wonder if the 26-year-old has already peaked as an elite NHL talent.

Crosby and Ovechkin have been linked ever since they both made their debuts during the 2005-06 season, and it appears they will be for years to come. Here's a comparison of two of the league's most talented and popular young players.

Alexander Ovechkin: Has been known to get angry with his coach while on the bench and shout obscenities.
Sidney Crosby: Has been known to get angry with his coach while on the bench and shout "I'm just going to go out there and give 110%", since that's all he's programmed to ever say.

Sidney Crosby: Wears jersey number 87, signifying his year of birth.
Alexander Ovechkin: Wears jersey number 8, signifying the number of goals he needs to score in any given game before he won't automatically be blamed if the Capitals lose.

Alexander Ovechkin: Has been invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at games for the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles.
Sidney Crosby: Would probably be thrilled to do the same if Pittsburgh ever managed to get a professional baseball team.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ways the Maple Leafs would be different if Wayne Gretzky owned them

The new owner gets his first look
at the Mike Komisarek contract.
The slow-moving saga that is the sale of the Toronto Maple Leafs received an unexpected jolt late last week with speculation that Wayne Gretzky could have a role with a new ownership group.

Initial reports indicated that Gretzky had been approached by one or more potential buyers. Gretzky briefly seemed to confirm that, before later backtracking and denying any involvement in a deal. Confusion reigned, with various insiders trying to interpret Gretzky's words to figure out what, if anything, was really going on. And once all the smoke cleared, it seemed like the whole thing may have been one big false alarm.

But why let reality spoil the fun? After all, the mere rumour of Gretzky's involvement was enough to get hockey fans thinking: What if The Great One were to invest in the Maple Leafs? What kind of impact would he have on one of the league's most storied franchises?

The best guess is that Gretzky's arrival in Toronto would bring plenty of changes:

  • Every Leaf fan you know would start bringing up the Gretzky/Gilmour high-sticking incident 10 times a day, instead of eight times a day like they have been for the past 18 years.

  • Any potential NHL owner who has ever publicly argued in favour of placing a team in Hamilton would immediately start getting ominous phone calls from Dave Semenko inviting them to go for a canoe ride.

  • Gretzky would use his show business connections to land Phil Kessel a starring spot on Saturday Night Live, just to ensure that somebody finally breaks his record for "most awkward SNL host of all-time".

  • Edmonton Oilers fans would feel oddly conflicted when Maple Leafs ownership signs Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle as free agents in five years.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The secret agenda from this week's GM meetings

While Burke's new acquisition was only 10 inches
tall and completely immobile, the critics had to
agree that he did upgrade the goaltending.
The NHL held its annual general managers meeting this week, as 30 of the most powerful men in the league gathered in Toronto for a discussion of various league issues.

But what exactly were they talking about? As always, the meeting was closed to the media. And while some GMs did offer brief comments to reporters about what was discussed, league policy is that the official agenda is never released to the public.

Until now, that is. DGB spies were in attendance, and they were able to pass on a copy of the full day's schedule:

9:00 a.m. - Opening remarks from Gary Bettman: "Well, at least we're not the NBA!"

9:30 a.m. - Opening remarks from Donald Fehr: "… for one more year."

10:00 a.m. - Buffalo GM Darcy Regier presents an argument in favour of stricter penalties for hits against goaltenders such as the recent one by Milan Lucic against Ryan Miller, including an ominous threat that the Sabres may now be forced to seek retribution during their next game against Boston.

10:02 a.m. - Everyone in the room tries really hard to keep a straight face at the idea that the Sabres have anyone on the roster who's going to scare the Bruins.

10:03 a.m. - Everyone fails.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Things overheard at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony

By the third time he ordered them to punch
an invisible midget, the inductees had begun
to realize the photographer may be crazy.
Last night saw four former NHL stars receive the highest honour the sport has to offer when they were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Doug Gilmour, Eddie Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk and Mark Howe will each now see their names included among the legends that line the wall in the Great Hall.

The induction ceremony capped off several days of celebration, which included the annual Hall of Fame Game, a fan forum, and a legends game. It all makes up one of the most popular weekends on the NHL's calendar, with many of the biggest names in the sport gathered to take part in the festivities.

Needless to say, my sources were there with tape recorders rolling. And they put together a list of the most interesting comments overheard during the course of the evening.

  • Wow, Doug Gilmour sure is getting emotional during his acceptance speech. Wait, what do you mean you can't see him? He's standing right in front of you, Mr. Fraser.

  • That's a great question, Mr. Belfour, I'm not sure why your plaque has that asterisk next to the mention of your Stanley Cup win. I'll ask the engraver, he's the guy over there in the Sabres jersey.

  • Mr. Nieuwendyk, how does it feel to be the only player in NHL history to have ever been traded for Jarome Iginla? You know, until next March.

  • BOOOOOOO! Oh, sorry Mr. Bettman, I saw you brush up against the Stanley Cup display and I guess it was just force of habit.

  • Come quick! Mark Howe is telling some great stories about how in the old days the Flyers would respond to a tough defence by working harder instead of just refusing to play any more like spoiled toddlers.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Beyond the 1-3-1: Other NHL team defensive systems

What's the difference between a hockey
puck and Mike Richards? The Flyers will
honor a no-movement policy for the puck.
The latest NHL controversy surfaced during Wednesday night's action. Although in fairness, "action" probably isn't the right word.

Early in a game between the Lightning and Flyers, Tampa Bay settled into their patented 1-3-1 defensive system which sees all five skaters take up passive positions in the neutral zone to break up an incoming attack. The Flyers responded by refusing to advance the puck - their defencemen simply held the puck in their own zone.

The result, predictably, was a farce. The game ground to a halt, the officials were forced to repeatedly blow the play dead, and the fans who thought they had paid to see an entertaining game made sure everyone involved knew that they weren't happy. Now there's talk that the league needs to outlaw Tampa Bay's system.

But why single out the Lightning? After all, they're not the only team that employs a specific defensive system. In fact, these days most teams have their own unique ways of keeping the puck out of their net.

Here are just a few of the team-specific defensive systems currently in use around the NHL.

