Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Great Filatov Interview!!!

Puck Daddy has a great interview with Nikita Filatov, which you can find here. The young man displays a lot of moxy in responding to some pretty pointed questions from countryman Dmitry Chesnokov about his decision to go to the NHL, despite having offers from the KHL for "...lots more. Times more", to quote Nikita.

Good news is that Filatov has put on about 17 pounds so far in the off-season, and is looking to add another 5 pounds of muscle or so. Also some great parts showing that he is still a kid -- framing Gary Bettman's letter of congratulations after the hat trick, and calling home to Moscow to get instructions on how to fry potatoes while living in his solo apartment in Syracuse.

Really good stuff, and shows he is committed to becoming a mainstay for the CBJ this year. Interestingly, he mentions that he trained with Ilya Kovalchuk in the off-season, noting that they have the same conditioning coach, and pointedly said zip, nada, nothing about Zherdev, who also trained with them. Interesting . . .

Make no mistake, the KHL will be relentless in their pursuit of Filatov when his entry level deal expires. However, Nikita obviously holds Kovalchuk in very high regard, and you can read between the lines that he wants to make his name in the NHL.

Really good stuff!

Monday, August 24, 2009


Check out this terrific piece by Ryan Kennedy at THN. Not only does he have some great things to say about Nash, his comments about the organization as a whole, its direction, and the young talent are dead on, and something that has historically been lacking from the hockey media world.

Just another sign that the CBJ are finally creeping their way into acknowledgment as a full fledged contender in the NHL. We started to see some evidence of this last season, as they refused to fade from playoff contention. A few calls started going our way. NHL Network had some nice things to say. XM radio had more Jackets commentary. Mason got national attention. At the end of the season, believe it or not, we actually won a few replays in Toronto!!!

All of this is a positive for the organization and the fan base, as Hitch, Howson and the players have worked really hard to provide an identity for the team, put an exciting product on the ice, and acheive some success. For Hitch, who has frequently been accused of sucking the excitement of the game with his defensive approach, it must be a nice sort of vindication when exciting young players like Nash, Brassard, Umberger, Filatov, Huselius, Voracek etc. can shine in his system. Having a Hitch-coached team with a flamboyant Mike Commodore as one of the defensive anchors is another plus that Hitch likely smiles about when nobody is looking.

Good stuff. Can you feel that chill in the air in the morning?? It's getting closer, folks!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Attracting Free Agents -- Promote A Stress Free Environment

Most of you are looking at the heading and wondering "What the hell is he talking about now?" If you will pause just a moment, I will enlighten and explain.

Forbes just released its list of the Most Stressful Cities in which to live in the U.S., ranking the top 40 metropolitan areas in the following categories: 1)median % drop in home prices; 2)unemployment rate; 3)cost of living; 4)air quality; 5) sunny days per year and 6)population density. Here are the results, from most stressful to least stressful:

1. Chicago
2. Los Angeles
3. New York
4. Cleveland
5. Providence
6. San Francisco
7. Detroit
8. Boston
9. Washington D.C.
10. San Jose
11. Seattle
12. Riverside (Calif.)
13. Philadelphia
14. Portland (Ore.)
15. Sacramento
16. San Diego
17. Minneapolis
18. Tampa
19. Cincinnati
20. Miami
21. Las Vegas
22. Atlanta
23. St. Louis
24. Milwaukee
25. Phoenix
26. Baltimore
27. Charlotte
28. Orlando
29. Pittsburgh
30. Indianapolis
31. Columbus
32. Houston
33. Jacksonville
34. Norfolk
35. Denver
36. Dallas
37. Kansas City
38. Nashville
39. San Antonio
40. Austin

So, from a hockey perspective (and remembering that the Canadian cities are not included in the poll), only 3 NHL towns are less stressful than Columbus -- Denver, Nashville and Dallas. We take a hit on the number of sunny days per year, but do remarkably well in all of the other categories.

