Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Waiting Game


When the lockout ended, there were two assumptions made regarding the ideal situation for a player to be in:
1) It was best to be under contract already and take the 24% rollback because the free agents were going to get even less than that on the open market
2) A free agent's best course of action was to sign with a team ASAP to ensure they had a job

Of course, as we've come to see, the first has been proven to be completely false. Though the free agents maybe got less than what they would've three years ago in the same situation, you'd have a hard time convincing me it was a massive hit.

And now, we're starting to see that perhaps the second isn't all that true either.

If you believe published reports, the hottest free agent left is four time 40 goal scorer Peter Bondra, who, a month ago, wasn't on anyone's radar as far as hot properties. I don't recall too many fans saying "we have to get Peter Bondra on our team!"

After all, this is the same Peter Bondra who, after being traded to the Ottawa Senators close to 2004's trade deadline, was an absolute bust, scoring zero points in the seven playoff games the team had before being eliminated (again) by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Such a bust the team didn't exercise the option on his contract, even though when they first acquired him they said it was almost guaranteed they would. The same Peter Bondra who will be 38 by the time playoffs come around. The same Peter Bondra who has only played six games in the last year.

For some teams, these things don't matter, because he's all that's left. Whether feeling pressure from their fans to do something or being pressured internally due to the moves their rivals have made, many clubs have to do something, anything, before the season starts. That one last tinker that would, ideally, put them over the top.

By waiting everyone else out, Bondra's positioned himself to cash in. Not only with an excellent contract, but by having his choice of teams. Unlike a month ago, he can now see who, on paper anyway, have the bests chances of contending this season. I imagine for someone pushing 40, finally winning a Cup is his primary concern.

Sometimes patience is a virtue that comes in handy.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Ottawa Senators major trades history

With this past week's monster swapping of H's, resulting in Dany Heatley becoming a Senator and Marian Hossa a Thrasher, I thought it relevant and interesting on a slow weekend to look back at some of the more significant trades in the short but storied history of the Ottawa Senators.

December 19, 1992
Ottawa traded Jim Thomson and Marc Fortier to Los Angeles Kings for Bob Kudelski and Shawn McCosh.
Christmas came six days early for Senators fans in 1992. Their expansion season was not going well, to say the least, and it was not uncommon for the team to be blown out. Playing in the ancient Civic Centre, being a fan of the team was already depressing.
But Ottawa made their first big move as a franchise when they traded for four-time 20 goal scorer Kudelski, exchanging journeymen and prospects in the trade as well. He caught on immediately. In his 48 games as a Sen that season, he scored 21 goals and 14 assists, on a team with little to work with. The next year, little changed, as he was paired on a line with young phenom Alexei Yashin with much success. However, without much explanation, with Kudelski on pace to score 50 goals,
having already amassed 26 and 15 assists in 41 games, the team traded him on January 6th, 1994 for Scott Levins, Evgeny Davydov and two draft picks (fourth round and sixth round). Reactions ranged from utter confusion to downright rage. Levins, a fighter, was the only player the Senators got back who ever even much played with the team, suiting up for 84 games over three seasons, collecting a grand total of 21 points. Davydov played 43 over two years, with an equally impressive 15 points. As for the draft picks, Mike Gaffney and Kevin Bolibruck, neither played a single game in the NHL. Leaving Ottawa didn't fair well for Kudelski either. He made played in the All-Star game shortly after being traded, due to his success in Ottawa, but never lasted in Florida. Within three years, he was retired, his last pro season being four games in the AHL. For years after this trade, Senators fans flooded call in shows to complain about how the team let the one sniper they ever had go.

June 26, 1993
Ottawa traded G Peter Sidorkiewicz and future considerations to New Jersey for G Craig Billington, LW Troy Mallette, and a 1993 fouth round draft pick .
Like Kudelski, Sido was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise sad expansion year Ottawa team, and was the Senators lone representative in that year's All-Star game. Without his consistent goaltending, the team likely would've lost even more games that first year, if that was even possible. Billington, who coincedentally was also in that year's All-Star game as a goalie, served as the Senators starting netminder the next year, and struggled. Badly. The following season, which was shortened due to the lockout, he was a back-up to Don Beaupre and was gone the year after that, moving from team to team as a back-up for years to come. Mallette was mostly a scrapper, but provided decent energy for Ottawa over three years, though little offense to go with it.

January 1995
Ottawa traded their 1995 fifth round draft pick to Washington Capitals for G Don Beaupre.

After a year of uncertainty with Billington between the pipes, the Senators thought they needed another veteran to play goal and traded for two-time All-Star Beaupre. Almost from the start, he became a fan favorite, and kept a (sadly) still bad team in a lot of games they probably didn't have much business otherwise being in. His statistics as a Senator that year - 3.36 GAA and 0.896 SV% - may not be impressive now, but anyone who saw that team remembers just how good he was for them. He would also come in handy in a big trade later on...

April 7th, 1995
Ottawa traded D Norm Maciver and C Troy Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins for LW Martin Straka.
Pittsburgh, gearing up for a Cup run, thought they needed more of a veteran presence in their line-up, and came knocking on the door of Ottawa. Murray, who had been the team's captain, was one of the more reliable Senators at that time and brought experience that was otherwise lacking. Though he didn't put up big numbers (only 14 points in 33 games that year), he was also only -1, again, on a pretty awful team. The small but quick and crafty Maciver had been with the Sens from the innagural year, where he had 63 points in 80 games, but his production had been dropping off every year. As well, there were health questions surrounding him. He suffered a bruised heart as a result of a hit in the offseason, when playing with Team Canada at the World Championships. Getting to unload two veterans was a welcome opportunity for Ottawa. The Penguins, I guess feeling as though they had enough young scorers, were willing to part with one of their more well regarded players, and one who, the previous year, had put up 30 goals and 34 assists. The hope of the Senators organization at the time of the trade was that the then-22-year-old Straka would be one of the cornerstones of the franchise. It never quite worked out that way, unfortunately. The holes in his game became quite obvious when he was away from a super talented Pittsburgh team and put into a much less polished Senators line-up, and he became somewhat of a whipping boy by the media and a segment of the fanbase. Having collected only 25 points in 43 games of the '95-'96 year, he was not long for Ottawa, and like Beaupre, was part of a significant move shortly thereafter.

August 4, 1995
Ottawa traded their 1996 second round pick to St. Louis Blues for D Steve Duchesne.
This move was, without question, the biggest trade the young Senators franchise had made up to this point. They acquired a four-time All-Star who, though only 29, had been an NHLer for nine years. After being one of the main parts of the L.A. Kings during the late 80's, Duchesne had bounced around from team to team to team, including being part of the trade that landed the Philadelphia Flyers Eric Lindros .
Through it all, he put up fantastic numbers, having averaged 55 points 69 games for his career up to that point. Duchesne brought considerable experience, a winning background, and a powerplay general to the Senators, something they had been mostly without until then. The billingual Duchesne instantly became one of the most popular Senators, both because of his on-ice achievements as well as his considerable off-ice charity work in the community. In his first year in Ottawa, Duchense netted 36 points in 62 games, which looks worse than it is, as he didn't have much to work with yet. The next year, he totalled 47 points, and scored what was, up to that point, the biggest goal in the history of the organization when he netted the game winner on a breakaway in the game that gave the team their first playoff birth. As if he needed to be more popular. Though the team lost in the first round that year, in overtime of the seventh game no less, Duchesne was thought to be a major part of their future. Oops, not exactly. He was traded back to St. Louis that offseason for the bigger Igor Kravchuk. While Duchesne was warm and graceious with the media, Kravchuk was standoffish. While Duchesne played well in big games, Kravchuk folded under pressure, often making crucial, game deciding errors. Basically, the team traded one of their most popular players for someone who would go onto be one of their most hated. Though they tried to rationalize it by saying they couldn't afford to keep Duchesne, the move was right up there with the trade that sent Bob Kudelski out of town as one of most maligned.

January 23, 1996
Ottawa traded G Don Beaupre, LW Martin Straka, and D Bryan Berard to the New York Islanders for G Damian Rhodes and D Wade Redden
Though the Duchesne move was the biggest as far as immediate impact, this trade was unquestionably the Senators biggest long-term wise. Bryan Berard, despite being drafted first overall by the Senators in 1995, seemed to have no desire to play for the team. His contract dispute got more bitter as time went on, with Berard going as far as to say that he would never suit up for Ottawa.
The organization, feeling the pressure to get what was then considered to be a franchise defencemen locked up, axed the GM who Berard was having the difficultly with, Randy Sexton, and replaced him with Pierre Gauthier, an extremely well respected hockey mind. Gauthier tried to get Berard into the fold, but eventually decided the headache was not worth it. The team traded Berard, Straka, who as I said above was not exactly working out as planned, and Beaupre to the Islanders for Wade Redden, who was the player taken after Berard in that draft, and goalie Damian Rhodes, who had been sent to the Islanders a few minutes earleir for veteran Kirk Muller. Though it was said that he didn't have Berard's speed or offence, many thought Redden was the better all around defenceman, and unlike Berard, seemed eager to play in Ottawa. In Rhodes, the Senators continued their revolving door of starting goalies, now onto their fourth one in as many years. Even though the Ottawa-Toronto rivalry was not then what it is now, Senators fans still felt funny about seeing Rhodes in his blue goalie pads during his first game with the team. The day after the trade, Gauthier fired extremely unpopular head coach Davey Allison and replaced him with Jacques Martin. Gauthier made it known things were going to change. Rhodes would go onto play three-and-a-half years in Ottawa, usually rotating the starting job with veteran Ron Tugnutt. He never emerged as the bonafided starter the team had hoped (the fact he questioned whether he could handle the role upon being told of his trade to the team might have been a sign of something), but he was reliable when called upon, which included 12 playoff games over two years. Over those three years, he averaged a 2.56 GAA with a .902 SV%. Wade Redden, has, obviously, become one of the most well liked and successful Senators in the team's short history, and going into his ninth year with the team, is seen as one of the premier defencemen in the NHL. Straka would end up doing pretty well for himself away from the team, and once he was gone, fans questioned why he was thrown into the deal, which was especially funny because at the time of the trade, I don't recall hearing one person say it, as we, having seen him be a disappointment as a top line player, weren't too sad to see him go. Berard has played for six NHL teams, and though he's had a decent career, it was a strange twist of fate that saw him suffer his near-career threatening eye injury in Ottawa while playing for the rival Leafs. Up to that point, whenever he came to the city to play, he was booed out of the building, with fans remembering his claims of never playing for the team. But since, it's been a different story, as in a weird way, hockey fans in this area feel a closeness to him.