Boston Bruins - Attacking forwards are met in the neutral zone by a winger who attempts to use lateral pressure to direct them towards the far boards as they cross the blueline, at which point Zdeno Chara unhinges his jaw and devours them.

Columbus Blue Jackets - Winger Rick Nash forechecks deep to apply pressure, then follows the defencemen around for the rest of the shift frantically begging them to convince their general manager to trade for him.

Nashville Predators - As soon as opposing players break into the offensive zone against Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber casually skate to the bench and let Mr. Moneybags back there handle it.

Calgary Flames - Opposing players entering the attacking zone are told of the details of the Dion Phaneuf for Matt Stajan trade, and then spend the rest of the game standing around trying to figure out how that ever seemed like it would be a good idea.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Success stories from the NHL's opening month

"And then Ryan Smyth told me he used to have a
phone that was connected to the wall! What a joker!"
The NHL season is now a month old, and for many hockey fans that can mean only one thing: it's time to start looking for something to complain about.

After all, these days it seems like some fans love nothing more than pointing out someone else's flaws. And sure, if you look closely enough at any team or player you can always find at least one or two things that may be slightly less than perfect.

But as long-time readers know, I've never been the sort of writer who chooses to focus on the negative. So instead, let's take a look around the league and highlight some of the good news that's been on display in the early going. Consider this a negativity-free zone.

Here are some of the most inspiring success stories from the season's first month.

Joe Thornton - Showed a lot of class by apologizing to the Rangers for calling them the softest team the Sharks had played against, after explaining that he hadn't realized that intrasquad scrimmages counted too.

Ken Hitchcock - The Blues' new head coach will no doubt be wildly popular in St. Louis, a town where fans have proven to be willing to embrace a team's boss even if he's incapable of correctly operating a simple telephone.

Ville Leino - His $27 million contract with the Sabres is completely guaranteed no matter how he plays, his agent incredulously reminds him several times a day.

Dion Phaneuf - Has managed to put together an impressive season despite his recent habit of coming back to the bench after every shift, turning on his smartphone, checking for updates about the Calgary Flames, then laughing hysterically while high-fiving all his teammates.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A brief history of player/coach feuds

"Big silver trophy, about this wide... really, none
of you have any idea what I'm talking about?"
It's getting close to holidays, but Alexander Ovechkin and Bruce Boudreau may have crossed each other off their shopping lists based on an incident that took place earlier this week.

After Boudreau decided to bench him during a crucial shift late in the game, Ovechkin appeared to react to the news by barking some well-chosen obscenities in the coach's direction. While the two later made an effort to seem like they were on the same page, that didn't stop fans and the media from speculating about a rift that could divide one of the league's best teams.

An overreaction? Probably. But whether Ovechkin and Boudreau are feuding or not shouldn't even matter, because this sort of thing actually happens all the time. The NHL has a long history of disagreements between superstar players and their coaches, and many of them were far more serious than a few expletives uttered in the heat of the moment.

Here's a look back at some of the notable star vs. coach feuds in NHL history.

November 18, 2003 - An enraged Scott Stevens accuses Devils' coach Pat Burns of not being a first ballot Hall of Famer, before later apologizing and admitting that could only happen in a world where the selection committee was made up entirely of idiots.

October 26, 2011 - Alain Vigneault's attempt to fire up his best goaltender during a private meeting in his office is ruined by Roberto Luongo constantly knocking on the door and asking "Hey guys, what are you two talking about in there?"

February 4, 1978 - Bruins' defenceman Brad Park finds himself in the doghouse after coach Don Cherry realizes his name is completely impossible to mispronounce.

December 7, 2008 - Team captain Daniel Alfredsson request a one-hour meeting with the head coach to discuss his declining ice-time, but eventually gets tired of having to start over again every fifteen minutes whenever Bryan Murray hires someone new.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Some news

Hi folks... a couple of quick pieces of site news.

First, as you may have noticed there's no new post today. Starting this week, my regularly scheduled posts will be appearing on Tuesdays and Saturdays (both here and in the Post). So check back tomorrow. My apologies in advance to readers who may now be forced to pay attention in class and/or at work.

Second, I'm going to be writing a monthly feature called The NHL's Three Stars of Comedy over at Grantland. The October edition just went live, and you can check it out here. I'll also be chipping in additional Grantland posts from time to time.

Thanks again for your continued support.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Inside Gary Bettman's annual Halloween party

It's clearly not a post-season
pumpkin, since it has a flame in it.
Scene: Last night, in a spacious home in New York. Halloween-themed music plays, as various hockey personalities wander around in costume.

The doorbell rings, and is answered by a man dressed as a zombie wearing an Atlanta Thrashers jersey.

Gary Bettman: Glad you could make it, come on in.

A man wearing an old-fashioned executioner's hood walks in.

Brendan Shanahan: Hi Gary… how's the party coming this year?

Bettman: Can't complain. A little crowded, but I guess you have to expect that when you invite the whole league.

Shanahan: You invited everybody in the entire NHL to your Halloween party?

Bettman: Well, except for Raffi Torres.

Shanahan: Good call.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The NHL's application form for disgruntled NBA fans

He couldn't quite place it, but David
Stern felt somehow different moments
after shaking hands with Shea Weber.
The NBA's lockout continues to drag along. With two weeks of games already cancelled and some experts suggesting the stoppage could wipe out much of the season, basketball fans are understandably getting nervous.

How nervous? My sources at the NHL's main office tell me that the switchboard is lighting up with calls from NBA fans who are thinking of jumping ship, at least temporarily. The volume of inquiries is so high that the league has had to create an application form for potential new fans. My spies were able to obtain a copy.

Greetings (soon-to-be former) NBA fans.

It's come to our attention that your league is currently undergoing a work stoppage. And while there has been some encouraging progress in negotiations this week, it's probably best that you don't get your hopes up. These things can tend to drag on. Like for a completely unreasonable amount of time. Um, so we've heard.

Anyways, it's probably a good idea to keep your options open, and to consider becoming an NHL fan. However, before you can become officially certified as a hockey diehard, there is the small matter of some paperwork. Please fill out the form below, and we'll contact you with our decision.

