Kukla's Korner

Obstruction is the Key

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the Chicago Tribune,

It has become a "Rite of Fall" in the NHL. Every year, the league announces it will crack down on the holding, clutching and grabbing that takes place off the puck, reducing what should be a game of speed and skill into a taffy-pull. The announcement invariably sets off this chain of events: - Games in October and early November feature a parade to the penalty box with up to 20 power plays per game. Players, coaches and general managers start complaining that referees--doing only what they have been told to do--are ruining the game. - By Thanksgiving, the referees tire of the constant criticism and turn the other way on the holding, clutching and grabbing off the puck. The league, also tired of all the complaints, looks the other way. - By January, players, coaches and general managers are complaining referees are not calling the holding, clutching and grabbing off the puck enough and are ruining the game. It's a cycle that has been repeating itself for the last five years or so. "That has been the problem--enforcing [the rules] and then maintaining it," NHL operations chief Colin Campbell said Friday. "One of the problems in our game is accepting a penalty when it's called." So, in yet another attempt to open up the game and let speed and skill flourish, the NHL announced a "zero-tolerance" policy on obstruction off the puck and in the neutral zone. This time, the league says, things will be different.

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Datsyuk May Stay in Russia

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from Mlive,

The Detroit Red Wings appear to have some serious competition in their bid to retain star center Pavel Datysuk. According to Datsyuk's agent, Gary Greenstin, the talented 27-year-old is pondering a lucrative offer from Russian Superleague team, Moscow Dynamo, the club Datsyuk played for during the canceled 2004-05 NHL season. "We have a great offer," Greenstin said Sunday. "It's huge, big."

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Jagr Undecided

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from Reuters via Metronews,

Czech winger Jaromir Jagr is weighing his options for next season after the NHL's new labor agreement limited his earning potential with the New York Rangers. A strong critic of the deal -- which outlines that no player can earn more than 20 percent of the $39 million salary cap set for each of the NHL's 30 teams -- Jagr is considering playing in Russia instead. "The situation changes by the hour," Jagr's personal trainer Marian Jelinek was quoted as saying in the daily Blesk. The 33-year-old was due to be the NHL's highest paid player this season at $11 million. But under the arrangement, Jagr can earn no more than $7.8 million. The Rangers could buy out his contract and make him a free agent, in which case Jagr is likely to make less than the maximum allowed given most teams are struggling to deal with a new economic landscape. On the other hand Jagr could move to Russian team Avangard Omsk, where he played part of last year with the NHL in a lockout. The club is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who also owns English soccer club Chelsea. Avangard lavished millions -- all tax free -- on Jagr to play half a season and is pursuing him again. "It's complicated. I want to hear the opinions of both clubs. It should be solved within three weeks," Jagr told the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes adding money was not the main factor in making a decision. "My heart is pulling me toward Omsk but reason is making me lean toward (New York) ... I really liked it in both places."

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The Visionary

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the London Free Press,

We all know Brendan Shanahan is a goal-scorer. We all know he can set the tone of a game physically. We all know he is a leader but who knew he is a visionary? When the National Hockey League gets underway again in October, it will be done under what could be termed the Shanahan Plan. You may recall it was last December when the Detroit Red Wings power forward -- against the advice of many -- called a two-day hockey summit in efforts to improve the game in the midst of the league lockout. It needed improving and a lot of players knew it. Shanahan decided to do something about it so he reached deep and paid to bring in a diverse group of 21 hockey people to discuss ways to make the game more entertaining. "I'm not that smart -- I'm just good at gathering real smart guys around me," Shanahan said yesterday. "We all hear great ideas about the game but they just kind of disappear and I just thought if we could just organize these thoughts we might have something." In came Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach John Tortorella, ex-ref Terry Gregson, TV host Ron MacLean and players from Toronto's Mats Sundin to Detroit's Curtis Joseph. Considering the labour strife, Gainey called Shanahan's initiative "gutsy."

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Blues Will Not Buyout

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the St. Louis Post Dispatch,

Go ahead and dust off those Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk Blues sweaters. The club announced Monday that it will not buy out the contracts of any players on the current roster. As for those Chris Pronger sweaters, stay tuned.

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Restructuring the Wings

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the Detroit News,

The first step in redoing the Red Wings has taken place. But general manager Ken Holland still has plenty of work to do. The Wings surprised no one Monday by putting defenseman Derian Hatcher and forwards Darren McCarty and Ray Whitney on waivers, enabling the team to buy out those three. With the salary cap set at $39 million under the collective bargaining agreement, the buying out of the three puts the payroll at $22 million, with eight players signed. Holland now will try to sign the Wings' unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents and junior players. The futures of Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios and Pavel Datsyuk, among others, are unclear. This is how the Wings stand on various issues: • In unrestricted free agency, Holland will meet with Yzerman this week and has spoken with Chelios, 43, in the last couple of days. "I told Chris we'll talk again at the end of the week," Holland said. There is a slim chance that Chelios will return, but only if he and Yzerman agreed to take substantial pay cuts to fit into the salary structure. Holland has contacted agents for defensemen Mathieu Dandenault and Mathieu Schneider. The Wings might have enough payroll flexibility to pursue some of their unrestricted free agents, as well as two or three from other teams. • In restricted free agency, it looks as if negotiations with Datsyuk are going as slowly as they did before the lockout. "It's a process," Holland said.

