Thanks to my colleagues for picking up the slack when I was on vacation. And thanks to readers for continuing to fill my email inbox with questions. As my culturally-confused caucasian friends say, "Let's do dis":
Why do you hate the Islanders so much? All I read from you lately are cheap shots against them. Did Garth Snow reject your autograph request when you were a kid or something?
Jason P., New Jersey
Hold on a secondÂ…just adding the Islanders to the list of teams (and things) I stand accused of hating. So far, I allegedly detest the Isles, Flyers, Kings, Oilers, sunshine, Devils, Hurricanes, Red Wings, rainbows, and, of course, Â“old-time hockeyÂ”. I really should buy more paper for that list.
In reality, I couldn't give a whit about the on-ice fortune of any team. I root for certain players, GMs and coaches whom I've come to admire and respect after an interview or two. Nevertheless, the smart ones understand that, even if I like them and they don't produce on the ice, I have to write as much.
Sugar-coating any appraisal, no matter how unpalatable it may be, does nothing for a team's reputation, and does fair damage to mine. But critiques themselves are never personal. Unless it's the Washington Capitals! (Just messing with you, Mr. Leonsis.)
I would like to know where the "Habs" nickname for the Montreal Canadians came from. No other hockey buff I talk to seems to know.
Norma F., Scotia, N.Y.
First of all, my eternal thanks for even loosely associating me with the word Â“buffÂ”. That doesn't happen much at all anymore.
Â“HabsÂ” is short for Â“HabitantsÂ” (pronounced habit-TAUNTS), a French word heavily used to describe 19th-century farmers of lands that eventually would become the province of Quebec. In your face, other hockey buffs.
I want to ask you about the signings of the New Jersey Devils. Were they good moves? What about their new arena, and their future?
I very much liked Lou Lamoriello's decision to sign Kevin Weekes, who will provide more than stable backup goaltending while Martin Brodeur takes a well-deserved regular-season rest or two.
Unfortunately, I did not like much else. Karel Rachunek and Vitaly Vishenevski are not considered front-line defenders, and Dainius Zubrus, who received a whopping, six-year deal, virtually disappeared while playing in the post-season for Buffalo last spring.
I'm sure the new arena will be mighty spiffy, and that Lamoriello (and whomever is coaching them come April) will somehow have the Devils fighting for a playoff spot once again in 2007-08. But with the improvements made by the Penguins, Flyers and Rangers this summer, there is no guarantee they'll be playing after the regular-season concludes. And until Lou gets the hang of the whole Â“modern marketingÂ” thing, sellout crowds will remain but a dream.
In your opinion, who are the most underrated players in the league and what players will have the biggest breakout '07-08 seasons? I am looking to broaden my NHL player horizon, even though I spend most of my time concentrating on how many areas my Flyers were disappointing in last season.
The term Â“underratedÂ” has lost its luster for me, mainly because, depending on who you speak with around the league, there's always someone willing to overrate a particular player. So let's focus instead on some lesser-know guys who should continue on an upward trajectory.
For instance, although he wasn't a Calder Trophy finalist last season, L.A. Kings sophomore Anze Kopitar impressed me muchly. With an improved roster around him, and a year of experience under his belt, Kopitar has the ability to improve in a big way on his 20-goal, 61-point rookie campaign.
I also like Calgary's Matthew Lombardi, Florida's Stephen Weiss, Montreal's Tomas Plekanec, Nashville's Shea Weber, Phoenix's Keith Ballard, and Toronto's Carlo Colaiacovo to greatly better their offensive output from last year. And if it makes you feel any better, I think Jeff Carter and Mike Richards of your Flyers both will rebound from disappointing Â‘06-07 seasons.
Just a quick question about some of the crazy free agent signings we have been seeing lately: why are the terms of some signings not disclosed? The only explanation I can seem to find is that it is club policy not to. If that is the club policy, why are we informed of the terms of other contracts?
For example, when the Flames signed Cory Sarich to his ridiculous contract we knew just how much money was being wasted on him, yet when they signed Eric Godard, we were kept in the dark as the how much was being wasted. If you could help me out with this, that would be great.
Adam Reid, Bowden, Alta.
I, and many others, think the Â“policiesÂ” that Â“preventÂ” teams from disclosing contract details are as ludicrous as some of the contracts that were signed this summer.
In a league that has made the salary cap part and parcel of every hockey conversation, it makes absolutely no sense to keep fans and media guessing as to what a player earns. Full disclosure would only heighten interest (especially among the hard-core fantasy-leaguers), but some PR representatives act as if they're guarding the secrets of the next J.J. Abrams movie.
Get over yourselves, fellas, and give us the goods!