It's a king-sized mailbag column this week, so let's skip the pleasantries and get right to your often-fascinating, occasionally-irritating issues:
I know how much you hate the Edmonton Oilers, but if they make the playoffs, will you eat your own shorts?
Sadly, I've never been a fan of clothing-based cuisine. Always find the tags and buttons get stuck in my permanent lower retainer.
I'll refrain from doling out another obligatory (and true) Â“I don't hate any teamÂ” lecture. But let's leave it at this Â– if Edmonton makes the playoffs this season, I'll try hard to round up Chris Pronger, my fellow THN employees, and anyone else who's ever suggested the Oilers shouldn't always be considered odds-on Stanley Cup favorites every year from now until the End of Days, and you and your buddies can throw rotten tomatoes at the lot of us until your arms ache.
We should probably include Frank Ventura from Calgary in that group, too. Do you know Frank, Gary? After you read the next question, you probably won't care to.
Is Kevin Lowe really this bad of a GM, or is he just playing possum?
Frank Ventura, Calgary
I like your sense of humor. Granted, it's easy to crack wise when your team is as good as the Flames are, but when you deal with the volume of carping and outrage that I do on a weekly basis, you learn to treasure the good-humored among us.
That said, I don't think Lowe deserves much of the recent criticism he's received. He was working on a Wade Redden trade that didn't pan out; he attempted to move up in the draft to select Kyle Turris, but other GMs got cold feet; and he was jilted for the second time in two years by a player's wife (Mrs. Nylander).
In addition, when he realized he couldn't lock up Ryan Smyth with a long-term contract, Lowe was wise and ballsy enough to get something in return for him through a trade. Ask Canadiens fans what they think of Bob Gainey's decision to hang on to Sheldon Souray and subsequently let him walk for sweet bugger all this off-season (and cover your ears if profanity offends you).
If you want to fault Lowe for anything, fault him for not signing Smyth when he could have at a much-reduced rate in the summer of 2006. But bear in mind, Buffalo's Darcy Regier learned the same painful lesson with Chris Drury this summer. The GM role, like the league, is continually evolving, and it's not easy to have a perfect winning percentage.
In regards to the verbal beating Brian Burke threw down on Kevin Lowe, it seems like his major complaint was not the offer sheet itself but rather the inflated terms. Isn't it obvious to Burke that any Â‘fair' offer around the $2-3 million area would be easily matched? What is this guy complaining about?
Also, regarding Burke's statement about inflating the market and affecting all 30 teams Â– what does $5.5 million a year for a 38-year-old defenseman and $4 million for an out-of-shape, aging power forward do to the market?
Dylan M., Edmonton
Well argued. In spite of collusionÂ…er, I mean, the special understanding among NHL GMs, the labor agreement does absolutely nothing to discourage teams from ratcheting up their financial bids to restricted free agents. In fact, coupled with the lowered age for unrestricted free agency, it encourages such behavior. As you note, extravagant offers are the only chance teams have to lure young players away from other teams.
And you're correct, Burke's deals for Mathieu Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi hardly were shining examples of fiscal prudence. But I expect every GM to be completely self-interested, because that's what they're paid for. If Burke wants to rant at anyone, it should be at Gary Bettman.
I'm generally a fan of some of the more veteran players on the market, and currently, there are plenty of them. Eric Lindros, Jason Allison, Alexander Mogilny, Jeff O'Neill, Ed Belfour, and Curtis Joseph, just to name a few.
Do you have any idea where any of the guys like this could sign? How many of them could be hanging up the skates for good?
By the looks of things, you're one of the few fans any of those players have left. Recurring hip woes put an end to Mogilny's tremendous career, and every one of the others you mentioned have variable amounts of on-and-off-ice baggage that have kept teams' interest lukewarm at best.
Belfour and Joseph have the best chance of signing sooner Â– albeit at a much-reduced role than the one to which they're accustomed Â– mainly because the overall goaltending situation among a few teams (Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Columbus) is less than stable.
Lindros and Allison both are well-known injury risks, while O'Neill impressed few during his stint with the Maple Leafs. If any of them hook up with a team, I'd expect it to be much closer to the beginning of training camp, and via incentive-laden contracts.
As a subscriber, I bring each edition of The Hockey News here into the fire station, where we all discuss our teams' moves in the chase for the Stanley Cup.
However, I'm growing more concerned as I read each issue and read the online stories, about how much you folks seem to ignore our teams. Colorado, Philly and Chicago.
While it's great the Rangers made two big moves, Anaheim won the Cup, and Crosby is great, we here feel more than slighted. Quite a bit more happens in the league. How can the addition of Ryan Smyth to a team already bursting with young talent and future Hall of Famers get ignored?
Fellas, come on now. We're all sure you guys have your teams and want max publicity, but we live in Northwest Florida, The Place Where Hockey Never Was. How about some impartial reporting? More information? Make the magazine bigger, if you have to. It will be read.
If you or your editor feels like discussing, by all means reply. I may not be seeing the whole picture, but I would like to understand.
Firstly, thanks for subscribing. Secondly, I'm sure you understand that, in an age where print media is receding in favor of electronic, interactive information platforms, editorial space is limited and Â“making the magazine biggerÂ” is easier said than financed.
None of which is to say we shouldn't be covering the teams you mentioned. But we've got to pick our spots, and for the most part, the easiest way to get selected for one of those spots is to win (or lose) a great deal of hockey games.
The Avs, Flyers and Hawks won't have an opportunity to do either for a couple more months, but if they do, we'll happy to shine the spotlight on them.