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The fate of Head Coach Ron Wilson is a major issue looming over the Maple Leafs as the new season approaches. His job is secure for now, but consensus is that if the Leafs put together a start as poor as last season’s, Wilson will be out by December.
The work Wilson got out of the Leafs in 09-10 was some of the worst the city has seen in years, but in a three week stint in February, Wilson coached a rookie squad of Olympians all the way to overtime in the gold medal game against the best team in the tournament. Observing the levels of focus, commitment and execution Team USA brought to each game, it was clear the bench had bought into what Wilson – and GM Brian Burke – were selling.
The Olympic Games left Leaf fans hoping the momentum these two old soldiers brought out of Vancouver would carry over into the Leafs dressing room. In order to capitalize on their success, the path is clear for Burke: to get as many Team USA members as possible on Toronto’s roster. No easy task, as the Olympic squad was made up of some of the best young talent in the game, but Burke was able to capitalize on the Chicago’s cap-crunch and add Kris Versteeg to the Leafs’ Team USA members Phil Kessel and Mike Komisarek, who sat out the tournament with injuries.
When the National Hockey League first instituted the shootout coming out of the lockout in 2005-06, immediately there was a line drawn in the sand. To one side were those in favor of an ending more satisfying than a tie and to the other, those who labeled the shootout a gimmicky, “skills competition”.
From the start it was obvious that I was in that first group. I was enthralled by the individual show of skill. I wasn’t alone. The other 18,198 people in Madison Square Garden seemed equally riveted, standing unprompted, and remaining that way throughout.
The shootout shone a rare spotlight on individual talent. Without it, would we have gotten to see so many variations on the Datsyukian Deke?
NHL officials, general managers, and media members convened in Toronto Aug. 18-19 at the Maple Leafs’ practice facility in a veritable who’s who of league power players. They gathered to observe 33 projected top 2011 draft prospects competing in scrimmages designed to allow NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Operations Brendan Shanahan and his staff to experiment with 28 prospective rule changes and variations.
Nearly all of these proposals are either too bizarre or radically progressive to ever be heard from again (one faceoff circle centered in each zone, draws conducted by whistle rather than puck drop), but a few caught the eye of those in attendance and the Twittersphere was abuzz with speculation. Much of the discussion centered on potential changes to the icing rule in the quest for increased safety.
What caught my eye, however, was what I perceive to be contradictory philosophies employed in the support and/or rationalization of some of these proposed changes.
The debate over touch or no touch icing has been on the radar of this born and bred Minnesotan since Kurtis Foster’s leg was shattered in a March 20, 2008 collision with San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell as the pair chased down an iced puck at the Shark Tank. The event immediately brought the issue to the forefront of league discussion.
The third part in this installment was supposed to be the last, as in any traditional multi-part story, but perhaps comparisons to even the Lord of the Rings trilogy would not quite do justice to the length of the Kovalchuk saga, and it may be better reflected in a four part series. Or more. At this point, who knows. Hence Falcor.
Here are some basic facts:
Like anyone else, I have gotten angry about the hockey team I follow. But, for me, the feeling—almost always more disappointment than anger—usually fades away pretty quickly.
I understand being passionate about hockey. I think we all do.
What is hockey if not some perfect mix of beauty and pure, raw emotion?
What I’ve never understood, though, are fans who go to games and spew out nothing but bitter hostility. Aren’t they watching the same game I am? Don’t they appreciate that the world’s fastest, most beautiful game (sorry, soccer fans) is being played at it’s highest level right in front of them?
I won’t pretend that I’m too well-versed on the inner-workings of the human brain.
For that matter, I don’t think I even bought the book for freshman year Psychology.
But, without any real research or reading, I think I can say fairly definitively that different parts of the mind control learning from mistakes and finding ways to bury them.
A prime example: Glen Sather.