First name:

Last name:

Your last name with "sie" added to the end of it so that we have a creative hockey nickname ready to go for you:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Getting to know the NHL's new coaches

"Coach, if you took every puck Craig Anderson
will stop this season and stacked them on top
of each other, how high would that pile be?"
The 2011-12 season has seen six teams introduce new coaches. And instead of going back to the various familiar faces who were available, this year teams chose to go with relative newcomers. Not one of the new coaches has ever won a playoff game, and five have never been a head coach in the NHL at all.

All of which is to say that hockey fans could be forgiven if they aren't familiar with the league's newest bench bosses. So here's a handy guide to the half dozen men who are making their debut behind a bench this year.

Glen Gulutzan, Dallas Stars

Previous experience: Won the John Brophy Award for his work as coach of the Las Vegas Wranglers in 2006, so presumably rocks a mean fedora.
Early-season adjustment: Was recently able to get the media to finally start questioning him about strategy and roster decisions, instead of spending every press conference repeatedly asking "No, but seriously, who are you?"
Possible cause for concern: Reports of a possible sale of the team to a businessman from Vancouver could lead to the team's budget being slashed, or at least pretending to be slashed in an attempt to draw a penalty.

Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers

Previous experience: His 20-year NHL playing career included a stint as Flyers captain that was interrupted when he was traded, which is really odd because that never happens says Mike Richards sarcastically.
Early-season adjustment: Has repeatedly had to politely ask Brian Campbell to stop coming back to the bench and saying "Hey, I just made more money on that shift than guys like you did during the entire 1980s!"
Possible cause for concern: Told reporters during training camp that he was looking forward to coaching emerging star David Booth, or the package of excellent young players the team would inevitably get in return if they ever traded him.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Upcoming NHL records and milestones

Every Hab, photographed from five feet high.
"History will be made" has been the NHL's playoff slogan for the past few years, but it could also be applied to the upcoming season. That's because while it's still early, this year is shaping up to be one that could rewrite a few pages of the NHL's history book.

With several hockey legends winding down their careers and a new generation of stars just hitting their prime, some of the game's most cherished records and milestones are within reach. So if you've ever wanted a chance to see history be made, now may be a good time to tune in.

Here are a few of the upcoming records and milestones that fans may have a chance to witness during the 2011-12 season.

Marc Savard - Is just one assist away from 500 for his career, which he should get this season if you're willing to count him assisting Matt Cooke in becoming known as "that jerk who ended Marc Savard's career".

Craig Anderson - Is currently 2,100 goals away from breaking the all-time record for goals allowed in a career, so given how the Senators' season is going so far let's just go ahead and pencil him in for next Friday.

Ray Whitney - Has a chance to join the 1,000 point club this year, which would be a memorable moment for him since it would be guaranteed to happen against a team he once played for.

Adam Oates - Out of all current Hall Of Fame-eligible players, his 1,420 career points will once again make him by far the all-time leader among those angrily standing in line to purchase admission.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A hockey fan's guide to the World Series

This was an important sports moment from
1993, so it's safe to say Kerry Fraser didn't see it.
The World Series opens tomorrow night in St. Louis, with the Cardinals playing host to the Texas Rangers. And while some hockey fans wouldn't dream of switching over to a baseball game after waiting all summer for the NHL season to start, many will no doubt be tempted to tune in knowing that a championship is on the line.

So if you're a hockey fan who's thinking about checking out some of the World Series action, here's a handy guide to some of the subtle differences between the two sports to help you follow the action.

World Series: By late October, 28 teams have already been eliminated from championship contention.
NHL: By late October, no teams have been eliminated from championship contention with the exception of Winnipeg.

World Series: If you see the defence standing around helplessly while a player circles the bases before scoring, you'll know that batter has hit a home run.
NHL: If you see the defence standing around helplessly while a player circles the rink before scoring, you'll know that Phil Kessel has decided to try this year.

World Series: It took the sport a generation to recover from the cancellation of the 1994 World Series due to a player's strike led by hardline union head Donald Fehr.
NHL: I'm sure whoever's heading up the NHLPA these days would never do something like that.

World Series: For the second straight year, the Texas Rangers have won their first two playoff rounds under the leadership of popular manager Ron Washington.
NHL: Nobody with "Washington" on their jersey ever wins two playoff rounds in the same season.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Other complaints about Brendan Shanahan

Despite an entertaining first week of action on the ice, it seems like all anyone wants to talk about these days is Brendan Shanahan. After an initial honeymoon period that faded quickly, the NHL's senior vice-president of player safety and hockey operations has come under heavy fire over his recent rulings on player discipline.

Don Cherry has been the highest profile critic of Shanahan's harsher approach to suspensions, but he's certainly not alone. Media reports have indicated that at least some general managers are uncomfortable with Shanahan's rulings, and plenty of fans have voiced their concerns as well.

At the very least, you might assume that his discipline decisions are the only area where Shanahan is feeling the heat. But you'd be wrong. According to my top secret sources, there's a long list of issues and grievances with Shanahan that date back to the early days of his career.

Here's a sample of some of the hockey world's other complaints about Brendan Shanahan.

  • In a cruel practical joke, spent his entire rookie year with the Devils whispering moronic coaching strategies into the ear of sleeping roommate John MacLean.

  • Completely screwed up his shootout attempt at the Nagano Olympics when he failed to be Wayne Gretzky.

  • Has been an NHL VP for almost two years now and has spent lots of time with Gary Bettman, yet has apparently still not taken him aside and convinced him to stop doing that "get overly defensive and make the whole press conference uncomfortable" thing.

  • Whenever I get a penalty I don't agree with and then do the secret signal where I tug on my ear three times in the penalty box, the referee still has a job the next day. (Submitted by Gregory Campbell.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Brendan Shanahan's video message to NHL players

After weeks of near-unanimous praise, the hockey world seems to have turned on Brendan Shanahan. He's been criticized by various media, anonymous GMs and Don Cherry, and many fans are starting to wonder whether he's really an improvement over Colin Campbell.

