Oilers roil (continued)
Posted: Monday December 17, 2007 5:40PM; Updated: Tuesday December 18, 2007 12:32AM
The Oilers have become like an NBA team; you have to watch only the last five minutes.
Edmonton (16-16-2) is 10-1 in shootout games. When the shootout, which had been floating around North American hockey since the mid-1980s, was folded into the NHL game after the lockout, it was a sop to fans, a crowd-pleaser that was going to do little more that tie a bow around the previous two-and-a-half hours. With the Oilers' dominance, however, the shootout has managed to skew the Western Conference standings.
For league executives who view the shootout as a gimmick -- and until the NHL introduces it at some point to decide playoff games (after two overtime periods? Three? Five?), the shootout will continue to be that -- the Oilers success is an anathema. But for the team that offers the wizardry of Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky on seemingly a nightly basis -- Edmonton went three-for-three in shootouts in one week -- the Oilers should be complaining about all the loser points being tossed around.
Yes, hockey is an inclusive sport: so many playoff teams, so many postseason awards, and, alas, so many columns in the standings. If the NHL standings were any harder to read, they would be an SAT question. Right now, the NHL lists wins, losses, overtime losses, shootout losses, and points. Instead of devaluing overtime and the shootout with the plethora of three-point games, the NHL should ratchet up the pressure by doing away with the consolation point. A team wins or it loses. The third column in the standings should be "games behind."
This kind of clarity hasn't hurt baseball or the NBA, has it?
The Gazprom concept for a new European league centered in Russia is not going to send the NHL running for cover or an atlas. Why? Well, the company that owns the St. Petersburg team in Russia's Superleague might be rolling in petrodollars and willing to throw them at hockey players, but let's be clear about one thing: the ... league ... is ... in ... Russia.
Forget for a moment that the level of competition of this proposed new league, or any other European professional league for that matter, is inferior to the NHL. The fact is that everything else, except for the occasional salary, is also worse, including security for players and their lifestyle. Consider another petrodollar team, AK Bars Kazan, owned by Tatneft, the state oil giant. During the lockout, the team, which included Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier, traveled on a chartered Yak jet (honestly, you don't want to know) and didn't stay in western-style hotels on the road. The players also were also usually required to spend the day preceding home games in a kind of team dormitory.
You just can't put a price on bunks.
There will always be some takers, especially second-tier Russians who can make more money or be guaranteed more ice time, such as former Montreal Canadiens' forward Alexander Perezhogin. But as far as a mass leakage or even more than one or two important defections, the NHL is on safe ground.
But that doesn't mean the NHL is home free in its international hegemony, which it is belatedly trying to underscore by playing a few regular season games in Europe. (My decade-old campaign to play the All-Star Game overseas every few years never drew more than a bored nod from any league executive.) Russia still wants no part of the transfer agreement, Sweden has pulled out, and now the International Ice Hockey Federation members, as is their right, have asked to re-open the deal.
European concerns are basically two-fold:
With the shrinking value of the dollar, that $200,000 fee the NHL pays per player to the various federations doesn't go as far as it used to and, more important, European players are being dumped in the North American minor leagues at an alarming rate. According to IIHF figures, of the 59 Europeans signed last off-season, seven returned to Europe, six made it to the NHL, and 46 are in the minors. The IIHF argues by staying in Europe for a few more years -- under the new CBA, European players must be signed within two years or the team loses their rights -- these players would continue to develop while being gate attractions for their clubs.
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