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 appearing...at 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.