To his credit, Shanahan doesn't seem to be letting the negativity get to him. From all accounts, he's shrugged off the criticism as an unpleasant but inevitable part of the job. And he's standing by his rulings, pointing out more than once that they're consistent with the introductory video he sent to all NHL players before the season began.

But while we've all heard about this infamous video, nobody outside the league had seen it... until now. DGB spies were able to get their hands on a copy, and let's just say it's not quite what we were expecting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thinking outside the box: Strategic shifts from the NHL's opening weekend

At first they thought the coach was crazy,
but eventually they had to admit that the
defensive zone did look like a surprised bear.
The NHL regular season has arrived, withal 30 teams having seen action by the weekend. And if you settled in to watch your favourite team's opening games and felt like something seemed different, you may be right.

After a long off-season of planning and an exhibition schedule for fine-tuning, the opening of the regular season is the time for teams to unveil the new systems and strategies that they hope will translate into improved results. Whether it's a change in coaching, new personnel or just a different approach to certain game situations, most teams have tweaked something.

These changes are often subtle and can be difficult for the casual fan to notice. To help, I've spoken to several scouts and front office executives and they outlined some of the most important strategic shifts to watch for early in the season.

Philadelphia Flyers - Are trying a bold new strategy where the on-the-fly line changes executed by the team every minute or so will no longer include the goaltender.

Los Angeles - Are working hard in practice on improving Drew Doughty's accuracy from the point, since this year every single one of his slap shots seems to be heading directly for the front office's private suite for some reason.

Montreal Canadiens - Are apparently playing under the new slogan "Let's go on out there and be part of a moment that thousands of people have been waiting 15 years for and completely ruin it".

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2011-12 Season Preview - Western Conference

The 2011-12 season preview continues today with the Western Conference. (You can find yesterday's Eastern Conference preview here.)

Pacific Division

San Jose Sharks: The team is expecting strong seasons from the various players who were recently called up from their farm team in Minnesota.

Anaheim Ducks: Of all the top lines in the Western Conference, experts agree that the Ducks' trio of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan is without question the best one to feature three different DNA sequences.

Phoenix Coyotes: Not sure if it's a bad sign, but Paul Bissionnette's most recent 140-character tweet included the full name of every one of the team's season ticket holders.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2011-12 Season Preview - Eastern Conference

With the NHL's season opener just days away, it's time for an in-depth season preview of all 30 teams. Today we'll look at the Eastern Conference, with the Western Conference coming up tomorrow. (The Western Conference preview is here.)

Atlantic Division

Philadelphia Flyers: Finally solved their goaltending problem once and for all, in the sense that their problem was that fans weren't sure which goaltender to blame for destroying their salary cap.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Matt Cooke says he understands that his attempt to reform his game will have ups and downs, but still admits he could do without Brendan Shanahan randomly jumping out of the shadows, hitting him in the nose with a rolled up newspaper, and yelling "NO to whatever you were thinking just now."

New York Islanders: Signed John Tavares to a six-year contract that will guarantee he stays in Long Island for another year or two.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Colin Campbell's video explanation of the Matt Cooke/Marc Savard decision

New NHL discipline boss Brendan Shanahan has been making headlines all week, handing out several lengthy suspensions to players such as Jody Shelley and James Wisniewski. Most observers are heralding the decisions, and the video explanations that go with them, as a sign of a bold new way of doing things.

But while Shanahan certainly deserves credit for coming down hard on offenders, I'm a little perplexed by all the excitement over his videos. After all, he's just borrowed the idea from his predecessor, Colin Campbell, who had his own series of videos explaining his decisions.

For example, who could forget this video explaining his decision in the Matt Cooke/Marc Savard game?

It all makes so much sense now...

Find more Bloge Salming

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tips for dominating your fantasy hockey draft

With the start of the regular season just nine days away, hockey fans will be gathering in basements, pubs and boardrooms across North America this week for their annual fantasy hockey drafts.

No doubt thousands of fans are tweaking their cheat sheets at this very moment, most likely while they're supposed to be working. But while a spreadsheet full of stats and projections may be nice, it won't help you take home the winner's prize money unless you back it up with a top-notch draft night strategy.

If your fantasy league is drafting this week, here are some tips to keep in mind to help you come away with your best roster ever:

  • When forecasting year-end point totals, don't forget to factor in that every player in the league is expected to miss at least 20 games this season due to suspensions from Brendan Shanahan.

  • Just because a player has never had more than 25 points in a season is no reason not to draft him just as highly as players who regularly score twice that, according to Kyle Turris's agent.

  • Make sure you understand your league's structure and are clear on terminology. A head-to-head league is a lot of fun and is run by fans who enjoy direct competition with fellow owners. An elbow-to-head league is less fun and is run by Matt Cooke.

  • When it's time to collect everyone's $20 for the prize pool, ask Terry Pegula if he'd be willing to kick in an extra $10 million up front for no reason. He usually agrees to that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If NHL fans had their own training camp

His impression of the scout who suggested
signing Redden was uncanny.
OK, folks, can I get everyone’s attention? Quiet in the back, please. Don’t make me blow this whistle gain. As you know, NHL team training camps have opened. And we thought this year it would be a good idea to do the same for all of you, the fans. So everyone take a knee and listen up.

Today we’re going to go over some strategy for the coming season, diagram a few plays, and run a couple of drills. We may also have to send a few of you home. I know, I know, it won’t be fun for me either, but what’s a training camp without a few cuts? Everyone do you best and I’m sure you’ll stick around.

OK, let’s get started. First up is special teams. Now imagine your favourite team is on the powerplay. What are you fans going to be doing? Yes, that’s right, you’ll be yelling "SHOOOOT" for the entire two minutes. Let’s all practice that right now. Hey, good job! The Jets fans are a little rusty, but the rest of you guys are in mid-season form!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An in-depth review of NHL 12

Steven Stamkos was one when the NHL
series debuted. Also, you now feel old.
There may not be much happening on the NHL calendar this week, but today is actually a big day for plenty of hockey fans around the world. That's because it marks the release of the latest version of EA Sports' long-running NHL series, the most popular hockey video game in the world.

