Sports Outside the Beltway

NHL owners approve scheduling changes

All NHL teams will meet again once every season. From AP-

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The NHL’s board of governors approved the sale of the Nashville Predators and changed the league’s scheduling format Thursday night to allow every team to face each other at least once every season.

Paul Kelly, the new executive director of the NHL Players Association, also addressed the league’s owners during a late-afternoon session to open the board’s two-day meeting at an elite resort on the Northern California coast.

After a three-year experiment in developing rivalries in hockey’s far-flung outposts, the NHL voted to go back to the scheduling format used before the 2004-05 lockout, most notably decreasing the current eight games against every team’s divisional opponents to six.

Starting next season, teams will play just 24 total games against their four divisional foes, 40 against the rest of the conference and 18 against the other conference — one game against all 15 foes, and three home-and-home series against wild-card opponents.

First let me state, my interest in hockey was only rekindled in the last year. Otherwise I had watched little of the sport since the end of the NY Islanders Dynasty in the early to mid eighties.

The arrangement where teams didn’t all meet seemed dumb to me. Fans in the west miss out on seeing players like Sidney Crosby and fans in the east miss getting to see……. well see what problem I have. LOL, make that former Florida Panther and ace goaltender Roberto Luongo. Now I can learn about the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks etc. To be honest I’m sick of Atlanta. You would be too if you had to see the Thrashers and Panthers cross sticks eight times a year.


Atlanta Thrashers remove Coach Bob Hartley

The defending Southeast Division champs were off to a rocky start before today’s firing.

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Thrashers are the only NHL team without a victory, and coach Bob Hartley is on his way out. Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby confirmed Hartley was removed following an 0-6 start, the first NHL coaching change this season.

“It was a shock,” he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I don’t think anybody saw this coming. It’s only six games.”

“Sometimes changes need to be made,” he added. “At the same time, it tells all of us it’s a big wake-up call and we need to fix this.”

The team scheduled an afternoon news conference amid reports general manager Don Waddell will become interim coach.

The Thrashers have been outscored 27-9, and their winless start comes after they won the Southeast Division last season and made the playoffs for the first time. Atlanta then lost four straight games to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.

Hartley, who won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, is in his fifth season with Atlanta. It was clear after Tuesday night’s 4-0 loss to Philadelphia that he was aware of building pressure.

Generally I think 6 games out of a 82 game hockey season is too early to pass judgment on the coach. All NHL teams go through dry spells. My Panthers had a rough one last year. There may be other factors at work here that we don’t know of if its not impatience of Thrasher management.

Bottom line- Hartley will be back coaching in the NHL because of his impressive resume. Another team will Another team hoping Hartley can catch the same lightning he did while coaching the Avalanche.

My take on the Southeast Division is if Atlanta(who normally gives Florida fits) continues to struggle, the division becomes more wide open. As I see it, the race would come down to Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida. That makes the Panthers not a dark horse anymore, but a legit contender.


Detroit, New Jersey Win 1st Round Series; Dallas-Vancouver Game 7 Tonight

The New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings booked tickets to the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with their Game 6 wins in their respective series on Sunday. This leaves the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks as the only teams who have not finished their 1st round series, they play Game 7 tonight in Vancouver.

The Detroit Red Wings have won thier series against the Calgary Flames in six games by scores of 4-1, 3-1, 2-3, 2-3, 5-1, & 2-1.

The New Jersey Devils have won thier series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games by scores of 5-3, 2-3, 2-3, 4-3, 3-0, & 3-2.


Rangers Sweep Thrashers

Well, I’m 0 for 1 on my picks so far as the Rangers swept the Thrashers out of the Playoffs winning the four games with scores of 4-3, 2-1, 7-0, & 4-2. The Rangers just stuck it to the Thrashers as the veteran leadership figured to lead the Thrashers was hardly a factor in the series. Good job by the Rangers overall they turned their season around after looking like they would miss the playoffs two months ago. They got hot to make the playoffs and have carried that through, if they can keep this play up their second round opponent will have a tough series ahead.

