Thin Air: MacKinAgain

Some hockey thoughts from the Southwest of America:

– I haven’t watched an ounce of Olympic hockey.  Let’s get this out of the way now: I’ve been busy.  No, really.  I probably could have, but I truly have another thing that is keeping me full time busy, and hockey is just going to have to take a back seat for the moment.  I don’t even know who plays or played today.  Seriously.

– Last Olympics, I watched the final game with my buddy Jay Kumar, then we recorded some podcasts after (his and mine).  It’s going to be hard to trump that experience.  Jay is awesome, and a treat to watch a game with.  In fact, I seem to have luck with people named Jay.

– Should the NHL participate in the Olympics?  I have mixed feelings on it.  I would like to see the amateur players get back in the game, and if there are going to be so many restrictions on other Olympians, they should apply to the hockey players as well.  But the cat is out of the bag, and the only way to remain relevant and not wind up with an asterisk on the Olympic records is to keep the NHL in.  No one cared about the World Cup of Hockey (except me), and few care about the World Juniors and World Championships.  Everything else is also ran.  I think they stay, and the IOC makes a few more concessions to the NHL, which is not their usual MO.

– I took a few skills classes in Tempe, AZ these past two weeks.  Our coach was great.  At 9:00PM, he holds a rookie class, where people who can sort of propel themselves while skating on their ankles do a few things with a puck, then slam into the end boards because they can’t stop.  The entire time they are doing drills, the coach is yelling at them.  “Butt on the boards! BUTT ON THE BOARDS!!!”  I watched this before my first class and thought, I hope this guy is our coach.  This is awesome.

Sure enough, he was, but the yelling was not there.  We had a neutral zone passing drill, and he was encouraging and firm.  After a few drills, he explained the point of what we were doing, then told us to have a good scrimmage.  What an absolute blast.  I got home at close to three in the morning (scrimmage until just past midnight, change, gas up the car, drive to Tucson), and was pumped to do it again the next week.  Hockey is alive in the desert.

– Adrian Dater says, via twitter, that Ryan O’Reilly will not be traded from the Avs (stick tap to Lyle Richardson for the pointer).  Proof there is a new attitude in Colorado?  In the old regime, money and being butt-hurt would have trumped any stats.  In the old regime, O’Reilly would be gone this month, or the end of the season, and we would never see the GM poke out from his hole, see his shadow, and blow six more weeks of BS up our backsides.  Let’s get this straight: something considered a ‘cancer to the locker room,’ or a ‘business issue’ can be worked out.  And winning, just like it brings back the fans, brings the players together.  A lot more than losing will.

– Next trip, Vegas, baby.  Or more specifically, I finally get to see my first Las Vegas Wranglers home game, at Orleans Arena.  And this is going to be their last season there (unless they work out a lease deal, which it sounds like they won’t), so I have to get there while the getting is good.  But also, this is their annual Midnight Circus, which means they will play the game at midnight, and they will have circus performers. I’m not kidding.  The Wranglers have the best promotions.  It also helps that the opposing team is the Colorado Eagles, and I just so happen to have an Eagles jersey with me.  Want more Vegas?  Check out this great oral history of the movie Swingers.  If you’ve ever dreamed big and thought there was no way you could do it, read this and remember that this is the guy who directed Iron Man.

– We play this little game on Twitter every Avalanche game called #AvsTwitterPsychic.  All you do is guess who scores the first goal for the Avs, and you get a retweet.  So far, Nathan MacKinnon has a team-leading 9 first goals.  He has a team leading 22 goals.  He’s fourth on assists and third in points.  The kid is good, and playing like an NHLer much earlier than a lot of rookies.  Matt Duchene took several years to break out of his junior habits.  As much as I would love to see Kevin Shattenkirk still playing for the Avs, he took some time to break out of his college style (but he has, and it didn’t take that long).  MacKinnon doesn’t stand out as a rookie, and I mean that in the best possible way.

– Quick survey time. Do you skate?

Mid-Season Minor League Team Folds: Could It Happen To Yours?

The business of minor league sports is always a difficult one.  It’s completely gate-driven, and if the butts in the seats aren’t there, you won’t make money.  A good arena lease is pretty instrumental to the success of a team, but if you don’t have the fans at the arena, you won’t be able to pay for the arena, no matter how sweet the lease is.

Look at the Wikipedia pages of just about any minor league and you will see the bodies of old franchises strewn everywhere.  What you don’t often see is a team fold in the middle of the season. It throws things into utter chaos for the league, and teams usually have their finances together enough to survive their final season.

So it was a little surprising to hear that the San Francisco Bulls have thrown in the towel and shut down mid-season.  From their website:

“We had a great opportunity come to us that would’ve kept the Bulls in San Francisco at least through the end of the 2014 season, with potential for future seasons, but we ran out of time to complete all ends of the deal,” said Curcio. “At this point, the best thing to do financially is to reluctantly end the season. We will miss playing here, miss our fans, and miss this city.”

The Bulls also say they are taking requests for refunds on remaining tickets.  Requests?  Let’s call those demands instead.  No one is going to call the office and say, “I want my money back.”  They will call to say ,”Give me my money back.”

