Kukla's Korner

Tasca's Take

Movin’ On Up

After a five year run, the Tampa Bay Lightning decided to sever ties with their minor league affiliate in Norfolk this past spring.  Going forward, general manager Steve Yzerman felt his young prospects would be better served by playing in Syracuse.

It's interesting to note why the Lightning would want to move their farm club from Virginia to upstate New York:

“The human body can only do so much,” Crunch general manager Julien Brisebois said of the rigours of the extra-long treks from Virginia to other stops on the AHL trail. “Last year, we would literally sleep on a bus to and from (a road trip) every other weekend.

“We don’t do that once this year. That’s 18 nights we are going to sleep in our own bed this season that we didn’t last year and that’s huge. When you travel that much, the practice days are not the quality you would like, you are just getting the rust off. Now, every practice day we are going to get better. That’s what we’re here for ... we’re a development league.”

AHL teams based in the northeast have an incredibly easy travel schedule.  A total of 12 teams are based in New England and New York, and those clubs play each other quite often.  As Brisebois notes, the result is shorter bus trips, something that doesn't exist for a Norfolk team that's geographically isolated from the rest of the league. 

Less travel, coupled with the additional practice time, explains why an NHL team in Florida would move its farm club to a city 1,300 miles away. 

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A Stretch

Lightning beat writer Damian Cristodero poses the question of the day:

Where are the pressure points that will create the urgency to get a deal done?

For the players, the longer the lockout, the more the pressure, especially for those on the low end of the escrow checks.

For the owners, maybe it is Thanksgiving, when ticket sales, and corresponding concession and merchandise sales, usually pick up. Perhaps it is the approach of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, which produces the season's highest television ratings.

That said, teams already are issuing refunds for canceled preseason games, and missed regular-season games likely means adjustments to local television, advertising and sponsorship deals. So, in the short term, maybe there is more pressure on the owners, especially if, as some predict, moderates who want a season played join forces against hard-liners.

Talk about grasping at straws. 

Both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have shown they're not afraid to hold the line during labor negotiations while an entire regular season goes by the wayside.  To suggest either man will cave in to outside pressure as the lockout drags on is a stretch, to say the least. 

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On the Other Hand

Former NHL tough guy Ken Belanger disagrees with the Ontario Hockey League's decision to suspend players who exceed ten fights this season:

“I really think there will be an issue when a guy can’t stand up for a teammate,” Belanger said.

“If someone hammers a goalie, that’s OK now because, guess what, my excuse is I can’t do anything to the guy because I don’t want to get suspended.

“So now, is there accountability for anybody?”

In other words, what you might see now are some players thinking they can, perhaps, high-stick or do other dirty deeds with impunity — violations that would have earlier landed them a crack in the jaw.

“(The new rules are) not going to eliminate head shots and guys getting into fights, because, guess what, if your top-line players aren’t going to be getting into fights, they’re going to be running around, and now you’ve got your small guys who don’t have to worry about fighting,” he added.

“I just think it doesn’t put accountability in for someone not to respect their opponents because there’s no fear, there’s no repercussions.”

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Nominal Windfall

With the NHL primed for a lengthy lockout, the media spotlight will shine brightly on the American Hockey League this season.  Pundits and commentators who've never watched a minor league hockey game in their lives will be forced to cover the AHL because, well, they won't have anything else to do.

The question is, will the game's top developmental league see a spike in attendance this season while the NHL is shut down?  The answer might surprise you:

Thanks to the NHL lockout, the Providence Bruins are expecting a slight increase in ticket sales as die-hard fans look to satisfy their craving for pro hockey.

“Given the choice, I wish the NHL was playing because that gives us our best exposure. But as Mr. Belichick says, it is what it is,” said Jeff Fear, the P-Bruins’ CEO.

According to the AHL, during the last lockout in 2004-05, Providence’s average attendance increased by only 45 fans per game, from 7,497 in 2003-04 to 7,542 the next year.

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Only Joking

Last week, members of the Peterborough Petes got a little more than they bargained for while pulling a gag on a teammate:

Neighbours fearing the worst called police after seeing what appeared to be masked gunmen entering a Sandalwood Dr. home Sept. 16 at about 9 p.m.

