March 03 2011 10:05PM
With the silliness of the NHL swap meet ending on Monday afternoon, it's all serious business for the rest of the season as teams play out the last quarter, so a roundup seems in order to set the scene. This time around, the Flames split in the Midwest, the Islanders' loose cannon goes off, and matters in the desert might be heading for a finale. Or not.
The Flames are living a bit dangerously at the moment, at least to my eye. They really haven't played a solid game since the wipeout in Denver, and this week's pair of tilts weren't any different, score in St. Louis aside. Last night's game, though, might end up being more noted for the loss of a player than two points.
Brendan Morrison's MRI results haven't been made public as I write this, but it seems pretty obvious he was rendered hors de combat for at least a little while with a knee injury suffered against the Hawks. He's been a nice bargain for the club, and although I'm pretty realistic about the actual quality of his play, his presence on a line with Iginla and Tanguay has permitted other players to move down the lineup to good effect. I'll be curious to see if Brent Sutter trusts Mikael Backlund enough to give him a greatly expanded role, or if he hedges and uses Tanguay in the middle with Bourque and Iginla, leaving Jokinen, Stajan and Backlund in their current places.
It's an odd thing. The Flames' depth has been an ace that the club has used to its advantage as of late, but it's also been a strategy that's depended on a fully healthy team due to the absence of a genuine EV horse at forward. Without a first rate PvP threat, they've had to win on quantity all season long, so a long term absence on Morrison's part isn't a good thing, irrespective of the fact that he's not who I might want to have as a number one center. Freddy Modin will get an airing as a result, so if nothing else we'll see how his back is feeling and if he's up to the pace in the Western Conference. I can only go on faith that he's got something left, because there was no evidence of it during his stint in Atlanta.
In news that's probably all good, Daymond Langkow looks like he's on his way back next year. I won't discount the possibility that his injury and the year-long absence that has followed could leave him a shell of the effective player he was, but I have a suspicion that even a shell of his previous best would be a step up from at least one current Flame pivot.
On the Docket:
The club does have a chance to put a bit of distance between themselves and a couple of other teams this weekend, as they host the Jackets and Preds Friday and Sunday. The Jackets have played pretty well in the last month, and they likely did themselves a favour with the acquisition of Upshall and Lepisto on Monday. Scott Arniel's optimism aside, I don't think they have enough to get to the second season, but they can still be a pain for other clubs down the stretch, although they've just lost a game they really couldn't lose to the
Oklahoma City Oil Barons Edmonton Oilers in Stinktown this evening.
The Predators are currently playing in Vancouver this evening, and like the Blue Jackets, I'm not quite sure if they have enough to get over the line. They centered in a lot of chatter on Monday, but it was nothing doing on the trade front, so they have to go the distance with a forward group that isn't quite where they need to be.
They do have some aces on the backend, though, and maybe Suter and Weber will be enough along with Rinne to push Nashville into mid-April. The defensive duo's return to the Evergreen Playground this week has also sparked memories of what they went through at GM Place just over a year ago, as they went from teammates to rivals in the Olympics. How long they'll be teammates is a question of interest with Weber potentially an UFA in a year's time, and I suspect his ears, and those of his representatives, must have perked up on the news of Brent Seabrook's recent contract. Weber is the superior player, IMO, so his market rate might have just been set at 6M+.
North by Northwest:
Oh, you Oilers. Trade one of your best players, have Hemmer busted up again, finish a win with Hall in a walking cast after he hurts himself in a fight, I almost feel sorry for you. Not your fans, of course, especially the charming folks that drop by here to brag about the fact, in practical terms, that the club they root for is a good bet to finish last overall three years in a row. All part of the master plan, right?
I did note with particular interest Dan Barnes' Tweet from yesterday inferring that the Oiler brass knows that Colton Teubert's limit is a bottom pairing sluggo. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't trade a useful top-sixer that isn't UFA for a late first rounder and a guy who's top end might be Jim Vandermeer. From a Flame fan POV, of course, this is nothing short of delicious. Long may Tambelloweni reign ;-)
The Canucks are in the doldrums right now, as their offence has dried up, especially on the PP. As much as I might hope that sort of action can hold for a couple of more months, I suspect that Alain Vigneault's smirk is that of a man that realizes that his team can half-ass it and still win. Must be nice. Unless they catch a mass case of Ebola, they're the favourites. I'm not remotely happy with this.
