Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Will Garth's new main man be a Maine man?

OK, so Ted Nolan is out at the Mausoleum, and the Islanders need a new coach.

Let's deal with the first half of the statement: Supposedly, the issue was that Garth Snow thought the Isles were underachieving, and Ted didn't think he had enough talent to work with. Much as I'm no fan of Ted Nolan, I think it's pretty obvious who wins that argument.

Now, as for who gets the job. Write this down: John Tortorella.

Unlike Ted Nolan, who has shenanigans on his résumé involving the University of Maine (remember the Simon Danis-Pepin affair when Ted was at Moncton?), John actually went to the University of Maine, like Garth Snow. It also helps that Torts has a Stanley Cup on his résumé. I also think it's kind of funny that Ted didn't get pushed out the door on the Island until Torts was fired by Tampa.

It's a fairly obvious move for the Isles, but is it the right move? Torts isn't known for his patience with his players, and with a young lineup, whoever takes the reins on the Island will need a lot of patience. Bob Hartley, late of the Thrashers, may be a more natural choice, having both a Calder Cup and a Stanley Cup to his name with the Hershey Bears and the Avalanche, respectively.

Still, I think the Old (Orono) Boys Network is going to make it happen on the Island.

And since I brought up Simon Danis-Pepin, let's finish up with talk about who is changing where he plays his amateur hockey: Patrick Wiercioch, who changed his commitment from Wisconsin to Denver. I really don't have much of a problem with this. For him to be able to play at Wisconsin would involve putting off his college hockey, and probably, by extension, his pro career. Given the potential for injury in the sport, there's a limit to the amount of waiting that a young prospect should do at the junior level, where you're not getting your college education and you're not getting paid. If Wiercioch is ready now to play college hockey, he should be playing, and Mike Eaves should understand that. And if he's going to go someplace else, I'm glad that it's Denver, where they had a tough situation with David Carle.

And by the way, speaking of Carle, I love the new Lightning owner Oren Koules...good guy for drafting David Carle, and I think it was cool that the Lightning traded for Matt. And of course, I'm happy to see Barry Melrose back behind the bench.

Finally, a fond farewell to Ryan Hollweg, traded to the Maple Leafs, where he could resume his fine chemistry with Dominic Moore (recall the OHM line with Jed Ortmeyer in 2005-06), in exchange for a fifth-round pick. With the additions of Dan Fritsche, Pat Rissmiller, and Aaron Voros, not to mention the potential return of Brendan Shanahan (who's best suited to a third/fourth line role at this point in his career, plus special teams time), something had to give, and Hollweg, with his tendency for taking bad penalties, was the obvious choice. That said, I'll miss "Hollywood," with his personality and style (check out his pics from the Rangers' Casino Night), and I'll always remember that when the Canucks came to the Garden in December '05, he was the one who stepped up and fought that worthless scumbag Todd Bertuzzi. His brother, Bryce, is moving on after completing his career at Army, and Ryan is now moving on, too. So long, Hollywood, and thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

New Looks

Looks like my concerns about the Rangers were mostly unfounded. The team's acquisitions, for the most part, seem to make sense. The Rangers may have overpaid for Wade Redden, but he fills a definite need for the Blueshirts as a No. 1 defenseman and a quarterback on the power play.

The biggest concern I have is that the Rangers will be relying on Nikolai Zherdev for a lot of offense next season, and of all the adjectives that could be used to describe Zherdev, "reliable" is not necessarily one of them.

I like the signing of Markus Naslund. Yes, he's on the back end of his career, but so is Brendan Shanahan, and he's been a real asset to the Rangers the last couple of years. Besides, he's getting the $4 million per year that Sean Avery wanted, and if I have to choose between two years of Naslund and four of Avery - much as I like Avery - I take Naslund. He's a leader and a veteran, and he'll produce more than Avery without wearing out his welcome in the locker room. All that for less than the Oilers are paying Dustin Penner (speaking of which, memo to Gary Bettman: let Kevin Lowe and Brian Burke have at each other all they want. It's summer, we need the entertainment).

And yes, I know that Avery was a vital part of the Rangers' chemistry the last couple of years, but this is going to be a different team. Jaromir Jagr is gone to Avangard Omsk of the KHL, Martin Straka is playing in the Czech Republic, and we still don't know if Brendan Shanahan is coming back (probably not). This is going to be a different team, and if we're lucky, it won't be a team that needs Sean Avery in the lineup for the other guys to play like they give a hoot.

As Jagr goes "To Russia with Love," Ray Emery is going to Russia with glove, signing for $2 million, tax-free, with Atlant Mytishchi, also in the KHL. So, basically, with the exception of Jagr, who decided that exile in Siberia was preferable to Edmonton, the major KHL acquisitions out of the NHL are, for all intents and purposes, real exiles.