The ECHL is going to have to scramble to reschedule the Western Conference.  The next game the Bulls were supposed to play was a home game on Thursday, January 30th.  That’s only three days after shutting down.  With a conference hosting a few teams that have to fly to destinations (Colorado and Alaska), it’s not as easy as it sounds, and there will probably be some money lost by the other franchises in the process.

There have been other teams to fold mid-season.  It’s not a unique situation, even if it’s a little odd.  The ECHL lost the Fresno Falcons a few years ago, the IHL lost the Milwaukee Flacons and saw the Denver Mavericks relocate to Minnesota, the Central Hockey League watched the Border City Bandits fold, the SPHL shut down the Florida Seals, the United Hockey League gave up the Columbus Stars and the Mohawk Valley Prowlers.  And you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a mid-season shutdown in the Federal Hockey League.  It almost looks like a right of passage there.

So fine, it happens.  But what about the rest of the landscape?  What are the chances another team will go down before the season ends?

From pure attendance numbers, the Bulls aren’t the least troublesome franchise out there.  In the ECHL, they were second worst in attendance, with the Wheeling Nailers beating them out.  The Nailers have been around a lot longer than the Bulls, and have had half houses as far back as the ECHL website would go.  So they are no stranger to that issue, and seem to do just fine.

In the Central Hockey League, the lowest attended team is the Denver Cutthroats.  They are almost seven hundred down from the next lowest attendance, and 2,200 off the league average.  The CHL has seen a big change in the last several years as their base of Texas teams went the route of the cheaper American Junior hockey leagues, and league ownership shifted to some of the franchise owners.  Will the Cutthroats weather the storm?  I think so, but after this season, it’s a hard question to answer.

The American Hockey League is pretty stable.  I can’t see anyone shutting down mid-season.  With their close ties to the NHL, it’s hard to imagine a franchise being allowed to shut down.  Even the least financially viable, the Abbotsford Heat, seem to be in decent shape.  I expect a few teams to relocate this summer, but nothing mid-season.

The SPHL seems pretty stable right now.  The SPHL draws almost 500 less fans on average per game than the Central, but they are set up financially for that kind of attendance.  At the same time, four CHL teams are below the SPHL’s league attendance.

As for the Federal Hockey League, they can’t afford to lose a team.  They only have four right now.  I suspect that if any team shut down, the fans of the Danbury Whale would just beat them up.  Don’t believe me?  Read this history of the the old Danbury Trashers (which I had the ‘privilege’ to see live once).

So it’s a pretty unlikely scenario, but there are still a few teams in trouble out there.  Whether or not they shut down mid-season is anyone’s guess, but it could come down to deep enough pockets and enough backbone to sustain losses as they mount.  And with some of those numbers, they will mount.

The Attendance Issue Again

Monday was the annual rolling out of the “attendance woes” column by the Denver Post.  Unlike most years, it was given this time to the more thoughtful Terry Frei, rather than the standard pallbearers.  So there was less “bad fan” jabs and more “I’m kind of surprised” this year. It’s a nice change.

I can’t speak for all the fans.  As I’ve found out, I’m not like most fans, and I find that a good thing.  I will speak for myself however.

Since the last lockout, I haven’t spent any money on tickets to an Avalanche game (this season, I’ve been to two games).  I haven’t spent any money on an NHL game, actually, although I have dropped a few dollars on a few minor league games.  I’ve also handed over plenty of money this season to play beer league hockey, so my hockey investment is going somewhere.

I have given the NHL my money in the form of Gamecenter Live.  I have the online package, so I can watch almost any game from anywhere.  With a nice TV and an Apple TV to watch it on at home, I don’t feel like I’ve given up on much.

Is this stance, that I haven’t spent money on tickets, a reasonable one?  I’m not entirely sure.  I only occasionally miss going to games, but it’s mostly for the social aspect of it, rather than the game itself.  The game is wonderful, and I love attending games, but somewhere in the back of my head, I get annoyed that I spend that much money for this.

“This” includes:

  • A long walk to the arena, because I won’t be spending THAT MUCH on parking,
  • The same music, videos, games, gags, highlights, and ads every time,
  • An uncomfortable and squished seat, often around obnoxious non-fans (warn me next time I buy a ticket on “guys night out,OK?),
  • Overpriced everything,
  • An upper concourse you can hardly wiggle though at intermission, or
  • A lower concourse that is jam packed with drunks,
  • Drunks,
  • Drunk fans of the opposing team,
  • Drunk Red Wings fans (they are always around),
  • Loud armchair GMs
  • Loud armchair coaches,
  • “SHOOT!!!!”
  • Lines to unclean bathrooms.

The list goes on.  All of this for an outlay of A LOT OF MONEY, NO MATTER WHERE YOU SIT.  Wow, what a privilege to pay top dollar for that.

I’ll be honest, watching at home gets a little tiring.  I miss the live game, and I miss the experience.  But by playing hockey, actually getting out there and playing, I get such a great experience, even at my low level of ability.  I have a completely different angle on the NHL game and I experience it differently.

