Insights & Insults
SI.com writers trade takes and shots on hot hockey topics
This week: a final snooze, free agent intrigue, looming lockout and a dicey draft
Too many U.S.-based owners don't care enough about their teams or the game
The lack of surefire star prospects in this year's draft will have an effect on trades
Yet again, our swarthy men of virtue drop the gloves and face off on top stories from around the NHL.
MUIR: I don't know about you, AD, but I'm struggling with this end-of-the-season thing. I'm talking serious withdrawals. What do I do with my nights now? And who are these little people calling me "dad"? The playoffs are cruel like that. You get into the rhythm of tense, meaningful hockey every night, then every other night and then bang. Cold turkey. I know for you this means a chance to finally spend some quality time with your Betamax copy of the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, but it's a rough go over here.
DATER: Paul Lynde - my god, how I used to laugh at his jokes in the center square on Hollywood Squares. Readers under 70 have no idea who he is, but let's move on: I hear you. This is called our end-of-the-season depression, where people like us who have no lives outside of hockey are suddenly forced to re-enter reality. And it sucks, yes indeed. On the other hand, I really did not enjoy the Stanley Cup Final watching as a fan. So maybe that's one form of misery that, since it's over, we can rejoice about.
Be honest Allan, you were bored to tears watching that series. It was a ratings dud, too. Seriously, why was it such a terrible series buzz-wise? It had some great players, a Hall of Fame goalie, two big markets, etc. What happened?
MUIR: Bored? A group discussion of Zac Efron's most tender scenes in The Lucky One might have been more compelling. And I really had high hopes for it --the Cup final, not The Lucky One.
I saw two teams that played an aggressive, up-tempo style through three rounds and thought that's what we'd get in the fourth. Instead? One team had cashed in its hatred chips in the semis against the Rangers and the had played hard, but without really getting riled up against anyone. That's why last year's match was so great -- Boston and Vancouver truly HATED each other. I'm surprised we didn't see Jack Edwards and John Shorthouse brawling in the press box. Those guys wouldn't settle for winning. They wanted to hurt each other. Hockey is at its best when the testosterone is flowing and there's deep-seeded animosity in the air. The Kings and Devils? They may as well have been wearing flowers in their hair. Respect is nice on paper, but it doesn't exactly make for the best brand of hockey.
DATER: Where was the hockey hate? It was like a UN summit, this final. It was just way, way too respectful out there. And that helped make it a total turkey, media-wise.
MUIR: I wasn't surprised by the lousy ratings. The Kings have some great fans, but it's not like there's been a SoCal diaspora that gives them a national footprint like the Red Wings and Blackhawks. If you're a Kings fan, you're local. The Devils? Lousy support, both locally and nationally. They've been hockey's equivalent of ratings DDT since the Jacques Lemaire days and it's going to take more than a season of Pete DeBoer to change that perception. You pretty much had to be a die-hard to stay tuned after Game 1...and given that, the ratings were probably better than I expected.
DATER: Yeah, the ratings for Game 6 weren't that bad. But still, they were pretty embarrassingly low again overall. I've been a tireless defender of the NHL on TV over the years. I could have been a paid spokesman for the league, with some of the stuff I wrote. But I kind of had a personal backlash against it all in this final. I think it was lacking all around. I'll leave it at that, because I don't like to criticize TV media anymore. It's kind of a cheap tactic. But it was just a huge dud to me, the whole presentation of the final.
The Devils have a great GM in Lou Lamoriello and have had some great players, but they again disappointed everyone in the league with dud crowds that were clearly outdone in passion by Kings fans. I wonder if New Jersey just isn't a good fit anymore for this league. They were 24th this season in attendance with an HOF goalie, great hockey management and some really high-paid stars. If they can't draw with this group, when will it ever happen?
MUIR: A friend in New York told me she got an email from Ticketmaster the day of Game 5 offering seats. I mean, how is that possible? This team gives you a chance to watch the greatest goalie of all-time (start your engines, AD), an edge-of-your-seat thriller in Kovalchuk, the All-American boy Zach Parise, and a really likable supporting cast...and the fans treat it like they're getting Joey Lawrence in the touring version of Death of a Salesman. The lack of support was embarrassing for the league and the franchise.
So, what does it mean for the future? You know Bettman will do contortions worthy of Cirque du Soleil to keep a team in place, but it might not matter. If Jeff Vanderbeek can't come up with a financial angel to buy out his partner and start paying down that debt (paging Kevin Smith!), I wouldn't bet on the Devils long term.