June 22, 1996
Ottawa traded F Trent Mcleary and their 1996 third round pick for LW Shawn McEachern.
Pierre Gauthier continued to put his stamp on the team by acquiring the blazing fast McEachern, who had scored 24 goals and 29 assists for the Bruins the previous year. Once considered a future sniper, McEachern had never panned out to the extent the teams he played for had hoped. And though that didn't change drastically during his six years in Ottawa, he was a major part of the team's maturation from basement dwellers to guaranteed playoff makers. Mostly playing with Yashin, McEachern did twice score 30+ goals in Ottawa (31 in '98-'99 and 32 in '00-'01), but unfortunately, like a lot of Senators, he was not able to perform when it mattered most: the playoffs. In 49 playoff games with the team, he scored a disappointing 17 points, which, in comparison to his regular season numbers with Ottawa (142 goals, 162 assists over 454 games), doesn't paint a pretty picture. He was traded to Atlanta for D Brian Pothier at the end of the 2002 season.

November 27, 1996
Ottawa traded LW Pavol Demitra to St. Louis Blues for D Christer Olsson
At the time it was not considered significant, at all, but this is one of those trades that Senators fans look back on and cry about. Demitra, a late round steal in the 1993 draft at 227th overall, never really got a fair shot with Ottawa. Despite tearing up the AHL, with 155 points in 109 games over two years, he only ever played 59 with the big club. Why, you ask? I really couldn't tell you. So when he was traded, no one batted much of an eye, though we probably should have. Of course, he's gone on to average 28 goals and 41 points in 63 games in St. Louis, meaning more than a point-a-game, basically being one of the most consistent offensive players in the league. Olsson lasted one year in Ottawa, playing 25 games in the '96-'97 season, collecting only five points. He still plays in Europe though. Thank God. Even writing about this trade depresses me.

January 17, 1998
Ottawa traded C Alexandre Daigle to Philadelphia Flyers for RW Pat Falloon, C Vaclav Prospal, and their 1998 second round draft pick.
This is when the patience with Alexandre Daigle ran out. Long thought to be the next big superstar, the Senators drafted him first overall in 1993, ahead of Chris Pronger and Paul Kariya. He was so considered a sure thing the word is the Quebec Nordiques were willing to part with Peter Forsberg to get the french Daigle into their fold. Ottawa refused. That's how high expectations were. I assume most of you remember how it worked out. Despite a promising rookie year that saw him collect 51 points, Daigle never reached that elite player status, and mostly disappointed Sens faithful. Not just with his offensive output, or lack thereof, but also his effort, as it often looked like he wasn't trying. Probably because he wasn't. For whatever reason, his heart was not in the game, and it seems, in retrospect, like Daigle was just blessed with fantastic athletic ability, but sadly, little ambition in regards to the game. Oh, and his rookie contract of $2.45 million per year is long pointed to as the reason for the $850,000 rookie cap in the CBA that came out of the 1994 lockout. Having only scored 16 points in 38 games up to that point, and being a defensive liability all the way, Pierre Gauthier pulled the plug. In return, Ottawa got another highly drafted (second overall in 1991) yet up to that point disappointing player in Falloon, highly rated prospect Prospal, and a draft pick that ended up being Chris Bala, who's never played a game with the Sens. Falloon's time with the team was mostly unmemorable, as he played 28 games the rest of that season (six points) before being cut loose. Prospal, considered to be the crux of the trade, was another story. When coming over to the team, the hopes were that Vinny as he would come to be known would develop into a strong second line center to compliment franchise player Yashin. Like with Straka, it didn't happen. Perhaps expectations were too high, or maybe Prospal just wasn't ready for such a role. Whatever the case may be, he was not effective in Ottawa. He ended up scoring 111 points in his 213 games with the team, which wasn't bad, but below where the bar was set upon his arrival. Again, like Straka, he was a whipping boy of the local media, often used as the example for what was wrong with the team. And like Straka, he would go onto big things when leaving the team. He ended up being traded at the mid-way point of the '00-'01 season. By then, with only one goal in 40 games, he had earned himself a comfortable spot in Jacques Martin's doghouse, and was even a healthy scratch a few times. Though some might point to him the same way they do Demitra and say the Sens were wrong for trading him, the reality is they gave Prospal every chance to pan out here. It just didn't happen. His success with other teams is nice, but was never going to occur here in Ottawa. As for Daigle, he went from the Flyers to the Rangers, took two years off of playing hockey to persue acting in Hollywood, but has come back and found a nice role with the Minnesota Wild, for whom he was a consistent secondary scoring option last season.

March 23, 1999
Ottawa traded RW Chris Murray to the Chicago Blackhawks for RW Nelson Emerson.
Coming only three days after acquiring Ted Donato, this trade deadline move is only significant in what it didn't result in. The Senators, having had their best season ever with over 100 points and a #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, were hoping to make a long playoff run, and so they traded for the five-time 20 goal scorer Emerson with hopes that he would give them some offense on the second line. The team ended up losing all seven games he played with the team, including the four playoff games they lost to Buffalo as they were swept out of the post season. Emerson did collect six points in those seven games, but signed with another team that offseason. Understandbly so.

March 14, 2000
Ottawa traded D Janne Laukkanen and G Ron Tugnutt to Pittsburgh Penguins for G Tom Barrasso.
Coming off of an extremely disappointing first round sweep the previous year, and looking like they were on a road that would collide with the Maple Leafs, GM Marshall Johnston made the first major trade deadline move in the history of the team. Up to that point, it had been role players. In Barrasso, they were getting a two-time Cup winner, a goalie considered to be upper echolon, and someone who could steal games. They hoped. Up to then, Ron Tugnutt had been the starter, and though he didn't have the pedigree of most other starting goalies, his numbers were spectacular as a Senator. In his three-and-a-half seasons in Ottawa, which included an All-Star appearance, he averaged a sparkling 2.34 GAA (which included '98-'99's 1.79 in 43 games) and an impressive .906 SV&. Miracleously, the team's goaltending was still not seen as up to par. I can't explain why, but I suspect people never got over the fact it was Ron Tugnutt, journeyman goalie, that was their starter, and wanted someone with a dazzling reputation. As far as on-ice performance goes, they got that in Barrasso. At least, they should've. From the time he put on a Sens sweater, Barrasso struggled, in every aspect. In addition to being rude with the media, which shouldn't have come as a surprise considering his reputation, Barrasso was not effective on the ice. During the seven regular season games he played, he had a GAA over 3.00. But fans weren't too concerned, because what mattered was the playoffs. We'd seen what a great regular season gets you the previous year. Unfortunately, things didn't change when the post season came and Maple Leafs rolled into town. Though you would've been hard pressed to make the case that Barrasso lost the series for them, he certainly didn't win it either, and by the end, most fans were left wondering if Ron Tugnutt wasn't the better choice after all. It was the first of many years when Toronto would eliminiate Ottawa from the playoffs, and the series that made Richard Persson the most hated Ottawa Senator EVER. After the season, Barrasso bolted town, and as a result of the death of his daughter, ended up taking a brief retirement from the game, leaving Ottawa with Patrick Lalime as their starter, a role he would have for four seasons. Laukkanen, the defencemen in the trade, had been one of the most reliable blueliners the team had had, so losing him as part of the trade hurt as well. And to make matters worse, the team that supposedly got the short end of the stick in the trade, the team that was thought to be unloading a big contract and looking to next year, Pittsburgh, went further into the playoffs than the Sens did.

March 13, 2001
Ottawa traded future considerations to Florida Panthers for C Mike Sillinger.
Ottawa traded their 2001 third round draft pick to Minnesota Wild for D Curtis Leschyshyn.

Another year, more deadline dealing. Like two years earlier, Ottawa was coming off of a fantastic season. 109 points, #2 in the Eastern Conference, fourth overall in the NHL. Fans thought, this had to be the year. So Johnson, learning from the previous year's mistake, added pieces rather than making a major move. Sillinger, a 10-year NHL veteran, was brought in to help win faceoffs, which the team was weak at and he was a specialist of. Leschyshyn, a member of the 1996 Cup winning Colorado Avalanche, was brought in to give them experience, and specifically, someone who'd won before. They looked like wise moves, adding to an already loaded line-up that included four 70 point scorers. First on the radar, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the first round of the playoffs. Four games later, it was over. Another sweep. This playoff series is long considered the most embarassing in the history of a franchise not exactly known for their success from April on. It is the only time the Leafs blatanly outplayed the Senators, as every other time it was either close or the Sens dominated but couldn't put the puck in the net. Both Sillinger and Leschyshyn were UFAs, but only Sillinger left, as Leschyshyn took less money to stay in Ottawa, where he remained a steady player for three more seasons.

