Buffalo-flavored series, Roy's offer, Coyotes fallout, more
Former Sabres coaches and players are impacting both conference finals
Patrick Roy's big concern should be getting enough time to turn the Avs around
The Coyotes case could affect how pro leagues determine where their teams are
A surprising number of Buffalo folk and ex-Sabres are making good and bad in these playoffs.
Miro Satan, who scored the opening goal for the Penguins in Game 1 of their series with Carolina, is a player the Sabres couldn't wait to see leave even though he was their leading goal-scorer for several seasons. Penguins defenseman Phillippe Boucher, who netted the game-winner, is a former No.1 pick by Buffalo (1991) traded away in 1994. Defenseman Brooks Orpik grew up and played youth hockey in Buffalo before being drafted by the Penguins (first round, 2000).
Its a little thinner on the Carolina side, but Cam Ward's goaltending coach is Tom Barrasso, who won the Vezina and Calder trophies while toiling in the Sabres' nets as an 18-year old. Barrasso was later traded to Pittsburgh, where he won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins and Scott Bowman.
Conversely, that was former Sabre Brian Campbell who gave the puck away to Detroit for the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Red Wings-Blackhawks series -- the same Campbell who had a big hand in ousting Vancouver in the prior round. Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, their first-overall pick (2007), is a native of South Buffalo. Chicago's brain trust includes former Sabres coach and GM Bowman (now a Hawks consultant), his son Stan (assistant GM, hockey operations) who grew up in Western New York when his father coached in Buffalo, and former Sabres head coach Rick Dudley (assistant GM).
Hockey is indeed a small world.
Chicago hope is slim
There's an ages-old adage that you're not in trouble in a playoff series until you lose a home game. The Blackhawks, down two-games-to-none in their Western Conference Final with the defending Stanley Cup champions, play their first game at home in this series on Friday night in Chicago's United Center. One could argue with the finality of doom itself that this is a big game for them.
Now, it's not like the Blackhawks haven't been in this situation. They opened with a pair of wins over Calgary, lost the next two in the Flames' barn, and came back to win the series. They rallied throughout their series with Vancouver. So they lost the first two at the Joe in Detroit. If they win two at home, they're back to even, right?
Mathematically, yes, but there's a big difference between being up two before dropping a pair on the road and coming home down two to defending champs who have pretty much had your franchise's number since before most of your current players were born. This is where Chicago's fans throw in hopeful statements like, "Yeah, but the Hawks have an all-time record of 125-86 in home playoff games and are 5-1 there this season and (fill in the numbers and blanks you think work).
My answer: It's the here-and-now that matters, and the Hawks looked weak, careless and overmatched in Detroit. For the record, these Red Wings aren't the Flames or even the self-destruct Canucks. These Wings know how to beat you any way you want to play, and they take advantage of your mistakes. They did it in Detroit and will do it in Chicago no matter how loud the crowd, how well the anthems are sung, or whether the games are on home TV (an old Bill Wirtz joke, you kind of had to live there).
If the Hawks want to win Game 3, they must play not just better, but smarter. Not giving the puck away at Detroit's blueline would be a good place to start. Campbell's costly gaffe in overtime of Game 2 is an obvious example, but there have been others. Too many times when the Hawks have the puck, they make a poor decision and the Wings are off on an odd-man rush. The Wings tend to convert odd-man rushes into odd game-winning goals.
Getting a pretty good power play back on track would also help.
The odd thing about this series is that the Ducks showed that the Wings have enough flaws, especially on the back end, to occasionally get beat. If the Hawks are serious about beating them, they'll have to stop beating themselves, get the puck into Detroit's zone and keep it there. It's not impossible, it's just that the Wings and Hawks are making it look that way.
Look for the Bruins to say goodbye to backup goaltender Manny Fernandez. They have prospect Tuukka Rask slotted for the position next season, so it makes no sense to keep Fernandez, an unrestricted free agent come July 1, behind Tim Thomas when Thomas has a contract extension and raise coming his way. Fernandez has had back problems of late and made some noises about retirement, but he'll likely test the free agent waters just to see what's out there.