As far as the Avalanche, they aren’t the same team as they were in the glory years, and they haven’t been for a long time.  We all know this.  After their success and stars went elsewhere, the fans did as well.  Then the communication with the fans went away.  The marketing went away.  It was like the front office wasn’t even trying.  And when you don’t try, you get exactly what is coming to you.

Fans bemoan being told from the outside world that Denver isn’t a hockey town any more.  I don’t blame them, but the numbers don’t lie.  There are many die-hard fans in Denver, and I love those people.  I count myself as one of them.  But it isn’t Canada.  It isn’t Pittsburgh and much of the East Coast.  Sometimes, it isn’t even Minnesota.  The level of fandom doesn’t tend to translate to the number of fans or ticket buyers.

The numbers tell a different story than we fans want to believe.  Even the minor league Denver Cutthroats, with their free parking, low ticket prices, and loads of promotion are struggling at the gate.  They are last in the league in attendance, averaging 1,371 a game, nearly six hundred down from the nearest competitor.  That’s down 1,400 from last season.  1,400.  Sure, last season they were new, and half the games were played during the NHL lockout.  Sure, the Broncos are a great distraction for the city, but fans are fans.  Cheap games are still cheap games.  Where did everyone go?  I would love to compare to the numbers from the start of the CHL season to the end.

Denver is a saturated sports market.  Two lacrosse teams, all the major sports, MLS, and a minor league hockey team.  There is more sport than there is dollar to support it right now.  At least there isn’t arena football to throw in the mix.  But there was, and it didn’t help the Avalanche cause.

Look, I don’t like it any more than other Avalanche fans, but I’m also not going to many games myself, so yes, I am a part of the problem.  Oh, the injustice of it all.  Right now, I’m an NHL level fan with a minor league budget, and a bit of an ax to grind over the last lockout.  That ax is getting smaller and smaller all the time, but still, the investment I have made in time and money over the years in the Avalanche has been significant.  If I want to watch from the sanctity of my own home, I will do so.  The Denver Post will just have to deal with it.

At least, until next year.

Thin Air: Tort Reform

- Elliotte Friedman called Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec a below average goalie. He’s right, but let us get something clear here. This is real life, not Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average. Everyone can not be above average. That said, he still is under-performing for a starting goaltender, and needs to up his game. If he can.  Any holdover from the days of the Thrashers should be subject to change, just like a terms of service.

– If Semyon Varlamov is proving anything, it’s that working with a goaltending coach (or at least, the right goaltending coach) can pay off. Development and improvement doesn’t end when the training wheels come off.  But how is that trade with the Capitals working out?  Would the Avs fans take that first round pick back now?  And keep in mind who was available at the time.

– In Justin Bourne’s column commenting on Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column (did you catch all that?), Bourne talks a bit about Paul Stastny:

I swear if you have 25 smart players you’ll be damn near impossible to beat. Some guys believe in just drafting the most skill and/or size available – “Look at that monster, he can fly!” – then leaning back in their chair and hoping those players figure it out. I’ll take your turnover-prone brain-dead team against my group of Paul Stastny-level thinkers any day (think about the things Stastny does well. He’s kinda small. Doesn’t skate great. Doesn’t have a great shot. 432 points in 510 NHL games. Dats brains, my friend.)

When I was taking a hockey skills class for beginning adults (aka I suck at beer league hockey and I want to suck less at beer league hockey), one of the instructors was talking about handling pucks that come at your feet or behind you. If you can imagine, passes in rec hockey, if they happen at all, are rarely tape-to-tape. He pointed out how Stastny can just dig a puck out of anywhere if you put it near him. Sure enough, the next game I watched, players were dropping bombs at his feet and he was scooping them up without letting them slow him down. Part of what makes him so good is how he can make something happen with the puck quickly and when it’s not the perfect situation. Do not discount that ability.

– I think we need a plus/minus scale for fighting incidents in hockey. Not just plus one or minus two, but something that looks like those betting odds I don’t understand. For instance, out of ten, the opening play of the Canucks / Flames game might have been +2 / -4. So that’s two points for fighting (if one team puts out goons, you should too), and four points against (staged fights don’t get much bigger, the game went on, lots of ejections, Torts in the hallway). This way, there can be some grey area in the discussion, which is where debate should be. It’s rare to have a nuanced conversation about fighting in hockey, and yet, I don’t know anyone who is 100% for or against it. We’ve heard the extremes of the conversation, let’s get to the real discussion of it.

– Still waiting to hear how long John Tortorella is suspended for trying to get to the Flames locker room at the first intermission. I would like to think the league really calls him on the carpet for his overall behavior. As much as the hockey fan base may like the Tortorella presser (and I am not among those), I doubt the league liked them very much. The NHL can only suspend him for this incident, but Torts doesn’t do himself any favors with his previous behavior.

– I don’t think Tortorella will change his stripes, but I bet he doesn’t do this again. I can see him blaming the NHL for being overzealous with it’s fine and suspension (whatever it may be), but at some point, he has to look at his own bottom line. Before whatever the league does this time, he has already lost $60,000. How much more until he gets it? (source on those figures)

– ESPN also posted the longest suspensions of coaches over the last 40 years. I had no idea about this one:

January 2000 Herb Brooks, Penguins: suspended 2 games for going after Avalanche TV play-by-play announcer John Kelly after a game.