June 23, 2001
Ottawa traded C Alexei Yashin to New York Islanders for D Zdeno Chara, F Bill Muckalt, and their 2001 first round (second overall) draft pick.
After the fleecing at the hands of the Leafs, Sens management finally came to the conclusion most fans of the team had years earlier: Alexei Yashin had to go. With only one point all series, and zero the series before, Yashin had justifiably gotten the reputation as a choker, and, when combined with his numerous holdouts, tension with teammates, asshole of an agent, and escalating salary, it made perfect sense to unload him. But to who? Apparently, Islanders GM Mike Milbury didn't feel ripped off enough by the Wade Redden trade as he took the bait, offering up 6'9" defenceman Chara, plugger Muckalt, and the prized second overall pick in the upcoming draft. I think we all know how this has worked out. Chara has developed as one of the best all around defencemen in the game, culmulating last year when he was a Norris Trophy finalist. In addition to the physical game he brings due to his size, Chara's offence has increased at a rate I'm sure Milbury didn't think was possible, as each of his last two seasons point totals (39 and 41) individually equal what he did on Long Island over four years. Some might say that Milbury couldn't have known Chara would improve so significantly, and there might be some merit in that. But it's well known that defencemen take longer to develop than any other position, and when you have a 24-year-old, 6'9" guy, I would think you'd have more patience than usual. The second round pick ended up being Jason Spezza, who looks like he's about to emerge as a top 10 scorer in the league, having just had the biggest offensive year in the AHL in over ten years. And as for Mr. Yashin, the outcome has been predictable. Decent regular seasons, poor playoff performances, and questions about his heart. Shocking, I know. The team signed him to a 10-year, $90 million deal when they traded for him four years ago, and now, under the new CBA, are probably kicking themselves daily. Chara for Yashin would be a steal right now. Throw in Spezza and you have yet another example of why Mike Milbury is the most incompetent GM in pro hockey.

September 21, 2002
Ottawa traded D Sami Salo to Vancouver Canucks for LW Peter Schaefer.
Looking back, this looks like one of those trades where both teams won. After three good years, where he collected 29, 31, and 36 points, Schaefer had been on the outs with Canucks GM Brian Burke for not accepting his qualifying offer, and spent a year playing in Europe as a result. Burke went onto slam Schaefer for the decision and it looked like the two sides would never reconcile. Ottawa swooped in with a resolution. The speedy yet gritty Schaefer, who was only 25, addressed the needs of the club. Salo was someone who had been somewhat of an enigma in Ottawa. He was well regarded due to possessing one of the hardest shots in the league, but he seemed unable to stay healthy, missing approximately 130 games over three years. Already deep on defence, Ottawa could afford to part with him. Since leaving, he's managed to stay relatively injury free in Vancouver, which makes me question if the issue was conditioning. Ottawa made no bones about the fact that one of the main reasons why he was traded was his inability to stay in the line-up, and so perhaps he got his act together. He's done very well in Vancouver and addressed a need they had. Schaefer had his best NHL season last year with 39 points, and has been consistent since coming over.

February 25, 2003
Ottawa traded F Jakub Klepis to Buffalo Sabres for LW Vaclav Varada.
In another close-to-the-deadline move, Sens GM John Muckler (notice a trend?) felt like the team needed more toughness. It wasn't as if fans hadn't been saying that about the team since the beginning of time. In Varada, he got someone he knew very well, from when he was GM of the Sabres. Though he wasn't much of a scorer, it was thought that Ottawa, the highest scoring team in the league that season, was set there and had other holes to fill. Ottawa went to game seven of the Eastern Conference finals that year, losing out to the eventual Cup winners New Jersey due to a goal in the last three minutes. Varada had six points in 18 games that playoff run and was a major part of the team's success, providing a meanstreak from their forwards they otherwise lacked. He's still with the team of course, but at $1.2 million per year, might be overpaid for his role and could be moved. This trade was important because it was the first time Ottawa had mortgaged their future for immediate help, and signaled a new era for a team that was eternally looking towards next year or the year after that. Klepis was their first round pick in 2002, and has since moved onto the Washington organization. He doesn't look like he'll be an NHLer anytime soon. The Bryan Smolinski for 2001 first round pick Tim Gleason trade that came two weeks later was very similar in that Ottawa sent one of their best prospects away for help now, though with Gleason there were other factors as it was unknown if the team could sign him before the 2003 draft, thus making him eligible to re-enter it.

February 18, 2004
Ottawa traded F Brooks Laich and their 2005 second round draft pick to Washington Capitals for RW Peter Bondra
This seemed like it had to work. Adding Bondra, a five-time all-star, nine-time 30+ goal scorer (four times over 40), to an already offensively loaded roster appeared as though it would give Ottawa an edge over all the other Eastern contenders. With that kind of firepower, no one could stop them, and so it didn't matter how unreliable our goaltending was. That was the thinking at the time. As far as excitement about a single trade, before this week's move that saw Dany Heatley come to town, this took the cake. I'll never forget the first game Bondra played as a Senator. The building literally roared and gave him a standing ovating when he took the ice for his first shift, and nearly exploded when he scored later in the game. It was as loud as I've heard the Corel Centre, including playoff games. Unfortunately, it didn't last. Bondra,a right winger his whole career, moved over to the left wing to play with Daniel Alfredsson, which confused some as they thought it made more sense to put him with sniper Marian Hossa, a fellow Slovakian and someone who idolized Bondra. The positional change seemed to have a negative impact on Bondra, as he never quite got comfortable. In 23 regular season games, he had 14 points, despite playing on the top line and getting significant powerplay time. In the media, he talked about being ready for the "war" that was going to be another series with Toronto. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was all talk. Another first round exit at the hands of Pat Quinn and company was the result, with Bondra being pointless for the seven game series. 0 points from someone who had 477 career NHL goals. In his defense, he did get chances, he just wasn't able to capitalize. But even still, they didn't trade for Peter Bondra for his ability to get scoring opportunities. They acquired him for his finish. He didn't have one. When they traded for Bondra, the Sens said they would unquestionably pick up the option year on his contract. By the end of the playoffs, there was no doubt that they would not be doing so.

March 9, 2004
Ottawa traded D Karel Rachunek and LW Alexandre Giroux to New York Rangers for D Greg de Vries.
Much of what I said about Peter Bondra's short stay in Ottawa can be applied to Greg de Vries. Like Bondra, this was a move made to solidify Ottawa. By this point, Philadelphia had traded for Alexei Zhamnov, Boston Sergei Gonchar, and Toronto Brian Leetch, so there was a bit of an arms race going on with the big boys of the Eastern Conference, and John Muckler was feeling pressure to keep up. Suddenly, getting Bondra wasn't enough. De Vries, in theory, gave Ottawa two defence pairs that could log 20+ minutes. Already an owner of a Cup ring, it was thought that de Vries would bring something to the table that the other three didn't. But like Bondra, it never worked out the way the team had hoped. He struggled from the start, often looking lost on the ice, and was never able to get acquainted with the Ottawa system. As his play worsened in the playoffs, his ice time diminished, and there were even calls for him to be scratched. After his poor play, it was thought that he would be a candidate to be bought out, but when that didn't happen, it looked like Muckler might give him another chance, $2 million salary and all. As we saw this week, that's not the case. Luckily for the Sens, what they gave up didn't amount to much. Though extremely talented Rachunek is also very inconsistent. He held out for an entire year, missing the '01-'02 season, and despite coming back the next year with a new contract and having a pretty strong season, he was always in the bad books of Sens management. At the time of the trade, Jacques Martin had soured on him and made Rachunek a healthy scratch for consecutive games.

Comments on the trade from those affected

Curious what Senators players think of the blockbuster Heatley-Hossa trade?

Zdeno Chara on Hossa leaving and the talk that he was too soft:

"Obviously, it's really hard to see him go. He was tremendous for us. He's one of the best forwards in the league, he's a good friend of mine, and we spent a lot of time together, working out. We knew there were going to be a lot of changes, but this was a big surprise. I thought Hossa was going to be here forever. ... Hossa never backed down in the playoffs from the physical part. Dany is obviously Canadian and doesn't back off, and there are some differences in their games, but in this part of the game, I see no differences between them. It's not about nationality."


Daniel Alfredsson:

"The cost factored into (the trade). Heatley is a bigger guy, but Heatley kind of has to play the way he does. He doesn't have the speed of Hossa. I don't think anybody does. He's so quick, he usually beats (defencemen) and cuts to the front of the net. Time will tell how the trade works out. We all loved Hossa and nobody wanted to lose him, but at the same time, we're getting Heatley and he's a great player. Heatley is Canadian, he's coming to a Canadian team. That makes people excited, but I don't think people will forget what Hossa did for this organization. He helped lift us from the bottom to the top."


Chris Phillips:

"They both score goals. I don't think the trade was made just to get Heatley. It's a numbers game. It's the reality of the new NHL and getting under that cap. Now, that's the way the game is. Why can't Heatley be recognized as part of the future of the Senators? In 10 years from now, we could be looking at one of the best Senators ever."


Jason Spezza on playing with Heatley:

"I like to pass the puck and he likes to shoot it. But we have so many offensive weapons, we can mix and match. He's a lot more than a prototypical power forward guy because he has got such great skill, too."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Senators sign two more


The Ottawa Senators continue to fill out their roster, signing defenceman Lance Ward and forward Jeff Heerema to one-year deals. Both are former first round draft picks.