As you know by now, Judge Bloch has ruled that Ilya Kovalchuk is a free agent. Why? Well, his contract is invalid, so back to the bargaining table he goes. Much has been made of this fact, and pundits are theorizing intently as to whether he signs again in New Jersey, or heads somewhere else. Is LA still interested? Is Russia a serious option? Toronto? (I just had to mention Toronto because, well, they come up in reference to every free agent of any importance). While the hockey world speculates on Ilya-gate and the next move of the Kovalchuk camp, I would like to focus on the tidbit regarding “investigations” that came out of this ruling. Namely, that the NHL is looking into four other contracts and investigations are ongoing. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly are out on the streets in Vancouver, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, intimidating witnesses and interrogating suspects.
That’s right, it’s Law and Order: CIU (Contract Investigations Unit).
What could come of these investigations? Probably nothing, let’s start right there. Any notion that the Stanley Cup will be taken away from Chicago because Hossa’s contract was ineligible is moot. If that did happen though, Flyers fans would be pretty happy. Except, wait, the Pronger contract is being investigated. That would mean the second-last team to be eliminated would get the Cup. But don’t get your hopes up, Habs fans, that’s a pipe dream, and one hell of a long pipe.
Apparently, building a team that amasses 100 points and wins a division title doesn’t get you much slack or credibility in this town.
In the midst of a hot Buffalo summer that many Sabres fans were hoping would see some changes at the top of the forward lines and a touch-up on the power play unit, GM Darcy Regier has once again had his own feet put to the fire by Sabres Nation due to his trademark calculated and methodical management style.
In case you’re not keeping score at home, that’s the same infuriating management style that under his watch has produced four conference finals appearances.
One of those campaigns was ended in the ’99 Stanley Cup Finals with Brett Hull’s toe in the crease. Another was halted in the ’06 Eastern Conference Finals with four of Buffalo’s top defensemen out of the lineup against an otherwise evenly matched opponent in Carolina.
It’s a decision that deserves a lot careful assessment. At worst, it could potentially cost a Championship.
Amongst the fury to be rid of Czech native, Tomas Kaberle for potential booty - with the general perception that it’s the smart/right thing to do - trading him is fraught with a future hole that the Maple Leafs will have to pay for dearly at a later time.
If there’s a chance he could be retained and resigned, it’s an avenue that has to be examined.
The skills generating his value are unique and rare. Patience at the point , quarter back of the power play, silky smooth rushing ability with vision and creativity to lead the attack, while also capable of launching long-range passes up the middle for players streaking behind the defense, these are the same skills that a Championship club needs for success. That’s even with the softness in the Leafs zone.
It’s been a strange off-season, what caught you off-guard? I bet these four things are on your list.
It’s August 8th, sunny and warm. But is hockey ever really that far off? Here are a few things I bet you didn’t expect to be the case this late in the summer of 2010:
1) Annti Niemi is a free agent: The fact he won the Stanley Cup was shocking enough, considering he was on few radars at the beginning of the 2009-2010 season. More shocking? His release from Chicago. Walking away from a $2.75 million arbitration ruling may have surprised the hockey world, but I have a feeling it will continue to reverberate with Niemi for years. Why? Well, look at his options.
Didn’t take long, did it? There’s Philadelphia, if they stray from Leighton and Boucher, and create some room (seems unlikely); there’s Washington, if they opt not to go with Varlamov (no word this is a possibility, so unlikely); there’s Montreal, if they can’t sign Carey Price (not going to happen; and then there’s Atlanta, the Chicago-East of the NHL, there’s the Islanders, and, well, that’s about it.
So from Stanley Cup winner to, likely, a Thrasher or an Islander. That’s gotta hurt. Neither team has a shot at winning anything in the near future, and even these potential starting opportunities are questionable. Atlanta already has two goalies, with the newly signed Chris Mason as the starter, but given Rick Dudley’s penchant for adding former Blackhawks, Niemi has to be a possibility. As for the Islanders, Niemi’s chances rest with the health of one man, Rick DiPietro.
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