So, it is time to lure those free agents with a new claim -- "Stress is Less In Columbus"!!! Go get 'em, Scott!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

THN: Jackets #8 in West

The Hockey News predicts the Jackets will finish 8th in the West this season, as the latest installment in their countdown of teams was released today. Here is their synopsis:

The Blue Jackets made their first-ever playoff appearance last season and will need to battle just as hard to return to the post-season dance this year. Their developing youngsters (Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, Nikita Filatov) hope to make that task easier, but ultimately, they’ll need Steve Mason and Rick Nash to lead the way again.

Frankly, I disagree with this pick, as I think the CBJ will finish ahead of Dallas, and possibly Vancouver. For what it's worth, here is my own assessment of the West for this year:

15. Phoenix Coyotes -- still a train wreck of a situation. Even if Reinsdorf wins the bid, likely to be playing to an empty house.
14. Colorado Avalanche -- there is a real leadership void in Denver, and too many missing pieces to really challenge this year.
13. Nashville Predators -- have done little to fix their offensive woes. They fell further behind this off-season, and the standings will show it.
12. Los Angeles Kings -- still looking for the glue that will make all of that potential work together as a good unit. Doughty and Scuderi will need to be huge, and no room for marginal performances in goal.
11. Minnesota Wild -- Another team looking for the pieces to fit properly. The offense is relying on a healthy Martin Havlat -- a shaky proposition, at best. While their defense will keep them in some games, they just don't have the finishing ability to take the pressure off the goaltender.
10. Edmonton Oilers -- the Oilers did not do much to improve themselves this year. Goal remains an iffy proposition. They have some front-end punch, but just not enough to crack the playoffs in the West.
9. Dallas Stars -- Sure, injuries hurt them last year, and Richards, Morrow, Lehtinen and Eriksson provide some up front firepower. However, with a weak blue line, they are relying on a healthy and more consistent Marty Turco. Too much needs to go right for them to make it this year.
8. St. Louis Blues -- An incredible run down the stretch earned them a playoff slot last year, and this provides a confidence boost for this season. If they stay healthy, and can show that the stretch was not a fluke, they should earn the 8th slot.
7. Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks have relied on the Luongo-Sedin formula for awhile now, and with good reason. However, the blue line has some holes, Luongo is not immune from the injury bug, and there will be tons of turmoil and distractions with Vancouver hosting the Olympics. They will make the playoffs, but perhaps not as convincingly as some would expect.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets -- Asssuming reasonable health, and a predictable incremental gain in chemistry and performance from the youngsters, this is a likely slot. If the CBJ get that offensive defenseman, and can reduce the minutes burden on the blue line and in goal, could go significantly higher.
5. Anaheim Ducks -- Anaheim is always something of an enigma, as the front-end talent is always balanced by questions of age. Can Hiller carry the load again if Giguere goes down or is ineffective in goal? Will Niedermeyer meet expectations? They always seem to find a way to make it work, so they will be a contender to the end.
4. Detroit Red Wings -- while a 4 seed in the playoffs is never a bad thing, this year will mark the start of a slow decline in Detroit. They will still be a force, but age and defections will knock them from the top of the heap.
3. San Jose Sharks -- still a talented group, so should lead a division that is improving, but not there yet. Nabokov is solid, but getting older, and an heir has not emerged. Marleau and Thornton need to continue to stabilize Setoguchi and the younger guns, while the blue line needs to hold its own.
2. Chicago Blackhawks -- Adding Kopecky, Hossa and Madden to this bunch is almost an embarassment of riches for the front lines. Campbell needs to up his game on the blue line, and Huet is a huge question mark in goal. However, this club can score its way out of situations, and will take advantage of it this year. They face an uncertain future after this year, due to cap constraints, so expect them to go for the gold now.
1. Calgary Flames --With JBo coming on board, the Flames seem to have all of the pieces in place. Solid forwards, perhaps the best blue line in hockey, and a proven goaltender (although has shown some chinks in the armor). Expectations are huge, and they appear ready to take the next step.

