Sunday, July 30, 2006

Oilers avoid arbitration and Briere up in the Air

1 month ago the Oiler's hockey club looked in pretty big trouble. Pronger leaving, Peca leaving, Samsanov leaving, Spacek leaving, 3 key guys filing for aribtration, meaning three 1 year contracts, and then possibly 3 more guys leaving. But somethign very interesting happened with the Oilers who filed for arbitration - all three players signed multi-year deals with the hockey club they have always known (technically not true for Jarret Stoll, but thats another story). Horcoff signed a very reasonable 3.5/3 year deal, Stoll with an amazingly cheap 2.2/2 year deal, and Hemsky to a 4/6 year deal. Given Pavel Kubina is making more than any one of these guys, these are amazing steals of deals.

Hemsky might be a bit pricey for the first year or two (although given his point production compared to other 4 million guys, hes not that far off), but he will be a steal in 3-4 years. Lowe obviously feels Hemsky is the future of this team given the length of the deal. He's got a ways to go in terms of consistency, but its obvious the talent is there.

Stoll is a 60 pt guy, PP and PK specialist, a former team Canada captain who is only going to make $2.2 million. There are a lot of teams that would love his combination of grit, skill and leadership for that cheap. The Oilers 1st line is only going to cost them about $11/year, and as of now their second line is only about $5/year (Stoll, Pisani, Lupul).

Now the Oilers and the City of Edmonton took a lot of critiscm over all their earlier losses, but the fact they avoided all their arbitration hearings, and signed key guys for reasonable prices on multiyear deals shows how tight Lowe and the dressing room still are.

Where is Briere?

This whole process took me a while to figure out but heres the deal with Daniel Briere. The arbiter awarded him a $5/1 contract, and the Sabres have until 48 hours after their LAST arbitration case is finalized to either sign Briere or lose him to FA.

The fact he isnt signed yet means one of two things:
1) The Sabres are waiting for all their hearings to be finished to see if they still have room for Briere
2) They are listening to trade offers because they already feel they can't sign him

If the organization has any smarts at all they'll find room to sign Briere. I suspect they will.

And to think, only 3-4 years ago he could've been had for league minimum he was so unwanted.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The sideshow returns

Sean Avery, maybe the most dispised man in hockey, has been resigned by the LA Kings. While many journalists and fans will say they love Avery because he calls it as he sees it, I say wake up and smell the coffee. Avery's 'view' of the world is so disgusting I think everytime he speaks we all all dumber for hearing it. For a 3rd line guy who hasnt had any real success to speak of, Avery sure does think highly of himself.

I'm not going to say Avery isnt a good hockey player - because he is. He's very good at what he does, trash talking, getting under guys skin, he's actually mildly underrated in terms of his actual hockey skills as well. Regardless, he's not a guy I would want on my team, and I'm the kind of person who feels there is room on the roster for guys like Claude Lemieux and Brian Marchment.

The problem for me is not Avery's on ice game, its his off-ice. He slings so much shit that it just covers everyone. He's disrespectful to the league, and in fact the whole game of hockey. He takes attention away from the game, away from the players, and puts it where it doesnt belong - on himself. That might be commendable if he did it in hard times, to take blame for losses, but in fact, it seems the worse the team does, the more aggravating Avery gets to his teammates, as shown by his within team suspension last year. So Folks, if youre reading this, lets all ignore Sean and his comments this year. Maybe if no one listens he'll just go away.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mac T, King of Oil Country

Early in last year's season, the Oilers went on an 0-7 skid. The first loss wasn't a big deal. Then one loss lead to two, and three. Three snowballed into four, and by the time five hit an all out panic seemed to hit the team. The sixth loss was practically expected, as was the seventh. When a team loses seven games in a row, its usually not a matter of luck. Pure odds would dictate you would win at least 1 of seven, even if you were a bad team, and the Oilers had a pretty good team, as everyone would find out later.

If you ask me, the Oilers were knee deep in quicksand. When they first fell in, the stayed calm, tried to think of a way out, they slowly sank deeper, then they began to panic. By that seventh game they were fully submerged. The team seemed almost resigned to their fate, they seemed exasperated, they were waiting for a break.

Nobody could have been sweating more than Mac T. He had been coach for 5 years, a long time in coach years, and his ship was sinking. I felt that, deservedly or not, he would be fired if they lost that eighth game. Now I could never prove this was the plan, but changes were coming, big changes, especially after all the money spent in the off season.