Who knew? Not me.

– Side note: My laptop does not recognize Tortorella as a word. It’s suggestion for correcting it? Turtler. No, really. My laptop is smart.

Thin Air: Opening Night Thoughts

Time to fire up the old bloggy blog machine and talk a little hockey. 

- I am ready for this season.  Last season was short and compact.  It seemed like every night was a game to care about.  I was not pleased with the lockout, was a little burned out from the compact schedule, and my favorite team was horrible.  Also, I was finally playing rec hockey, so I didn’t have much time in watching hockey.  Right now, I’m excited.  Let’s go, hockey.

- A commercial on the CBC just said 1 in 3 kids can’t afford organized sports.  Yeah, no kidding.  I just bought new shin guards (my old ones, which I loved, cracked), and the lower end ones I got were $75.  A few years ago, the same pair would have been $40.  Skates are amazingly expensive, and sticks are ridiculous.  My hockey season is costing me $500 for 20 games and two playoff games.  Just about every sport if cheaper than hockey to play.  Just horsing around with a puck is expensive – ice time, gear, etc.  You can play catch for cheap, basketball takes a ball and a park.  It’s out of control.  

- George Parros hit his face on the ice during a scrap with Colton Orr.  Orr had a grip on his jersey a he went down, pulling Parros with him.  It was a scary sight, as you can see in the replay below.  Good luck to him.  The CBC crew noted the NHL implemented the new rule about fighters removing their helmets.  It goes to show that you never know what is going to happen.  Bigger guys, faster game. (update – Parros has a concussion and is being evaluated at the hospital)

 

- The entire reason Parros and Orr fought in the first place was because PK Subban grabbed Orr by the head and wouldn’t let go.  It was a move that could have been avoided.  Parros did what he was hired to do and stepped in.  It makes me wonder if Subban would chose the same action again.  Sometimes messages are sent, and that’s what Subban was trying to do.  Sometimes, the message comes back: cut the $#!+.

- Toronto’s power play looked pretty bad.  Lots of desperation, lots of confusion.  It’s too early to tell what they will look like down the stretch, but they have to clean this up.

- The Blackhawks raised their Stanley Cup banner tonight.  The video leading up to the ceremony was awesome.  I loved the hockey cards at the end with the players as kids.  The rest of the ceremony was drawn out and dull.  I’m sure it was special for the fans, but it could have been about five minutes shorter.  Thank goodness Coaches Corner was on.  And I don’t say that very often. 

- The Canadiens had their player introductions and opening night ceremony, and while passing the torch from a former player to a current one was nice.  Passing it from player to player through the lineup took way too long.  Again, special if you are a fan of the Habs, but not so special if you are waiting for the game to start. 

- The excitement of the Blackhawks / Capitals game and the Leafs / Habs game was a stark contrast to the Jets / Oilers game.  It’s like a wine and cheese party in Edmonton.  Perhaps it’s the audio mix and where the microphones are in the arena, but the tone sure was muted. 

- The Wednesday Night Rivalry commercial on NBCSN sure is violent. Know what’s missing?  Goals.  Skill.  You know, hockey. 

 

- The new Canadian olympic jerseys are out in public, and everyone is screaming about the black one. 

I think it’s fine.  Aside from the trend to make every jersey look like a practice jersey, this isn’t the worst thing that could have happened.  I’ve had mixed results with Team Canada jerseys, and if there is major printing on the logos, you can be sure I won’t be buying one.  But if you think this is bad, don’t forget what they wore for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.  It’s not as cool as the old black Team Canada jersey.  Not by a long shot.

- Most people seem to think the Colorado Avalanche didn’t address their defensive issues from last season.  I would say it was simply addition by subtraction.  I don’t take much stock in plus/minus ratings, but Greg Zanon, last season’s +/- “leader” with -16 was bought out, Ryan O’Byrne (-8) was shipped off to Toronto at the trade deadline, and Shane O’Brien (shockingly even, but I think we can call it -0) was traded to Calgary.  Even though O’Brien was in the doghouse for part of the season, that’s still three regular blue liners gone (check out the photo TSN used for his player page).  It paves the path for some younger guys, giving Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott (who was sent down to Lake Erie) a better shot at steady ice time.  They brought in a few guys, like Cory Sarich and Andre Benoit, so it isn’t that they didn’t do anything, it’s that they didn’t do anything big.  And big may not be the answer right now.  

But if you want to know what my podcasting partner and myself think about the upcoming Avalanche season, listen to the newest edition of the Avs Hockey Podcast.  Find the latest episode here, and subscribe in iTunes by clicking here

Thin Air: Round And Round

Just some hockey and other thoughts on this overcast day in Denver:

– Jagr to the Devils.  Who does that sit right with? I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks it’s a good fit.  But if there is a team on the verge of an identity change, it’s New Jersey.  Martin Brodeur is on his last legs, Kovalchuk is gone, money is suddenly a real thing, and the future is uncertain.  Perhaps Jagr is a great fit.  I thought he would be a great fit in Ottawa, though. Maybe next year.