Ward, 27, has been in both the Florida and Anaheim organizations, having played over 200 NHL games. At 6'3" and 210 pounds, he's not all that gifted offensively (only 16 career NHL points) nor is he especially fast, but he's a big, physical defenceman with a mean streak, including the willingness to drop the gloves if necessary, something they don't have much of on the blueline outside of Zdeno Chara, who I doubt the team wants fighting every other game.

I suspect the move came at the behest of new head coach Bryan Murray, who was the GM of his previous NHL team, the Mighty Ducks. He's also had some time at left wing in the pros, so he gives the Senators some versatily. Ward was New Jersey's first round pick, 10th overall, in 1996, but he went back into the draft two years later, being picked in the third round, 63rd overall, by the Panthers. Interestingly, he hails from the same small Alberta town as Wade Redden.

Heerema, 25, was the first round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 1999, 11th overall. His NHL experience is limited to only 32 games, collecting 4 goals and 2 assists. I've actually never seen him play, but TSN's scouting report says that he's dangerously fast and has demonstrated a scoring touch in junior and the minors. Unfortunately, they also comment that he's undersized and weak. He's bounced from NHL club to NHL club, from being drafted by the 'Canes to the being claimed off waives by the New York Rangers to being picked in the waiver draft by the St. Louis Blues. Unlike Ward, he did play last year, scoring 14 goals and 30 assists for the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, the affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

Obviously, both are depth moves. Ward might fight for one of the alternate defenceman spots with the big club, but I imagine Hereema will strictly play with Binghamton in the AHL, as they will be very bare in comparison to last year's team due to the fact that Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Ray Emery, Anton Volchenkov, and Brian Pothier will all be back with the NHL Senators this coming season.

He's no Andrei Kovalenko


The Ottawa Senators have announced that Dany Heatley will be wearing his usual #15 when he suits up in October. At the press conference, Heatley had a #51 jersey because he hadn't cleared using #15 from it's then-owner Peter Schaefer. Schaefer has given the number up, now using #27. No word on what kind of deal Heatley and Schaefer worked out but I bet it involved a new flatscreen TV.

Why not #51? Is Pierre Gauthier still enforcing his "NO HIGH JERSEY NUMBERS DAMMIT!!!" policy from his GM grave?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sens shore up D, sign Meszaros


The Ottawa Senators have signed 2004 first round pick (23rd overall) defenceman Andrej Meszaros to a three-year entry level contract.

Meszaros had his first year of North American hockey last year with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. He was named the team's best defenceman and finished sixth in WHL rookie scoring with 11 goals and 30 assists. He also has extensive international experience, playing in the last two World Junior Championships for Slovakia.

Though big at 6'2", Meszaros is not a physical, bruising defenceman first. He's a offensive blueliner who can skate, pass, handle the puck, and score. According to those who've followed his development, his defensive game needs work, but most expect it will improve with experience and maturity. It's also been said that he needs to fill out in order to be able to sustain the NHL style, but he's been playing with grown men for years, having spent a season and a half in the senior Slovak Extraleague, where he was very successful.

With the departure of veteran Greg de Vries in the Dany Heatley-Marian Hossa trade, a roster spot opened up for a defenceman. It's expected that Meszaros and well regarded 23-year-old German prospect Christoph Schubert, who had a strong season last year in the AHL with the Baby Sens, will fight for the last defenceman spot. I would think that which ever doesn't make it will not be the seventh reserve defenceman, and instead be sent to the minors to ensure they get the playing time their development needs. Unlike Meszaros, Schubert is said to be primarily a defensive defenceman, so it might simply come down to what new head coach Bryan Murray feels the team needs from that spot.

Of course, in today's Ottawa Sun, there is a blurb about the Senators possibly bringing back veteran defenceman and Ottawa area native Jason York, a move I'm been saying for months the Senators should look into. It's said that after trading de Vries, the team contacted the former Sen about the idea. Back in June, York told the Ottawa Citizen that he would be willing to take much less money to come back to his former team, where he has enjoyed his most success. York lives in the city in the offseason so that would likely be a factor as well.
EDIT: Thankfully newspaper editors work pro bono on blogs.

Forgotten #5

While all the hype yesterday was about Dany Heatley coming to Ottawa and Marian Hossa, the $18 million man, leaving, quietly, a pretty good hockey player switched teams in the move. Greg de Vries was gone too.

It goes without saying that de Vries was never all that popular in Ottawa. Maybe he never had a chance.

From the moment he put on a Senators sweater, he struggled. He looked out of place from the start, and never quite seemed to be able to get adjusted. To be fair, Ottawa was both a tight knit locker room and implemented a specific system, which likely made it difficult for anyone, even a veteran with a Stanley Cup ring, to step in and prosper immediately. Despite being well regarded throughout hockey as a very good blueliner, he made error after error in the playoffs against the Leafs.

Whenever Sens fans talked about who to unload, whether to save money to keep the others or to spend elsewhere, his name was always brought up. His days in Ottawa have looked numbered for months.

Financially, it made no sense to dedicate over $2 million of cap space to him. Defence is Ottawa's strongest position, and a case could be made that de Vries was #5 on the depth chart. To put it bluntly, he wasn't needed here.

Atlanta, though, seems to be another story. Greg de Vries is just what they need. A veteran defenceman who's won a Cup, usually plays well on both ends of the ice, can be a leader in the dressing room, and can mentor the younger blueliners. While on Ottawa he was their number four or five defenceman, with the Thrashers, he's much higher up.

Suddenly, that $2 million doesn't make so little sense.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Interesting revelations from the GM

John Muckler was on The Team 1200's "Afternoon Drive" show a few moments ago, and revealed two intriguing things:

1) The Senators had approached the agents of Marian Hossa, Wade Redden, and Zdeno Chara with a package that would've seen all three paid the same (likely in the neighborhood of $4 and $4.5 million, since the team has said Daniel Alfredsson would be their highest paid player.) Hossa's side was the only that opposed the suggestion.

2) Hossa told Muckler as they were meeting before the arbitration hearing that if they did go to arbitration he would not be back with the club after this coming season.

Make of those what you will.

The Morning After

How did you spend your Tuesday afternoon? If you visited this blog during that time, I think you know my answer to that question.

Yesterday was one of the strangest, and yet most exciting days in the short history of the Ottawa Senators. Let's look at how it went.

At 6AM, I made this post. It didn't look like a deal between Marian Hossa and the Senators was going to be reached, and their arbitration hearing would go on as scheduled.

At 10:30, news broke that the Senators and Hossa had agreed on a three-year, $18 million contract. There was no real consensus opniion from Sens fans, as it was still sinking it.

At 12:30, having sat on the news for a whole two hours, I made this post dissecting where the Sens now stood. I was not optimistic.

And then, at around 3PM, the rumor hit. The Sens and Thrashers were swapping H's. Heatley for Hossa. Oh, and a defenceman was involved. Chaos ensued. Who was it? Wade Redden? The two likely candidates were Greg de Vries and Chris Phillips. de Vries was the accepted choice, but party poopers like James Mirtle rained on my parade with news it was Phillips. No dice, James. A few hours later, the deal was made official. Dany Heatley was an Ottawa Senator, and Marian Hossa was headed south.

Though it's become trendy to bash Hossa as of late, and to an extent with good reason, it would be unfair not to recognize what he's done for the team. As a six year veteran of the team, his evolution as a player has often mirrored the growth of the team. As he got better, so did the Senators.

To say Hossa was a popular player within the team would be an understatement. He was a vital part of the nucleus, of the chemistry, and maybe, that's been the problem. Though this trade was originally seen by most, myself included, as motivated by salary, it could be that there are some actual hockey issues behind this deal.

Maybe this was a shake up?

Senators GM John Muckler walked into a team that, though having stumbled in the post season, was regarded as a success. They had gone through GM after GM, and through it all, managed to remain a top team always considered as being on the verge of greatness. Jacques Martin was accepted as the brainchild of Ottawa and the architect of their achievements. Even though I'm sure he had the desire to put his fingerprint on the team, it was the correct move for Muckler to sit back and follow Jacques' plan.

All bets were off, however, when the Sens were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by their usual assailants the Toronto Maple Leafs. That was the opening Muckler needed to make his moves. Gone was Martin, replaced by Ottawa area native Bryan Murray who, by all accounts, has a coaching philosophy that's the complete opposite of his successor. Gone was Radek Bonk, the local media's whipping boy and scapegoat for playoff failures of years past, though not without good reason. In his place as the new #1 center was young phenom Jason Spezza, who seemed to have a fixed address in Martin's doghouse, never quite allowed to be off his leash. And gone was Patrick Lalime, replaced by one of the greatest goalies in NHL history.

Apparently, that wasn't enough of a shift.

Moving Hossa, one of the main figures of the team, tells the locker room that things will change. That it is a new era.

It's also impossible to ignore the obvious message this sends to the team about negotiating. They will not tolerate being strong armed. The reality is obvious: Hossa, despite his pleas in the local print media about loving Ottawa and wanting to stay, priced himself off the team. He wanted to be paid like Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton. He also wanted to remain a Senator. He couldn't have his cake and eat it too. The sad truth is that if he truly wanted to stay in Ottawa, if he was as determined to win here as he says, he would've taken less money.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be paid what you perceive you deserve. But it can't happen with this Ottawa team. John Muckler hinted at this finality last week, when he said captain Daniel Alfredsson will be the highest paid player on the team at $4.6 million. Hossa tried to call his bluff and go beyond that. He's now in Atlanta (well, probably Slovakia, but you get what I'm saying.)

