Posted on: September 27, 2010 3:49 pm

Money vs. ego

That’s what it comes down to now for Wade Redden. The Rangers defenseman cleared waivers at noon and was assigned to their AHL team in Hartford, but whether he’ll report and potentially spend the balance of the four-year contract he has with New York is still unclear.

What is certain is that he is done with the Rangers and maybe even the NHL, although Redden is only 33 and was considered one of the league’s top rearguards not that many years ago.

But the veteran’s career has been in something of a free fall since the Ottawa Senators made the fateful decision to keep him instead of Zdeno Chara in 2006. His play slipped noticeably in the aftermath and the Senators wanted Redden to take a steep pay cut when his contract expired two years later. Instead, Redden jumped to New York where he got what now seems (then too actually) like him a ridiculous deal for $39 million over six years.

With only five goals in two seasons, and weak play in his own end, Redden has in essence bombed in New York, although the rest of the team has been no great shakes during his time there either. But the Rangers can’t get rid of the defenseman him easily because there is so much term and money left on his deal.  And more important, his cap hit of $6.5 million is crushing for someone who hasn’t been a top two defenseman since the lockout.

Fortunately for the Rangers, the parent company has enough deep pockets to bury Redden’s cap hit. They’ll pay him his full contract in the minors, but it won’t count against their cap which is what really matters to the organization.

If New York does work out a deal to move Redden, it will put Redden on waivers again and end up on the hook for only half his salary for the rest of the contract. Or the Rangers could buy him out and have the reduced amount count against the cap for a few extra years. Whatever happens, he won't starve.
In the meantime, the New York Post says the Rangers have given his agent permission to seek a landing spot in Europe for Redden. New York will pay him just the same if he’s loaned to a European club, but the playing seasons are much  shorter and not as taxing on the body.

Of course Redden has to report to Hartford and spend his foreseable future riding the buses and play three games in three nights. There has been speculation that Redden won't go to the minors at this stage of his career, a decision that would nullify his contract and make him a free agent. That could make it easier for Redden to catch on with an NHL team, albeit at much reduced price.

Pride has a price and maybe one that's worth it to Redden. It better with $23 million still owed him by the Rangers.

Category: NHL
Posted on: September 27, 2010 2:57 pm

Some words worth a thousand pictures

Apparently they are in desperate need of some veteran leadership in Minnesota because no one on the Wild thought to provide young forward Guillaume Latendresse with the book of accepted clichés for NHL players.

Not even an old one if you can believe it. And that would have been fine too since all the versions come with the standard response for those asked hypothetical questions about joining other teams. The one that tells 23 year olds like Latendresse to limit an answer to: “I’m a member of (fill in the blank team) now and I’m happy here.”

No harm, no foul, no words that could come back and bite you in the butt.

Latendresse already has some experience in that regard, the result of what he thought was a harmless interview with a reporter who wrote for a gay magazine in Montreal around the time he broke in with the Canadiens in 2006. It was an embarrassment for him and the organization and lingered because Latendresse never quite lived up to the high hopes fans had for one of the few French-Canadian players on the team.

Now though, Latendresse is with the Wild, joining them after a trade last November. He had a breakout season with 25 goals away from the pressure of Montreal and then signed a new contract for $5 million over two years during the summer with Minnesota.

But he sent a strange message to Wild fans while in Montreal over the weekend for a pre-season game with the Canadiens. After telling told a group of reporters that he was really happy in Minnesota, Latendresse added he could see himself back with the Canadiens.

“Maybe when I’m older,” Latendresse speculated. “At 27 or 28, that would be better for me. You’re more mature, more experienced.”

And more likely to understand the less said the better.
Category: NHL
Posted on: September 21, 2010 10:15 pm

Whale of an effort

Ready for a Brass Bonanza revival?

For those not old enough to remember, the little ditty was the theme song at home games for the Hartford Whalers before they abandoned the city in search of greater glory in North Carolina. The franchise ended up winning the 2006 Stanley Cup for Raleigh, a decade after relocating and much to the chagrin of the faithful in Hartford, many of whom have never given up hope of seeing an NHL team again in their midst.

In the meantime, the city has been home to the Wolf Pack, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers. But now with the new involvement of Howard Baldwin in the franchise, it is inevitable there will be a move afoot to bring the big leagues back.