– I’m attempting to read Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon for what feels like the hundredth time, and right now I’m reminded of the hardest hockey town I’ve ever been in, Danbury, Connecticut.  I’ve never seen a crowd so loud and angry, enough to make the players want to jump in the stands.  The invisible line between spectator and participant was the only think keeping things from becoming violent the time I saw the Danbury Trashers play in the ‘old’ UHL. It wasn’t the glass that kept them apart. I had never seen anything like it, and I haven’t since.

I was wearing my Kazen Ak Bars jersey, and a woman who worked at the rinks, obviously in some sort of custodial capacity, asked me if I was from there.  I said no, I just liked the Russian jerseys.  She said that was her home, and for a brief and awkward moment, I tried to talk to her, but there was a bit of a language barrier, and she had to get back to work.  I wonder if she is still in Danbury.  I would love to find out what her life is like there.

– Michigan just approved a new arena for Detroit, which will be partially funded with tax dollars.  Joe Louis Arena is well past it’s prime, but if there is a city that doesn’t need to spend it’s money on a new arena, it’s Detroit.  I’m sure there will be more details coming soon.  But can you imagine worse timing?

– The minor leagues are in for a bit of change.  There are always teams folding and moving around, new teams sprout up in the ashes of the previous ones.  But rarely do you see what the Central Hockey League did.  The league was sold to the owners of some of the teams.  It’s been hard to find out exactly which teams are involved in the new ownership group, but it’s an interesting development.  Perhaps the dying gasp of a league that has seen vast turmoil over the last several years?  From losing the majority of their core Texas teams to the junior leagues, to absorbing the UHL/IHL  and losing most if it shortly after, this latest development could go either way, but I’m leaning towards disaster.  Time will tell.

– It’s late July, so things are slow in the hockey world.  So I guess that’s it for the moment.  Keep your ears out for a new Avs Hockey Podcast coming soon.  Yes, it’s been a while.  Life happens, just as it goes on.

A Duke’s Gotta Do What A Duke’s Gotta Do

This is not your mother’s Colorado Avalanche.  It isn’t even the Colorado Avalanche of your youth, or the one from last season.  Things are changing, and it is a bit of a shock to the system.

– Finally fired the coach?  Yep.

– Skipped the top rated draft pick that plays a position of great need? Done.

– Management shakeup?  Oh yeah.

– Talking to the press and fans? Someone released the kraken here.

– Didn’t overspend in free agency, signing depth instead?  It’s dogs and cats living together (mass hysteria).

Anything that comes as no shock might be a shock at this point.  But the fact Milan Hejduk won’t be back by the team might give a few fans whiplash.  It’s… almost shocking.  Almost.

Hejduk previously decided to go the route of Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne (and what I thought Alfredsson should have done with the Senators, but decided to do with Detroit), and sign one year contracts until the end of his career.  In this season, he is going to sign a contract with another team.  From the Denver Post:

Hard as it is to picture, it is possible Colorado Avalanche fans will see Milan Hejduk playing in another NHL uniform next season.

“He wants to keep playing,” Hejduk’s agent, Jiri Crha said Monday in a phone interview. “If there is any team that really wants to use him for his offensive skills, he still believes he could do it.”

The Avs, however, don’t appear to be interested. Hejduk, 37, is an unrestricted free agent and Crha said the Avs have informed him he is not in their plans.

“They are very honest about their different plans. They don’t believe he can play in their top six of forwards,” Crha said. “We just saw a player (Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa) who left after 17 years with the same team. That’s the reality of the hockey life.”

I agree.  He can’t play with the top six forwards on the Avalanche, and the top six just got harder to crack.  Hejduk played himself out of the top two lines over the course of the last season, and unless he had surgery on something that was ailing him or found some serious youth cream to swim around in, he wasn’t likely to crack those lines next season.  So where do you put him?  Third line?  With the youth movement going on now, sticking him with MacKinnon and O’Reilly doesn’t look like a good fit.  He has decent hands, but his feet and legs aren’t going to keep up.  Fourth line?  Hejduk is a lot of things, but a grinder he is not.  He does not belong on a checking line.

So it’s time for him to leave, as he doesn’t fit on with the Avalanche any more.  For some reason, Alex Tanguay fits but Hejduk does not, and that reason is actually obvious to anyone who watched him last season.  The Duke is slowing down.  It happens.  It’s not a slam, or mean to him.  It’s just what happens as time goes by.  If I had the legs and lungs I had when I was bicycling all the time in my teenage years, I would be lighting up the rec leagues.  Nope, I’m 40 and it shows.  In a league that is getting younger and younger, a 37-year-old that is slowing down a bit is something you have to make a hard decision about.

The scary part is that the team that is generally associated with older players looking for one more shot at glory is the Detroit Red Wings.  If he were to go there, it would hurt the fans quite a bit.  The rivalry has cooled between the Wings and the Avs, but not for the fans.  The hockey hate is still there.