But while gaming fans can find NHL 12 in stores today, DGB spies were able to slip me a beta copy weeks ago. So if you're still on the fence about adding it to your collection, here's an in-depth review of the game's pros and cons.

Everyone wants to know about the latest and greatest features. NHL 12 has plenty, although the results are mixed.

  • "Be a Pro" mode returns and is more realistic than ever. When you return to the bench after an extra-long shift while playing as a member of the Senators, you'll need to take a moment to introduce yourself to whichever new coach Bryan Murray hired while you were gone.

  • In a nice bit of realism, the "Make an offer to another team's restricted free agent" feature is permanently greyed out.

  • As always, the game is extremely customizable. Gamers can control the volume of sound effects and crowd noise, although when playing as Toronto the volume of the music can only be adjusted by Dion Phaneuf.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gary Bettman's Labor Day BBQ

They actually just repackaged the same
tools that Leaf fans got tired of two years ago.
Scene: A spacious backyard. Various hockey personalities are milling around, enjoying one final summer BBQ. The host wearing a "Kiss The Commissioner" apron, and greeting the guests as they arrive.

Gary Bettman: Colie, it's great to see you. Glad you could make it.

Colin Campbell: Oh, you know I'd never miss a Gary Bettman party. How's it going so far?

Bettman: Not bad. My world famous potato salad is a big hit.

Campbell: That's great. But shouldn't somebody have laid out all the paper plates and cutlery by now?

Bettman: Yeah, one of the players said they would do it.

Campbell: Well, whoever it was, they got started and then only finished about two-thirds of the job.

Bettman: They did what... uh oh. Sigh. Um, Brad?

Brad Richards (casually wandering by): Yeah Gary?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Offseason winners and losers

Despite a stiff breeze, the
Heatley jersey refused to wave.
With training camp just weeks away and almost all of the summer's player transactions already in the books, it seems like a good time to take a critical look back at the 2011 offseason.

Many teams made headlines over the summer, shaking up their rosters in an attempt to address weaknesses. Other chose to stay pat, tinkering here and there but avoiding major moves. Each team had their reasons for the deals they did or didn't make, but history shows that they can't all be right. So which teams made the right decisions?

Common sense would say that we can't possibly know the answer until the end of the 2011-12 season. But common sense doesn't have to find something to write about during the offseason, so let's start arbitrarily naming winners and losers right now instead.

Winner: Minnesota Wild - Revamped their roster by acquiring Dany Heatley and several other San Jose Sharks, whose well-known penchant for disappearing during long playoff runs is unlikely to ever be an issue in Minnesota.

Loser: Los Angeles Kings - Their continued failure to resign restricted free agent Drew Doughty leaves them vulnerable to the possibility of another team signing him to an offer sheet in an alternate universe where NHL general managers are actually doing everything possible to make their teams win.

Winner: Ottawa Senators - Free agent Zenon Kenopka signed a $700,000 deal and could provide excellent value while competing for the second line center role, which is great news for Senator fans as long as they don't think too hard about what it says about the rest of the roster.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A buyer's guide to the remaining NHL free agents

Hey Teemu, how many days does it
take you each offseason to decide if
you want to play another year?
As August winds down, it's beginning to feel like the entire NHL is on vacation. There's nothing to talk about, because nothing is happening.

That's good news if you're a hockey fan who could use a break before gearing up for the coming season. But it's terrible news if you're one of this year's unrestricted free agents who hasn't yet found a new home. With many rosters appearing to be locked in as training camp approaches, it could be difficult for even one-time star players to find work.

Here's a look at a few of the biggest names still available, and the cases for and against signing them.

Bryan McCabe
The good: In seven years since the lockout, has lead his teams to one more playoff game win than you have.
The bad: Is kind of hard to get in touch with these days, since his phone is constantly being bombarded with voicemails from Tomas Kaberle yelling "Dude, you were totally wrong, waiving a no-trade clause to leave Toronto is awesome!"
Where he'd fit: He can definitely still help a team on the powerplay, assuming the area they need help with is their "miss the net three times then fall down and give up a shorthanded breakaway" play.

Chris Campoli
The good: Is known as a puck-moving defenceman, which presumably makes him more valuable than a defenceman who insists on keeping the puck stationary at all times.
The bad: Has spent almost his entire career with the Islanders and Senators, so has never had any experience clearing a rebound.
Where he'd fit: Should be attractive to a potential President's Trophy winner, since he's proven he can single-handedly win a crucial playoff game for one.

Teemu Selanne
The good: Now that's he's older and more mature, no longer recklessly throws his glove in the air after a big goal and then shoots it down; now throws the glove and then writes it a stern but respectful letter.
The bad: Has clearly lost a step, occasionally looking a little winded while skating circles around some defenceman who's 20 years younger than him.
Where he'd fit: Winnipeg, according to people who are still hoping that the original Gun 'N Roses lineup will reunite.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rejected ideas from the NHL's research and development camp

John Ferguson Jr.'s ice-painting career was
the most successful hockey job he ever had.
Various changes to the rules, arena and equipment will be on the agenda this week when the NHL holds its Research, Development and Orientation (RDO) Camp under the watchful eye of league senior vice president Brendan Shanahan.

First held in 2005 and re-introduced as an annual event last year, the RDO camp gives the league's hockey operations department an opportunity to test changes during live game scenarios. Some of those changes will become permanent, while most will provide a few hours' worth of raised eyebrows before being forgotten.

But while the final schedule of planned experiments has been widely reported, it turns out the original list was slightly different. I've come into possession of a top-secret league memo addressed to Shanahan that outlines some additional proposals that apparently didn't quite make the final cut.



Below please find a list of rules I'd like to see tested at the upcoming RDO camp. Some of these came from folks I've been talking to around the league, and others are my own ideas. I know you're working on your own list, so it's your call on which ones you go with in the end.

And of course, if you think any of my ideas are so good they should skip the RDO altogether and just go straight into the rulebook, that's fine too. I can totally make that happen.

