June 10 2011 01:02AM
The NHL season, which often has the aura of a forced march during the regular year, is a just a week away at most from being complete. Where the hell did the time go? It just seemed like yesterday when people were questioning Roberto Luongo and wondering if Ryan Kesler would start scoring like he had earlier in the year. Oh, wait, that was yesterday. Silly me. At any rate, it’s time again for a review of NHL news local and otherwise. This week, the Flames sign a young defender, the Finals head back to B.C. and some hockey team sold some tickets.
The Flames, although still reeling a bit from their inability to ink their best prospect last Wednesday, remain in business, and business today consisted of signing Brett Carson to a perfectly acceptable contract for a 6th-7th D. Like Kent, I think the real news of the signing was the fact the club posted the salary the former Hitman agreed to right on their official web page. NHL teams don’t do that as a rule, leaving the messy details to be confirmed by one of the members of the Raccoon Lodge (pace Dellow). Of course, the fact that Carson appears to skate faster than 2.7 MPH should be news in and of itself, given the defence he’ll play on.
Off-ice, Craig Hartsburg will join his old World Junior bud behind the Flames’ bench next year. As I mentioned last time around, the effect of assistant coaches seems like it’s fairly marginal in terms of game results, so there’s every chance that the only impact will be on Brent Sutter himself. The club is also still in search of a goalie coach, with Roger Millions dropping a couple of names yesterday.
The Canucks laid a couple of massive eggs in Boston, getting two pretty comprehensive thrashings from the B’s as the series head west all square. Tyler has posited that history doesn’t suggest that the trouncings mean all that much, and if the Canuck PP can get out of the dumper, that’s likely so. Jonathan Willis slaps those narratives around as well, just for good measure.
That hasn’t stopped the bigfoot media types from engaging in their favourite pastime of tangential emotional analysis, although based on the analysis of actual game play we’ve heard from the likes of Glenn Healy during this playoff season, maybe that’s for the best. As an aside, I chose to watch the first half of last night’s NBA game with City and Colour’s Coachella set playing in the background rather than suffer through the mewlings of Mark Jackson. I suspect I did the right thing, so that could be a plan for tonight’s NHL G5.
Moving on, the obvious on-ice matter for Vancouver to overcome is the absence of Dan Hamhuis. Kevin Bieksa looks off the pace without his partner, and the injury to Hamhuis has also forced the Canucks into dressing the Keith Ballard Experience, which returned roughly the results any sensible person might have predicted.
Hamhuis isn’t the only Canuck that’s badly nicked, and a team that appeared impervious during the regular year even as they weathered one injury after another might be seeing its depth sorely tested. The Dys don’t miss Mikael Samuelsson at EV very often but he did give them an extra option on the PP, and he’s not available either. I don’t really have the sense that’s it’s psychology messing up the Canucks as much as fatigue and injury undoing them. Home cooking fixes a lot of problems, though, and Alain Vigneault dictating matchups might be the juice Vancouver requires to get back on the beam.
The Bruins are riding the opposite sort of wave at the moment, but it’s worthwhile to mention that they’ve only held serve and still have to win in Vancouver without Nathan Horton. His absence and the action that sent him to the sideline are the biggest story of the series, but it’s the tone deaf decision asking the conflicted Brian Burke to advise the disciplinary process that amuses me most. As you might expect, Burke reacted in his normal understated manner when the subject was broached. Recusing oneself from a clear conflict of interest must just be for the unwashed.
I will say that no matter who wins the Cup, we likely won’t hear loons fetishizing either team’s construction as if it were some sort of holy grail. Vancouver has drafted one decent roster player since the lockout and the Bruins traded the best player they’d had in a half a generation for 50 cents on the dollar just five years ago, so encomiums that glorify the Canuck way or the Boston way should be in short supply, and thank heavens for that.
As the non-finalists prep for the draft and free agency, moves are afoot. Chris Drury will get the golden handshake from the Rangers in a week or so, as New York buys him out from the last year of his terrible contract. His chronic knee issues might mean the end on the line for the most famous Little Leaguer this side of Danny Almonte, and it’s a lousy way to go for any player. If he can still play at all, he might not find a buyer even if he takes a multi-million dollar haircut.
