Adam Proteau, currently the brand's columnist/writer, has worked for The Hockey News since 2002 and won the Professional Hockey Writers' award for best column in 2006. He also won the Esso Medal of Achievement for most improved player as a 13-year-old at the 'A' level in 1985, but he's less proud of that.
The off-season is when NHL teams examine their rosters and look to improve. But as we know, there’s more to every franchise’s business dealings than the players themselves. There’s also the matter of the in-arena experience for fans who spend big money on tickets. While some teams are better at it than others, there’s lots of room for improvement in the way paying customers are entertained 41 nights per season. Here are three easy ways to do that:
1. Enough of the same old song. At the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the same songs often are played not just game after game, but in the exact same circumstances every night. (I’m not talking about a team’s “goal song”. That’s fine.) While there are hundreds, if not a few thousand people on any given night who may only attend one or two games a year, there are many more who are season-ticketholders in attendance every night. It’s indefensible to subject them to a near-identical, cookie-cutter in-game experience, but that’s the reality in many rinks.
Instead of leaning on songs everyone has heard numerous times before, teams could either branch out and use a wide variety of music – or hire a live band that could inject some personality into the mix and react to what happens during the game with different song choices. Same goes for intermission entertainment: NBA teams have brought in retro bands to engage crowds before:
and there’s no reason NHL teams can’t do the same. It sure beats the goalie race, which may be the lamest thing ever seen in pro hockey:
Some two weeks after the beginning of unrestricted free agency, the NHL’s pool of talent-for-hire has shrunken considerably. Players raced to sign for as much money and/or term as possible in the first few days of the month, and since then, the pace of signings has slowed to a trickle. Some players may choose to wait the rest of the summer and into training camp to see if trades and/or injuries open up a roster spot and/or a better salary.
That said, there are still players out there who have something to contribute. My colleague Ken Campbell assembled a list of them in early July, but all but three players on it – veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson (who will return to Detroit or retire), two-time Stanley Cup-winner Dustin Penner and Devin Setoguchi – have been taken off the market after agreeing to new deals. So who’s left? In no particular order, here are five UFA players who can help a team:
1. Lee Stempniak, RW. The soon-to-be-32-year-old has bounced around the league since he broke in with the Blues in 2004-05 – and while he’ll never be mistaken for Alex Ovechkin, he’s about as reliable a 10-15-goal-scorer as you’ll find in the league. He’ll also come significantly cheaper than the $2.5 million he’s earned in each of the past two seasons. Read more
When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.
I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.
So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.
So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more
A leisurely summer weekend took a bit of a turn for me early Saturday afternoon when the Twitter account of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos favorited a tweet from THN’s account linking to my story on the idea of a Toronto-born superstar – you know, like a Steven Stamkos – joining the Leafs in the prime of his career, the way NBA icon LeBron James did last week when he returned to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the most part, there were two types of reactions: utter joy from Leafs fans who saw Stamkos’ act as a guarantee he was destined for Toronto; and utter rage from those who went after the messenger instead of acknowledging the fact Stamkos made this story an issue by favoriting the tweet. Both of those reactions were entirely expected; Leafs supporters are famous for believing every player is interested in playing for their team, and there’s never any shortage of true-believer fans in every market who refuse to consider a star player would want out of their city.
(Of course, that second group of people clearly didn’t read the original column, or they would’ve noticed the part where I wrote, “I’m not saying it’s likely either star ever gets to the point where playing for the Leafs becomes a possibility…”. But hey, basic reading comprehension skills aren’t everybody’s strong point. It won’t be the first time my words were misconstrued by rage-a-holics and the pathetically bitter, and it won’t be the last.)
That said, after speaking to more NHL sources since that article was written, I think there’s a better chance of Stamkos coming to the Leafs than I did when I wrote it.
Why? A few reasons. Read more
The Blue Jackets continued an eventful summer Friday with the signing of Brandon Dubinsky to a six-year, $35.1-million contract extension.
Dubinsky was one season away from unrestricted free agency, so Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was due to make a decision on his future with the team soon enough. However, giving an annual salary of $5.85 million (as well as no-trade/no-move clauses) to a player who hasn’t scored more than 16 goals since 2010-11 – when the 28-year-old was still a member of the New York Rangers – is a significant overpayment. Read more
For the past few days, much of the sports world has been swept up in breathless anticipation of the future of NBA phenom LeBron James. The superstar is mulling over whether to re-sign with a Miami Heat team he led to two championships and four league Final appearances in the past four seasons, or whether to return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Some observers have a tough time believing James could wave goodbye to the sun and sights of Florida for Ohio’s far less exotic environs, but his deep connections to his birthplace of Akron, Ohio and his lasting roots in the area clearly are tempting.
The pressure on James after a return to Cleveland would be monstrous, but it’s a credit to him that he’d be willing to deal with it as a form of community service – and, let’s face it, a karmic payback for clumsily leaving the Cavs in 2010. Sure, the Cavs have enough elite young talent to make his return pay off competitively, but James could play on any team for any amount of money and he should be commended for considering heading back to that environment.
But it got me to thinking: when will there be a LeBron James for the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Here’s what I mean: with the NHL’s salary cap limiting the amount of money any team can pay a star player, personal choice is as big a factor, if not the biggest factor in the employment decisions free agents make. In recent years, we’ve seen numerous NHL stars eschew higher-profile destinations in favor of teams/cities they had an off-ice connection to: In 2012, Minnesota signed stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in part because Parise grew up in that state and Suter’s wife hails from there; this summer, Thomas Vanek turned down more lucrative offers to sign with the Wild because his wife is from the area and because he attended college at the University of Minnesota.
But the same never seems to be the case for the Leafs. Read more
When word broke late Tuesday Sidney Crosby is scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on his right wrist in the coming days, it went a ways toward explaining the superstar’s ineffectiveness in the 2014 playoffs. But it does nothing to change the fact the Penguins captain will face the most challenging season of his career this coming year.
The surgery, which won’t cause the 26-year-old to miss any games, won’t reduce the immense pressure he’ll be under with a revamped Pens lineup. Nothing he does in the regular season will silence the people who challenged his status as the planet’s best player. He can win the NHL’s scoring race and Hart Trophy as league MVP as he did in 2013-14 and people will shrug their shoulders. The only way he’ll shut them up is with a strong post-season performance that makes everyone forget about his one-goal, nine-point showing in 13 playoff games (including just three points in the second round) this past spring. Read more
We’re a week removed from the mania of NHL free agency and the draft and the summer can take many twists and turns from here, so take this for what it’s worth – but the rejigged Tampa Bay Lightning are earning an increasing amount of respect from THN staffers. In an informal poll of editorial employees in our palatial North Toronto offices Tuesday, more than a few of us spoke about how impressed we were with what Bolts GM Steve Yzerman has done thus far in the off-season.
Full disclosure: I was one of those more-than-a-few. In fact, barring some unforeseen multi-team blockbuster that sees Patrick Marleau, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Quick traded to the Penguins for Marcel Goc and Craig Adams, I’m ready to say it: I think the Lightning are going to be the Eastern Conference’s most dangerous team next season. Read more