Your pal,

  • To cut down on premeditated "payback" brawls, refuse to allow players to fight after a faceoff unless they can produce a handwritten permission note from Mario Lemieux.

  • Comprehensively test the new headshot rules, and then survey the players afterwards to see if they feel like they understand them; if any of them do, back to the drawing board.

  • Consider banning any music from being played inside the arena at any time, because it might interrupt your neighbour's precious beauty sleep and then they'll call the cops on you. (Idea suggested by Sean Avery.)

  • Remove the trapezoid behind the net in an effort to increase/decrease whatever it is that having a trapezoid behind the net was supposed to decrease/increase in the first place.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How to buy out a player: The NHL's handy form

Yashin always wore a turtle-neck. Or, as
hockey players call it, a Carcillo-neck.
It's the second week of August, which means there's not much news on the NHL transaction page these days. The blockbuster trades have already been made, free agency has slowed to a crawl, and most teams seem satisfied to wait out the rest of the offseason without making any significant moves.

But there is one exception: With arbitration hearings now wrapped up, some teams now have a second opportunity to buy out unwanted players. This year's buyout periods have already claimed players such as Chris Drury and Colin White. But while fans have become used to the annual news of offseason buyouts, few know the behind-the-scenes process for making them happen.

As it turns out, it's not all that complicated. All a general manager has to do is fill out a simple one-page form, and luckily my spies at the league office were able to provide me with a copy.


Dear NHL general manager,

Congratulations on your decision to buy out a player. This process provides an excellent opportunity to correct your past mistakes, or at the very least spread the cap hit out into future seasons when, let's be honest, it will be some other guy's problem.

Please complete the form below and submit it to the league office. Note that the buyout will not be official until the league has approved it, so please refrain from setting the content of the player's locker on fire until then.

Player's first name: _________________
Player's last name: _________________
Player's nickname that you call him publicly: _________________
Player's nicknames that you call him under your breath every time he touches the puck:
_________________ (use the back of the application form if you need more room)

The player's current annual cap hit: $ ____________

Wow…. Really?
( ) Sigh
( ) Next question please.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A look back at the musical wonder that was 1994's "The Joe Bowen Rap"

Holy Mackinaw, boyyeeee.
What do you get when a billion-dollar corporation commissions a safe, watered-down, committee-approved song to serve as an anthem for their last-place team? Well, as Leaf fans know, you get "Free To Be", although we also would have accepted "two ear drums punctured by the nearest pencil".

But what do you get when you combine an exciting team, an aspiring rapper with access to recording equipment, and the passion of a true diehard Maple Leafs fan? You get just about the greatest song ever recorded.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time since 1994, The Joe Bowen Rap by Young Offender:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Other NHL team grievances

Dishonesty and incompetence involving
the LA Kings and a guy named Fraser?
But that would never happen!
The Los Angeles Kings aren't very happy these days, and they've let the league know it. On Friday, reports emerged that the Kings have filed an official grievance with the NHL over the recent trade that sent Ryan Smyth to Edmonton in exchange for Colin Fraser.

The Kings say that Fraser's ankle injury is more significant than they were led to believe, while the Oilers say they shared all the medical information they had. As per league rules, both sides in the dispute will get a chance to present their case to commissioner Gary Bettman, who settles all formal grievances.

That means that Bettman could be a busy man this summer, since it turns out that the Kings aren't the only team with something to be unhappy about these days. Sources tell me that the NHL has actually received a list of grievances from various NHL teams.

Here are some the NHL teams lining up to have their complaints heard:

Florida Panthers - The league's out-of-control salary floor increases have forced the team to fill the roster with players who are overpaid and barely average, instead of players who are underpaid and terrible like our fans have become used to.

Winnipeg Jets - Players have been reluctant to appear in local promotional events during the Winnipeg summer ever since that one minor incident a few weeks ago when Dustin Byfuglien was carried away by a mosquito.

New York Islanders - While the original prank call to Alexei Yashin was hilarious, the way he keeps eagerly calling us back every day now "just to check in" is starting to make us feel sort of bad.

Toronto Maple Leafs - General manager Brian Burke has allowed himself to become so distracted with trips to Afghanistan and other public appearances that he can't even be bothered to perform basic job functions, such as giving the Nashville Predators something half decent in return for Cody Frasnon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Countdown to opening night: Remaining offseason tasks for the Winnipeg Jets

And nine months later, a beautiful
leafy-airplane baby was born.
The Winnipeg Jets took their latest step in their NHL rebirth on Friday when they released their much anticipated logo. After months of speculation, fans now have a visual representation of Canada's newest team.

The logo was just the latest step in a long process that began in May when the rumoured relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers became reality. Since then the Jets have sold thousands of season tickets, announced their team name, made their first draft picks, hired a new GM and coaching staff, and resigned captain Andrew Ladd.

That's an impressive start, but there's still more to do. Getting a NHL team up and running is a daunting job, and with less than two months until training camp the Jets still have plenty of outstanding items left on their checklist. Here's a sample of some of the work the team still has to do before they hit the ice.

  • Create a promotional DVD to get fans excited about young star Evander Kane, which shouldn't take long since it just needs to be a clip of the Matt Cooke fight on a 90-minute loop.

  • Organize some sort of orientation for lifelong Atlanta Thrasher players who will be now dealing with issues they've never faced before such as a harsh climate, Canadian tax laws, and fans.

  • Figure out some way to make ice in time for the home opener on October 9th, since every flat surface in Winnipeg isn't normally covered in several inches of ice until October 15th.

  • File the paperwork to have that playground near the arena renamed "Hey Bryzgalov, enjoy getting booed and pelted with batteries in Philadelphia" Memorial Park.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When a day with the Stanley Cup goes wrong

Looks like when he called airline customer
service, Horton heard a "who?" YEEEAHHH
Just over a month after being raised in the air by Boston captain Zdeno Chara, the Stanley Cup was back in the news over the weekend. But unlike game seven in Vancouver, this time the Cup made headlines for not least, not when it was supposed to.

Bruins' forward Nathan Horton was scheduled to enjoy his traditional day with the Cup in his hometown of Dunnville, Ont. on Sunday. But the Cup missed its flight, and Horton had to appear in front of the assembled fans empty-handed.