Update on other First Round Series:
New Jersey Devils tied with Tampa Bay Lightning 2-2
Buffalo Sabres lead New York Islanders 3-1
Ottawa Senators lead Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1
San Jose Sharks lead Nashville Predators 3-1
Detroit Red Wings lead Calgary Flames 2-1
Vancouver Canucks lead Dallas Stars 3-1
Anaheim Ducks lead Minnesota Wild 3-1


NHL Playoff Time – 1st Round Edition

Its time for Stanley Cup Playoff and will bring some of the most intesnse hard fought games of any post-season in any sport, so here’s a quick look at the teams looking for Stanley Cup glory.

Eastern Conference
(1) Buffalo Sabres v. (8) New York Islanders
The Islanders put together a strong finish to be the last team to make the playoffs thanks to a shootout victory, while greatly improved with the acquisition of Ryan Smyth will suffer greatly without #1 goalie Rick DiPietro. The only risk to Buffalo would be losing goalie Ryan Miller, with the offensive talent the team has goaltending is the only portion of the team that could hurt them.
Prediction: The offensive assault will be too much for the Islanders, Buffalo in 5

(2) New Jersey Devils v. (7) Tampa Bay Lightning
This series comes down to Devils Goalie Martin Brodeur vs. Lightning Forwards Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. While Brodeur has the ability to carry a team on his back, but after playing 78 games this season he could breakdown at some point, the key for the Lightning will be making him work hard every game.
Prediction: Lecavalier and St. Louis come through, Lightning in 7

(3) Atlanta Thrashers v. (6) New York Rangers
A talented team, deep bench, playoff experienced players, and experienced coaching make the Thrashers a dangerous team these playoffs. Ranger’s Sean Avery can get under anyone’s skin as well as a playoff experienced goalie can help the Rangers down the stretch. The question for Atlanta is if their playoff rookie goalie can stand up to the pressure.
Prediction: Sean Avery does more harm than good, Thrashers in 6

(4) Ottawa Senators v. (5) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins come in with some of the best young players in the game and a young goalie. The Senators bring in a veteran skilled team with a history of playoff failures to over come.
Prediction: Old age and guile beat youth and good looks, Senators in 5

Western Conference
(1) Detroit Red Wings v. (8) Calgary Flames
The Flames have the best home record in the league, but finished 8th in the Conference cause they can’t win on the road, not a good sign when you don’t have home ice advantage. Despite having on of the top players in the league and solid defense they lack what ever it takes to win at the other guy’s place. The Red Wings again put together one of the best teams in the league (even though the Cap was supposed to bring them back to erath). The Red Wings playoff hopes rest on the shoulder of Dominik Hasek and Todd ‘Sucker-Punch’ Bertuzzi.
Prediction: The Dominator does it again with some offensive help from his friends, Red Wings in 7

(2) Anaheim Ducks v. (7) Minnesota Wild
While the Ducks were the early favorite this season some of the luster off their shine is gone (especially when you lose to the Kings 4 times). However the ducks are backed up by 2 solid goaltenders, 3 forward lines that can hurt you, and 2 of the best defensemen in the game. Minnesota can throw some great offensive talent and goaltending back at anyone, they just don’t have enough to match up every shift against the Ducks
Prediction: With great pain in my gut, Ducks in 6

(3) Vancouver Canucks v. (6) Dallas Stars
Solid lines and improved defense help the Stars, but playoff history hold a dark cloud over goaltender Marty Turco’s head. Vancover plays a disciplined game and can exploit errors; however they will lean heavily on the Sedin Twins for offense while Roberto Luongo will danc eon his head to keep them in games.
Prediction: I go with goaltending and that will be Roberto Luongo, Canucks in 6

(4) Nashville Predators v. (5) San Jose Sharks
The Predators will lean heavily on Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg (who is one of the best playoff performers in history) to guide the fortunes of the team, which includes staying healthy. The Sharks are one of the best power play teams in the league and one of the best at holding a lead when scoring first, to win Nashville will have to score early and stay out of the box. However, both team’s fortunes will rest on who finds the right goal tender to ride through the series.
Prediction: The power play will prove to be too much for Nashville, Sharks in 7

My advice…grab a chair and a beer sit back and enjoy what should be some exiting playoffs thanks to the ‘New NHL’.