DATER: I'm with you here, except the greatest goalie part. Patrick Roy is the best. And no, I'm not biased here. Because Patrick Roy and I did not get along A LOT, with me being his former beat writer for nearly nine years. I know he once criticized your shirt Allan -- and rightly so, I might add, mustard brown and lavender just aren't a match -- but Patrick got in my face a few times, too, and vice versa at least once. But he's still the best. He didn't invent the butterfly, but he perfected it. He's the only player in NHL history with a Conn Smythe in three different decades. And, oh yeah, he's 1-0 against Brodeur in head-to-head Cup finals matchups (2001, when Roy was 35 and Brodeur 29). But yeah, New Jersey is a bad hockey market.
MUIR: And that apathy's about to cost 'em the face of their franchise. I don't see any way the Devils hold on to Parise with bankruptcy looming and the ownership situation unresolved. They *might* be able to retain Marty because he has no interest in going anywhere else at this point in his career, but Zach? In the words of the great Gordon Gano, he's gone, daddy, gone.
DATER: I would agree in a nanosecond, if not for one guy: Lamoriello. He's got a way of getting guys to come back to him, to want to do good things for him. He's got that Horse Whisperer quality to him.
My hunch says Parise is gone, daddy, gone, but Lou might be able to work some more magic. I'll say this for Parise: I loved the quote he gave the local media in Joisey saying "No" with an admirable tinge of contempt while responding to the question of whether he'd ever sign with the Rangers.
MUIR: To quote the great Kevin Bacon in Diner, that was a smile, wasn't it? That's exactly what we need more of. That I'd-rather-wear-a-dress-than-your-stinking-jersey hatred. I mean, as a fan of the Red Sox, I was disgusted to see guys like Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon sign with the Yankees. It felt like a betrayal of every ounce of passion that Sox fans had poured into them and the team. Parise gets that investment. I don't care who you root for: you gotta respect the guy for that.
So where do you think he goes? Minnesota? Detroit? And what about Ryan Suter? Looks like he's ruled out playing for any Eastern teams. Time to ask Drew Miller if he'd mind giving up that No. 20 Red Wings sweater yet?
DATER: Oh, you better believe it. Detroit is going to throw a LOT of money at Suter and Parise if they are on the open market. I think I said it here before -- the Wings have been targeting those two guys for a while now. Ken Holland is probably in a moderate stage of panic these days. He just lost Nick Lidstrom, his team hasn't been able to make it past the second round the last three years WITH Lidstrom, and he's facing -- for the first time -- a post-Lidstrom-a-lyptic world.
So I'll say Detroit is the favorite to get at least one of those two guys, if not both. The Wings currently have $26.2 million of cap space. (Huge asterisk here being that the current cap number of $70.3 million could be meaningless when the next CBA talks finish.) Colorado, by the way, has the most cap space -- nearly $40 million. They still have to sign guys like Duchene, O'Reilly, Johnson, etc. but don't rule out the Avs trying to disrupt the conventional wisdom July 1.
MUIR: Adrian, you keep talking like that and Nurse Ratched is gonna have to up your meds. The Avs are YEARS and several pieces away from being a contender. Why would any player with control of his destiny pick Colorado now -- unless he's a recent Cup-winning goalie looking for some place with fresh air and lots of land to build a nice post-economic meltdown shelter for the wife and kids?
What I'm wondering is, if a team like the Wings or the Wild...or for the sake of argument, the Avs... would be willing to deal for negotiating rights to one of these stars? Risky move giving up assets on spec, especially when you have a chance to sign them for nothing but cap space in a few days, but dishing a couple of picks or minor prospects is a strategy that's paid off in the past. The Flyers bought first crack at Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from the Preds. Worked out pretty well for both sides.
DATER: I don't think it's ever a bad thing to try and get a couple weeks of exclusive talking rights to a big potential free agent. Provided, of course, you don't give up anything worse than a fourth-round pick or so.
But almost always, these guys have everything mapped out when they do those kinds of things. Not always, but usually. I'm a guy who still believes in Bigfoot, so I absolutely, definitely believe that talks occur between teams and free agents before July 1. They just cover their tracks well. How can you monitor talks between free agents and teams if they really want some kind of secret agreement? Some day, a scandal will come out on this.
MUIR: I doubt it. Sergei Gonchar signed about five minutes after he became an FA and everyone just laughed about what had obviously gone on. It happens every year and it ain't gonna change. The PA won't touch it because they don't want to do anything to impact the ability of their members to cash the biggest possible checks and the league won't touch it because the teams don't want anything getting in the way of them signing the guys they prize. It's dirty, but it's not going away.