The Cup did eventually arrived for a shortened appearance at the event, and an embarrassed Horton apologized to the crowd. But he shouldn't have felt bad. Despite all the feel-good stories we're used to hearing this time year, Horton is just the latest in a long line of NHL players to have problems with the world's most famous trophy.

Here's a look back at some past champions who had their day with the Cup go badly:

1999 - Brett Hull is half an hour late returning the Cup in violation of the long-enforced 24-hour limit, but everyone agrees to just pretend that rule doesn't exist rather than make a big deal out of it.

2001 - Whitby's Adam Foote is disappointed after spending the entire day showing off the Cup to hockey fans in nearby Toronto, only to discover that none of them recognize it.

2007 - Officials are forced to explain to a disappointed crowd in Fort McMurry that yes, it was easily the biggest goal of his career and yes, it will go down in the record books as the Stanley Cup winner, but no, Chris Phillips still isn't getting a day with the Cup.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Maple Leafs Overtime Heroes: Todd Gill vs. the Blackhawks

Maple Leafs Overtime Heroes is an ongoing (kind of) series where we'll look back at memorable Leaf playoff overtime goals. Today's goal is Todd Gill's controversial winner against Chicago in game two of their 1994 playoff series.

Ref? Ref! This guy just dropped
Marty McSorley's eyeball in my lap!
The Maple Leafs opened the 1994 playoffs with a first round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. That series opened with a surprisingly lopsided 5-1 victory in game one that started with a Wendel Clark goal from the redline and ended with Robert Dirk squirting blood all over the ice thanks to Todd Gill.

Game two wouldn't be so easy. After being embarrassed in the first game, Ed Belfour shut the door in game two. But so did Felix Potvin, and a duel between two of the better goaltenders in the league saw the game still scoreless heading into overtime. Staring down wave after wave of snipers, Potvin and Belfour traded stunning stops, each one better than the last. Neither would blink. Neither would yield. Nobody, it began to seem, was going to find the net on this night.

Then a defensive defenceman scored on a sixty-foot, unscreened, five-hole slapshot.

Wait, what?

Well, I may have left out one little detail. Let's go to the replay.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The biggest free agent signings of 2011

Tomas Vokoun, moments after being informed
of the contract terms his agent just agreed to.
We're now twelve days into the NHL's free agency period, and the signings have slowed to a trickle. But while this year's free agent class was widely dismissed as the weakest in years, it did feature a handful of big name players who found new homes during the early frenzy.

Let's take a look back at some of the signings most likely to make an impact in the years to come.

Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia

The good: Despite repeated requests over the years, wisely insisted on delaying his return to North America until he was absolutely positive his mullet was in game shape.
The bad: Forgotten sports stars attempting improbable comebacks rarely find success in Philadelphia until they've murdered a few dogs first.
Worth noting: Has previously played for the Penguins, Capitals and Rangers, meaning he's apparently aware of the same four NHL teams as Gary Bettman.

Tomas Vokoun, Washington

The good: Was willing to take an enormous discount from his expected contract value because he wanted to play on a team that could make a deep playoff run.
The bad: Due to a clerical error, wound up signing in Washington instead.
Worth noting: Will provide the Capitals with the best goaltending they've had since 1999, which is also presumably the year his agent was born.

Tim Connolly, Toronto

The good: Toronto is a perfect fit for a player with a history of concussions, since the ACC is the closest thing the league has to a permanent quiet room.
The bad: He recently compared the Maple Leafs to the New York Yankees, so he could be distracted by having every Yankee fan he meets from now on trying to punch him.
Worth noting: It may be a bad sign that the last time Brian Burke and Ron Wilson assembled this many Americans on one roster they became the only team in hockey history to lose a big game to Roberto Luongo.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A brief history of NHL offer sheets

"Hmm, in New York I'd probably live in an
apartment, which means no snowblowers..."
With much of the frenzy around unrestricted free agency dying down, attention has turned to the handful of big name restricted free agents. With players like Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty finding themselves in a position to negotiate a deal with the highest bidder, fans are waiting to see if a team would dare attempt to sign one of the young stars to an offer sheet.

Partly due to an apparent unwritten code among general managers and partly due to economic realities, it's rare to see a player actually sign an offer sheet. But it does happen, and NHL history is filled with examples of star players putting their current teams in a difficult spot thanks to a better offer from another team.

Here's a look at some of the most famous offer sheet attempts in NHL history.

July 26, 2007 – The Oilers sign Dustin Penner to an offer sheet that would cost them their upcoming first round pick as compensation, in a move Ducks' general manager Brian Burke condemns as “gutless” and “desperation” as he's frantically stuffing Penner's possessions into the nearest suitcase.

July 16, 1990 – Scott Stevens agrees to sign an offer sheet with the St. Louis Blues, on the condition that everyone agree that hits to a defenceless opponent's head that cause serious brain injuries will remain totally cool until after he retires.

August 6, 1997 – The New York Rangers nearly succeed in acquiring superstar Joe Sakic with a heavily front-loaded offer in what everyone agrees is a transparent attempt to exploit a loophole that the NHL will no doubt be taking care of immediately.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Behind the scenes of the Brad Richards bidding war

"Sure, give me a longterm mega-deal, what could go
wrong? Uh, why do you keep looking behind me?"
Friday marked the official start of NHL free agency, and all eyes were focused on Brad Richards. The former Dallas Star was unquestionably the biggest name available on the open market, and he quickly became the focus of an unprecedented bidding war.

As the day wore on, Richards reportedly narrowed his choices down to four teams: the Rangers, Kings, Maple Leafs and Flames. With various hockey media staking out his agent's office in Mississauga, the star centre huddled inside with advisors listening to detailed presentations from each of the candidates. After a gruelling day of negotiations and counter-offers, Richards eventually signed a nine-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers.

So what exactly happened behind those closed doors on Friday? As it turns out, DGB spies were present throughout the day and were able to capture some of the most notable moments from the day's proceedings.