Whether it works is another story. Hartford is never grouped with Winnipeg, Quebec, Kansas City, even Las Vegas when sites for new or relocated franchises are speculated on. So just getting on the radar is the first step for the city, and that won’t happen until it gets a new arena because the building where the Wolf Pack plays is no longer NHL caliber.

However Hartford civic leaders have been talking about a new facility as part of a plan the invigorate the downtown core and former mayor Eddie Perez even met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in 2009 to apprise him of the plans. Bettman, though, was non-committal and Perez has since been found guilty of bribery and extortion. Still there is talk about building a new arena for 2013 when the city’s contract with the current arena management company expires. And with Baldwin involved, the process might get a push because his goal is to help the city get back into the NHL.

Baldwin has been there before, owning the Hartford Whalers when they joined the NHL from the WHA. He owned the team until 1988 and then three years later became owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning a Stanley Cup, two Patrick Division regular season titles and the President’s Trophy. He launched Pittsburgh AHL farm team in Wilkes-Barre several years later and has been a successful film producer with Mystery Alaska and Ray among his credits and last year formed a marketing company called Hartford Hockey LLC, which this week was given a contract by the Rangers to run marketing and business operations of the Wolf Pack for the next few years.

The immediate task for Baldwin is to get people in what should be a Northeast hotbed for hockey back into the game. The Wolf Pack have been no better than the Rangers in recent years and attendance has dwindled, but Baldwin’s marketing savvy could raise the numbers. He’s already announced the team will officially change its name to the Connecticut Whale during the coming season, which will help connect to the past.

If it works and city officials get serious about a new arena, the NHL will take notice. And maybe even strike up the band.


Category: NHL
Posted on: September 20, 2010 4:26 pm

Panthers playing for keeps

To say there are few expectations surrounding the Florida Panthers for the coming season would be an understatement. Florida hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years and they are starting yet another rebuilding process, this time under the watchful eye of new general manager Dale Tallon.

Tallon comes from Chicago, where his role in building the Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup champion has been well documented and he says that in terms of building blocks, the Panthers are further ahead than his former team was when he took over there in 2003.

That may be and Tallon certainly did a noteworthy job in adding more at the draft where his wheeling and dealing landed him six of the first 50 choices, including three in the first round. Florida’s top pick, defenseman Eric Gudbranson, might even be in the lineup this season, along with some other new faces because as coach Pete DeBoer says, “We’re willing to look at anybody if they can help fix what went wrong last year.”

And if that isn’t enough motivation for the players, then perhaps money is. The Panthers will spend more than $50 million in player salaries this season, but the team has 13 players who will be without a contract after the season. That gives Tallon the chance to make some serious changes for next season, and anyone who wants to stick around knows it.

“It’s a great thing,” DeBoer said. “Not that playing for a contract is the be all, end all, just like having a five- or six year deal isn’t, it all depends on the person. But I’m excited by the fact that we have a lot of guys playing for a lot of things including contracts.”
Category: NHL
Posted on: September 16, 2010 6:18 pm

'Hawks won't let everyone get away

Some folks question how much a coach really means to a team stocked with great players, but the Chicago Blackhawks figured they had their answer after winning the Stanley Cup. So Joel Quenneville gets his contract extended for three years until 2013-14.

It’s a nice reward. New deals are the bonus coaches usually get for leading a team to the hockey’s holy grail anyway, but the Blackhawks knew they had a pretty good thing in someone who got their talent-loaded roster on its path to the Stanley Cup. That’s not always an easy task although in Quenneville’s case, the impact was quick.

Quenneville was hired four games into the 2008-09 season with the organization one year into the new regime of owner Rocky Wirtz and marketing guru and former Cubs president John McDonough. The young Blackhawks didn’t make the playoffs the previous season, but franchise icon Denis Savard led the team to a late surge after taking over as coach and gave the marketing types something to work with.

Problem was Chicago had a lackluster training camp that raised questions about the way the team was being handled. It was an important season for the Blackhawks with the Winter Classic scheduled for Wrigley Field and all home games available again on local television, so when it started badly, Savard was a goner. 