You'd think Hossa and his agent, Jiri Crha would know all this, but they proceeded with their gameplan of securing top dollar, and yet, seem to be surprised at the end result. Crha contends that when he and his client signed the deal with the Senators early Tuesday morning, he had no knowledge a trade was in the works. In most pro sports settings, sign-and-trades involve the player. Hossa seemed to be out of the loop, and Crha indicated in an interview with The Score cable network Tuesday evening that Marian was upset and disappointed by the news. A few hours earlier, he thought he had hit the jackpot, in the city he wanted. He had to be on top of the world. Now, he was on the move, gone from a team full of his friends.

A related part of this is that it might sour relations between Crha and Muckler. Since Crha also represents Zdeno Chara, this could be a problem. But let's hope they're professionals about it.

As I talked about yesterday, Hossa's public demands soured a city previously enamored with him on #18. He went from one of the most well liked players, cited by Sens fans as among the best in the league, to a villain whose weaknesses as a player were magnified on blogs like this and on message boards across the Net.

Listening to The Team 1200 yesterday, and hearing caller after caller gush about how happy they were with this trade, I was somewhat disheartened. Here was someone who did a lot for this team, and because of one misguided summer, has tarnished his otherwise sparkling legacy as a Senator.

They lamented about his poor playoff performances. It's possible I was watching different games than these people, I guess, but the last two playoffs, I thought Hossa was one of the most consistently strong Senators. Even in games where he didn't score, he always generated chance after chance.

They say, he didn't have heart, forgetting the image of Hossa, sitting on the ice of the Corel Centre in the moments after game seven of the 2003 Eastern Conference finals, dejected beyong belief with tears in his eyes, all with the New Jersey Devils celebrating in the background.

They say he wouldn't pay the price to win, conveniently chosing not to remember the moment late in that same game, the score tied 2-2, when he went crashing to the net after a loose puck, getting crotched by the post. This was seconds after he was crosschecked to the ice by a Devils defender. It looked like he was throwing caution to the wind and sacrificing his body, and specifically a part of his body we all know is important, to get that deciding goal.

I realize we're supposed to hate Marian Hossa right now, but let's not start rewriting history. This is a fantastic, albeit now maybe somewhat overpaid, player who accomplished a lot for the team. A team that, I genuinely feel, would not have reached the heights it did without him. Were those heights as high as they should've been, with no Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters? Maybe not. But I truly believe it wasn't because of a lack of effort.

The accepted, and somewhat alarming rationalization for why Hossa has no heart is that he's a European. This blog has had this discussion previously, with disasterous results - a right wing conservative called me a socialist for suggesting that those who question Daniel Alfredsson's captaincy do so due to an inherent bias against non-North American players. I hate this logic, despite its prevalence, and whenever I hear it used, I almost always tune that person out. Yesterday, that had to happen a lot.

However, despite his best efforts and all the talent in the world, Marian Hossa could not take the Senators to the top. That team as a whole couldn't. Muckler began dismantling it in late June of 2004, and made his biggest move more than a year later. Anytime you let a superstar calibre player go, it stings, but maybe changes, drastic changes, needed to be made.

I'm sure Marian Hossa will have tremendous success in Atlanta. They seem to be a team on the rise, and there are some pieces already in place, assuming Ilya Kovalchuk isn't too upset about the trade to come back, that will allow them to continue to grow as a franchise. Talented players like Hossa will prosper regardless of where they are. Whether or not he'll do for the Thrashers what he couldn't for the Sens and win the team a Cup remains to be seen. Despite the sour note he ended his run as a Senator on, I think most Sens, deep down, past their initial feeling of resentment and anger, are sad to see such a gifted hockey player leave town and likely wish him the best.

Of course, the player we're getting back, he's not too shabby either. In fact, the city has been abuzz for the last 15 hours with excitement about his arrival. Dany Heatley could run for mayor of Ottawa and win with ease. And he hasn't even played a single shift in a Senators uniform.

Since the trade, there has been debate ad nauseum about who comes out the victor, but it seems to me that it depends on one thing: which Dany Heatley the Senators are getting. Is it the Dany Heatley that won a Calder trophy, scored 89 points in '02-'03, was the All-Star Game MVP, and seemed to be on the verge of superstardom, or the Dany Heatley that struggled to regain any momentum when he came back from the accident?

Heatley's history is well documented, and I'll leave it to someone else to discuss the merits of what happened, but it seems to have had a tremendous effect on the on-ice Dany Heatley as well as the one who exists away from the rink. He hasn't been the same player since.

Since Heatley requested this trade, feeling as though a change in setting would benefit him, it's more than likely that he's all too aware of this, and felt the only way to get off that track and start fresh would be to relocate. Atlanta, despite all his early success there, probably isn't his favorite city in the world. Too many memories.

Beyond the emotional baggage that he brings, there are also ones of the physical nature. Many report his knee hasn't fully healed, commenting that it seems like he lacks that fifth gear in his stride he previously played with. The vision in his left eye is said to be diminished. Will these factors contribute to whatever success he will or won't have in Ottawa?

John Muckler seems to be betting that the answer is no.

''I have no doubts in my mind that he's going to get back to where he was before,'' Muckler said of Heatley. ''It's going to be a great challenge for him to come to Ottawa and show that he can play at the elite level that he once did.''


This is what will determine who truly "won" this trade - though most teams will likely prosper out of it. If Dany Heatley does in fact return to his old form, it'd be hard to argue that the Senators didn't come out smelling like roses. Heatley is two years younger than Hossa, bigger than Hossa, stronger, plays a more physical style, and is $1.5 million cheaper.

The salary cap implications of this trade are obvious. When they signed Hossa, and still had Greg de Vries, their payroll was approximately $38,545,000. With Heatley and his new contract, they're at about $35,244,000. Muckler, like most GMs, has wanted to cap himself at around $37 million, giving the team some wiggle room as far as injuries and trades go.

Now, the team has roughly $2 million to work with. Though most of the premium free agents are off the market, there are some names still out there that might work as far as suring up the line-up. Vincent Damphousse, Andrei Nikolishin and Scott Young up front, Jason York and Jason Woolley on the back-end. Not franchise players to be sure, but adding a veteran at the right price, on a short term deal, wouldn't be the worst idea right now. I'll leave the rest to the Eklund's of the world.

In addition, no longer having the albatross that would've been Hossa's contract around their necks, as well as de Vries' somewhat hefty deal, the Senators now appear to be in a great position to secure the remaining core players. Last week, they said they had approached Wade Redden and his agent about renewing. Zdeno Chara can't be too far off. While a month ago, it looked like a given that one was going to have to go, and fans began debating which world class defenceman was the better choice to keep, it now seems as if both will continue to have bright futures in Ottawa.

In short, they've looked to the future without neglecting the present.

24 hours ago, things were looking pretty bleek for the Senators past this year. That was most definitely the perspective held by Sens fans I read, listened to, and spoke with. A new day, a new outlook. My how quickly things can change.

I also want to thank everyone who visited the blog yesterday, as it was, far and away, the busiest it's been in the month or so that I've had this little hobby going, and especially to the people who contributed comments. It made waiting those couple hours or so, as this story went from a crazy rumor, to a historic moment, a whole lot more fun.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

It's official: Dany Heatley is an Ottawa Senator

As has been discussed for the past three hours, the Ottawa Senators have traded Marian Hossa and Greg de Vries to the Atlanta Thrashers for Dany Heatley. Hossa signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Ottawa Senators around 8AM this morning, a mere hour before he, his agent, and the Ottawa Senators were scheduled to meet with an arbitrator.

Heatley was a restricted free agent (coming out of an entry level contract), but has apparently agreed in principle on a new deal with the Senators worth $13.5 million over three years. His agent, Stacey McAlpine, said Heatley will be in the city tomorrow to meet with the media.

This has been quite the whirlwind day as a Senators fan, going from signing arguably their best player to a new (some said too rich) contract to trading him and a popular defenceman for a highly regarded young forward.

Having been in front of the computer all day with this story, I'm going to save my surely long winded thoughts on this move until tomorrow. These nagging errands I've been neglecting all day can wait no longer.

Just when you thought it was over...

I know I will regret this, but, from Eklund

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

BIG TRADE COMING: HOSSA + FOR HEATLEY
From a Good Source (E4-5) This trade is all but announced...

Hossa and a top four defenseman (could be Phillips, may not be) from the Sens to Atlanta for Heatley...

More coming...


UPDATE: The rumor has been juiced up. In addition to Heatley, a first round pick has been thrown in the mix by Gord Wilson on The Team 1200's "Afternoon Drive" show.

I know we all hate the baseless world that is Eklund, but I'm keeping my eyes on this one.

Thank god for days off work...

UPDATE 2: The Atlanta Thrashers have announced they will be holding a 5:30PM press conference, where it's expected they will make this official.

It's looking like Greg de Vries is the defenceman, but Chris Phillips' name is still out there, according to the boys on The Team 1200.

These are the Days Of Our Lives

So Marian Hossa is signed. Three years, $18 million. He'll be paid $5 million, $6 million, and $7 million each year, but as per the new CBA, the contract is averaged out as far as counting against the cap.



As you can see, the team is not in great shape. Obviously, this number is not exact, and could go a few hundred thousand either way, but I think it's a pretty good approximation based on numerous media sources. Unless they don't carry at least one alternate at every skater position, then they're dangerously close to the cap.

