The intern is back in D.C., having endured a long hot summer grappling with not one but two seven-game losses to Pittsburgh — as a fan of my hometown Wings and my adopted Caps. Summer of my serious discontent. Anyway, I thought I’d offer up my Top 5 storylines for this offseason and see if you have others.
(1) CSI Phoenix
The soap opera of the summer in the NHL has finally come to an end, sort of, and not a moment too soon. The debacle was getting to the point that you needed not only a law degree to understand it but years of litigation experience in bankruptcy proceedings, mergers and acquisitions, and international trade. After all of the hearings and all of the arguing though, the team is staying in Phoenix. For now.
Why, you may ask? Well, principally because Gary Bettman wants them to be there. While Coyotes’ fans must be respected, let’s face it, there isn’t much of a market for the puck in Glendale. The team has lost money every year its resided in the desert! In the end Jim Basillie got jobbed; really, that’s the only way to put it. While he may have lost the case, he showed great commitment to getting a second team in a seriously underserved southern Ontario market. A good many Canadians today, you have to think, regard him as a patriot.
(2) High Drama Around Hossa and Heatley
Both players captured headlines all summer long. While it may have been for two very different reasons, both exposed some of the negative aspects of the league.
Marian Hossa signed a 12-year, $62.8 million contract with the Blackhawks in July and exposed a potential problem in GMs’ manipulations of the CBA. The front-loaded contract prompted a league investigation into whether teams were circumventing the collective bargaining agreement by discussing retirement before the contracts were signed. This violates the CBA since, in essence, teams are signing players to contracts they likely won’t honor. Then, not long after Hossa inked his new into-the-22nd-century pact, he went under the knife.
Dany Heatley is the other part of this diabolical duo. The oft-unhappy Senator is yet again asking for a trade. While he hasn’t always been unhappy as a Senator, this is the second team he has asked for a trade from. While the first time was for a legitimate reason, this one is not.
The problem for Heatley is that he doesn’t believe he is getting enough time on the ice, even though it doesn’t effect the amount of money he earns. On the surface this sounds like just competitive spirit, but when you dive deeper you also find that he doesn’t want to restructure his contract to a more respectable salary. Heatley in a sense has turned into the NHL’s equivalent of Jay Cutler.
(3) The Exodus East
As last season wound to a close it became clear that the NHL was going to lose some of its older stars to the Russian KHL. Along with former Capitals Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov, Jiri Hudler, Sergei Zubov and Nikolai Zherdev all left for Russia. It seems the chance to make obscene amounts of money seemed to be too enticing for some seriously veteran NHL players. But the Hudler defection represented something different: a very young, just emerging player of promise, who was leveraging his restricted free agent status against his NHL club.
The upstart Russian league still hasn’t demonstrated the ability to be a viable alternative for prime NHL talent. It has, however, shown that it can pay the money for some of the league’s better veterans. With no player transfer agreement between the two leagues the current state of affairs is worrisome for Bettman and Co.
(4) Brawn over Skill in Toronto
Brian Burke’s Ducks were a formidable blend of speed and brawn. It won him a Cup in Cali, so why deviate from the formula in Toronto?
He first dumped soft Nik Antropov. Then he added Brad May and Colton Orr. On the blueline, he brought in two guys with skill and physical preesence — Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek. The Leafs may not win many more games this season than last, and they still won’t be able to score much, but you won’t want to skate against them with your head down.
The 2-hour, 10-minute Leaf games are a thing of the past with Burke in charge.
(5) At Last, a Long Promised Youth Movement for Americans at the Olympics
This is perhaps the first time since NHL players were allowed to play in the Olympics that the U.S. has a solid young and genuinely exciting team. In the past it has shown that seasoned NHL veterans are just not able to get the job done in the Olympics. It is a very different story in the World Championships as the U.S. has often fielded a young lineup and has consistently been competitive.
The days of Chris Chelios and Bill Guerin captaining the Olympic squad are over, especially after the embarrassment that was Nagano. Not only will Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller and the rest of the squad likely put on a good show at the Vancouver Games, but they may just re-energize the public’s interest in the sport.