Earlier in the day, there were rumours that the Rags were ready to pull the plug on Wojtek Wolski as well. Larry Brooks says it isn’t on, but if the Rangers really clean house, he’d look good for about half of his current 3.8M. Do it, Slats ;-)
The Habs secured the services of Andrei Kostitsyn for another year at exactly the same wage as last year. It’s only a one year deal, so he’ll be free to walk next summer, and it’s the sort of gamble most teams don’t take, even with middling talents. He’s skilled, but Montreal is a demanding place, and he’s just been OK since his rookie year.
James Reimer is Toronto’s newest saviour between the pipes, and he’ll get a few years to prove his legitimacy after signing on for three years. It’s a very nice contract for a guy with all of 37 NHL games under his belt, is all I’ll say. If nothing else, should the Leafs stink in net again, at least they’ll do it cheaply. Wonder if Jay Feaster is paying attention.
On the other end of the pay spectrum, Ilya Bryzgalov told the Coyotes to take a walk, and the Desert Dogs sent his rights to Philly as a result. The noted lover of parks won’t come cheap, although that 70M rumour that was going around seems pretty fishy, because even Rich Winter must know that the goalie market isn’t booming these days, and I couldn’t imagine a scenario where Bryzgalov would have signed with Phoenix because of the risk that the franchise might bugger off when the City of Glendale shakes its current stupor. He doesn’t strike me as the type that would relish Quebec City.
The Flyers may or may not sign Bryzgalov, of course, since Dan Hamhuis and Evgeni Nabokov were both Flyer property last spring, but should they ink the Russian goaltender that might mean the end days for a high priced player on the current roster, and Jeff Carter’s name has been mentioned in connection with Columbus.
That seems off to me, frankly, because Jeff Carter is very good right now, and Philly’s window if they acquire a 30+ goaltender would be over the next few seasons. As Kevin Allen notes, there are other ways to get under the cap, like selling Versteeg for peanuts. They should also likely let Ville Leino seek his fortune elsewhere. He’s a serviceable soft minutes guy, but 3M or thereabouts for his services is likely a bad gamble.
Question asked and answered:
Apparently, some nameless outfit based about 10 miles from my chateau sold its entire set of season tickets over the course of a few days, with the last 5,800 or so moving in roughly the length of an intermission, all while fielding about 40 times that number of inquiries. Means nothing, of course, since the whole enterprise is doomed to failure in 5, 10, 20 years. #extremesarcasmfont
In all seriousness, I read some of James Mirtle’s Twitter back and forth earlier in the week with a Moonie-paper employee in the way one might have observed a debate between a sane person and a worthy resident of Bedlam. James’ point that the league’s primary concern needs to center on the teams in the U.S. that need a fix right now is noteworthy, and blatantly obvious to the sentient among us. Those issues are a hell of a lot more relevant to the BOG than theoretical problems Winnipeg may or may not have when the first major wave of season ticket renewals comes due in a few years.
One other point that should be noted more often is that Winnipeg really might only have to survive for one year in the current environment. The impending CBA negotiations might not have the apocalyptic foreboding present in 2003/04, but I keep thinking back to this bit in a Jeremy Rutherford story concerning the Blues’ search for new ownership last summer. Here’s the nut graph:
"It's not healthy in the NHL right now," said Jim Lites, former president of the Dallas Stars and now president of the Hicks Sports Marketing Group, which is owned by Stars and Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks. "I just think it's a tough economic model. We're spending 55-56 percent of our revenue on player payroll, and that makes it a tough go, particularly in the small- and medium-size U.S. markets.”
As I mentioned at the time that story was published, if you want know where the next battles will be on the CBA front, don’t just look at the player-owner relationship, but also consider the potential for significant rifts forming between clubs. Small and mid-market U.S. teams are under the gun not only because the current CBA will force them to spend a minimum of roughly 47 million on players next year, but because they’re also dealing with the ongoing fallout of a shaky U.S. economy. Those clubs need something to give in the next labour deal, or a variation of the Atlanta situation might be replayed in a few cities not named Phoenix.
Have a good weekend.