So, there it is -- like it or not. Comments?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Zherdev Gone

TSN.ca is reporting that Nikolai Zherdev has signed a deal with Salavatovo Yuleav Ufa of the KHL, apparently ending his brief American courtship. The word comes just 2 hours before our little local poll closed here on the site, where the overwhelming majority (66%) of readers accurately predicted the KHL jump.

I wonder. . .do you think he will learn English once he gets back to Russia?? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

До свидания!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Moore Survives Cut

Puck-Rakers is reporting that CBJ #1 draft pick John Moore has survived the cut from 45 to 29 players at the Team USA development camp. He will be on the squad for a series of 4 exhibition games against Russia in Lake Placid. The prize is a slot on the final roster for the US team at the World Juniors this winter.

Monday Miscellany

As we creep closer to the opening of camp, a few items to pique your hockey interest:

Zherdev Update -- Lyle Richardson at The Hockey News offers the following update on Z:

Nikolai Zherdev became an unrestricted free agent when the New York Rangers exercised their option to walk away from his one-year, $3.9-million arbitration award, but he will find it difficult to find another NHL suitor. Zherdev has undeniable offensive skills, with 119 points over the past two seasons split between the Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets, but he’s considered a lazy, one-dimensional player unable to elevate his game in pressure situations. Most reports about him involve clubs that aren’t interested in signing him, including the Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. A report in New York Newsday cited a rumor out of Toronto claiming the Maple Leafs might have interest in Zherdev, but his style of play certainly doesn’t make him a Brian Burke-type player. The Leafs are in the market for more scoring depth, but it’d be shocking if Burke signed Zherdev. Newsday reported Zherdev’s agent has suggested his client could sign with a Kontinental League team if there was nothing available for him in the NHL.

Sounds like a "fool me once, shame on you -- fool me twice, shame on me" deal. Thank you, Scott Howson . . .

Another defenseman on the market? Richardson also reports that Hurricanes' defenseman Anton Babchuck might be available:

Teams interested in a defenseman with offensive skills might want to get in touch with Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, who recently told the Raleigh News & Observer of his plans to shop Anton Babchuk. A restricted free agent, Babchuk was unable to reach an agreement on a new contract with Rutherford. The defenseman posted good numbers last season with the Hurricanes (16 goals, 35 points, plus-13 in 72 games) and could be a good addition for teams seeking a puck-moving defenseman. Babchuk earned $1 million last season and will undoubtedly try to use his numbers to land something in the neighborhood of $2.5 million. If Rutherford fails to trade him before the start of this season, Babchuk could opt to play in Russia, which he did in 2007-08 during a contract dispute with the Hurricanes.

That is an interesting possibility, given that he is an RFA, depending upon the price. 25 years old, right-handed shot, 6'5", 212 lbs -- rated a top 4 defenseman by THN-- sounds plausible. A bit concerned about his departure for KHL in 2007-2008, due to disagreements with Carolina management -- don't want another Zherdev around here. Certainly worth kicking the tires. Scott?

Raising Kane . . . Gotta love Patrick Kane being arrested for assault, robbery and theft of services in a dust up with a cab driver in Buffalo over . . . 20 cents. Hey, Pat -- ever heard of tipping??? Smells like maybe an adult beverage or 12 were involved in this one. With the other major leagues getting fairly aggressive in coming down on conduct detrimental to the image of the game, wonder where Bettman will draw the line. Sure, he stepped up on the Sean Avery deal, but in the personal conduct area, that is analagous to letting all the murderers go except Charles Manson. There must be a line that is crossed far short of Avery's antics. . .