Officers descended on the quiet street, drew their guns and ordered every one out of the house.

It turns out that the guns were fakes and the "masked men" were no other than Peterborough Petes pulling a practical joke on a teammate.

Better stick to pieing, fellas.

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Kicking the Tires

For those of you wondering where the New York Islanders will be playing once the team's lease at Nassau Coliseum expires in 2015, Chicago Wolves owner Don Levin offers this little nugget:

“The answer to the Islanders moving is never. They’re not moving out of that market. No chance that’s going to happen.”

It seems reasonable to assume that Levin, who's leading the effort to bring an NHL team to Seattle, recently asked Islander owner Charles Wang about his interest in selling the club in the near future. 

Sounds like it was pretty short conversation.  Time will tell if Wang's tune will change as more prospective owners start kicking his tires over the next few years.

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The End is Near

Check out Windsor Spitfire forward Ty Bilcke's reaction to the OHL's decision to suspend players who accumulate more than ten fights this season:

“I stand by the league’s decision,” said Windsor Spitfires forward Ty Bilcke, who led the OHL in fights last season with 37 bouts.

“David Branch’s purpose is to protect the players in the league.

“I’m actually excited about it. It’s a challenge for me to show people who have been calling me words like goon, that I’m a hockey player first.

“It’ll protect players and bring more skill to the league.”

Forgive me for doubting the sincerity of Bilcke's answer.  He was more than likely reciting the company line.  Catch him at the rink without a reporter around and he'll surely provide an entirely different response. 

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Minor Upgrades

There's a distinct difference between an NHL fan and a hockey fan.  An NHL fan is someone who follows the top professional league in the world exclusively, whereas a hockey fan is just as happy watching a major junior contest as he is a pro game because he's so enamored with the sport.

It's safe to say true hockey fans aren't dreading the lockout nearly as much as the NHL-only bunch.  Springfield Falcons president and general manager Bruce Landon explains why those of us who live in AHL cities are chomping at the bit for the season to start:

Now that the National Hockey League lockout is officially in effect and it has been determined which players can be assigned to the American Hockey League, one thing is certain - the AHL is going to be loaded with young talent.

If you look at the transactions that took place over the weekend, you see players like Jeff Skinner being sent to Charlotte, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle being sent to Oklahoma City. Every AHL team is reaping the benefits of the misfortunes of what is happening in the NHL. The Springfield Falcons will open their 19th season with first-round draft picks Ryan Johansen and John Moore in the line-up and other prospects like second-round pick Dalton Smith and Michael Chaput. If you truly want to see some of the best young talent in the world all you have to do is get tickets for games right here in Springfield. It is something that I hope hockey fans in this area take advantage of while truly realizing how fortunate we are to have a team in this great league.

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Only the Lonely

Teenage boys have big hopes and dreams.  Some want to grow up to be firefighters, others want to be musicians, and many fancy careers as educators.  The draw of these professions is obvious, as they usually provide a beautiful combination of prestige and financial stability.

For similar reasons, youngsters also fantasize about playing organized sports.  When it comes right down to it, there may be no more enjoyable a lifestyle than that of a professional athlete, who, even when performing poorly, is still often contractually guaranteed an exorbitant amount of money with no threat of termination.  It’s a incredible luxury most members of the working class will never know.

While it’s easy to see why a young Canadian boy would want to pursue the lofty goal of becoming a pro hockey player, it’s virtually incomprehensible to understand why anyone would be even remotely interested in being a hockey referee.  The rigors of the job are self-explanatory, and the constant berating officials are subjected to on a nightly basis from players and fans alike would seemingly appeal only to a masochist.

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Glad to Be Unhappy

Of all the major sports, it seems like hockey is the one game that’s constantly evolving. 

The Flyers and Canadiens ruled the rough-and-tumble 70’s.  The Islanders and Oilers dominated the high-flying 80’s.  The Devils and Red Wings gained prominence in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, commonly referred to as the dead puck era.  Parity has ruled the day in the post-lockout years, during which the NHL has undergone a drastic on-ice metamorphosis.

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.

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