Is the league's best player going to play again this year? No one knows, and even the hard-hearted should realize that's not good for anyone. The Pens are in no-man's land right now. They remain a cinch for the post-season, but absent Crosby they're a poor bet to win a round. I like Jordan Staal as a player quite a lot, but he's not good enough to carry that team, so if 87 stays on the sidelines, it could be a lost year for Pittsburgh.
That does lead me, in a roundabout way, to last night's festivities on the Island. Trevor Gillies, like so many recidivists, couldn't help but re-offend immediately upon release, running Cal Clutterbuck and earning himself a visit to the league offices for a hearing. Clutterbuck's initial hit on Justin DeBenedetto was a pile of garbage, and the league occasionally goes out of it's way to punish the retaliator rather than the first offender, but Gillies acted like a bit of a pinhead, and he'll be vacationing soon enough because of that stupid act.
I'd like to reiterate what I said last night in the game chat: the league won't really get anyone's attention until it begins burying guys for 20-40 games, and it won't likely change its lax attitude until it has a player permanently paralysed or worse. That feeling on my part goes for stuff like the Clutterbuck hit at least as much as the Gillies hit, by the way. It goes for Brent Seabrook's BS move on Gio last night as well. I don't quite know what it will take to open people's eyes on this matter. My fear is that it won't kick in until they carry a guy off and the next time we see him is when his minder wheels the poor bugger out to center ice for a tribute night. Bruce Arthur, as he often does, has a few timely words about the effect that game's seamier side can have on its participants.
The parade planning is underway in Toronto, with the Leafs heading for a certain fairytale run to the Cup after beating Philly in Philly this evening. Or maybe not. I kid, but the Leafs have gotten NHL-level goaltending as of late from James Reimer, after five straight years of ECHL quality work in the cage, so I can't really blame Leaf fans for feeling like there might be a glimmer.
Plenty of action in the boardrooms this week, with a few teams in search of new ownership making news. In Dallas, although other suitors are more prominently mentioned, I really hope against hope that Mark Cuban ends up with a piece of the Stars. If nothing else, given his track record in the NBA, we'd have an owner willing to take a fine or two in the cause of calling out poor work by the stripes.
In Atlanta, a couple of groups have allegedly decided to kick a few tires. The Atlanta Spirit group would prefer to have a full divestiture of their sports properties, so the Hawks and Phillips Arena would be on the block as well. As always, it will interesting to see how much cash any new ownership concern would be willing to piss away for the pleasure of possessing a team or two. I would also caution anyone chasing these properties to remember that the Hawks were a poor team until Robert Sarver gifted them Joe Johnson a few years back, and they drew about as badly as the Thrashers. Buyer beware, y'all.
Finally, the interminable saga featuring the stray dogs of the desert might be heading to some sort of conclusion. Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press used the phrase "death rattle" on TSN in his analysis of Elaine Scruggs' press conference this afternoon, where the mayor of Glendale implored the Goldwater Institute to step off, lest the city's carefully crafted deal with Matthew Hulsizer fall apart. I'm not quite sure that the deal is toast, but the parties that are involved certainly do appear to have a whiff of desperation about them.
I go over this ground a fair bit in the comments/chats because of my status as a Jets' fan before they bolted in '96, but I'm compelled to repeat what I always end up coming back to: the NHL will only leave Arizona or Atlanta or any other current market if there is absolutely no hope of a deal, and we've seen the lengths the league will go to in order to keep franchises in place. This isn't because I think the league are a collection of evil-doers or morons. Well, I do think that in a few cases, but they aren't entirely wrong to wish that things work themselves out in Glendale.
Moving franchises around is a messy business even under the best of circumstances, and I don't doubt that the powers that be think they've got an opening to obtain a better U.S. TV deal in their current negotiations. Winnipeg having a team at the expense of Glendale doesn't help that particular cause, even if that relocation might add a nice eight figure sum to the gate receipt part of revenues, at least in the near term. It's always wise to be mindful of the fact that Winnipeg isn't some slam dunk market, either. Never confuse "better than Glendale or Atlanta in their current state" with "good", even if it would be nice for me on a personal level to attend a NHL game or 40 without having to board an airplane.
Through all the feints, bluster and public proclamations from all parties, I always seem to end up with the same sense whenever it looks like something might finally break regarding this matter. There's no real reason for me to believe that a franchise will return to Winnipeg until the day that the True North people send me an actual solicitation for Jets/Polar Bears/Giant Goddamn Mosquitoes season tickets. People should be cautious regarding the matter until the affair reaches that point, no matter what tomorrow's news may bring.
Enjoy your weekend.