DATER: Nope, it's not. There are many other Gonchar stories out there. I love it when a player gets traded for a bunch of draft picks (Doug Weight, St. Louis-to-Carolina; Keith Tkachuk, St. Louis-to-Atlanta -- see a pattern here?) and then come back to the team a few months later. Are you telling me there isn't some kind of "Hey listen, Dougie, here's what we'll do: we know we are out of the playoff hunt now, so we'll deal you off to a team, get a bunch of top picks, you get a try to win a Cup, and then we'll see you right back here in a few months with all we got for you. It's a win-win scenario.
MUIR: If you're not cheatin', you're not tryin', am I right? There'll always be grey areas and that's not changing.
OK, so, it's not just free agency on the horizon. We also have CBA talks looming. We're both on the record as believing that a delayed start to the season is inevitable, but I'm still trying to figure out what principles are at stake that would justify shutting things down. It's not like the cap is on the table, or that the PA is going to war to get the players into the Olympics. This is all about re-slicing the pie and figuring out exactly how much more the players have to give up...but is that really enough for the league to go nuclear again?
DATER: It's money, but I also think it's this: owners of NHL teams in the States simply don't care about their teams enough. I mean, Ed Snyder does and all, but so many NHL teams are owned by conglomerate types, or hedge fund types (see: Devils) that I'm afraid there will just be too much of a "Who cares, it's just the NHL, let's take the first three months off and start up again after Christmas" thing. The game just doesn't mean as much to these guys in the States, and that's what I fear will be the innate problem as we get to Sept. 15 and beyond.
We know the owners are going to say "Hey, the NBA players took a 50-50 revenue deal, you'll have to do it too." And the players under Don Fehr will rightfully say "But we took a huge haircut last time and your revenues went up after that anyway." And the owners will say "So?" And it will result in a standoff.
I'm of the belief, like a lot of others I've talked to in the game -- and you probably have too -- that we'll get the season back up again by the start of the Winter Classic, where the networks start to make their money on this game in the States, and that will be that.
The only thing I hold out hope for is: maybe the players will just say: "Hey, we can take a reduction from 57 to 50 percent, and we'll still have a cap near $70 million and our overall average salary will still be way up from a few years ago." I think Donald Fehr is smart enough to know that players simply don't win anymore in a labor standoff. The rank and file player really doesn't want to miss a bunch of paychecks again. But the big star isn't going to care that much. This, I fear, will again be part of the problem like it was in the last lockout.
MUIR: I guess that's what I can't quite wrap my arms around. I keep hearing that Fehr has ensured that the players are better informed, more unified, but I don't get the sense of a militant strain like back in 2004-05. I think the players understand they can't outlast owners and the last lockout is still fresh in the minds of a large percentage of them. I need to sit down and figure out exactly how many holdovers we still have. So how far are they willing to go, and what is their endgame? If they give up on the 57 percent -- which they will -- and go down to, say, 52 percent -- which might be optimistic -- are they angling for a real partnership, unlike the one that was falsely paraded around after the last agreement, in return? I'm thinking that's the best they can hope for: a seat at the table for ALL the big discussions -- rule changes, marketing deals and, yep, franchise relocations and eventual expansion that will impact hockey-related revenue.
DATER: But that's part of the problem the players always have, especially in this league: they just aren't involved in that "future of the game partnership with the league" thing at all. And Gary Bettman is smart enough to know and exploit it. Players in pro sports never have and never will care about anything but their own current situation. They don't care about the difference between 57 and 52 percent. They just want to know they have a job for the next year and that's it. And really, that's all they should care about. I don't blame the player who doesn't have the "Ballad of Joe Hill" memorized. I mean, he SHOULD if he's a good union member. But, come on, these are hockey players just trying to make as much money as they can before their early-to-mid-30s when some GM calls them into a room and telsl them they're no longer needed.
I think this will be a lockout of will by the owners again. They probably lose money on early-season games in an 82-game schedule. The irony is: people think owners hate losing "gates" on a game at any time, but not when they don't have to pay the players and especially not in those early-season games that don't mean much to them gate-wise.
MUIR: You're right on there. In towns like Dallas, it's always, "Wait until football season is over and then we'll start selling seats." It probably is a revenue-positive proposition for them to shut 'er down until the winter. And there are probably more markets willing to work the math that way than not. I'm shaking my head as I say this, but that's the way it is.
Enough of this CBA talk. Lots of time to gripe about it later. NHL Awards next week. I'm missing out for the first time in years, but you'll be throwing on a cheap suit and soaking up that Vegas hospitality. I'm jealous, brother. What's the best part of that event for you?