Meanwhile, the waiting game continues, as teams search for the magic formula to clear some cap space and predict what the next few years will hold. Heatley, Marleau, Kessel -- the list is pretty long. Likely to be a quiet week this week, but I think things will pick up after that, as we get inside the 30 day mark left before training camp. Fun to watch!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thursday's Tidbits

Just a few random items to pique your interest for today:

THN Predictions -- Cellar Dwellers: TSN has begun its countdown of projected finishes for the 2009-2010 hockey season, starting with the #15 finishers in each conference. And the winners are: Colorado Avalanche in the West, and New York Islanders in the East. Full story here.

Phoenix Phollies -- Things are heating up in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix. Moyes faces a contempt citation for publicly airing confidential information, including the fact that Reinsdorf wants a special taxing district as part of his plan. Not sure why that is confidential, as it will have to come to light eventually in evaluating the competing bids. More importantly, Balsillie is back in the game, as his bid will be included in the September 10 auction. While the NHL is relying on the fact that the Board of Governors unanimously rejected Balsillie, I would not be too confident, if I were them. In his June 15 ruling, Judge Baum included the following (referencing the NHL's prior approval of Balsillie as an owner in 2006):

"Absent some showing by the NHL that there have been material changes in PSE's circumstances since 2006, it appears to the court that the NHL can not object or withhold its consent to PSE becoming the controlling owner of the Phoenix Coyotes."

So, while technically this statement was not a binding ruling at the time, as that specific point was not at issue, it certainly indicates what the Judge is thinking, and it should serve as a big shot across the bow for the NHL.

What we have here is a gigantic clash of egos. Bettman wants to demonstrate that hockey is viable in the Phoenix market, despite all evidence to the contrary. Balsillie wants to be viewed as a hero for bringing another team to Canada, and Ontario specifically. Glendale blindly assumes that it can sit back and stand on its onerous lease with the Coyotes. Moyes brashly believes he can somehow be portrayed as the victim here.

Everyone needs to remember a basic fact about this whole deal -- this is in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. If this were in a "regular" court, and the issue was simply "who gets the team and where do they play", it would be a different story. However, a bankruptcy judge, first and foremost, is looking at the interests of the creditors. What can't be ignored is the fact that Balsillie's bid is $64 million over the Reinsdorf bid, and about $62 million over the anticipated bid of Ice Edge, which proposes to have the franchise play some games in Winnipeg. Making matters worse (from the NHL/Reinsdorf perspective) is the fact that Reinsdorf's bid is contingent on some major concessions by Glendale, which are no sure thing. From Judge Baum's perspective, that $60+ million pays a lot of creditors.

Balsillie's biggest hurdle is his insistence on locating in Hamilton, where Toronto and Buffalo have interests. Under the case law, some provision has to be made to accomodate those interests. Will some part of that $60 + million differential do it? Perhaps, perhaps not. There is also the issue of NHL's right to control where its franchises play. I sense that Judge Baum is less concerned about that aspect, as right now the Phoenix Coyotes are his -- all of their assets and liabilities are subject to the jurisdiction of his court. Not a comfortable fact from the NHL's perspective.

Balsillie could put the NHL in an almost untenable position if he were to join forces with the Ice Edge contingent, drop his insistence on the Hamilton venue, adjust the bid to reflect the value in Winnipeg vs. Hamilton, and present that option to the Court. Ice Edge and Balsillie would be sharing the risks, they avoid the Toronto/Buffalo issue, and then are left only with the NHL's expansion rights in Winnipeg. Given that they pulled out of there previously, how can the NHL argue strenuously that those rights are extremely valuable? Taking that step would really put Bettman and the owners in a box. The question is whether Balsillie's ego will allow him to see that option?

Stay tuned for the next episode of "Rich Men Behaving Badly" . . .

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Start Spreading The News, Z's Leaving Today . . .

My apologies to John Kander and Fred Ebb, the composer and lyricist, respectively, of New York, New York, for taking liberties with their song in the header -- but it was too perfect to pass up.

