August 30 2010 12:44PM
Ah, another enjoyable week spent away from the computer, with nothing but the dulcet tones of Winnipeg's unofficial mascot ringing in my ears. The hockey world did manage to grind on in my absence, however, and this week in the round-up, potential good news for number 22, the Oilers re-up a useful youngster, and the Panthers acknowledge a bit of reality.
The one worthwhile piece of news this week in Calgary was the declaration that Daymond Langkow has been cleared to begin skating. He's quite a ways away from being ready, but at least the conversation is moving from "he'll be on LTIR all year" to something a touch more optimistic. I don't hate the Flames' forward group from 1-10 (i.e. as far down the chart as Conroy) at all, but Daymond Langkow and Rene Bourque look like the best bets to handle good comp, and having Langkow available would ease the concerns a number of us have. He's not perfect by any means, but he is very good and still the best option the club has to offer against the other side's quality opposition. The other point that never seems to get acknowledged is that if Langkow can go, one of Matt Stajan or Olli Jokinen will face third line comp. I'd certainly rather that the Flames had a front-line player that could whip all comers in the manner Iginla did for a number of years, but they don't. The next best hope is that having three decent pivots will lead to a matchup advantage for the one that gets regular bottom-six opposition. A healthy Langkow may make that scenario a reality.
Interesting week in Shelbyville, no? There's no spectacular insight I can add on the Khabibulin affair that Tyler Dellow hasn't been providing over the last several months, but I'm in accord with the opinion that Steve Tambellini won't use the Russian netminder's DUI conviction as grounds to terminate his contract. I suspect that the best hope for the Oil is a three year hitch on LTIR. They aren't capped at the moment, but if their young guys pan out, they might need the room when 2012/13 rolls around.
The Oilers managed to secure Sam Gagner's services for the next two seasons at two mil and change per last night. He's a pretty decent player for a 21 year old, and for all the talk of guys like Hall and Eberle, if the Oilers get good again in the next few years, it's hard to imagine it happening without continued development from Gagner. They still have Andrew Cogliano unsigned, but he smells increasingly like trade bait to me. He's a terrific skater that hasn't figured out the rest of the game, and it just might not happen for him in Edmonton.
Lee Stempniak also settled his future this week, returning for two more years with the Desert Dogs. His deal is significantly smaller than his past contract, but given the tight market, I'm not sure it's that far off. He isn't going to shoot 29 percent for any extended stretches, if I were to hazard a guess, so paying him like a 15-20 goal scorer is about right. The deal is another bit of nice work by Don Maloney. The Coyotes will likely miss Michalek a ton, but if they can get Hanzal signed, their forward group is representative.
The Leafs signed an arbitration reject over the weekend, inking Clarke MacArthur for 1.1 million a season, a smooth 1.3M less than his silly award. It's certainly a salary more in line with a third-line player still finding his way. There was some Twitter talk comparing his deal to Colby Armstrong's, but that's off, in my view. I think the Armstrong deal is an overpay, but he has some history showing good work against better players. MacArthur doesn't, as of yet. His fellow arbitration reject appears to have a deal in hand as well, as the Buffalo News is reporting Tim Kennedy is headed to the Rags.
Speaking of rumours....well, I'll believe it when a deal is approved. The real issue for the Devils is how to unload a pile of salary in order to be in compliance before Opening Night. Zubrus and Salvador are the likely candidates to exit unless Lamoriello has some other nefarious plan in mind. That Ralston contract sure is a bugger, isn't it?. 2 more years on a 35+ deal at 5M per is a load for a guy that's begun the slide. How's that go again? Self-inflicted wounds deserve no sympathy? Something along that line? Contracts like Ralston's or Khabibulin's are why I so rarely have any time for the complaints of management/ownership. They were obviously risky, even under ideal circumstances, and the clubs went down that path willingly.
We've seen a few RFAs get new deals since we last convened, as Steve Downie, Patric Hornqvist, Niklas Grossman and Bryan Little all came to terms. The Little contract is an interesting one, because he's clearly being paid as if the Thrashers expect him to be a scorer. He shot 7.9% in 07/08, 18% in his 31 goal 08/09, and went right back to 7.9% last year. He's a young guy who isn't explicitly awful, but he was quite average in terms of possession against meh competition. He might be worth it at the end of the deal, but it looks shaky for now. Betting on SH% staying abnormally high always seems like a sucker move.
A couple of interesting vets also signed this week, and the addition of Raffi Torres to the Canucks is certainly one of note for Flames' fans. He's a loose cannon at times, but he's not terrible, and the Canucks needed the depth. It's a good signing at the price. Meanwhile, Willie Mitchell is headed to L.A. on a two year deal. If his head is healthy, he's still a good shut-down option, although his contract is at the top of the market for a player that brings no scoring to the table.
There's news on and off-ice in Florida this week. David Booth, when not murdering the noble creatures of the forest, has begun skating after a season he'd prefer to forget. Of course, given the nature of his injuries, he likely doesn't remember big chunks of it in any case, but his return is good news for a team that sent Nathan Horton packing this summer.
The other item of interest is the announcement that the club will tarp off several rows of seats for the majority of games next season. It doesn't suggest a healthy market for tickets in Miami, but before people get too shirty about matters, I do recall the Flames didn't regularly sell seats in the SportChek zone until the club took off in 2003-04. Whatever I might think about a particular market from time to time, losing for a decade or more will suppress ticket sales unless that market is Toronto.
Finally this week, a brief word regarding the Olympics. I don't for one minute dispute that that NHL owners and leadership feel that, as a business entity, their product is devalued in a significant manner every four years. I also don't think that the IIHF and IOC are worthy of any defence. The Olympics are, like the NHL, a gigantic business with a fair share of shabby money-graspers on the scene, so I suppose that one could simply write off all of this as rich men squabbling over mannon, and that if the NHL chooses to restrict players from heading to Sochi, so be it. If one simply regards this as a powerplay over cash, then a World Cup should be an acceptable substitute absent a financial agreement between the two sides.
With all that stipulated, I completely understand why that POV doesn't ring true for most players or fans. The Olympics, for whatever I may think about the people running the show, touch something within most of us that no mere hockey competition ever could. On a personal level, I'm someone who's fairly sympathetic to E.M. Forster's contention that you'd never have a quiet world until you knocked the patriotism out of it, and yet I still feel that something larger, and better, is at play every four years, even accounting for my misgivings about the people in charge. My suspicion is that sense of the larger world is at the heart of the players' desire to continue with participating as well. The NHL is the highest level of the game, but the Olympics represent athletic greatness in the collective, with pride of country added in for good measure. The players clearly feel involvement in that wider collection of the elite offers them a status and level of personal satisfaction that makes it worth playing in the tournament for next to nothing, relatively speaking. That's something that no World Cup can ever hope to offer.
That's all for this time. If you see anything of interest, feel free to leave a link in comments.