Nikita, Nikita, Nikita. He doesn't score often, but when Blue Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin does, it's usually against the Flames. That and more in our morning recap.
Nikita, Nikita, Nikita. He doesn't score often, but when Blue Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin does, it's usually against the Flames. That and more in our morning recap.
Essential Water Cooler
The Ducks and Devils met last night with New Jersey coming out on top in overtime 4-3, but the subplot was the fact two of the most talented players of the past 20 years were in the lineup. Anaheim brought Teemu Selanne, while the Devils countered with leading scorer Jaromir Jagr. Selanne has said this is his final season in the NHL, but Jagr, 41, has made no distinction. While he's 11 goals away from 700, career benchmarks of 1,500 games and 1,800 points would be within reach next year. With the way he's been playing for New Jersey, why wouldn't he play another season?
There was some stiff competition last night, but Clarke MacArthur's shorthanded pass to Kyle Turris in an eventual 4-3 Ottawa loss to Minnesota was bananas.
Men of the Night
Nikita Nikitin, Columbus: The defensive defenseman got the job done on offense in a 2-1 win over Calgary, scoring the OT winner and assisting on the other Jackets goal.
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota: The captain of the Wild notched the winning goal against Ottawa with less than three minutes to play, while also assisting on two other Minny scores.
Eric Gelinas, New Jersey: The rookie blueliner continued his strong play with a goal and a helper in New Jersey's triumph over Anaheim.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh: Another day at the office for Sid, who had two points for the Penguins in a rivalry win over Washington. Pittsburgh took the contest 4-0.
Better Luck Next Time
Oh, Ben Lovejoy, your intentions were good. With the game in overtime, the defenseman tried to clear the puck from in front of his net, but shot the biscuit off teammate Corey Perry's shinpad and into the yawning cage, sending his own Ducks to defeat.
The Brian Elliott acquisition hasn’t paid off for the Flames, and GM Brad Treliving would be wise to take another long look at acquiring Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury once the off-season rolls around.
The Flames’ goaltending issues were at their pinnacle in 2015-16 with the four-man rotation of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio and Niklas Backstrom leaving much to be desired, and that not one of the foursome has a job in the NHL this season is indicative of how poor they performed. It was a no-brainer for the Flames to chase a goaltender this past off-season.
The prevailing notion was Calgary would chase one of Ben Bishop, the 30-year-old Lightning starter who was nearing free agency, or Marc-Andre Fleury, the 32-year-old career Penguin who had lost his starting job to Matt Murray en route to the Stanley Cup. It was rumored the asking price was too high for the Flames’ liking. And as for Bishop, he was actually close to landing in Calgary. He told the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith that he and the Flames were negotiating a new contract, but it was then that the Flames pivoted and decided Brian Elliott would be the answer to their goaltending woes.
The deal made sense for the Flames. Elliott, 31, was coming off of one of the best seasons of his career and at 5-on-5 there were few goaltenders as dominant as he was with the St. Louis Blues. He had posted a .930 save percentage at all strengths — the best mark in the league — and his 2.07 goals-against average was the best mark Elliott had produced in a 40-plus game season in his career.
It’s nearing on impossible to recall that was the case, however, with Elliott looking pedestrian in Calgary through 23 games this season. His .891 save percentage is a mark you’d expect from a backup, his goals-against average has ballooned to 2.92 and after earning a few votes for the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16, he has a better shot at competing for the Masterton Trophy in 2017-18 than he does landing any recognition for his play in goal this campaign.
Now Calgary is more than halfway through their season asking themselves the same questions they were last April. And were it not for Chad Johnson, 30, signed to backup Elliott, the Flames could be in a much worse position than boasting a one-point edge on the final wild-card spot. Even with Johnson’s play being somewhat of a season-saver, though, Flames GM Brad Treliving won’t have much of a choice but to go back and look at his options in goal this off-season.
Looking inside the organization, consideration has to be given to Jon Gillies. The 6-foot-6 netminder has had a tough go in AHL Stockton this season after injuries sidelined him for much of 2015-16, but he’s the de facto goaltender of the future and arguably the top prospect the Flames have whose not yet in the NHL. The 23-year-old was a stud in the NCAA, backstopping Providence to a title in 2014-15. Gillies has the size and talent to be a difference-maker down the line, but Treliving would be remiss to think Gillies can solve the Flames’ current problems in goal.
Really, the only way to really fix what’s broken in Calgary right now is for Treliving to focus on the two goaltenders he passed over for Elliott this past summer. And while it’s an issue that could use addressing now, it’s unlikely Treliving could swing a deal to land Bishop or Fleury before the trade deadline.