Of course, Emery only signed a one-year deal with Atlant, so he may be back someday soon. Still, when I think of Emery, and the fact that I am sorry to see him go, I'll always be reminded of this classic.

Of course, with Emery going to the suburbs of Moscow, he won't be going to Los Angeles, where I anticipated him being a holdover until Jeff Zatkoff is ready for the NHL. They may still go with Gatorade pitchman and "yo mama" joke master Jason LaBarbera, although it could also be a destination for Nikolai Khabibulin, whom the Blackhawks will likely need to move with Cristobal Huet coming on board. Of course, the Kings still need a coach, too.

Finally, while I'm digging into YouTube, it is my opinion that every WCHA arena with video capacity - except the Kohl Center, of course - should make this clip a regular part of programming when Wisconsin comes to town.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Here comes the money...

So, yesterday was my day off, and NHL free agency began. How did I mark the occasion? I slept until 3:30.

(In my defence - oh geez, "defence?" Reading TheHockeyNews.com is getting to me - I worked until 4AM last night, then went to the gym to pass the time until my 5:40 AM train).

Anyway, starting with the Rangers, the fate of Jaromir Jagr remains unknown. The interesting thing is the involvement of the Penguins, although I have doubts about how much Jagr actually wants to play in Pittsburgh again.

One way or another, I think things should happen pretty quickly with Marian Hossa landing in Detroit. HockeyOverstock.com has a great deal on Jagr replica jerseys right now, so if he stays in New York, I just might have to get one.

Meanwhile, the Rangers have made some nice moves already, headlined, of course, by Wade Redden. Redden will give the Rangers a real No. 1 defenseman and a quarterback on the power play, both of which the Blueshirts have sorely needed, and he'll be a good mentor to the Rangers' young D like Marc Staal, Bobby Sanguinetti and Dan Girardi. I also like the signing of Pat Rissmiller - nice to have Holy Cross' contribution to the NHL on the roster - and former Alaska Nanook Aaron Voros should fit in nicely as well.

Meanwhile, I now have to bid farewell to Sean Avery. It's not like we didn't know this was coming, and if he had to go somewhere, I'm happy for it to be someplace like Dallas, where it's not going to bite the Rangers too hard. Last night, it occurred to me that the Islanders might get him - they'd give him the money he wants because they have to overpay anyway, and he could still be close to New York and his society and fashion circles - but if he wants to go to Dallas, then I suppose I'll just say, "Thank you and Zach Bless." I guess the Stars make enough trips through

I think the Rangers will be OK without Avery. For all my talk about the Attitude ADJustment Line, Dubinsky and Jagr seemed to have the real connection there, as Jagr kept it up when Avery came off that line late in the season. Of course, the Rangers need to re-sign Jagr now, since most of the other options are off the table. And to be honest, as lukewarm as I was to the idea of signing Mats Sundin, if it's what the Rangers have to do to keep Jagr, then fine, as long as it's not some ridiculous multi-year deal. I'm still not sure it'd work, but I like the idea of having both Jagr and Sundin better than not having either of them.

In other news, I like what the Oilers and Blackhawks have done. Chicago, in particular, got the big blueline prize in Brian Campbell and a hell of a young goaltender in Cristobal Huet. With all due respect to Nikolai Khabibulin, he's on the tail end of his career, and Chicago should have a goalie who's going to be part of this team for the long run with this group of Kane, Toews, Jack Skille, etc. I like the young nucleus that Chicago has, and it should be a nice group together for the league to show off in the Outdoor Classic against the Red Wings.

Edmonton, meanwhile, gets scoring punch from the blueline with Lubomir Visnovsky - imagine how he'll look with Sheldon Souray on the power play - and Erik Cole should fit in nicely with the Oilers' forwards, and the young forwards like Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner will benefit from his Stanley Cup experience.

Finally, how about that Kings d-corps? Jack Johnson, Matt Greene, and Drew Doughty with Rob Blake as the elder statesman and mentor...that team is going to be nasty to play against. Sean Avery may want to watch his behavior in LA when he comes through with the Stars...

More to come, of course...let's hope it includes comments on Jagr re-signing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Will They Ever Learn?

Of course, there's been plenty of activity since the draft, leading up to the July 1 start of free agency. Personally, I'm not looking forward to it all that much.

For starters, I'm very sorry to see the likely end of the Sean Avery era in New York. I'm going to try not to hate his guts when he goes back to another team, but if he goes to another team I am favorably disposed to - i.e. the Blues, Panthers, etc. - that should make it easier. I think it's most likely that Avery winds up back in his old stomping grounds in Los Angeles. Other than New York, I think it's the only city that really offers Avery the kind of life that he wants to have, including his new celebrity stylist business.

