Kovalchuk matter, more notes (cont.)
That five-year, near $20 million contract that the New York Rangers handed out to Marc Staal this week sure makes the player mighty happy, but it does create more work for GM Glen Sather. The deal put the Rangers some $4.1 million over the salary cap for the upcoming season. That's more than the Kovalchuk deal has pushed the neighboring Devils over the line.
Sather is likely to bury Wade Redden and his $6.5 million cap hit in the minors in order to accommodate Staal's deal, but this is exactly what has the rank and file in the NHLPA upset. Younger players demanding and getting long-term, high-pay deals are pushing veterans off the rosters of teams that have been caught up in throwing money at free agents. Most of the players understand how it works, but bet on them looking to tighten up these so-called "cap maintenance" issues when the next CBA is on the negotiating table.
Admittedly, Redden has struggled during his time with the Rangers, as has fellow defenseman Michael Rozsival, whose $5 million cap hit could also be ticketed to Hartford or the trade market. But Staal is just 23 and his career bests (set last season) are eight goals and 19 assists. Veteran players have to be wondering where the fairness is in his deal. Like Redden and Rozsival, Staal is a defenseman, but he was also due to become a restricted free agent at the end of next season and like so many teams in the NHL today, the Rangers wanted to lock up some of their youth before other teams came calling.
Former Edmonton Oilers head coach Pat Quinn has not gone quietly into the good night devised for him by GM Steve Tambellini. Quinn had a year left on his contract when Tambellini suddenly moved him into the role of "senior advisor" and replaced him behind the bench with co-coach Tom Renney, the former New York Rangers bench boss. Tambellini described that move as an agreed-upon process that had simply been moved up one year and that Quinn had been "promoted," but Quinn took if for the firing that it was and has said so.
"If that was indeed the plan all along ... it's probably not a good plan," Quinn said the day it was announced.
Now he's openly challenging Tambellini regarding what his "advisor role" might entail and that he doesn't expect it to be "carrying bags."
To his credit, Tambellini has handled this affront to his power carefully. He's on record as saying that he sees a role for Quinn within the organization and that he might play a big one in player development. He also said that Quinn will have a say in all of it, implying that it won't be anything that makes Quinn unhappy.
Quinn is a career coach and even at age 63 has shown no signs of slowing down or wanting to do so. It's still very much an unstable situation in Edmonton what with the once-proud franchise essentially starting over and from the bottom of a 30-team pile, but Quinn isn't likely to start some kind of internal power play.
In the end, he simply got out the message that he didn't feel his being demoted was necessary and that he wants to coach again somewhere at the NHL level. But if that doesn't happen and Renney stumbles out of the gate, well, he's still under contract to the Oilers and there just might be people in that organization who still support him.
That's no small rule change the Board of Governors approved when they opted to take shootout wins out of the tie-breaking formula for a playoff spot.
Under the new rule, the league will use a team's total number of regulation and overtime victories to break ties among teams that have the same number of points. Victorious teams will still get two points for winning the skills competition, but the change will put more emphasis on winning in regulation or OT, something that coaches will have to take note of regarding how they play the third period of a tight game or the initial overtime period.
The league's GMs became concerned with the number of games that have gone to shootouts in recent seasons, and it's obvious that coaches are managing their rosters with a defensive bent in order to get a tied game or overtime to the shootout where they feel they can better manager their chances for gaining the win and the two points. Only now, those wins won't count in a tie-breaker situation, which will change the dynamic, especially down the stretch in a drive for a playoff spot.
For a sense of that dynamic, consider that the 2008-09 Florida Panthers would have made it to the postseason had the new rule been in place back them. The Panthers and Montreal Canadiens finished tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference that season with 93 points (the first tiebreaker is points) and 41 wins. Montreal got the spot by having more wins vs. Florida in head-to-head competition. However, had the new rule been in place, the Panthers would have prevailed because seven of Montreal's wins came via the shootout while the Panthers notched only three.
It's a small tweak on paper, but a huge one for the way the game will now be played.
Maybe they finally got some kind of a filter on that crazy tap water in the Washington D.C. area. On the heels of some strange pronouncements from team owner Ted Leonsis accusing Toronto-based writer Damien Cox of unfairly criticizing him in order to sell more copies of his upcoming book about Ovechkin, and the amazingly over-the-top tweet of Washington Post columnist Mike Wise (for which he rightly received a 30-day suspension from his job for fabricating news on his Post Twitter account), comes word that Ovechkin is lowering his tone regarding the 2014 Winter Olympics in his native Russia.
Speaking to Toronto Globe and Mail hockey writer Erik Duhatschek this week in New York, Ovechkin said that the Olympics were still four years away and there is plenty of time to come to a negotiated solution. That's a far cry from his statement of a year ago (and at the same event -- hockey rolling out its young guns as a part of Fashion Week in New York City) when he said he would breech his NHL contract to play in the Sochi games.
Ovechkin this year didn't back away from that threat, but he did temper it by saying, "Let's wait and let's don't think about it right now. You never know what's going to happen. Right now, they say one thing. After four years, [maybe] they're going to say different thing. Let's just wait and see."
It was a solid gesture on his part and one that helped lower the glare on Leonsis, who is on record for backing his star player in his quest to leave the Caps in midseason to play in an Olympics that the NHL has not yet committed to.
And for those in the D.C area that think I might be rubbing the faces of Leonsis, Ovechkin and Wise in their own words, far from it.
Everyone has a right to an opinion. In the recent past, Leonsis and I have differed on several important issues, but we've also reached an understanding as to where the other one is coming from and we respect each other for it. It's the same with Ovechkin, who in that same interview acknowledged that perhaps his penchant for hitting, sometimes from behind or when his opponent is vulnerable, doesn't always help his team and that both he and the Capitals might be better served if he concentrated on just helping them win and perhaps reined in a few of the blind-side hits that became problematic for him last season.
Regarding Wise, well we had a spirited debate on his radio show last season after I took Ovechkin to task for his reckless ways, but the contested issues were more with his attack-puppy co-host (one I wasn't aware was even going to be involved in the debate) than with Wise himself.
I think Wise is one fine columnist, but he made a serious mistake for which he is paying a serious penalty. When he returns, he will be both a better writer and radio host for the experience.
Sportswriters, broadcasters, team owners, we're people, too -- people who understand that learning is a lifelong process and that learning, especially learning from one's mistakes, is nothing to be ashamed of.