All three teams — the Flames, Lightning and Penguins — are right up against the cap, dipping into long-term injured reserve in order to have any breathing room at all. Almost any deal made would have to be dollar-in, dollar-out. That complicates matters, which is to say the Flames might only have a prayer of fixing the situation in goal by the time March rolls around.
Things will get interesting in the off-season, however. Come July 1, the Flames are going to have six restricted free agents in need of deals, but more than $22 million in cap space and close to $17 million coming off the books as veterans hit the open market. Among the expiring contracts are Dennis Wideman’s $5.25-million deal, Deryk Engelland’s $2.917-million contract and the $4.2 million the Flames have locked up in Elliott and Johnson.
The upcoming expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights doesn’t make it a lock that Bishop hits the open market, and it doesn’t ensure Fleury will be on the trade block as a Penguin come July 1. That said, there is a way for Treliving to use the expansion draft in his favor, using it to approach Lightning GM Steve Yzerman or Penguins GM Jim Rutherford with a deal.
The benefit for the Flames is clear. Trading for Bishop or Fleury lands Calgary another shot at a starting goaltender, this time with Stanley Cup final experience. But there’s a positive for Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, too. Instead of losing a bonafide starting netminder for nothing, Calgary’s trade partner can recoup an asset. Even a draft pick for either Bishop or Fleury would be more than Yzerman or Rutherford could possibly hope for if Vegas plucks away either netminder.
The time is right for Treliving to do what he struggled to pull off last off-season, and that’s bring either Bishop or Fleury to Calgary. Goaltending has been an issue for two seasons straight, but both the money and assets will be there for the Flames to fix it this off-season.
Don Cherry took aim at good play-by-play man Paul Romanuk for not properly promoting Coach's Corner. But don't expect hockey's biggest bully to face any consequences.
I have to admit that I stopped watching Coach’s Corner years ago, not only because the star is a xenophobe and a bully, but also because Don Cherry stopped being relevant a long time ago, even before he ran the Mississauga IceDogs into the ground. I’ve always thought that perhaps if enough people stopped listening, Cherry would stop talking. Which would be nice.
So I was not watching this past weekend when Cherry went on a rant about a good person and a very good play-by-play man in Paul Romanuk. But thanks to the power of social media, I got to see it replayed several times. And it was pathetic.
Cherry was so rankled that Romanuk didn’t promote Coach’s Corner at the end of the first period of the Montreal-Buffalo game Romanuk was calling, that he unleashed a tirade against his Sportsnet colleague that he usually reserves for Russians and players who wear visors.
First, the backstory. With about six minutes left in the first period, Romanuk teased the first intermission, including a plug for Coach’s Corner. Then the period ended and, seemingly pressed for time, Romanuk told viewers to stay tuned for, “a busy first intermission.”
And that’s when Cherry, whose pettiness is only rivalled by Donald Trump, ripped into Romanuk.
“And this is your ‘busy’ first intermission,” Cherry said. “Where’s he from? What’s that guy? Who’s the name?”
And at that point, Cherry’s enabler, Ron MacLean, replied: “Paul Romanuk. This is funny. And for those of you watching the Montreal show, Paul said, ‘And a busy first period coming up.’ ”
Not yet content with embarrassing his colleague in front of the entire Hockey Night in Canada viewership, Cherry had to continue. “Thirty-four years and this guy comes over from Europe. Can’t make it there, so he comes on our show. All right, let’s go.”
Cherry then went on to call Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Martin Marincin, a Slovakian, “the Russian, whatever his name is,” and refer to Calgary Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk as ‘Taychuk’. He also highlighted a goal by Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon, then blurted out, “They need all the help they can get.” Presumably, he was talking about the Wild, who had two regulation losses in their previous 21 games. Then after his only cogent segment, one in which he said younger players should use smaller pucks, he dug the knife into Romanuk again. “Do you think Paul would like that? They don’t do that in Europe, eh? They don’t use small pucks." And as MacLean was signing off, Cherry interrupted once again with, “Busy! Busy!”
And, as is often the case, Cherry was wrong. Romanuk, who was a successful and respected play-by-play man, voluntarily left his job as the Toronto Raptors radio play-by-play man and moved to London in 2005 when his wife, Kari, was offered an executive position with Coca-Cola Europe. In his nine years there, Romanuk stayed busy as a freelancer, working World Championships, Spengler Cups and the Champions Hockey League for Euro Sport. Then when Rogers landed the Canadian NHL rights for $5.2 billion in 2014, it approached Romanuk about coming back to be one of its play-by-play men.