But the cap era, forcing teams to make money decisions that force players out, has brought about Team  NHL.  The anger and bile thrown at Daniel Alfredsson was stunning considering this is how the NHL is set up now.  From cap crunches to the penalties associated with over 35 contracts, the CBA forces teams to consider letting go of their aging (former) stars.  Hejduk, wherever he lands, deserves to take another shot, and maybe a change will be good for him.

It’s will be strange to see him in another uniform after cheering for him in an Avs jersey for so long. But this isn’t the same Avalanche.  And I’m good with that.

After the First Day: Free Agency Thoughts

Market, via  Merriam-Webster:

d : the area of economic activity in which buyers and sellers come together and the forces of supply and demand affect prices <producing goods for market rather than for consumption>

I think a lot of hockey fans forget what a market really is when it comes time for free agency.  The market is defined by the supply and demand of the moment.  It may reflect the past and the future of the market a bit, but it’s really defined as what the needs of the moment are and what is available to fill those holes.

My shining example is Mike Smith, Tim Thomas and the goalie market.  Smith signed a five year extension, for $5.666… million.  At the time, it seemed like a lot of money for Smith (it is a lot of money in general, but the scope of that kind of money isn’t the real question here).  My immediate thought was, this isn’t a bad deal for either side.

A few days later, and look at what the market is for goalies.  Ray Emery is in Philadelphia, a bunch of backups shuffled around, but every other team is set with goaltending.  And who is left out there?  Ilya Bryzgolov and Tim Thomas.  There isn’t room for them right now in the league.  Bryz might look to the KHL if things don’t open up in the NHL, while Thomas will be sitting in NORAD waiting for someone to get hurt.

That’s the market Smith was signed in.  If this was next year, where the goalie market is much more open, he might not have gotten this much money.  And I fully expect that market to shrink considerably.  No way are that many good goalies going to free agency.  Most will be resigned.

Smith was able to work a deal in this market that was favorable to him, because the Coyotes were low on options.  Unless they brought back Bryz for another stint, they were going to be looking for another Labarbera / Garon dual backup “solution.”

And if you weren’t convinced of the state of goalie market, Nikolai Khabibulin went back to Chicago.  Yeah. Locked. Up. Tight.

That was what the free agent market was this year.  Lots of needs and not a lot of players to fill those slots.  It was a market that was going to be overpaid, but not by gigantic Kovalbucks.  There was talent out there, but not enough to go around.  Most teams had locked up and resigned the more attractive options before UFA day came (Letang, Ellis, Bickell, etc).  When Briere and Lecavalier are the biggest players involved, and everyone knows where they are going before signing day, it’s going to be a strange day.

There was plenty of action.  The Tyler Seguin move was a bit surprising. I look forward to seeing him in the West.  And the Ducks finally trade Bobby Ryan, which I think they will regret.  I like the way the Senators are building.  It isn’t a great team yet, but they are getting better and better all the time.

Some thoughts on the first day of free agency:

– Nathan Horton goes to Columbus and David Clarkson goes to the Leafs, both for similar money. Yet for Columbus it’s a good signing with risk (will Horton stay healthy) versus Toronto overpaying and making a huge error, according to the experts.  Despite similar numbers last season and Clarkson being a more physical and healthier player.  I wonder if the feeling that the Leafs are screwing this up simply comes from their long history of screwing things up.  I get the impression the media just likes that storyline.  Neither is a bad signing.  Too long of terms?  Maybe, but not bad deals.

– I was surprised we didn’t see more seven-year deals, the longest term allowed under the new CBA.  Only two seven-year deals, followed by 5 five-year deals.  Perhaps it’s the lowering of the salary cap, but I would think that would work towards the advantage of the team.  The cap comes down, they have to fit a player under that cap, then keep the deal / average cap hit rolling to maximize value.  Or the market didn’t hold enough players worth seven years.  I’m guessing it’s the latter.

– Jarome Iginla goes to Boston.  Shades of Marian Hossa?  Should we expect Chicago and Boston in the finals again?  I doubt it, but it makes for an interesting parallel.  Six million seems like a lot for a player on the decline and a team that is close enough to the cap ceiling that they can touch it without stretching too hard.  But considering the skill level (and toughness) Iginla started from, that decline could take a long time to effectively manifest itself.  Iginla has to perform for his new team quickly.  The fans wanted him before, were left at the alter at the trade deadline, and were not thrilled about it.  Since we live in the salary cap, Team NHL era, they may forgive quickly if he shows that he was worth the bother.  Otherwise, I hope he brought some ear plugs.  He’s going to hear about it.

– The three sites I have been going to over and over for UFA info have been TSN’s excellent trade tracker, Capgeek.com, and Spector’s Hockey from Lyle Richardson. The trade tracker is great because it’s a simple spreadsheet that’s sortable.  I’ve sung the praises of Capgeek before, and I hope whomever runs that site makes some serious bank.  They deserve it. As for Lyle Richardson, I love his work.  Enough said there.

