The playoffs are down to the short strokes now, with only a game and the finals left before we move into the summer. For those of us on the Prairies, of course, ”summer” might be a concept more in tune with the calendar than the actual conditions, so maybe the correct term should simply be “off-season”.
At any rate, the roundup returns with items of note from around the league. In this instalment, the Flames get a bit of good news from Bill Daly, The Bruins and Lightning head for the finish line, and matters appear headed to a conclusion in Georgia.
Since we last convened, the Flames have settled their GM position by confirming Jay Feaster as the permanent boss. I’m in the wait and see mode with him given his shaky past drafting/trading history, although as I mentioned earlier in the week, I’m content with his first contract signing. His task was also made a bit easier by last weekend’s announcement from the NHL’s number two that the cap might go as high as 63.5M for next year, which is about 1.3M more than previously expected. That’s some useful news for a club that might still need to send a body or two overseas in order to ice a functional lineup.
The club still could use a coach or two, and there are legitimate candidates afoot, with former Panther boss Peter DeBoer likely near the top of the list. The hiring of any particular assistant coach never seems to be a matter that should be that big of a deal, and as Kent mentioned the other day, unless one of the new hires can work some sort of voodoo on Kipper, their value is likely to be nominal.
The Flames do have two prospects still at work as of this morning after Kootenay’s 7-3 win last night over Owen Sound in the Memorial Cup tiebreaker. Max Reinahrt added to his impressive post-season totals with a short handed goal and an assist in the rout. Joey Leach also added a helper to boost the Ice into the semi-final versus the host St. Mike’s Majors. Tonight’s game goes at 5 MT on Sportsnet with the dulcet tones of Peter Loubardias conveying the action. Forewarned is forearmed, or something like that.
On the alumni front, Theoren Fleury has mostly been notable this spring for his ability to incite some of the dimmer members of Vancouver’s fan base via his Twitter pronouncements, which reinforces my belief that unlike enforcers, instigators don’t shed that guise away from the rink. All in good fun on his part, of course, and he’s apparently also been keeping busy away from Twitter. As always, good luck to him..
Finals on the Horizon:
The Bruins and Lightning are just finishing up their pre-game skates before tonight’s closing affair in their series. Tampa’s probably been the better team on the merits through six games, but Dwayne Roloson has been uncommonly generous in the net, and as a result, the Bruins still have a chance.
They’ll still have Nathan Horton available as well, and after his water-dispensing activities Wednesday night, that might be considered good fortune. Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune has the memo from the league suggesting that a suspension should be in order posted at his blog, but the NHL applies its rulebook with the same consistency exhibited in a standard game of Calvinball, so the absence of a suspension to Horton was just as likely as the NHL actually adhering to any previous written direction.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, I suspect that neither of these teams are beating the evil-doers from the West Coast, but they’ll get their chance starting Wednesday in Vancouver. The Canucks are currently cooling their heels after dispatching San Jose Tuesday evening in double OT. Cam Davie reviewed their series versus the Sharks over at Canucks Army yesterday, and as painful as it is to admit, Vancouver is full value for their position.
The Canucks were an excellent outshooting team all season that also mixed in solid special teams and quality goaltending, and all of those components have been in evidence throughout the playoffs. They could lose to the Eastern winner, but it would likely take some other-worldly goaltending from either Thomas or Roloson for that to occur, and as we’re seeing in their current series, that’s not a lock from either of those gents.
Two Americans of note called time on their careers this week. In Detroit, Brian Rafalski walked away, leaving the Red Wings with both a hole in their roster and a chance to fix a few things. Rafalski mostly played third pairing minutes at EV this year, so his departure shouldn’t be seen as some sort of unconquerable obstacle, and his retirement clears a $6M slot on Detroit’s roster. Some of that money might go to retaining Jonathan Ericsson, but if they choose to use 3-4M on a replacement for Rafalski, I suspect they should be able to procure a suitable defender to plug the gap.
Contrary to Phil Coffey’s position, I can’t really endorse Rafalski for the Hall of Fame. He was a terrific second banana for both Scott Stevens and Nicklas Lidstrom, but he was never the man, and pointing to Stanley Cups and the like misses the point. Nice player, though.
