Kukla's Korner

Puckin' Around With Spector

Winter Classic In Danger Of Becoming Insignificant.

One of the most popular events of the NHL’s post-lockout era is its annual Winter Classic.

The notion of an outdoor regular season game on New Year’s Day was initially greeted with scepticism, as critics doubted it would draw decent ratings against the numerous American college football bowl games held on the same day.

Despite the odds, the Winter Classic has attracted huge crowds to the games, drawing some of the best television ratings in NHL history, elevating the visibility and popularity of pro hockey in the American sports market.

It’s anticipated this season’s game, featuring the New York Rangers against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park (home of MLB’s Philadelphia Phillies), will also be a box office and TV ratings success.

This will be the Rangers first appearance in the Winter Classic, the second for the Flyers, tapping into the large fan bases of both teams.

Despite the success of the Winter Classic, the NHL risks making the game insignificant to a sizable portion of its fan base; specifically, those of western- and southern-based US teams, as well as its rabid Canadian supporters.

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Escrow Squabble Foreshadowing Another NHL Lockout?

Earlier this month it was reported NHL players would be receiving checks by October 14th, representing the return of last season’s escrow deductions, which were deducted quarterly from their pay.

Since the imposition of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2005, players have had these payments deducted quarterly throughout the season and held in escrow, which is either returned to them the following season if their combined salaries remain beneath their 57 percent of league revenue, or returned to the league if those salaries exceed that level.

Unfortunately, the players have yet to receive their checks, because of a dispute between the PA and the league over what constitutes hockey revenue, with the biggest issue, according to CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, being the $25 million payout from the city of Glendale to the Phoenix Coyotes.

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Musings on the first week of the ‘11-‘12 Season.

- League disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan’s efforts to crack down on targeted hits to the head remains a laudable project, but I have to agree with agent Alan Walsh’s complaint that his client, Minnesota Wild winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard, was undeserving of a two-game suspension for a slash to the face of Columbus Blue Jackets winger Matt Calvert.

Yes, players should be responsible for their sticks, and while Bouchard clearly only meant to slash the hands of Calvert after the latter initiated contact jockeying for position during a faceoff, the fact the Calvert was injured on the play meant the Wild winger deserved to be punished.

But a two-game suspension for an accidental injury by a player like Bouchard, who has no history of dirty play and no priors on his resume, seemed overly harsh. A stiff fine would’ve been more appropriate.

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How Much Leeway Does Shanahan Have?

The hefty suspensions laid down by new NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan was the talk of the recent preseason.

He wasted little time demonstrating to the players that the league is taking seriously the enforcement of Rule Number 48, which addresses illegal hits to the head, suspending nine players in only two weeks.

The suspended ranged from “enforcers” like Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley and Calgary’s Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, to skill players like Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski, Toronto left wing Clarke MacArthur, and Buffalo forward Brad Boyes.

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  Tags: boyes, brodeur, macarthur, shanahan, wisniewski

Winnipeg May Have Ready-Made Playoff Team

When the Quebec Nordiques were relocated to Denver, Colorado in 1995 and became the Avalanche, Colorado hockey fans got themselves a ready-made playoff team. Thanks to a blockbuster trade which landed them future Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy midway through 1995-96, they became a Stanley Cup championship team.

While no one would consider the new Winnipeg Jets, formerly the Atlanta Thrashers, a potential Cup contender at this point, Manitoba hockey fans might have themselves a playoff contender to cheer for this season.

Most pundits, in making their predictions for the 2011-12 season, didn’t include the Jets amongst their list of potential playoff contenders for

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  Tags: winnipeg+jets

Doughty Will Have To Earn More Than Money

By the time you read this, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty will either be re-signed to a new contract, or his standoff with management will continue.

Plenty of opinions have bandied about in recent weeks – pro and con – over the Doughty contract saga, most focusing on what the Kings are believed offering (over seven years at $6.8 million per) and what Doughty’s agent is seeking (five year, $7 million per, an earlier shot at UFA status) for his client.

It remains to be seen what Doughty eventually gets, but it’s a good bet it’ll be lucrative, ranking him among the highest paid players on the Kings, as well as amongst the highest paid in his group of players aged 21-25 under their second NHL contracts.

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  Tags: drew+doughty, la+kings

Role of Enforcers Could Change

The recent off-season deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak has led to a growing chorus of critics calling for the National Hockey League to ban fighting.

That chorus includes former enforcers like Dave Schultz, holder of the single season record for most PIMs with 472, and Chris Nilan, the Montreal Canadiens all-time penalty minutes leader, who believe the role of enforcer has changed since their playing days in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rather than play a regular shift as Schultz and Nilan once did, today’s enforcers usually play less than five minutes per game, and rarely see action in the post-season.  They often engage in “staged fights”, whereby they simply line up with the opposite team’s enforcer during a face-off, agree to drop the gloves, and go at it.

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About Puckin' Around With Spector

I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.

I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.

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