– The Red Wings have done nothing to reduce their reputation as being the Detroit Old Folks Home.  Daniel Alfredsson leaving Ottawa to sign there only reinforces that perception.  It isn’t a bad move for either one, and while Alfredsson was the franchise player in Ottawa, he didn’t seem too happy with the team in their last round of the playoffs this year, effectively sounding the alarm that he was quitting the series.  When it’s time for you to go, it’s time to go, and for Alfie, it was time to go.  Whether it works out for Detroit is anyone’s guess.  It could be the veteran they need, or it could be another Mats Sundin situation.  Please recall, that didn’t work out.

– Everyone wanted Andrew Ference.  I don’t blame them, he was pivotal in the Bruins run at the Cup. But considering where he went, for that term and that money (4 years / $13mil), less teams were in the running than the fans thought.  He took less money to go to Edmonton than he could have gotten elsewhere, making it a personal decision for him, and that’s great.  Edmonton is finally getting out of the draft-for-everything mode and starting to build a team.  Whether this set of components works out remains to be seen, but at least they are finally trying.

– As for the Colorado Avalanche, I’m fine with what they did in free agency.  Sure, it would have been great to see them land that perfect piece of the puzzle, but I have bad news for everyone looking to solve every problem with free agent signings.  It doesn’t work that way.  If your team solved all it’s issues in free agency this season, they didn’t have that may issues to begin with.  The sins of the past have not been forgotten in Colorado.  Scott Hannan, Greg Zanon, Jan Hejda, shall I go on?  That’s just the free agent defensemen signed that didn’t work out well.  Shane O’Brien? Oh, you want me to stop now?  OK, so those signings didn’t work out, there weren’t many defensemen on the market that would fit in a 1-2 role, and still, fans wanted to see the Avs make a splash?  Instead, the Avs signed a few depth players to stock up the horrid Lake Erie Monsters, which has been an issue for years.  I hope this means they are going to take the minors seriously.  There is still plenty of time for the Avalanche to make trades to shore up the defense, but this is not a problem that will be fixed overnight.  They are doing something, which is more than could have been said before the new regime was put in place.  That’s a good step forward.  There was no splash to be made this year. Perhaps only a slight ripple to be had.  Good enough.

Free Agency: Buyer Beware

Free agency is a sexy thing.  Lots of interesting players available to anyone if they have the money and the right pitch.  Fans love it, teams love it, and players and agents most certainly love it.  If teams didn’t have success last year, they are looking for parts to make themselves better.  If they did have success, chances are they lost a few good players to free agency or cap-related issues, and need to plug new holes.  Everyone is looking for someone.

There are a few problems:

– Everyone overpays on the first day of free agency.  Why do you think players love it?

– Memories are fairly short on previous free agency blunders, and if you forget history yadda yadda yadda.

– Fans want the world and they want it now, but the teams who need the most help either can’t afford it or aren’t attractive to the players (rebuilding a team is like announcing in the media they have an STD).

The Colorado Avalanche could use some help on defensive (and if you say “why didn’t they draft Seth Jones then?” I would ask you to read this).  The best options are to trade away an asset, or go buy some defensemen. At this point, there aren’t many players they would want to trade, with the ghost of Paul Stastny the one exception.

That means buying defense on the free agent market.  And I’m here to tell you, tread cautiously.  Here are a few names to give you pause:

Jan Hejda

Scott Hannon

Greg Zanon

All of them brought to the Avalanche in free agency.  All of them the new solution to the defensive issues of the team (yes, even Zanon), all of them disappointments.  Jan Hejda is still around, and with the compliance buyout option available, the Avs hanging on to him says they still think he is an asset, either on the ice or as trade bait.

But if it’s D you want, the free agency market may not actually have it for you.  From Capgeek.com, here are some of the ‘top’ defensemen available:

Marek Zidlicky
Joe Corvo
Ryan Whitney
Andrew Ference
Tom Gilbert
Ron Hainsey
Rob Scuderi
Michal Rozsival
Andre Benoit
Filip Kuba
M. Bergeron
Mike Kostka
Wade Redden
Jonathon Blum
B. Sanguinetti
Ryan O’Byrne
Douglas Murray
Mark Fistric
Toni Lydman
Greg Zanon
Kurtis Foster
Alexander Sulzer
Ian White
Adam Pardy
Adrian Aucoin
Tyson Strachan
Radek Martinek

Hey, look, a few former Avalanche on the list. How fun.

Aside from Andrew Ference, who do you want to see in an Avalanche uniform?  Wait, let’s do this a little more realistically.  Who do you want to OVERPAY to be in an Avalanche uniform?  Because other teams have needs on defense as well, they will be bidding for the same talent, sending the price higher and higher.  And the salary cap may have come down for this season, but that doesn’t mean the player’s asking price has.  You are seeing a wider gap between the haves and have-nots, a squeezing out of the NHL middle class.

Is Kurtis Foster still worth it?  A few years for Rozsival?  I wouldn’t mind Ron Hainsey for a year or two.  Corvo?

The interesting thing to me was which teams were buying out players, which ones were speculated to be buying out, and who didn’t.  The big money clubs were the ones doing the buying out, with the Flyers leading the way.  The Rangers were rumored to, as well as the Canucks.  But they held tight, with their coaching changes perhaps being enough to clean up the problems.  The only team that bought out a big contract that isn’t a wildly spending team was the Islanders, removing the mistake of the Rick DiPietro contract.  And why they chose to use the compliance buyout instead of a regular buyout and keep the cap hit (for a bargain basement spending team, they covet that cap hit) is beyond me.