Luckily for the Mac T, they won that eighth game.

Later on in the season, with the playoffs on the line, Mac T's option year on his contract wasn't picked up. You can bet that the Oilers organization was already setting up the fall guy should the team miss the playoffs, or perform below expectations in the playoffs. And I'm not talking about general expectations-most people had the Oilers going out in 5 in the first round- I'm talking about expectations that Lowe had, that the dressing room had. That I'm sure Mac T himself had.

When the playoffs hit, Mac T's influence on the team became obvious. Everyone on the team did all the little things to be successful. Now I'm not talking about winning battles even- I'm talking about the things 4th line guys do to insure success - shot blocking, faceoff winning, check finishing, defensive zone desperation. These were the hallmarks of Edmonton's incredible playoff run. These were the hallmarks of Craig MacTavish's career.

Now Mac T has been given a new 4 year contract. To be honest, I'd be suprised if he lasted even three of those years. If 5 is old in coach years, Mac T is due to be 10 at the end of the contract. And expectations - are they even matchable anymore? How much worse is this new team?

But for now, the team has acknowledged what everyone in Oil Country already knew - Mac T is the King.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sometimes you just have to laugh...

Well, the speculation can officially end, because its official; Mike Milbury is still very much in charge in Long Island. Yesterday he fired 40 day GM Neil Smith, hiring, get this, his BACK UP GOALIE as the new GM!!!!!!! Now I'm not saying Garth Snow will be a bad GM (probably won't be worse than Milbury himself), I'm just saying that there must have been more obviously qualified people, maybe they could have even hired someone that won't be taking up cap space over the next two years... Not that it matters much anyway, I'm sure that he'll just be Milbury's puppet. Reportedly, Smith was fired because:

'As I made clear at the press conference last month, we are running this as a business, incorporating the opinions of our hockey operations staff - including Ted Nolan, Bryan Trottier and Pat LaFontaine," said Wang. "Despite Neil's commitment to me that he could work in this environment, he later expressed to me on a number of occasions his philosophical opposition to our business model...Our fans should know that with Ted, Garth, Bryan and Pat helping to lead the way, the Islanders are in very good hands.' (Courtesy of TSN, )

What kind of bizzaro world business the Islanders are comparable to is up to you. I think they're like some kind of panicky bizzaro world stock broker, buy high, sell low, and refuse to have any consistency whatsoever.
If you were thinking, as I was, wow, they still have some big names in Nolan (brought in by Smith) Trottier and LaFontaine, I hope you will now laugh hysterically, as I did, at the next piece of news.

Pat Lafontaine supposedly resigned immediately after the press conference announcing Smith's departure. Poor Ted Nolan. I think, if its possible, that this situation is worse than his last one. Oh well, as someone else said to me, he's at least one step closer to the NHL while working for the Islanders.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Double Good News

Yesterday Canada's national program coach, Marc Habschied was named an assistant to Boston. Now, a lot of people are saying Habscheid is a great coach, but I personally have little faith in him.

Rewind to 2004- Canada has won the two biggest international tournaments, the Olympics, and the World Cup, and to boot, they have back to back World Championship medals, and a Spengler Cup gold. The drout on Canada's World Jr. hopes won't end till 2005, but in the meantime, Hockey Canada announces Marc Habscheid as the national program coach, which means he'll be involved in men's international tournaments until his contract expires. This is based on his success in the AHL and WHL, coaching the Kelowna Rockets to a Memorial Cup victory in 2004 and being named CHL coach of the year in 2003. He also managed to coach Canada's Jr. team to a Silver medal in 2003, being at the helm during the infamous 'Fleury incident.' (Marc-Andre, not Theo).

Because of the NHL lockout, Canada's B squad was dispatched to the World Championships, Habschied again at the helm. Now, whether the team looked brutal because players were rusty, or because they were poorly coached, I dont know. All I know is that it would make sense to give such a large task to a more experienced coach, and I could give the same reasons Playfair gave; you don't know what you don't know, even if youre a great Jr. coach.

Between the talent of Thornton, Nash, and Broduer, Canada makes the final and loses. Silver medal again.

Fast forward to the Olympics, Habscheid is given assitant duties. I won't even say outloud what a debacle that whole tournament was.

Go to two Spengler cups, both of which Habscheid coached. No golds.

Now I'm not going as far as saying Habscheid lost us any of the tournaments, but when you coach Team Canada, anything less than Gold is failure. And Habscheid took what was at the time an international Juggernaut, and helmed it straight into an iceburg. He was a guy I'll remember for winning a bunch of silvers, or conversly, losing a bunch of golds. Good luck to Boston, happy day for Canada.