Sportsnet and NHL properties president Scott Moore and vice-president Rob Corte offered no comment about this matter, but nobody would be surprised if there were absolutely no repercussions for Cherry. Let’s face it, if Cherry were to be dismissed for on-air indiscretions, it would have happened a long time ago. So there’s no sense in demanding that Cherry be taken off the air because that will never happen. At CBC in the past and at Rogers now, Cherry seems to occupy some sort of rarified air. Staffers have long been under orders never to either contradict anything Cherry says, regardless of how inane it might be, nor are they to even talk about anything Cherry is going to cover on Coach’s Corner. And staffers learned a long time ago that there is no sense locking horns with Cherry because that is a battle they will never, ever win.
Because just as he was as a player, Cherry is a bully. He uses his status to belittle others, even if they work alongside him. This is not the first time he has taken fellow HNIC employees to task in a public manner. And even though Cherry is never to be crossed, he seems to have carte blanche to publicly rip anyone he wishes. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
There was a time – many, many years ago – when Cherry was opinionated and informed and relevant. Those days are long gone. Somewhere along the line, Cherry became a parody of himself, dressing like a clown and, generally speaking, acting like one, too. A lot of people who work with him feel the same way, but they don’t have a voice. It’s a shame that Cherry’s voice is still the loudest one in the room. Because really all it’s been spewing out for years now is white noise.
Some teams we thought were going to be good are currently sitting outside the playoff picture. These are our picks for teams that will rebound in the second half.
With the all-star break this weekend, we're officially at the mid-way point of the season. Every NHL team has played between 44 and 50 games, and it's certainly time to start scoreboard and standings watching. Thanks to the NHL's artificial parity there are a lot of teams right on the playoff bubble.
That means some teams we thought were going to be good are currently sitting outside the playoff picture. With that in mind, here are our picks for teams currently on the outside that will sneak in come April.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa simply has too much talent not to pick things up in the second half and sneak back in (its possession numbers put them in the top half of the league). Steven Stamkos has the league’s second-best points-per-game average, and he’ll be a huge boost when he returns from injury. They also have a nice trade chip in Ben Bishop that they can use to shore up the blueline (Kevin Shattenkirk, anyone?). This team very much reminds me of the Kings, one that knows there’s no need to blow it out in the regular season when playoff seeding is meaningless. Not only will the Lightning make the playoffs, they’ll make a strong push for the Cup. (Edward Fraser)
Los Angeles Kings
About this time five years ago, the Los Angeles Kings were mucking around the Western Conference, losing almost as many games as they were winning and flirting with both a playoff spot and disaster. And we all know how that turned out. After 46 games this season, the Kings are once again mucking around the west, winning a couple more games than they’ve lost, not able to score much and not looking like much of a contender. That will change. First of all, Jonathan Quick has to come back at some point and March seems to be the target date. So the Kings will win the trade deadline when a rested and motivated Quick gets back into the net. Second, the Kings are too good, too experienced and too pedigreed for this to continue. Look for the Kings to make a second-half surge, aided by a healthy Quick in the last quarter, and squeak into the playoffs. Just like they did five years ago. (Ken Campbell)
The Dallas Stars will have to pass four teams if they expect to make the post-season, but they have two of the best offensive horses in the league in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to lead the charge. I expect the Stars to do something about their goaltending before the trade deadline and when they do squeak in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them favored if they matched up against Minnesota in the first round. (Brian Costello)
One could have been predicted the Lighting would take a step back this season, but not even the most bold prognosticator would have picked the Bolts to be last in the Eastern Conference with the all-star break in the offing. The injury to Steven Stamkos has hurt in a big way, but Tampa Bay still has an incredibly talented roster that is simply underperforming right now. That hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency from either of their goaltenders. The good news is that with 34 games remaining, the Lightning are only five points out of the final Atlantic Division playoff berth and five points back of the final wild-card spot. That is far from insurmountable for a team that boasts Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman. Stringing together a couple wins could have Tampa Bay right back in the mix. (Jared Clinton)
The Kings are hovering around a playoff spot right now and have been doing it without star goalie Jonathan Quick. Once he returns (a timeline would be nice, but what can you do?), Los Angeles gets a huge boost. Even though Peter Budaj has pretty good stats, I think the Kings will just play bigger with Quick back, because he can be that security blanket. Also, Anze Kopitar has four goals right now and there’s no way his pace stays that low. The big man is shooting at five percent right now, down from 14 percent the year prior. If he even moderately gets on track, the Kings will be back in the post-season, no problem. (Ryan Kennedy)
In applications to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, the CHL describes itself as "professional." That might prove crucial in deciding if a class-action lawsuit can proceed.