As the Hossa situation escalated, and it looked like they were going to be paying him more than the team had originally intended, the rumors that the Senators would be trading one of their two defencemen eligable for unrestricted free agency next summer heated up, and the name brought up as the likely victim was Wade Redden.

Last week, GM John Muckler tried to squash those rumors by confirming that he and his right hand man Peter Chiarelli had approached Redden's agent Don Meehan about an extension. It was expected they would do the same with the other UFA possibility, Zdeno Chara.

However, now that we know exactly how much Hossa is getting, let's not kid ourselves. Despite what John Muckler says, it could happen, and if he's not at the very least exploring that possibility, he's not much of a GM.

A popular school of thought among Senators fans is that the team should trade one of the other players to make cap room. Greg de Vries, Bryan Smolinski and Vaclav Varada are all names commonly brought up. None make huge money, but a few million here or there helps.

However, even if this created room for this season, it still doesn't resolve the issue we will be facing next year. Because, in addition to Redden and Chara being UFAs, both Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza will be restricted free agents. I'm expecting both will have fantastic years, and I'm willing to go out on a limb and say both will crack the top 20 in scoring this year. Spezza will earn a little more than $1 million, while Havlat will make $2.6 this coming season. Both will be line for massive raises, and the team likely won't be able to afford it. The year after that, Chris Phillips, who's been improving every year, will be able to be a UFA.

As well, goaltending might be an issue. Again. I know, I know. Dominik Hasek has no contract for past this year. So we'll likely need a starting goalie. While I would like to think Ray Emery will be ready by then, the thought of putting someone who hasn't proven himself as a starter into that slot scares me just a little bit. If Emery's not able to step in, they'll have to go elsewhere, and won't have much money to do so.

So what do the Ottawa Senators do? I really don't know for sure. I only write a blog, after all. I assume they pay Muckler the big bucks to know though. But I know what feels right to me.

A few weeks back, I argued passionately that unless they can get something of value now (meaning, not prospects), then trading Redden should not be in the cards. He's too good a player, and whatever success the team will have this season is highly dependant on his play.

The Senators have looked to next year, or the year after that, for as long as I can remember. This has been a team eternally looking towards the future. In some ways, that's to be commended. It's smart to be aware of where you're going.

That said, where they were going is where we are now. The team is among the top clubs in the league, and at the very least has to be considered one of the the favorites to hoist Lord Stanley in June.

To dismantle this team, even slightly, by removing a vital piece of the puzzle would be devastating. As would losing Redden for nothing in the off season, but at some point you have to roll the dice, don't you? Realize that you're a better Ottawa Senators team with Wade Redden than you are without him and decide that this is the year.

Because, odds are, whatever player we do lose is only the beginning, and slowly, this team will begin to fall apart. With the new CBA, it's impossible to keep a contender together. Not unless players are willing to take less money, and apparently, no one in Ottawa is, regardless of how much they moan about loving the city in the press. I'd hate to be a mediocre team five years from now and not have a Stanley Cup banner hanging from the rafters to show for all those years of developing players who will by then be having success with other teams.

The time is now.

Sorry Mr. Arbitrator, your services are not required

Well, scratch that last post. Sportsnet is reporting that the Ottawa Senators and Marian Hossa have avoided arbitration, agreeing to a new three-year, $18 million contract. Yikes. I don't have my spiffy "Sens Cap Situation" chart in front of me, but I do know that that puts them pretty close to the $39 million cap, meaning, expect a trade anytime now.

Put on your best suit, Marian


Marian Hossa's arbitration date is today, and as of the time of this post, there was no word on an impending deal that would prevent the hearing from taking place.

As often happens in cases like this, the two sides seem to be further apart than ever, as the act of arbitration has split the camps and created an us vs. them mentality, with neither side willing budging any further. This also often leads to immense anomosity that ends with the player leave the team the next year. Hossa has now turned down at least two contract offers from the Senators that we know of: a three-year, $11.9 million deal and a two-year $8 million deal. He called the first one "not good enough."

A "source" told the Ottawa Sun last week that Hossa, long regarded as one of the more underpaid players in the league, simply wanted what he thought was fair, and in the beginning, would've been content with Pavol Demitra money - meaning $4.5 million a year, a number I think the Sens would be happy to live with right about now.

Perhaps all the "I deserve to be paid the same as Iginla and Thornton" talk was just that - talk. Posturing for a bigger contract. Why Hossa would do such a thing publicly is beyond me, and shows how out of touch he and his European agent Jiri Crha are as far as how it would be received in Ottawa, a city he claimed to love.

Because, overnight, he went from one of the more popular players on the team to the second coming of Alexei Yashin, a spot kept warm by Anton Volchenkov during his brief but seemingly effective bargaining tactic of staying in Russia. Op-ed pieces were being written about all the negative parts of Hossa's game, including from yours truly. He can't be a leader, his defence is still suspect, he hasn't won any awards, he hasn't taken the team to the finals. We went on the defensive, maybe too quickly.

While Senators fans certainly regarded Hossa as one of the best players on the team, and on the verge of becoming an elite player, they didn't take kindly to him insisting he is one now and deserves to be paid accordingly. Even though we supposedly live in a new NHL, and have a billionaire owner more than happy to lose money to build a winner, Senators fans still have the mentality that this is a penny pinching team. Old habits die hard I suppose. So when a play tries to squeeze the team for more than he's worth, or is at least perceived as trying to do so, they become public enemy number one in an instant.

Two falls ago, it was Martin Havlat. The previous season, he was among the most well liked Senators, and was often touted as being the most exciting due to his blazing speed. Whenever a discussion about the best young scorers in hockey came up on local sports talk radio, his name was always included. But the moment he held out and missed training camp, all those phone calls singing the praises of "Mach 9" disappeared, and were replaced by cat calls and hisses, some even demanding the team traded Havlat, rationalizing that Ottawa didn't need any bad apples like that around.

Canadian hockey fans are fickle. They will turn on you in a dime if they feel as though they're being betrayed as fans of a team. Fortunately for Marian Hossa, they also have short memories about these kind of things. The same people that promised they would boo Havlat out of the building if he eventually signed, even for less than what he was asking, were on their feet cheering his highlite reel goals months later. If Hossa has a 40 goal season, and I expect him to, all will be forgotten.

Usually, the arbitration verdict becomes public between 24 and 48 hours after the hearing, so I'll be watching the tickers nervously to see how this turns out.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Senators sign Patrick Eaves


The Sens moved one step towards completely filling out their line-up today by signing 2003 first round pick (29th overall) Patrick Eaves to a three-year entry level contract.

Though no one from the team has said so, I expect Eaves to crack the line-up and be with the big club for opening night on October 5th. GM John Muckler did say that he and still-unsigned 2004 first round pick defenceman Andrej Meszaros would be given the opportunity to make the team, but even if they did have Eaves penciled in, it probably wouldn't be wise to say so publicly. You want him to think he has to earn said spot with his play.

Though he was drafted earlier than that, I first became aware of Eaves beyond his name in the '04 World Juniors, where, as part of the gold medal winning U.S. team, he was a presence in every game I watched. As Tom Benjamin would say, he was a "prominent player". You couldn't watch a U.S. game without noticing his play, and I recall remarking many times to friends watching with me that he played a lot better than he seems like he should given his draft position and size.

He is on the smallish side (5'11" - 175 pounds), but he plays beyond his size. The comparison often drawn is Mike Peca, a player Ottawa hockey fans know quite well, both from his three years here as a 67 and as a major part of the two Sabres teams that knocked the Senators out of the playoffs.

As a U.S. collegiate player, Eaves has shown steady improvement every year, with his last season with Boston College his best.
2002-03 Boston College NCAA 14GP, 10G, 8A, 18pts, 61pim
2003-04 Boston College NCAA 34GP, 18G, 23A, 41pts, 66pim
2004-05 Boston College NCAA 36GP, 19G, 29A, 48pts, 36 pim


'04-'05 was an especially memorable year for Eaves, as he was a first-team All-American, first-team All Conference (Hockey East), Hockey East Player Of The Year, two time Hockey East Player Of The Month (Oct. & Jan.), and NCAA National Player Of The Month (Jan.).

In Eaves, the Senators have something that many fans have been clamoring for. A scrappy, tough player (Vaclav Varada doesn't count, he's a filthy Euro, remember) whose game walks on the thin line between dirty and gritty. He has reputation for having a strange affinity for blocking shots, which, combined with his slight stature and his brief injury history, might be worrisome. However, I have to think that with maturity, and more experienced players in his ear, he'll pick and chose when to dive in front of pucks.

Like a lot of second generation players (his father Mike played with the Minnesota North Stars), his hockey IQ is said to be one of his best attributes. And though it may not rank as highly as blazing speed or a blistering shot on most people's "want list" for a prospect, a good hockey mind can't be taught, and won't diminish with age or injures.

Senators fans should be excited about this promising youngster possibly suiting up for the team in a few months. Something tells me he'll quickly turn heads and become a fan favorite.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Team Canada: It's a pick 'em

With Hockey Canada wrapping up their "orientation camp" last week in B.C. (don't call it a tryout camp!), I figure it appropriate to throw my hat into the cliche yet oh so fun act of picking which team I feel would be best come February for the Winter Olympics in Torino.

I decided to select simply from the group that were at the camp. It's very possible that someone not part of it will be selected (which I intend to touch on tomorrow), but I'm going off who we know they're looking at. In 2002, every player that went to Salt Lake City was at the "orientation camp" that summer, so it does have some merit I suppose.

So allow me to get my Wayne Gretzky (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Lowe and Bob Nicholson) on.