Roy's red flags
Patrick Roy continues to deny that he's been offered Colorado's not-vacant head coaching job, but his denial only leads to more questions. In a release through his junior hockey team, Roy says there has been no "formal" offer. That allows him an out because having conversations and even accepting a verbal offer is not the same. A formal offer is usually in writing. The other key is the still-deafening silence of Avs management, which refuses to address the issue even though Roy has left it beyond a reasonable doubt that the two sides have talked.
So why isn't a deal done? Well, for one thing, the NHL has rules about teams making news that might take away from the main focus at this time of the year: the playoffs. The Avs don't need to go afoul of the rules, especially when current head coach Tony Granato has two years remaining on his contract. There's no rush to hire Roy and it certainly makes sense not to fire Granato beforehand, so it all stays in limbo, likely until after the Stanley Cup Final.
It's important to note here that the initial Denver Post report said that Roy was only offered the job. No one has reported that he ever said yes. He may do so at some point, but it's not something one does without first talking it over with family, business associates and/or friends. Roy appears to be doing exactly that.
Another likely sticking point is that the Avs have problems that won't be fixed simply by hiring a new coach. Roy knows that and should wisely weigh the pros and cons of taking on his first NHL coaching assignment in a place where he'll be expected to work the same kind of miracles he executed as the all-world goaltender who brought the franchise its only two Stanley Cups.
Even the greatest players know that success with a franchise as far down as the Avs is not always possible, at least not right away. The question for Roy will be whether he wants the challenge and will get enough time to succeed at it.
Burned in Phoenix
It's still too early to determine who has the upper hand in the battle for control of the Coyotes, but if we've learned anything from the early going in bankruptcy court it's that the NHL and especially Commissioner Gary Bettman are taking a beating the likes of which haven't been seen since Marty McSorley clubbed Donald Brashear.
You could argue that few people except hockey fans (and there are precious few in Phoenix) should even care. The commissioner seems to have brought this throwdown with BlackBerry-maker Jim Balsillie on himself simply by refusing to better manage Balsillie's numerous bids to circumvent the NHL's bylaws, buy a team, and move it into another's claimed territory (in this case, the Toronto Maple Leafs, holders of perhaps the most lucrative franchise market in all of sports).
But what has lifted this matter to national and even international interest is that Bettman is now battling an issue that impacts Major League Baseball, the NBA and even the mighty NFL. All three have filed as friends of the NHL in the case, the idea being that if Balsillie is granted control of the Coyotes AND the right to move them to Southern Ontario (a condition of his bid), then the lid is off something all sports commissioners hold sacred: the right to have franchises in places of their league's choosing.
Balsillie's argument -- and it's compelling according to those experienced in bankruptcy law -- is that the judge is obligated to take the best bid (Balsillie's is head of the class) even if it comes with relocation conditions, and to make a ruling that does what's best for creditors. That concept has sent shock waves through the other pro sports. But no matter how it's resolved, Bettman is going to take a hit. There's an argument that no forward-thinking commissioner would ever have allowed this issue to get into court and Bettman was either foolish or completely outmaneuvered in allowing that to happen.
It wasn't three years ago that Balsillie was the darling NHL suitor, a billionaire with a love of hockey who was willing to buy seemingly any franchise as long as he could move it to or near his hometown. He was so favored by the NHL establishment that the owners voted unanimously to allow him to purchase the Penguins when that team seemed headed for financial failure.
True, Balsillie wanted to move the Pens, and Bettman thwarted him with a post-sale addendum that would have locked Balsillie into Pittsburgh even if a new arena went unfinanced. But that after-the-sale move and Balsillie's subsequent failed bid to buy the Nashville Predators have set these current events in motion. They've made enemies of men who should be friends. Balsillie has now managed to get Bettman and the NHL -- and, by extension, the other major pro leagues -- into court to defend territorial rights that they may not legally have.
What the judge decides could impact owners in all sports. Bettman may win, but it will be a costly victory in terms of dollars and the already-great public relations damage that Balsillie has inflicted regarding discrepancies between what Bettman has said about the fiscal health of the Coyotes and what's been provided to the court. Commissioners routinely paint a rosy picture of even troubled franchises, and though they are not always truthful, rarely are they proven to be liars in open court.
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