By the way, I also think Los Angeles is a sensible destination for the recently bought-out Ray Emery. The Kings are high on Jeff Zatkoff from what I've heard after a strong debut in Manchester following the college season, but he's obviously not going to step right into the NHL. Emery is a proven goaltender who can get hold down the fort until Zatkoff is ready, by which time Emery will have likely worn out his welcome in the locker room anyway. I have no idea if the Kings are thinking about this as I am, but it would make sense.

But enough about the Kings. The main thing I'm not looking forward to is seeing the Rangers make a play for Mats Sundin. Same old Rangers, going for the big name because they think that's what it takes. Just wait until it turns out Sundin and Jaromir Jagr have no chemistry and Brandon Dubinsky comes back to the top line, leaving Sundin centering the second line, Scott Gomez on the third, and - get this - Chris Drury on the fourth line. ARGH!

Of course, the other development, the one that's been getting most of the talk, is the hiring of Barry Melrose as the new coach of the Lightning. I think it's a great hire. Barry is being talked about as a players' coach, in contrast to John Tortorella, which should proabably make for a nice change and a sizable "new coach bump."

It's great for Barry, too. It's one thing to be ESPN's lead NHL commentator when you actually have NHL games. It's another entirely when the Mouse isn't doing games. Of course, his years with ESPN will instantly make him the second-most recognizable coach in the NHL (Wayne Gretzky, obviously, being No. 1 on that list).

It's also fairly obvious that since Barry and his mullet will no longer be calling college games for ESPN-U, and can no longer be considered part of college hockey, Don Lucia is left with an undisputed claim to the college game's most talked about hair.

Hey, I had to...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Uh Oh...

With the 40th pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the New York Islanders select Aaron Ness.

Something tells me that Don Lucia will be adding Just For Men to his list of hair care products.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Disconcerting Level of Content Devoted to Other Sports...and the Draft

I have a recommendation for the new owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Actually, I have several, not the least of which is that Barry Melrose should be hired as head coach on the condition that he keeps wearing those suits on the bench. However, this one concerns a new potential season ticketholder.

See, since Eldrick Woods is going to have a lot of time on his hands in Florida while he rehabs his knee, I think the new ownership should offer him season tickets, so that he can have something nicer to say the next time someone asks him about hockey (If I'm not mistaken, the Lightning are the closest NHL franchise to his home in Florida).

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't wish ill on Eldrick, I'm not celebrating his injury at all, and his performance this weekend was remarkable, to say the least. However, as long as he continues to show disrespect to hockey, he can suffer the small indignity of my calling him by his given name.

Moving on, there's been some talk lately on TV about Becky Hammon (a former guest commentator with my former employer) choosing to suit up for Russia in the Olympics when USA Basketball bungled things up (given what I've seen of the U.S. women's hockey program, I'm shocked, shocked that a U.S. sport federation could bungle something like that).

Now, while I'm sure that Bill Simmons is likely to compare this situation to Sgt. Slaughter becoming an Iraqi sympathizer in 1990-91 leading up to Wrestlemania VII - not that there's anything wrong with that; I'd enjoy reading that column - I'm reminded of one of my favorite athletes that I had an opportunity to work with when I was at CSTV: Nicole Corriero.

Nicole, as you may recall, is a tremendously talented player, who holds the NCAA single-season record for goals. She also has one of the best senses of humor I've ever seen, as exemplified by this article from the Harvard Crimson her senior year. She also has the ability to do something that I never thought possible: she got me to root for Harvard (yes, when I covered the 2005 Women's Frozen Four, deep down, I was hoping for Harvard to beat Minnesota during the championship game, but apparently, Harvard only wins when I don't want it to happen).

But anyway, I wrote this article about Nicole in 2005, and if you read it, you'd be inclined to agree that Nicole got as raw a deal from Hockey Canada as Becky Hammon got from USA Basketball, if not more so. She also had much more of a case to play for Team Italy at the Torino Olympics than Becky has to play for Russia. However, she chose not to.

In addition to being talented, funny, and charming, Nicole Corriero is a class act all the way. I can't say the same of Becky Hammon.

Of course, the Russians I should probably be writing about are Nikita Filatov and the other prospects who will be selected in this weekend's NHL Draft. I had previously written that I expected the Kings to take Filatov, but that was based on the lack of star forward prospects, and the Kings will likely be drafting for impact, which makes it more likely that they'll get one of the big defensemen to join JMFJ in the d-corps.

I was reminded by this by reading the excellent NHL Draft Preview materials over at Hockey's Future. I highly recommend D.J. Powers' article on the top current collegians available for the draft, particularly since she's been great at picking players who get drafted despite not appearing on the Central Scouting rankings (Ryan Maki comes to mind). There's also a very handy list of the college commitments of draft-eligible players, which I wish I'd had last year when I covered the draft for CSTV.