It didn't help Savard that the more experienced Quenneville was already the coach-in-waiting when Scotty Bowman brought him into the organization a few months. But when Quenneville took over a lineup that had Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and on and on and on, the Blackhawks took off. After missing the previous five playoffs, Chicago finished second in the division, reached the conference finals against Detroit.

And in year two, the Blackhawks took the next step and won the Stanley Cup. Former GM Dale Tallon got his deserved credit for assembling a remarkably talented lineup, but Quenneville made it work with aggressive style of play that took advantage of Chicago's speed and skill and ultimately  became its calling card.
Of course Chicago will be challenged to defend the title this season after some painful cost-cutting this summer, but the Blackhawks very best players are still around, enough of them in fact to make other teams envious. Those are the guys that drive the bus anyway and Quenneville gets them heading in the same direction.
Category: NHL
Posted on: September 15, 2010 11:16 am

The Shel game

Apparently the Edmonton Oilers didn’t quite hit rock bottom last season. It only seemed like it after the team finishing last overall and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive time since getting to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.

For one thing the experiment of bringing back Pat Quinn as head coach and former Rangers boss Tom Renney as his associate didn’t work with a disjointed team and the Oilers disintegrated after Christmas. It didn’t help that either that injuries beset goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and ruined his season after he was signed as a free agent. And to cap it all off, there was the ugly public divorce toward the between the organization and its highest paid player Sheldon Souray.

The problem is that all those issues are still lingering as training camp begins for Edmonton, which is unfortunate since there are some reasons for optimism about the future there.

The biggest is that the Oilers won the lottery pick as a result of their miserable season and grabbed potential franchise player Taylor Hall.  He’s been the MVP of the last two Memorial Cups, which is kind of like winning back to back Heismans. And in Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, Edmonton has a couple of other blue-chippers ready to be in the lineup before they are legally allowed to drink.

Thing is the dramas are sucking up all the oxygen around the team. That’s why with camp a couple of days away, we know that Quinn felt blindsided when general manager Steve Tambellini moved him upstairs to consult and made Renney the head coach; that Khabibulin should be there for the start of the season because he is appealing the 30-day jail sentence he received for a DUI in Phoenix, but could be taken away at some point if he loses; and that Souray has is trying to make nice with Edmonton while the organization has in essence issued a restraining order against him to keep him away from the team.

Nice way to kick off a new season huh?

For his part, Souray may have finally figured out how radioactive he has become in Edmonton, and the threat he has become to his own career. At least he should have has since the team told him to stay away from its training camp. 

“I'm disappointed because I've worked all summer to be in camp,” Souray said.

Hmm, must be all those trade demands and public ripping of the organization slipped his mind. The love that wasn’t lost between him and the Oilers wasn’t likely to endear him to many other general managers either, but that might be put aside if Souray wasn’t basically a one-dimensional defenseman who gets hurt a lot and has a contract that is now way overvalued.

Souray has two more years and $10.8 million worth of cap hit left on his deal, along with a limited no-trade clause. The Oilers couldn’t move him at the deadline because he had been out since January after breaking his hand in a fight that ultimately ended his season, and no team would bite after the season when Edmonton tried to waive him.

So for now, Tambellini has told Souray that “it’s best for the Oilers, best for him” to stay clear of training camp while he continues looking for a deal. But if that doesn’t happen the 34-year-old veteran will end up in the minors or sitting at home collecting most of his salary. Edmonton will get his money off the books, but it is going to cost them cash either way.

But it may end up costing Souray even more.

"Things are pretty clear now," he said. "It hasn't changed my focus of being ready and prepared whenever I get the chance.

"That's alright. A lot of changes have been made and there's certainly a good feeling coming into camp with this team. That should be the focus."


Category: NHL
Posted on: September 14, 2010 10:08 am

Piling on

Talk about a hidden cost. Not only did the New Jersey Devils end up paying Ilya Kovalchuk more than they planned, they were pinched for another $3 million by the NHL for the effort.

Mind you it could have been worse had the league decided to reduce New Jersey’s cap space by the fine’s amount as well. The NHL had that option once the arbitrator ruled New Jersey’s original, 17-year, $102 million deal with Kovalchuk was a sham, and it would have really hurt the Devils who had cap problems even before reworking the deal.