GOALTENDERS:

Martin Brodeur

As if there was any doubt. Even though people often contend he's a product of a great system, I'll say it: the best goalie of the last 10 years. You can have your Dominik Hasek's and your Patrick Roy's. They're both fantastic. But if I had to win one game tomorrow, I put Brodeur between my pipes. Three Stanley Cups, one Olympic gold, one World Cup. He knows big games better than any other active netminder. He's never let Canada down when called upon, and there is no reason to think he'll start now. With the big ice and no red line, his puckhandling abilities will come in especially handily.

Roberto Luongo

The next one. They've been grooming him for a while now, and even though he's not my first choice, I wouldn't be uncomfortable with Luongo stepping in to be the starter. He's been terrific when put into that spot, both in the '03 World Championships when Sean Burke got hurt and last year at the World Cup, when a hand injury kept Brodeur from playing the Czechs in the semis. Despite not playing a game all tournament, he got in there and carried the team to victory. Anyone who tells you Canada wasn't outplayed that night is lying to both you and themselves, yet they won because of #1.

Jose Theodore

This is more insurance than anything, as rarely do these guys play. I went with Theodore over Turco simply because he knows the role, having served it in the World Cup. Goalies are different animals, and you never quite know how a guy who's used to playing a lot will react to sitting in the press box and having a role exclusive to practice. With Theodore, we know. Either one would be fine though.

DEFENCE:

Scott Niedermayer

Probably Canada's consistently best defenceman in both Salt Lake City and the '04 World Cup, Niedermayer is about as much of a given as this team has. Though most always talk about his skating and strong outlet pass abilities, as a defender, he's severely underrated. He won't crush the opposition the way larger blueliners will, but Niedermayer's excellent at reading plays and closing passing lanes. His PP acumen takes him over the top.

Rob Blake

A locker room leader who can log big minutes, Blake has to be there. He's been part of many Team Canada's, including World Hockey Championships in Europe, so his familiarity with the bigger ice will be an asset. With Al MacInnis not part of this Olympic team, his big shot will come in handy on the powerplay as well.

Chris Pronger

When he's healthy and on his game, Chris Pronger is, for my money, the most dominant defenceman in the world. He can shut anyone down physically, has superb stamina, and deceptive foot speed. Like Blake, the fact he sports a hard shot from the point will come in handy. Kevin Lowe will see a lot of him so he'll know whether we have the Chris Pronger who won the Hart Trophy or the Chris Pronger who plays well in spurts only.

Adam Foote

The last of the "big four" defenceman who most assume are already penciled in as being on the team. Foote's been a part of almost every big tournament, from the '96 World Cup to Nagano in '98 to Salt Lake City in '02 to the World Cup a year ago. He's played in a lot of big games during his time in Colorado. Of the four, he's the one I'm least sold on as being a given member of the team. Though we've seen many defenceman play well into their late 30's at a top level, it's at the very least a legitimate question with Foote. There is a school of thought that Foote, away from the Colorado system, will be exposed in Columbus as a good defenceman who has played on a great team. If so, maybe his roster spot will be up for grabs. But I suspect his tenure makes him difficult to unseat.

Robyn Regehr

As far as shut down men go, Regehr's emerged as one of the best in the game. Both in the '03-'04 season during Calgary's magical run and the World Cup that summer, he consistently neutralized the opposition's best players. However, like Foote, there are some who think that if they start calling obstruction in the NHL, his game will be diminished. It's certainly a fair question, but as it stands now, I can't see this team without him.

Wade Redden

While most of the other back enders are defence minded first, Redden gives them someone who can create offense with ease. Most considered him the best defenceman in the World Championships this past spring. His overall game has developed significantly over the last couple years in Ottawa, and there's no reason to think said growth will be disrupted this year. When it comes to long passes, he may be the best in the league. Whatever defensive gaps his game has - and compared to where he was four years ago, when he was being considered for the Salt Lake City team, he's a regular Rod Langway - can be helped by paring him with someone like a Foote or Regehr.

Dan Boyle

This last d-man spot could go to a handful of people (Ed Jovanovski, Scott Hannan, Eric Brewer, Chris Phillips) and you wouldn't be in a bad position, but I've grown to be quite the Dan Boyle fan. Though he's on the smallish (for a defenceman) side, what he brings to the table makes up for it. He's very similar to Niedermayer in that he can put a lot of points up, is underrated defensively, can skate like the wind, and has good passing skills. He's not as spectacular as Niedermayer, but their games are very comparable. Because of that, he'd be my alternative, but I'd feel confident that he can step in.

FORWARDS:

Mario Lemieux

A no-brainer to say the least, right? Well, sort of. At 39, and having not played in 18 months, it wouldn't be unfair to suggest that perhaps the combination of rust and age will overwhelm "Super Mario". Having said that, it's a risk worth taking. The leadership and experience he brings to the team is enough reason to bring 66. Oh, and the fact that when he's healthy, Mario's often the best hockey player in the world.

Joe Sakic

The same reasons to not bring Mario can be applied to Sakic. He's getting older, and eventually, the game will pass him by. You don't want it to be the year you depend on him to be a big contributor. Eventually, that day will come. I'd prepare for it by using his less than they have in the past, but he still has to be there in some form. His chemistry with Mario in both Salt Lake and at the World Cup was strong, so I'd think they'll pair them together again. Likely with...

Jarome Iginla

Expect Iggy to carry much of the load. Salt Lake was his coming out party of sorts, as the whole hockey world finally saw what a great player he is. He only solidified it with his play during the '04 playoffs. He can score, hit, has a strong defensive game, and is a leader. What else needs to be said?

Joe Thornton

In the World Cup, he played on the "fourth line" and served mostly in a checking role, and did it with a smile. For a guy who Boston fans often claim is selfish and not a team player, that was a welcome surprise. He tore it up in Europe last year, and (along with Rick Nash) was Canada's most dominant forward in the World Championships. I'd like to see Thornton be given a more prominent role this time around though. I expect him to have a huge year this NHL season, as the Bruins have built a strong team around him, so he should have a lot of momentum going into Torino.

Todd Bertuzzi

There's a lot of controversy surrounding this one, I know, but he's too good, too dominant to not be included. Bertuzzi has the ability to take over a game, both with his physical play as well as his offense, and that is the kind of player Team Canada can't have enough of. Assuming amends have been made with all the players, and he's able to control himself and not do dumb things on the ice (something he has a knack for), Bertuzzi's a given.

Rick Nash

Much of the reason for picking Nash is his chemistry with Thornton. The two ripped it up in Europe and at the Worlds, so it's only logical to go back to it for Turino. I'm still not convinced he's the phenom everyone else seems to think he is (his game is still very raw to me), but I'd be willing to take him along and put him to the test against the world's best. That said, if he's struggling by December or January, I wouldn't be too upset if they decide not to, instead going with a safer pick.

Dany Heatley

Assuming his contract situation gets resolved in Atlanta (how can he AND Kovalchuk both still be unsigned?!?), Heatley deserves this spot. Easily one of the more explosive players in the game, there isn't a chink in the armor. He can skate, hit, score, pass, and his defensive game was much better the last time I saw him play than I remember it being previously. He played with Thornton in the World Cup, with some success, so I wouldn't think it's a bad idea to pair him with Nash and Jumbo Joe.

Steve Yzerman

I suspect this one will raise some eyebrows. Like Lemieux, the question of whether or not he's still able to play at an elite level is more than fair. But I bring him anyway. He's a proven leader, can elevate his game when it's time, and scores timely goals. He might not crack the top 12 forward spots, thus getting no ice time, but even as someone who's role is to strictly be inspiration, it makes sense, as Yzerman is among the most respected players in the game.

Brad Richards

Richards was fantastic in the World Cup, on both ends of the ice, and proved himself with his play in the playoffs last year. Though the buzz is usually around Lecavalier, and last season St. Louis, Richards has quietly, in my mind anyway, become the best player on the team.

Keith Primeau

Should've been there for the World Cup, I thought. His play down the stretch in the playoffs was superb. He's managed to make the transition from an expected superstar to a terrific defensive forward who can score as well as anyone I can ever remember. His nasty side would come in handy on a team who's forwards lack it somewhat. It seems like Primeau would welcome being included, and be more than happy to play the role of the third or fourth line checking forward, which might not be the case if you put someone there who's used to a whole lot more ice time in a completely different role. I expect him to play terrific if given the chance to be on the team.

Kris Draper

We've seen what he can do in big games after all those years in Detroit, but during the last NHL season, he emerged as a bonafied goal scorer, on pace for 30 before his injury. Even still, many saw him as the team's MVP. And on that team, full of Hall Of Famers, that's quite the compliment. Like Richards, he stepped up huge in the World Cup, and like Primeau, has no issue with taking a diminished but still important role. Not at all a prima donna, and in fact, probably the epitome of a team player. His penalty killing abilities, as well as his face off skills, make Draper a lock in my book.

Patrick Marleau

At this point, it sort of becomes a pick'em. Like with those last couple defenceman spots, there are no wrong picks, as you know that whoever does go will do well if given the shot. It just comes down, I assume, to what feels right. I've been a big Marleau fan for years, and seen his game mature and evolve into a complete player. Not only can he score, but he's a crunch time player. During the Sharks last two playoff years, he's amassed 24 points in 29 games, and been their best all around player on both occasions. Call it a personal preference pick if you must.

Shane Doan

I suspect he'll be there regardless, because of the Gretzky connection, but it's not because he also doesn't deserve to be. Like with Marleau, he's someone who's game has finally developed to the level everyone expected when the Jets drafted him in the first round 10 years ago. Often the lone bright spot on a team lacking them, Doan has become one of the league's best captains, and if there is any doubt who the heart and soul of the Coyotes is, that person hasn't been paying attention. He can score if necessary, but as we saw with the World Cup, can also play a checking role if asked. Very versatile and reliable.