HF also has the Rangers going for a blueliner, and that sounds about right. The problem is that unless the Rangers trade up, there's not too much that they can do with this pick in terms of the 2008-09 season. They still probably go D, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them trade the pick, either to move up and get someone who can help immediately (because the blueline needs help), or to move down, get the player they want, and have an extra shot at getting the next Ryan Callahan or Nigel Dawes.

Finally, it's also been reported that the Rangers have shown interest in Blake Wheeler. I think Blake would be a great fit, as a hardworking winger who can get physical when the situation calls for it. Having interviewed Blake a couple of times, I also think he'd do well with the New York media. Plus, it'd be the best of both worlds for me: the Rangers can acquire a college player without screwing up his signing and development.

Will it happen? We'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who's Gone and Who Isn't

Yeah, yeah, the Wings won the Cup. Congratulations to them. The Penguins, of course will be back...I always figured they were more Edmonton '83 than Edmonton '84.

And happy trails to Dominik Hasek and Trevor Linden, who have announced their retirements. Both are great players, and both have much to be proud of in their careers as they move on.

Speaking of moving on...I should do the same.

Well then...

So, it would appear that Don Waddell, if he was ever in danger of losing his job in Atlanta, is off the hook. It may be that the Chicago Wolves' victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the Calder Cup has gotten him off the hook for now, but it'll be interesting to see how that progresses.

Don is one of college hockey's best friends in the NHL, and I hope he can stay in a position of power somewhere in the league. We need more NHL executives with his attitude toward the college game.

Meanwhile, as Waddell tries to find the Thrashers' next coach, Marc Crawford is now available, having been let go as the Kings' head coach. Not that I'm expecting him to turn up in Atlanta, mind you, but it just seemed like a logical connection.

It'll be interesting to see what the Kings do here, as this is a young team that has potential to make a move. I like a lot of the Kings' young talent, and in the case of some of them, I mean that personally. Brian Boyle is one of my favorite players I had the opportunity to work with at CSTV, and Jack Johnson is one I've always regretted not interviewing (although I mostly consider it his fault for blowing off the Junior Evaluation Camp, twice). I also like the talent they have coming up, although it doesn't look like they have a true franchise player on the way at forward. Remember that if you see the Kings go for Nikita Filatov in the draft.

The problem, of course, is that the Western Conference is brutal right now, especially in the Pacific division with the Stars, Sharks and Ducks very strong, and the Coyotes also on the rise with a young team.

I'd be interested to see what Mark Morris, the head coach of LA's AHL club in Manchester, could do there. Given the success that Michel Therrien has had in Pittsburgh after being promoted from the Baby Pens, and the Capitals' Southeast Division title this year under former Hershey coach Bruce Boudreau, this could definitely be the right move for LA.

I had several conversations with Dean Lombardi and Ron Hextall when I was at CSTV, and I like what I heard from them, and I'm hoping that they make a good decision here and can get that franchise on the right track.

Does anyone else find it odd, by the way, that this has been a very quiet off-season so far on the coaching carousel? Just the one change at Alaska. Personally, I'd been sort of expecting a domino effect starting in the CCHA and extending through Hockey East and ECAC Hockey, but it appears that that won't be happening.

I'm being vague on purpose, because I've met so few people in college hockey that I haven't liked, and having been through unemployment recently myself, I don't speculate on other people's employment situations lightly. That said, I told several people to expect said chain - I may have even told them to write it down - and now, I'm going to have some egg on my face.

Oh well, it's OK...after all, I'm not making a career on my hockey musings anymore.

Finally, there's a lot of talk in the outdoor game department lately. Obviously, the big talk is of the Outdoor Classic at Wrigley, but I'm wondering why the NHL hasn't made an official announcement yet. Could Yankee Stadium still be in the mix? I'm still holding out hope until there's an official announcement, since they're not tearing down Wrigley anytime soon.

In the college ranks, they're talking about Minnesota and Wisconsin playing a pair of outdoor games in the next two years, one at Camp Randall and one at the Gophers' new football stadium. The obligatory joke about Don Lucia's hair has already been made, so I'll just say, "Bring it on." I really liked Camp Randall when I had occasion to cover a football game there in 2006 (it was against Illinois in the middle of the Wisconsin-BC hockey series), and as for Minnesota, well, when you talk about kids growing up playing on ponds and backyard rinks, what state better epitomizes that than Minnesota? And since I don't see the Wild being picked to host an Outdoor Classic in the near future - my guess is that they're going to go for classic venues like Wrigley, Yankee Stadium, Fenway, etc. for the next little while - this is something that ought to be done in Minnesota.