Right now, New Jersey is about $3 million over the cap ceiling and has until opening night to become compliant. Thing is the Devils are still two players short of the roster minimum, so they caught a break in a way with the money part of their punishment. Good accountants will find a way to deduct it.

But the additional loss of a first-round pick and a third-round pick is a real cost to the organization that likes to build through the draft, although you might argue that allowing New Jersey to choose which of the next four years to give up that first-round pick is a bit of break too. The Devils could win a Stanley Cup in that time and the champs’ choice is always the last of the draft’s first round.

Even so it was a serious reprimand on the whole and not entirely unprecedented, but it was assessed despite the league guiding and approving the new Kovalchuk deal. That on its own increased the player’s annual cap to the Devils hit by 10 percent.  Still the league wanted and probably had to send a message in this case, but it already did by rejecting the initial deal and threatening to re-examine a few similarly-structured contracts given out in the last few years to star players.

None was as blatant of course as New Jersey’s effort to have Kovalchuk signed until he was 44 years old, but by throwing the threat into the mix against a leaderless NHL players’ association, the league extracted big concessions from the union in the form mid-stream changes to the CBA with respect to long-term contracts. It’s no secret those ‘lifetime’ contracts are detestable to head office in Manhattan, and with new stricter guidelines in place, it gives the league much more to work with when bargaining for a new CBA begins.

So the league already won a very key battle in this drawn-out affair. Kovalchuk’s new deal was costlier to New Jersey and ultimately tolerable to the league, and instead of creating legal nightmares by nullifying previously accepted deals, the NHL could hold its nose and still save face by allowing the others to stand but preventing similar ones from being written before the CBA expires in 2012.

But there’s no penalty for piling on in hockey.

other deals that would This CBA expires in 2012 and the NHL wants givebacks. hat’s about a year awayBut the league will be very likely be lined up against Donald Fehr in those negotiations. His recommendation by the union’s executive committee last Saturday effectively guaranteed his presence.


Category: NHL
Posted on: September 11, 2010 4:56 pm

The Fehr factor

And so the NHL players association gets its man.

Donald Fehr’s appointment as the union’s new boss is not quite official because a full membership vote will take several weeks to complete, but that’s just a formality now that the executive board has endorsed him. And it’s hardly a surprise given the turmoil the union that has gone through since the lockout ended.

Truth is Fehr’s ascension to the job is the best possible news for a union that has been victimized by internal disarray since the lockout ended. For everyone else worried about another possible work stoppage when the current CBA expires in 2012, and for those who saw him make the term hard liner seem like an understatement during the quarter century he ruled Major League Baseball’s player union, well, maybe not so much.

Then again, the fear of Fehr does seem a little premature at this point. Certainly the players have done pretty well for themselves financially since apparently ‘losing’ the labor war five years ago that forced acceptance of a salary cap they dreaded because the ceiling has increased in each season since and millionaire status has remained widespread throughout the league. And obviously no player is interested in losing another year when careers have limited time frames to begin with.

But plenty of teams are still losing big money and their owners are looking for even more givebacks from the union in the next deal. Meanwhile, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and company have been flexing their muscles on major issues with the union (hello there Ilya Kovalchuk and anyone else looking at ‘creative’ ways of getting around the cap). In other words, the need for a proven strong advocate is more pressing than ever for the players now that the start of negotiations for a new CBA are getting closer.

Fehr clearly fits that part of the bill, especially after retiring from baseball and spending the last year as the NHL players’ unpaid adviser. He now has a pretty good feel for the membership and more important, he has helped them write a constitution that gives the leadership position unassailable power.

That said, having someone not given to being pushed doesn’t necessarily equate to an inevitable repeat interruption in play. Fehr is obviously a tough, skilled negotiator, one who made baseball players very rich during his long tenure that included five contract negotiations, one strike and the steroid era. But the 62-year-old Fehr is savvy enough to know that the economics and appeal of hockey aren’t anywhere the same as those of baseball and that his approach to the situation has to take that into account.

Besides Fehr’s legacy will always be about baseball, which should be apparent considering that one of the conditions he insisted upon before taking the NHL job was the freedom to write a memoir about his time in America’s national past time. Still with negotiations for hockey’s new CBA fast approaching, Fehr should get his juices flowing and his head into this game pretty quickly.

And ultimately, the players and dare we say the game, will be better off for it.
Category: NHL
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