Anyway, as expected, CBC is reporting here that the Rangers are walking away from the $3.9 million dollar arbitration award handed down to perennially troubled winger Nikolai Zherdev, thereby making Niki an unrestricted free agent. Let the speculation begin!!

Before anybody starts charging off in the wrong direction, Puck-Rakers is already reporting that the Jackets are not interested in staging a reunion with Z.

So, what is next? Here's a hint . . . .
Континентальная хоккейная лига

Monday, August 3, 2009

Off-Season Musings: Alignment and Scheduling

OK, so here we are in August, with training camp just under six weeks away, lighting candles in hope of an offensive defenseman, and getting all of our house and yard improvements done before the demands of hockey season begin. A perfect time to once again attack the issues of alignment and scheduling!!! Ready? Here we go!

Alignment is a train wreck. Not anybody's fault in particular, but a train wreck nonetheless. The problem is entirely due to the fact that the geographical center of the NHL is situated at about 40 degrees North latitude and 83.5 degrees West longitude, which ironically is just west of Columbus, near Tradersville. Half of the NHL clubs exist North/South and East/West of that point on the map. The problem is that the distance to the Western perimeter (San Jose) from that point is 2,091 miles, while the distance to the Eastern rim (Boston) is only 641 miles. That means a lot of travel for the western teams, particularly the teams at either end of the Western Conference range, including Columbus. In the East, a bike ride will get you to 4 or 5 cities.

Next, divisions do nothing except tilt the schedule horribly against some teams and in favor of other teams. Think anybody from the East would have wanted to be in the Central Division of the West last year? Not a chance. Nobody cares about a division title. The only think that a division title gets you is an unwarranted top 3 seed for the playoffs. If you are stuck in the tougher conference, you have 24 games just against your division, then 40 against the rest of the conference, with only 18 left against the rival conference. Not fair. Besides, while a President's cup is cool, there is only one cup anyone is interested in.

While it is true that you can never obtain complete fairness, I think I have a system that goes a long way to getting there:

1. No Divisions: Get rid of the divisions, which do nothing in hockey. Go back to two conferences, with the points dictating the top eight in each. Top four get the home ice in Round One. Period. No more getting a free ride for a division title. Go back to calling them the Prince of Wales Conference and the Campbell Conference, which I always thought had a kind of funky charm to them.

2. Axe Geography: Eliminate the fiction of West and East (Columbus is West of what . . . .Philly?) Make each conference encompass part of each geographic region. Here is the proposed lineup:

Wales Conference: Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Atlanta, Florida, Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose
Campbell Conference: Buffalo, Boston, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Washington, Carolina, Tampa, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Colorado, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver

If you travel through each conference from city to city, in the order indicated, the two conferences are within 75 miles of each other in total distance. Many regional rivalries are preserved, and road trips can be arranged to encompass 5 or 6 games within a specified region. Which brings me to the schedule.

3. Overhaul The Schedule: Let's truly let everyone see everyone, and finally put an end to the fiction of artificial rivalries. My ideal schedule? Eliminate half of the pre-season, extend the season by five games, and play everyone in the league 3 times. Second best would be to extend the season by four games, play the opposing conference twice (30 games) and your own conference four times (56 games). Assuming the players don't want to extend the season, play twice against the other conference (30 games), three times in your own conference (42 games) and the remaining ten games split evenly between the two conferences.

This serves a lot of goals, including minimizing the arbitrary nature of the existing schedule, providing exposure around the country to some great players who don't get much air time, and really providing a more realistic measuring stick for all teams. We would hopefully be able to use 5 and 6 game road trips as the standard, reducing the number of one and two game trips, and hopefully making overall travel more efficient.

Just food for thought. Have at it, loyal readers!!

Nash Gets Some Love

Fanhouse is doing a series of short items on the Top 50 players in the NHL. Our own captain comes in at #20. Read the details here.

While I would likely rank Nasher a bit higher, factoring in defense and intangibles, it is nice to see him getting this level of attention.

Go Jackets!