Will the real Florida Panthers please stand up

The South Florida NHL team, winners of four in a row, is playing at Atlanta tonight.

The Panthers, who have won four straight and lost only once in their past 10 games, were a modest but confident bunch Monday as they wrapped up a 45-minute workout at the BankAtlantic Center and headed out on a two-game trip that concludes Thursday in Philadelphia.

The modesty is understandable. Despite closing the gap on a bunch of teams for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Florida remains at the bottom of that pack, 13th overall and six points behind eighth-place Carolina.

“We’re still not in the playoff picture,” Jokinen admitted. “Probably nobody even knows we’re six points out with two games in hand, because there’s so many teams between us. But sooner or later they’ll find out.”

Breaking through against Atlanta, which has won all five meetings against Florida this season, might persuade some doubters. The Panthers are 0-6-1 at Philips Arena over the past two seasons and have been outscored 20-6, including two shutouts.

However, since Dec. 2, the last time the teams met, Florida is 19-11-8, and Atlanta is 17-17-6.

Tonight is a big game as they try to make the playoffs. They were very impressive in a 6-2 thrashing of The Tampa Bay Lightning last Saturday night. There was other notable facts about that game.

SUNRISE — Wayne Gretzky, who at one point pursued Jacques Martin for the Phoenix coaching job that he ultimately filled himself, led off the video tribute marking Martin’s 1,000th NHL coaching appearance Saturday night.

Panthers owner Alan Cohen has said that both Phoenix and the New York Rangers were pursuing Martin before Cohen hired him to coach the Panthers in May 2004. After the lockout ultimately canceled the 2004-05 season, Gretzky, a part-owner of the Coyotes, took the Phoenix job.

Also featured in the tribute was Panthers broadcaster Denis Potvin, who played youth hockey with Martin when both were growing up in Ottawa. A team picture featuring both was displayed on the scoreboard at the BankAtlantic Center.

The 12th coach to reach the milestone, Martin tied his longtime mentor, Roger Neilson, on the all-time list.

Coach Martin joins Goalie Ed Belfour in hitting milestones this year.

There was also this odd fact about Saturday’s game.

Ville Peltonen squelched any hope of a Lightning comeback, stretching the lead to 5-1 with the team’s first-ever successful penalty shot at home with 12:06 left in the third period.

“It was about time, I guess,” Peltonen joked of the milestone.

Isn’t it weird they never accomplished this in team home history. I hadn’t seen a successful penalty shot in 20 years either. Then I almost entirely stopped watching Hockey. So at least I have an excuse.

At present the Panthers are trailing by six points for the last playoff spot.

It’s March, and the Panthers are streaking. If that sounds familiar, it should.

It was only last March that this team put together a six-game win streak, went 10-4-1 and raised its fans’ hopes before losing five of its last nine games and finishing seven points behind eighth-place Tampa Bay.

Saturday’s 6-2 romp over Tampa Bay stretched the current winning streak to a season-best four straight and produced positive vibes in the post-game locker room.

But it was with the understanding a daunting task looms.

“We put ourselves in a big hole,” captain Olli Jokinen said.


While Florida remains 13th in the East and must climb over five teams in their final 16 games, there are reasons to believe this quest can succeed where last year’s failed:


When Martin set 90 points as this year’s goal in mid-February, it seemed unreachable. Now, if the Panthers can duplicate their 7-1-2 run during their past 10 games, they would need only seven points in their final six games of the season to get there.


The task begins Tuesday in Atlanta, where the Panthers are 0-6-1 during the past two seasons, including 0-3 this season.

“We’ve given them 10 points already. That’s enough,” Jokinen said, referring to the Panthers’ 0-5 mark against the Thrashers, whom they last played Nov. 30.

I’m not convinced the Panthers are ready to be a playoff team. A win against Atlanta tonight may change my opinion.