When the Canadian Hockey League tries to convince the courts that its players are amateur athletes and not paid professionals, and therefore don’t deserve minimum wage, it may want to consult its own application for trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
First, the news. None of this will be decided for another couple of weeks, Feb. 7 to be exact. That’s the day a Calgary judge will make a couple of crucial decisions. The first one will be whether the CHL will be granted a sealing order over all financial records, some of which the CHL made public media last week. The hearing for that was supposed to be held Tuesday, but has been pushed to Feb. 7, the same day the judge will decided if the plaintiffs have grounds to proceed with a class-action lawsuit.
Now, the context. The crucial question here is whether junior hockey players are amateurs or pros. Part of that answer might be contained in the CHL’s trademark application to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, a document that is being used as part of another lawsuit in which the CHL is involved involving a trademark issue. The trademark was last renewed in 2014.
Here’s a list of all the goods to which the CHL applied to be able to trademark: Coffee mugs, shot glasses, drinking glasses, flat glass, water bottles, bubble gum, bubble gum cards, trading cards, hockey cards, buttons, caps, hats, gloves, hockey pucks, sponge pucks, picture pucks, jackets, mitts, pennants, scarves, shirts, jerseys, sleep wear, stickers, bumper stickers, toques, vests, running shoes, jean shirts, t-shirts, neon t-shirts, shirts, muscle shirts, crew neck shirts, cut off sleeve shirts, sweat pants, sweat shorts, bunny jackets, v-neck sweaters, shorts, hockey t-shirts, sweaters, pants, jackets, tank tops, badges, sew-on crests, stick-on crests, hockey sticks, goalie sticks, hockey uniforms, hockey jerseys, hockey pants, hockey gloves, socks, dolls, toy figures, cardboard collector board, board games, opera glasses (binoculars), sunglasses, paper weight holders, cartoon comic books, magazines, greeting cards, autograph sets, lithographs, posters, sports bags, wallets, rod hockey games, towels, adhesive bandages, first aid kits, bulletin boards, calculators, clocks, lamp shades, calendars, embroidered picture frames, magnets, neck warmers, oil dip stick cleaners, playing cards, stained glass window ornaments, sun visor radios, sweat bands, vinyl stickers, wood plaques, wristbands, infants’ and children’s short sets, leisure suits, shots, sweat shirts, turtlenecks, belts, buckles, coasters, ear muffs, flags, inexpensive jewelry, namely lapel pins, stick pins, pendants, charms, earrings, rings, tie racks, cuff links, leather bracelets, key fobs/key chains, foam fingers, noise makers, place mats, towels, watches, phone cards, hip pouches, knapsacks, license plate frames, miniature bells, money clips, spoons, pens, pencils, bottle cap openers, soap (namely deodorant soap, skin soap, toilet soap and liquid soaps for hand, face and body), game of hockey played with cards, radio earphones, videos, video games, arcade and pinball machines, snack foods (namely ice cream, hot dogs, soft drinks, hamburgers, candy and popcorn).
Wow, that’s thorough. Because you never know when every man in the world is going to lose his mind and begin using leisure suits as a fashion statement. As thorough as it was, though, under the Services portion of the application, the CHL is responsible for, “(1) Operation of a hockey league and entertainment services through participation in professional and amateur ice hockey contests, and promotion and benefit thereof…”
Hmmm. Professional and amateur ice hockey contests? Not exactly sure what that means, but you’d have to think the word professional gives you an idea of what the CHL thinks of its players. I mean, the word is right there, isn’t it? Professionals are not amateurs.
Another area that would go a long way to making a distinction would be whether or not the players receive earning statements such as T4 slips. Well, there’s where the picture gets murky. It seems players did receive them in the past, but in the past few years the standard player contract has been altered to reflect that players are being “reimbursed” or paid an “allowance” to offset their expenses of playing junior hockey. But according to one agent who is also a lawyer, the semantics might not matter.
“This isn’t the first time the issue has been raised,” said Anton Thun, who has represented OHL players for about 25 years. “The definition is something that is relevant, but I would say it would go by however it would be defined by the Employee Standards Act. And part of the problem is, the employment laws might be different if you play for the Erie Otters or the Flint Firebirds than they would be if you play in Ontario.”
The good thing is, there’s only two more weeks of sleeps before we might start getting some answers to these questions.