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The Ice Charades

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from Bill Plaschke of the LA Times (reg. req.),

A sport dirtied, a season soiled, the Kings finally came clean. Officially opening the doors Monday for the first time in nearly a year, this town's perplexing little skating troupe celebrated not with confetti, but a confession. The reason they are so excited about this new salary-capped NHL labor agreement? Because they had long been operating under their own, private salary cap. The reason they think this new agreement will improve their Stanley Cup hopes? Because they had not been spending enough money to be competitive. Just as everyone thought. The Ice Charades. "Maybe in the past we have had to use marketing and cute slogans and campaigns to win people over," admitted Tim Leiweke, team president, in a televised press conference from Staples Center. "Maybe we didn't have enough of a product to be competitive, so we thought it was important to spin our assets, our sport and our organization." And now? "Going forward," Leiweke said, "things are going to change." That is, if we're not being spun again. How do we know? Everyone talks about this $39-million salary cap, but did you also realize there was a salary floor of $21 million? How do we know the Kings won't be paying closer attention to that? How do we know that they won't invent new reasons to ignore important free agents, even if that person is sitting in the middle of their locker room? What promises can they make that fans will never again be buried under an Avalanche? Suckers once, shame on them. Suckers twice, shame on us.

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Blackhawks Have a Plan, But No Home TV

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the Daily Herald,

For years, they’ve been the sorry Blackhawks. On Monday, the Hawks were simply sorry as president Bill Wirtz apologized to Chicago hockey fans for missing the entire 2004-05 NHL season due to the owners’ lockout. “To the fans of Chicago, I want to apologize both for the owners and the players for the last season,” Wirtz said. The Hawks realize it’s not going to be easy winning back their fans. Certainly the best way to do it would be to put a contending and entertaining team on the ice for the first time in almost a decade. Cutting ticket prices wouldn’t hurt either, which is exactly what the Hawks plan to do for certain seats. The Hawks announced all full season-ticket holders would receive a 10 percent discount for the 2005-06 season. Additionally, a total of 2,672 seats in the 300 level of the United Center will be priced at $10.

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NHL Needs ESPN

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the St. Louis Post Dispatch via the Mercury News,

The NHL finally has settled its labor troubles, but its negotiating days are far from over. Still to be determined is where its U.S. national cable/satellite television package will end up this season. NBC has gained the over-the-air package of telecasts that ABC used to have, but the league's contract with ESPN has expired and no cable deal is in place. Now the reality is that the NHL is even more lightly regarded as a TV entity now than it was when games were being played two seasons ago. ESPN's replacement programming last spring - including trivia shows, celebrity bowling and NFL players competing in skills contests - drew a better rating than the playoffs did the previous year. Then in May, ESPN opted not to renew its contract with the NHL, which would have cost the network $60 million. But ESPN isn't ready to give up on the NHL, either. "We would like to be in business with the NHL," ESPN executive vice president for programming and production Mark Shapiro said in a telephone interview. "But it's got to be on more appropriate economic terms." Does that mean a straight revenue-sharing deal, as NBC has made with the NHL, instead of paying at least some rights fee? "Not necessarily - but not $60 million, either," Shapiro said. There have been rumblings that the cable package could end up on USA (an NBC sister network), TNT or Spike TV. But Marc Ganis, president of the sports business consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd., said the NHL simply needs to take the best offer it can wrangle out of ESPN. "They have to go to ESPN," Ganis told the Los Angeles Times. "There really is not much of a choice here, not necessarily because of the money they'll make off the game broadcasts, but rather the promotional exposure that ESPN will offer across a broad spectrum of sports fans.''

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Cap Reality

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from Kevin Allen of USA TODAY,

The reality of the new $39 million salary cap hit home for the previously free-spending Detroit Red Wings on Monday when they were forced to put Derian Hatcher, Ray Whitney and Darren McCarty on waivers in preparation for buying out their contracts. The buyouts will cut the Red Wings' payroll by $9.2 million. After the 24% wage reduction, Detroit is now just above $25 million, although it must re-sign restricted free agents Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Jason Williams, plus unrestricted Steve Yzerman. "These were very difficult decisions to make, but based on the new rules we had to clear some cap space," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. The presumption is the Red Wings, who sell out their arena for the entire season, will bring their payroll to about $37.5 million to give themselves room in case they have to make a move at the trade deadline. When the NHL last played in 2003-04, the Red Wings were pushing $80 million in payroll.

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