DATER: I want everybody here to read what a man of simple means I am. Yes, Allan, I will be in Vegas next week for the Awards show. Ray Liotta and I, in fact, are going to sample a little of the linguine and clam sauce at the best table inside Caesars for the Celine Dion show one night. I mean, she's still there, right? If not, we could always go over and see Pete Rose, sitting by himself at Caesar's Palace and signing autographs. Or, maybe we could go to the Pawn Stars shop off the strip. I mean, I've been meaning to get something for my K-Tel "Music Power" 1974 LP we talked about last week, the one with "Spiders and Snakes" and "Smokin' in the Boys Room." I won't walk out of there without at least....20 cents for that thing.
I will be ensconced at the fabulous Hooter's Hotel and Casino for my two nights there. Room rate: $25 a night ANNNND....a coupon for two sets of a dozen hot wings at the bar. Envy doesn't become you, Allan, but I know it is unavoidable. The awards will go like this: Malkin for Hart, Lundqvist for Vezina, Landeskog for Calder and Weber for Norris.
MUIR: Might want to hire a bodyguard, AD. A guy living that large might draw the wrong kind of attention. Might also consider changing some of those plans. I personally recommend the Double Down Saloon as an entertaining alternative to Ms. Dion. Best jukebox in town. I probably can't reference the house special by name without running afoul of SI.com editors (damn straight, Muir -- Editor), but it's damn tasty and comes with a Twinkie. I'd also suggest holding onto that vinyl. Some quality tunes from our pre-adolescent days and besides, the good folks at K-Tel were kind enough to follow the both of us on Twitter. That's a bridge to respectability you don't want to burn. But enjoy your free wings, and celebrate the rare instance where I'm in complete agreement with you. Your slate of winners is the same as mine, but I'll add Paul MacLean for the Jack Adams (though I loved what Hitch did in St. Loo) and Dale Tallon for GM of the Year. Give him another year or two and you won't be able to purchase a rubber rat for love or money in south Florida.
DATER: Hockey awards in Las Vegas at the end of a season is just so wrong, it's right. No matter what, though, I will lose a hundred bucks. I con myself into thinking I could get lucky on the video poker machines, like always, and like always my money will be buried inside so much faux gold one-armed bandit exterior that it would take the Navy Seal 6 team to get it back out.
After the awards and we all get back on the plane with sizable hangovers, it's draft week. As your are the self-proclaimed "geek" here, perhaps I should ask if there are any Crosbys or Malkins in this coming class.
MUIR: Not this year. Kinda reminds me of 1997. There will be some players, sure, but there will be more than a few big misses in the first round. It's just not a particularly strong crop. Edmonton will get a good one with the first pick. Nail Yakupov, the kid who broke some of Steve Stamkos' scoring records in Sarnia, is the only one I'd bet the mortgage on. The Oil might need another offensive weapon the way Donald Trump needs another building named after him, but Yakupov clearly the best player available. After that, it's a total crapshoot. I've talked to several scouts and they all give you varying pictures of what happens two through 10, and then it's total chaos after that. There's always a divergence of opinions, but this year is something else. I'm working on my draft preview for SI.com right now and every time I look at it, I change five guys.
Ah, but next year we've got some studs in the pipeline. Nathan MacKinnon ... Seth Jones ... Alexander Barkov ... Hunter Shinkaruk. Might not be another Crosby in there, but there are a bunch of stars.
DATER: That's probably why I don't expect many teams to make big deals to move up, not in this draft. I've always loved covering the draft, to see the looks on the faces of the proud mamas and papas when their kids get called. Then again, the long, awkward days and some of those kids faces when they're not getting drafted at all, the crushed-soul disappointment of their family members, that's tough to see, too.
MUIR: See, I think there will be a lot of deals because teams will have their hearts set on one or two kids and they won't want to miss out, so we'll see some jockeying. And with some veteran names like Luongo and Nash in play, you know there could be picks involved in any trade.
And yeah, it can be really tough watching those kids sweating it out. I grew up with Cam Fowler's dad back in Windsor, and seeing that family shrink in their seats with each passing pick was brutal...and that's a kid who only had to wait for the 12th name to be called. Then you see those kids who walk away undrafted after the second day...as father to a couple of young players, I can say that's a real heartbreaker.
Well, more on the draft next week. I'm going to get back to work on that preview. Enjoy the Kiss cameo in that Paul Lynde special, AD!
DATER: Allan, your YouTube channel, "The Greatest performances of Wham! with Andrew Ridgley is calling you for the usual proper Muir nightly send-off of "Wake me Up, Before You Go Go." I know you are adamant in your belief that Ridgley played a much bigger role than his underappreciated bio suggests. So I will leave you to wage that sisyphusian battle for more recognition for Mr. Ridgley and bid you adieu.