On the Island, Doug Weight has also taken this opportunity to move on with his life. Bruce McCurdy made the case that Weight was likely in the argument with Ryan Smyth as the best Oiler since the good old days, and give or take one year from Chris Pronger, that may well be so. Like Rafalski, he shouldn’t go beyond the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, but he had a very nice career, with good scoring totals during the dead puck era.
The Islanders resigned Kyle Okposo this week, and as with the contract offered to Michael Grabner, the actual salary figures are heavily back-loaded, which makes it fairly clear Charles Wang is punting any potential cash flow issues down the line to a time where he may have a new facility that could provide the Isles with fresh revenue..
Whether that occurs or not is still an open question, as the Islanders have had their share of issues dealing with local government in the recent past in the quest for a new building. Of course, he could always pay for the damned thing himself, but that’s a concept that only seems to have any traction in this country.
Craig Custance of the Sporting News reviewed a few of the deadline deals yesterday, and unsurprisingly, the handiwork of Mike Gillis got a favourable review. That noted, the money quote in the article is Dean Lombardi’s cannon shot across the bow of the S.S. Dustin Penner.
(Mostly) Done Deal:
Unlike the interminable Coyotes’ saga, events in Atlanta are unfolding at a relatively abrupt pace. Michael Gearon, one of the Atlanta Spirit Group’s principals, advised the local media that the transfer of ownership to Tue North was, in his words, “about 80 percent complete.” Winnipeg, after 15 years in the cold, is really on the brink, and Down Goes Brown has thoughtfully provided us with a guide to navigate the changed NHL landscape.
If this transaction does finalize, it might well be a triumph for the notion of keeping your mouth shut in the course of doing business. Michael Traikos’ article this morning contrasts the steady-going approach favoured by Mark Chipman with the more brazen M.O. of a certain Blackberry huckster. For whatever any of us may or may not think of the league and its management, it’s their ballgame and their rules, so it would seem as if Chipman and Thomson have played this right.
The state of peril a few franchises find themselves in has lead to flights of fancy from other markets regarding their chances to host a NHL club. Seattle was in the news yesterday, but the key point in any story that highlights the Emerald City as a landing spot for a team should always note that the NHL doesn’t consider Key Arena viable for hockey. There isn’t any private entity clamouring to build a new arena and then buy a team for Seattle, and that is a point almost never acknowledged by the folks that are openly wishing for a failure to occur in Winnipeg.
The fact is that of all the potential U.S. markets that a few folks continue to bring up as better places for a team, exactly none of them have a potential owner willing to put up serious money. Portland, another city often mooted, would have to play out of Paul Allen’s Rose Garden, and he isn’t likely to share the building’s spoils or buy a team himself, so scratch that town.
Houston? Same deal. Les Alexander controls the Toyota Center, hasn’t expressed interest in owning a team in the last decade, and needs the extra money from luxury suites and the like to prop up a Rockets franchise struggling to draw as of late. He’s unlikely to split that extra cash with another owner out of some sense of altruism.
Atlanta is in the same boat, since a stand-alone Thrasher ownership would have to operate with a lease from ASG. Not being the primary tenant would be a recipe for losing a gigantic pile of dough, and ASG hasn’t seemed all that interested in selling the three properties as a group.
Kansas City is the other darling out there, and if Phil Anschutz decided to sell his interest in the Kings to run a franchise in a building he controls, that could work. Hell could freeze over as well. Any team in that building would have to negotiate a lease with AEG, and unless I’ve missed some recent development, Phil Anschutz hasn’t become exceptionally wealthy by giving away revenue from his businesses for amusement purposes. I’d argue that AEG’s control of the Sprint Center might keep hockey out of that building for the foreseeable future unless the NHL allows someone to own multiple teams.
The facts on the ground are pretty much indisputable. Winnipeg may or may not fail, but no one is willing to buy a franchise and move it to one of these fairytale locations. Even if there was some interest, those other cities aren’t locks to succeed given potential building constraints, and the Atlanta people want out right now. Absent folding the franchise, there isn’t any other option but my waterlogged home.
If you see anything else of interest, post it in the comments.