In other news, the Oilers signed Horcoff to $3.5/year for 3 years. Thats actually not a bad steal when you consider other players in his price range, and from the looks of Horcoff, he just keeps getting better. Started out as a 3rd liner at best, Horcoff has turned into a speedy first line centre that excells at defensive positioning and has a nice touch around the net.

In other news, Richard Zednick basically got traded for a bag of pucks. Kind of strange considering hes been a guy who consistently does better in the playoffs than the regular season. Wish Calgary would have picked him up instead of Freisen, thats for sure.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sutter steps aside

In a somewhat suprising move, Darryl Sutter resigned his post as coach of the Flames, and has decided to fully concentrate on GMing the team. I have mixed feelings. For one, at times I've felt as if Darryl's coaching is superior to his GMing. Now, I can't take anything away from all the great moves he's made for this team (Kipper, and cheap, signing Regher cheap, aquiring Tanguay, Nilson, drafting Phanuef, etc) but sometimes I feel like for every great move he's made, hes made one bad one. (Reaquiring Weimer, signing Amonte, letting Niemenin go, letting Gelinas go, trading Commodore, Montadore and Lydman away for nothing, etc).

On the flip side, Darryl's coaching has always been good. He arrived in Calgary as skipper of a sinking ship, and he turned that ship into a fierce frigate. Calgary's offensive zone pressure system in the 04 playoffs was thwarted only by a multitude of injuries, and most recently Sutter coached Calgary to first place in the NW conference running on little to no offence. (Of course, some of that success could be due to Kipper, but Sutter is responsible for Kipper's arrival, but that was GM Darryl, not coach Darryl.)

Heres the rub though- the fact Calgary had no offence was because Darryl didnt bring in offensive players. He admitted today that at some times he was not satisfied with his coaching performance, and I'm sure his GM performance. Having him step aside allows him more time to scout prospects and build a more complete Calgary team. And of course, no duel role GM/coach as won a Stanley Cup since Glen Sather. Its too much of a role to fill by one man in today's NHL.

How will Jim Playfair do as Calgary's coach? I suspect fine. Former Calgary GM Craig Button wanted to name him head coach 3 years ago, and Playfair thought he was ready. Today Playfair claims that not being named coach 3 years ago was a strike of good luck, in his own words, he didn't know what he didn't know. Darryl (the coach and GM) has been grooming Playfair for this role all this time. And trust me when I say, if Darryl Sutter has that much confidence in Playfair, then Flames fans should feel very confident themselves.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Front Stage Centre

In a move that can be considered both suprising and not suprising at all, Shanahan has decided to sign with the NYR. Not that I don't understand why he would want to leave Detroit - as he said himself, he was more about Detroit's past then its future, and Detroit is left with a shell of a team after losing Shanahan an Yzerman. But come on, the NYR? Although they looked good in the regular season they got smoked out of the water in the playoffs by what turned out to be a pretty average hockey club in NJ. Sure Jagr was hurt, but how many games could Jagr have singlehandidly won?

Shanahan is a lot closer to the end of his career than to the start, and I would have thought he would have wanted to go to a contender. Who that might be, I don't know, but I don't think its the NYR. Perhaps Shanny was lured by the coaching group, maybe it was the NYR facilities, maybe it was the lore of wearing the Blueshirt, much like Gretz and Mess had been lured by. Or maybe it was that the Rangers were willing (as usual) to pay an older guy a hefty sum.

Now don't get me wrong, $4million/year is probably a pretty good bargain for 41 goals. And Shanny may indeed get more goals this year, especailly if he's paired with Jagr. But Shanahan was invisible for the most important part of the season last year. He was a total non factor against the Oilers. And if you're the NYR, and you want to win the cup, I would think the last thing you would do is take on an older player as a main cast member. And at $4/year, Shanahan is going to have to play a starring role on Broadway.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Flames sign two

The Flames today managed to sign Tangauy to about 5.25/year for three years which I feel is a bit of an overpayment. Stall signed for $4.5, and no one is saying Tangauy is as good as Stall (and is moderately injury prone), I would have thought Calgary could have signed him to somethign a lot closer to 4, but I'll just have to trust Sutter got him as cheap as possible. It will be interesting to see if Tanguay does play a centre role for the team. I don't doubt hes better than Lankow at centre, but I think he would be much better utilized as a winger. When Ryan Smyth was put at centre he survived, but hes a comparably much better winger. Of course, time will tell.

