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.