12:01 pm - Although they agree to take him at his word that he's keeping an open mind, arriving representatives of the Flames, Leafs and Kings admit it may be a bad sign that Richards meets them at the door wearing a Rangers jersey.

12:34 pm - Despite some concern that Brian Burke would miss the Leafs' presentation while in Afghanistan to visit the troops, he is able to join thanks to the last-minute invention of a brand new technology known as the telephone.

1:12 pm - Flames' general manager Jay Feaster spend several minutes laughingly reminiscing with Richards about that time in Tampa Bay when they won the Stanley Cup because the refs didn't see the other team score the winning goal in overtime, while Jarome Iginla sits quietly between them with a single tear rolling down his cheek.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A player's guide to NHL free agency

Every decent 2011 free agent: the group photo.
Free agency officially begins today, with hundreds of players available to the highest bidder. Some will strike it rich, while others may be left without a job when the dust settles. But at the very least, most will get a phone call or two from NHL general managers looking to improve their rosters.

The chance to be an unrestricted free agent is no doubt an exhilarating experience for NHL players. But it can also be confusing, and in an era where many players will only get to have the experience once in their careers the risk of committing a unfortunate faux pas is high.

I want to help avoid that. So for those who are new to the process, or who could simply use a refresher, here's a player's guide to the do's and don'ts of NHL free agency.

DO: Feel a sense of pride when a media preview includes you on a list of the most intriguing names available in this year's free agency crop.
DO NOT: Feel any less proud just because they have you tied for second place with "everyone not named Brad Richards".

DO: Instruct your agent to refuse to discuss your status with any team before free agency officially begins at 12:00 ET on July 1, as it's only ethical that you carefully follow all league rules regarding tampering.
DO NOT: Suffer any cognitive dissonance when your agent faxes you a completed 10-page contract to sign at 12:03.

DO: Tell the team you eventually sign a long term deal with that "I'm looking forward to spending the next several years of my career in your wonderful city."
DO NOT: Be surprised by the awkward silence that follows when you say that to the front office from Phoenix.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where will Brad Richards sign?

Free agency is just days away, and there's little question about who the big name is. Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars is easily the best player available, and is expected to receive substantial offers from several big market teams. Where will he end up signing? It's all a mystery.

Or maybe not. Fans that have paid attention to recent free agent patterns may already have a sense of how all this will turn out.

In fact, Bloge Salming and I can picture it now...

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Winners and losers at the 2011 NHL draft

I'm not saying it was a weak draft, but at #8
overall the Flyers took a kid with no arms.
This year's NHL draft turned out to be one of the busiest in recent memory. The days leading up to the event saw several blockbuster trades, and the wheeling and dealing continued over the weekend as teams exchanged picks and players.

In between the trade announcements, there was also a draft going on. While most of the 211 players chosen won't make an NHL impact, it's probably safe to say that each team walked away from the weekend thinking they've improved. Of course, only time will tell which ones were right.

How much time? Three days sounds about right. So let's start the evaluation process now, with a look at which teams came out of the weekend ahead and which ones may have taken a step back.

Winner: Florida Panthers - General manager Dale Tallon went into the draft with a roster that was short on top-tier talent and well under the NHL's salary floor, and acquiring Brian Campbell certainly helps with one of those problems.

Loser: Colorado Avalanche - Winger Gabriel Landeskog had been widely heralded as being mature beyond his years, which unfortunately was proven correct fifteen minutes after the draft when he announced that he was retiring to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Winner: Ottawa Senators - By trading for Nikita Filatov, filled that glaring "enigmatic Russian that Senator fans will dramatically over-rate for three games before permanently turning against" void.

Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 NHL Draft Preview

Drafted second overall? Ha, enjoy
years of finishing in last place, kid.
It's NHL draft weekend, with the first round taking place tonight from the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota. And while the consensus is that there aren't any surefire superstars in this year's crop of prospects, most experts seem to agree that it's a deep pool of good young players.

In recent months the prospects have been scouted, interviewed, analyzed and subjected to the rigors of the combine. There's been no shortage of opportunity for teams to do their homework, and at this point the teams know these guys about as well as they ever could.

But what about the fans? As we prepare to settle in and watch the intrigue unfold, let's take one last look at some of the prospects who can expect to hear their names called tonight.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Hockey fans should make an effort to get to know this exciting offensive force from the Red Deer Rebels before the draft, since he's probably going to be picked by the Edmonton Oilers and then never heard from again.

Adam Larsson - The Swedish blueliner has been repeatedly compared to Victor Hedman. So watch your back, anyone in this year's draft who has been repeatedly compared to Sidney Crosby.

Johnathan Huberdeau - Raised some eyebrows during the interview portion of the combine when, on the advice of his agents, he spent his entire interview with New York Islanders management nervously denying that he had ever played hockey before.

Gabriel Landeskog - Achieved the top possible score in the infamous Wingate endurance test when, after 30 second of furious pedaling, the bicycle vomited and passed out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Offseason to-do lists from around the NHL

If you're going to ruin some team's long-term
cap situation this summer, raise your hand.
While celebrating Boston Bruin fans may want to pretend otherwise, the 2010-11 season is already a fading memory. The NHL schedule doesn't allow much time for dwelling on the past, and all eyes are already focused on next year.

We're just three days away from the draft and ten days away from the start of free agency. That means that just two weeks from today, almost every NHL team will look significantly different than it does right now. That's good news for the majority of teams who expect to be significantly better next year. But how will they do it?

That's where the offseason to-do list comes in. Many teams have already made a list of their summer priorities and determined a plan of attack. I reached out to sources embedded with several teams, and they revealed some of the strategies they plan to be executing in the weeks and months to come.

Ottawa Senators - Meet with scouts and coaches to prepare an in-depth analysis of the various strengths in Craig Anderson's game; work on a detailed action plan for destroying them.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Remember last year when we signed Clarke MacArthur at a discount and he turned out to be a reliable everyday contributor? Just do that another seven or eight times, and we should have almost four full lines next year.

Montreal Canadiens - Communicate to fans that the bar has been raised, the competition is working harder than ever before, and that a few isolated car-burnings just isn't going to be good enough anymore.