Now, let me play Pat Quinn for a moment:

Rick Nash - Joe Thornton - Dany Heatley
Mario Lemieux - Joe Sakic - Jarome Iginla
Brad Richards - Keith Primeau - Todd Bertuzzi
Steve Yzerman - Kris Draper - Shane Doan

Niedermayer - Blake
Foote - Redden
Pronger - Regehr
Not too bad.

I'm sure someone somewhere is outraged at this list, angered that a certain player was omitted. I hope so. It's far from perfect, and you could easily make a case for a handful of people I didn't include. That, I guess, is what's great about Canadian hockey. So much talent, so few roster spots. Not a bad predicament to be in for the suits and ties of this team.

The truth is, while I await the NHL season eagerly, I'm just as excited about the NHL going back into the Olympics. Save me the tired "professionals don't belong there!" spiel. I've heard it. Is it right? I don't know. What I do know is that I love seeing the best players in the world all involved in one tournament, playing for their countries so less. It never fails to excite me, and even when Canada comes up with the short end of the stick, I'm entertained regardless.

So who's your team?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Sens make a few depth moves

Though we are t-minus 72 hours until Marian Hossa's arbitration hearing in Toronto, the Senators have pretty much wrapped up all their loose ends as far as filling up the roster.

Word is GM John Muckler is still negotiating with 2003 first round pick Patrick Eaves, who I expect to make the team if given a shot, as well as doing his best to try and lure 2002 first round pick and Russian sensation Aleksei Kaigorodov out of his native country. The IIHF's inability to get Russia to sign their new agreement with the NHL makes that difficult, but as they say, anything can be bought for the right price. Whether or not Kaigorodov is worth it is the question. He finished second in Russian Super League scoring last year (when it was full of NHLers), however, he's also said he won't come over if he can't be assured a spot with the big club. Meaning, he won't accept a two-way contract, which are a part of almost all entry level deals.

The Senators did sign a few players yesterday that add to the team's depth. It's doubtful all, or even any, will get significant time with the NHL Senators, but having them at your disposal doesn't hurt.

The first of which was Steve Martins. If the name sounds familar, it should. He's a former two-time Senators (1998-2000 and 2001-2003). A Gatineau native, he was especially popular for a player who really didn't get all that much ice time. I remember him being a strong forechecker, a fast skater, and a solid checker, assets a team can never have enough of. Even though Martins was a favorite of then coach Jacques Martin, he was caught in the financial squeeze and left the team. He's split time with the Blues and their AHL affiliate since. Martins won't put up a lot of points, but he gives them a veteran presence able to step in if necessary, at any forward position no less. Can't hurt.

The other two signings were even more insignificant, but again, depth is depth. Also added were Brett Clouthier and defenceman Tomas Malec. At 6'5" and 225, the Ottawa native Clouthier gives them some toughness. A former second round pick of the Devils, Clouthier's spent four years in the New Jersey system, where he's amassed a whole lotta PIMs in the A. 67's fans might remember him from his days with Kingston, where he served a similar role. With both Chris Neil and Bryan McGrattan ahead of him on the depth chart filling the tough guy void, it's doubtful Clouthier will see any time with Ottawa.

The Slovakian Malec has bounded around from organization to organization, moving from his draft team Florida to Carolina (for whom he played 41 games in the '02-'03 season) to Anaheim. He has a decent background, having won the QMJHL Top Rookie Defenceman as well as being named to the CHL All-Rookie team during the '00-'01 season. His TSN.ca scouting report says he moves the puck well, has good mobility, and isn't timid. However, they also claim his overall game needs much polish and he could do himself a favor and add some bulk to his frame. Like with Clouthier, because of the depth ahead of him, it's unlikely Malec will spend much time in Ottawa.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Smelling like roses?

As expected, yesterday, the NHL and Comcast announced they had reached an agreement for Comcast's OLN cable network to be the exclusive national cable broadcaster of NHL games in the U.S.

Going over various stories, here seem to be the details of the deal:

  • The agreement is for two years, with the NHL having an option for a third. Though neither side is commenting, most media outlets cite their sources telling them it's worth $65 million, $70 million, and $72.5 million. There are also OLN options for fourth, fifth, and sixth years, with varying levels of compensation, depending on the network's subscriber level.
  • OLN will carry at least 58 regular season games and as many as 78, the All-Star game, and extensive playoff coverage until game two of the Stanley Cup final, when NBC will take over coverage.
  • They will be broadcasting games on Monday and Tuesday nights (the idea being to create "hockey nights"). This will mean they will go head-to-head with Monday Night Football, which moves to ESPN next year.
  • Comcast intends to beef up the production of the games, as expected. Preliminary plans include miking players, in-game interviews, and an increased number of cams, including ones positioned in unique spots.
  • Digital cable subscribers will have access to on-demand video highlights and archival footage during games.
  • Comcast has committed to carrying at least one game a week in high definition, a medium many industry insiders point to as being most beneficial to hockey (Mark Cuban among them). One problem: OLN does not have an HD channel. As of now, Comcast says the plan is to do a game in HD and make them available to it's affiliates and distributors.
  • The two sides plan to collaborate on an NHL Network (similar to the one launched in Canada a few years ago, I assume), somewhere down the line. As you would expect, it will be 24 hour hockey coverage, eventually broadcasting games. Comcast has two years to put this network together. If they cannot, they must pay the NHL $15 million.
  • Comcast, which is the number one Internet broadband company in the U.S., has committed to streaming games live on the Internet.
  • The NHL intends to put on at least one outdoor game a year as part of the agreement.
So what does this all mean? Is this good?

Well, yes, and no. But the positives seem to outweigh the negatives.

In Comcast and the OLN, the NHL has a bonafided partner who seems enthused at the idea of being their broadcasting home. Unlike with ESPN/ABC, and before that Fox, all of whom seemed to regard the NHL more of a liability than an asset, they appear to be eager to help grow the game, because as it grows, so does the fledging network that's hitched it's wagon to the league. OLN President Gavin Harvey told the Associated Press that the NHL would be the "cornerstone of the network".

However, the fact remains, it's still OLN. It's not ESPN. They're in an estimated 30 million homes less. It's not even the other top tier cable networks they were supposedly talking to - the Spike TVs and TNTs of the world. They all have brand awareness that OLN does not.

How many of you truly know where OLN is on your dial? And if you do, how many know so because they had to find it when this story first began to leak a few weeks back? Be honest now.

But even though it may be an enigma to those of us who haven't been following the Lance Armstrong story beyond the morning paper headlines and who aren't hunting/fishing enthusiasts, OLN is still backed by Comcast. A financial giant if there ever was one. So, rest assured, they will pull out quite the marketing bonzana to make sure those of you who don't know about OLN do.

Financially, the NHL seems to be getting the last laugh. Back in June, when they announced they would not be picking up their $60 million option on the NHL deal, ESPN said that they didn't think the package was worth even half that. Less than six months later, not only has the NHL proved that wrong, but they managed to get a bigger deal. Don't think that that doesn't make Gary Bettman smile.

So you might ask, why? What does Comcast know that ESPN, apparently, didn't? According to one TV industry follower, simply math. It's believed that Comcast will be able to make back much of their payout by being in a position to increase the fee of carrying the OLN network. Comcast says their deals with many cable outlets expire at the end of the year. Currently, it is only in an estimated 60 million homes, almost 30 million less than ESPN. As Sports TV consultant Lee Berke tells the Philadelphia Inquirer, if they can an extra $0.10 per subscriber from the cable companies, at almost 60 million subscribers, that's $6 million a month and $72 a year in revenue. All before selling a single ad.

For a league that, two months ago, many thought would have to take a deal similar to their NBC one - meaning, a very small rights fee (if one at all) with a piece of the profits - a $200 million three-year agreement has them coming out like big winners.

Comcast's positioning as a rival to the ESPN juggernaut has been discussed to death, but it's worth mentioning here. In addition to their successful run with the Tour de France cycling race, they've also scooped up the America's Cup yacht race from ESPN. It's expected they will make a run at the NFL's Thursday-Saturday game deal, as well as the NASCAR package. ESPN's Major League Baseball deal expires at the end of this season. And they're about to launch a New York Mets network.
The reality is that ESPN couldn't have matched the Comcast offer. Nevermind the finances, but all the synergy Comcast can provide is out of their league. Having said that, perhaps had they treated the league better over the years (ESPN reps still say they had a healthy relationship with the NHL. Riiight), the NHL wouldn't have gone running into their rivals arms so enthusiastically. The darts their head Mark Shapiro threw when they didn't pick up the option, about the low value of the NHL, had to sting those in the league, and put the desire to shove it up their ass right at the top of their priority list.

A few years from now, the folks in Connecticut might be kicking themselves for not realizing what they had all those years. The phrase "you don't know what you got 'til it's gone" seems to be applicable.

POSTSCRIPT: Shortly after posting this, I got an email from someone in Canada (Ottawa no less) asking what this means for the OLN we get on this side of the border. As best I can tell, the answer is a mystery. Bell Media owns half of the Canadian OLN. They also own TSN, who own the exclusive cable rights to national NHL games. A few weeks back, the word was Comcast had hoped to work something out with TSN and CBC for some kind of agreement that would allow Canadians to see the games. If I had to guess, I'd say such a deal won't be worked out and they will be blacked out up here. But we shall see.

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