The teams that didn’t buy players out, and haven’t been shuffling their mistakes around are the teams that have a budget and stick to it.  And by budget, I mean they pick a number below the cap.  For teams like the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens, they seem to pick a budget within a few dollars of the cap ceiling.  How’s that working out?  Not so well, unless you consider the Penguins a success (which they arguably are).

If you need a reminder, look at the list of signings for last season.  Scroll down and look at the July 1st signings.  With just that list in mind, does your value of the free agent market change?

This is all to say one thing: free agency is sexy, it’s alluring, but it is a marriage, and it needs to work after the first date.  Fans want to see a splash in the free agent market, but those don’t work out as often as the storyline says they will.  Tread carefully, GMs, and fans, keep your pants on.

UFA Day Notes – Was The Early Talk Worth It?

Today is the start of free agency, but you wouldn’t know it.  Teams have been able to do what everyone knew they were doing, talk to players and agents before the official start of the signing period.  There is no way in hell a player would agree to a multi-year deal with a salary that went up and down year to year within fifteen minutes of the clock starting.  Yet that’s what we saw, over and over.  When dollars were just dollars, before the salary cap, things were simpler.  Here’s your money, yes or no?  Now it’s a lot of math to do a deal.  A LOT of math.

We already know what’s going to happen.  Like a Kanye West album leaking, we know the beats and moves, we know who is going where.  Lecavalier to the Flyers, Briere to the Canadiens.  When the biggest intrigue is what Daniel Alfredsson will do (more on him later), you have the makings of a very dull day.

Is the pre-signing day negotiations a good thing?  As I said, we all knew they did it behind closed doors.  The only difference is the ability other teams that may not have engaged a free agent early to get in on the conversation.  I would argue that it isn’t great.  If the player already know where they are going, it’s fairly pointless.  Most players have teams in mind they want to sign, even if they talk to twenty-nine other GMs.  They see how the other half lives throughout the season, they have friends or contacts (or enemies) on other teams that tell them the skinny.  If the ink might as well be drying on the contract before it’s even signed, then I think it’s useless.

A few thoughts on the UFA market and trades that have happened.

– The Dallas Stars have traded themselves back into relevance.  They lost a good player in Loui Eriksson, but gained a lot of potential in Tyler Seguin.  Did I mention I met him once? Regardless, between that and the Shawn Horcoff  deal, the Stars made a big statement, and at exactly the right time.  Aside from an easier travel schedule with the upcoming realignment, they have made themselves a destination a UFA might consider.  They decided they didn’t like the mediocrity their team was mired in and did something about it.  Whether or not it pans out isn’t yet relevant.  They did something, and that sends a big signal.

I like the move for Seguin.  It seems weird to need a change of location after winning a Cup and being in the finals again two years later, but the guy was blessed with a weird trade that sent his pick to Boston, and was lucky not to be picked by Edmonton.  Everything was coming up roses for him, but hockey is a business.  Maybe the move will show him he has a bit more to learn.

– It’s going to be weird to see Vinny Lecavalier in a Flyers uniform.  More so than Danny Briere in a Canadiens jersey.  That they both got paid, and both are not signing seven-year deals says a lot about their potential.  The Canadiens made a smart move only signing Briere to a two-year contract.  I wonder if they had visions of Scott Gomez when they were negotiating the contract.  If Briere doesn’t work out, at least it won’t last long.

– If you aren’t sure how buyouts work, Capgeek has a great buyout FAQ.  Find it here.  Capgeek is an amazing resource.  How did we ever live without it?  It’s like the double-stuff Oreo.  I just can’t imagine what it was like before.

– I’m amazed at the amount of eight-year contracts we are seeing handed out to pending free agents.  It’s now the most teams are allowed to resign players for, with seven years the upper limit for free agent signings.  Which makes me wonder, how many seven-year contracts will we see signed this off-season.  Looking at the list of free agents, I’m guessing not many.  But who knows, player’s agents can be crafty.

– Daniel Alfredsson should go the route of Teemu Selanne and Milan Hejduk and start signing one year contracts until he retires (if he comes back to the Senators at all).  What does he have to loose?

– It sounded like the Detroit Red Wings were kicking the tires of just about every free agent out there.  Detroit is always a team players want to go to, thanks to their winning tradition.  But keep in mind that they are moving to the East next season, and won’t be in the same division as the pushover Columbus Blue Jackets, the almost always pushover St. Louis Blues, and the sometimes pushover Nashville Predators.  All of those teams are getting better, but it isn’t the same as stepping into a very tough division with the Bruins and… Oh, that’s it?  Well, never mind.  Still, moving East, does that change the perception of the Wings?   Their success was guaranteed, but I would argue that it is less so lately.

– Don’t forget: rumors are useless.  They are a great way to build up a lot of anxiety over nothing.  Most of them never pan out.  Make sure you are paying attention to real sites with real sources and real news, not made up garbage.