The Flames also aquired FA Jeff Friesen and I for one am not very excited. Friesen has been rumoured to be joining Calgary for near 10 years. He was rumoured as a returning player for Theo Fleury should he be traded, and that was pre 1998. Friesen's stock was much higher at the time obviously.

He just seems like an incredibly redundant player for Calgary to aquire. How many third liners does Calgary need? Hopefully he'll at least be better than Amonte, but thats not saying much.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Stevie Wonder Hangs em' Up

Extremely sad day in hockey with Stevie Y hanging up his skates. Obviously this year he didnt have the same ability as in previous years, but for my money, he was still Detroit's best player in the playoffs, and he still had moves. Late last season he scored a goal in Calgary, and I had to stand up and applaud him. He still had it then, and he probably still has it now. What glowing praise could I give Stevie that hasnt already been shed upon him? Even Gretzky said Yzerman was probably the best player in the league, and that was while Mario was tearing it up! All I can do today is think back of all my fond memories of Stevie, and everything he brought to the game; his skill, his leadership, and his passion.

Thanks for the memories Stevie.

Pronger for...wha???

At first glance, I feel like Kevin Lowe should have been able to command more from the Pronger deal ( Instead, he gets a 20 goal scorer with a lot of potential, a defenceman with some potential, and some potential potential with some draft picks. So the Oilers trade away a great player and get potential in return. What's new in Edmonton?

Well the difference between today and 5 years ago is that the Oilers today actually have a well rounded team with a multitude of talent in their early-mid 20s up front, a steady (albiet mediocre) crop of defenceman, and a goalie they actually have confidence in. And, they have another $5.5 million to spend. Obviously, their aren't a lot of talented FA defenceman left to sign, but this money will allow the Oilers to retain the all important 'core' members of the team in Horcoff, Hemsky and Stoll, all of whom will get just raises.

I cannot sit here and write that Edmonton is a better team today than they were 2 weeks ago. Losing Pronger is devastating to this team, he was the MVP of the season. But imagine a team with a multitude of speedy skilled forwards, and 3 top lines that have scoring potential on every shift. Hemsky, Horcoff, Smyth; Pisani, Stoll, Lupul; Torres, Moreau, Schremp. Sure, no single dominant defenceman, but toughness and simplicity in Staois, Smith, Greene, a little bit of flair in Bergeron, and some potential in Smid and Syvret. Its a group thats not going to blow anyone away, but does this team remind anyone else of Buffalo? Sure, they got beaten by the 'Canes much like last year's Oilers, but they got beat after losing 4 key defenceman. None of them a clear number 1 of course.

In fact, Tampa Bay didnt really have a single dominant defenceman in their cup winning run either. It makes one wonder if the new trend is to have a more even group of defenceman, rather then relying on one guy.

Edmonton will suffer greatly next year, espescially on special teams. Chris Pronger was an important piece of the machine. But this isnt Black Monday. Not yet anyway.

And I think this is Bryan Burke's official heads up to the rest of the West. The Anaheim (no longer Mighty) Ducks are taking over. This flock is big, fast, skilled and ready to rumble.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

FA Frenzy

I was originally going to make today's entry aout all the recent salary overpayments (in Chara ($7.5) and Jovonovski ($6.5) Kubina ($5)), but Eric Stall was resigned to a 3 year $13.5 deal, which is probably an underpayment in today's market, especailly considering Pisani's deal is now being reported at $2.5/year.

To think that the Bruins were unhappy with Joe Thornton and his salary, and have now picked up Chara and given him an even sweeter deal is beyond mind boggling. I can only say I feel sorry for the fans of that team.

The Oilers are probably overpaying Roloson a bit, but what choice did they have? There arent a lot of quality goalies available, and Roloson did what 16 years worth of Oilers goalies couldnt. The thing that worries me about Kevin Lowe is he seems to moderately overpay a bunch of players on the team (Staois, Roloson, Pisani) but last years talks with Smytty seemed to drag on forever, and then he only signed for $3.5, which is probably an underpayment. Hard to tell though, especailly with Stall now signing for only a million more than that.

Probably the saddest news of the day is that it looks like Calgary is going to let Donovan go. Too bad for him he overachieved so heavily in his first few months with Calgary, Sutter apparently expected him to repeat. He was a great 3rd line guy who gave a consistent effort every night, and I'll be sorry to see him go.