NHL Trade Deadline Day

Today brings the NHL Trade Deadline, a national holiday in Canada. Of course most of the trades won’t many anything except to Canadians and the five die-hard American fans, I’ll just bring you some of the big name/impact trades as they happen through out the day. But if you are Canadian or one of the five, visit’s site they will give you everything from Edmonton and Toronto trading 7th round draft picks to the guy traded for a bag of pucks. (oh yes they have a live broadcast too.)

Deals of Note

To NY Islanders: F – Ryan Smyth
To Edmonton: F – Robert Nilsson, F – Ryan Omarra, 2007 1st Round Pick
The inability of Edmonton to reach a new contract agreement with Ryan Smyth forced this trade. Edmonton gains nothing and loses the cornerston of their franchise who has been with the team since they drafted him in 1994. Great move by the Islanders, that will help them in the playoff push. I am suprised Edmonton didn’t get a bidding war going, but it was reported that they refused to deal him to a Western Conference Team.

To Dallas: D – Mattias Norstrom, F – Konstantin Pushkarev, 2007 3rd and 4th Round Pick
To Los Angeles: D – Jaroslav Modry, D – Johan Fransson, 2008 1st Round Pick, 2007 2nd and 3rd Round Pick
This wins the award for most complex trade of the day and most difficult for many Kings Fans. Dallas gets Kings’ Captian Mattias Norstrom a solid (but old school) defensive defenseman to shore up their defensive core, who is under contract for next season. Dallas also picks up Pushkarev who can play bigger than he is, but has attitude problem caused mostly by Russian Clubs who consistently tell him he gets no respect in the NHL and should be playing in Russia. The Kings eat the salary of turn over machine Modry (who is a free agent on July 1st) and get the first right to Swedish prospect defensive Fransson. As for the picks… The Kings net a 1st rounder in the stronger 2008 draft and swap around draft positions in 2007 (the Kings’ original 3rd round pick would be higher than Dallas’ original 3rd round pick based on this season standings. Overall the Kings moved up in the draft board in 2007 while Dallas moved down.

To Colorado: F – Scott Parker
To San Jose: 2008 6th Round Pick
Nothing major here, San Jose just picks up an additional draft pick and frees up some roster and cap space.

To Toronto: F – Yanic Perreault, 2008 5th Round Pick
To Phoenix: D – Brendan Bell, 2008 2nd Round Pick
Yanic, who was unsigned for the frist two months of the season, pays off for Phoenix with a higher draft pick and a defensive prospect to build for the future. Toronto picks up a healthy and effective center for a playoff run in what will be a tight playoff push in the east. This is Yanic’s 3rd stint with Toronto.

To Buffalo: F – Dainius Zubrus, D – Timo Helbling
To Washington: F – Jiri Novotnv, 2007 1st Round Pick
Buffalo adds a talented forward but raw forward (with motivational issues) and a defensive prospect to build for the future and a playoff push. In return Washington gets a low 1st round pick in a weak draft and a talented foward who lacks finishing skills and is prone to laziness

To Detroit: F – Todd Bertuzzi
To Florida: TBA Pending Trade Call with NHL Head Office F – Shawn Matthias, 2007 Conditional Draft Pick, 2008 Conditional 2nd Round Draft Pick
Florida gets a top prospect and picks for rebuilding while giving Detroit Bertuzzi who has only played 7 games this seasons. When healthy Bertuzzi is a force on the ice, but no one knows if he will regain his for and if he can avoid sucker punching other players.

To San Jose: F – Bill Guerin
To St. Louis: F – Ville Nieminen, F – Jay Barriball, 2007 1st Round Pick
San Jose gets a first line winger, Stanley Cup Winner and six time All-Star. He possess a big shot, a mean streak that combine power and speed. He will help the Sharks immensely as they make a push for the Stanley Cup.

To Pittsburgh: F – Georges Laraque
To Phoenix: F – Danny Carcillo, 2007 8th Round Pick
Pittsburgh gets one of NHL’s best heavyweights and enforcers to protect their young stars for the playoff run.

To Philadelphia: G – Martin Biron
To Buffalo: Undisclosed Draft Pick 2007 2nd Round Pick
This deal unloads unhappy goalie Biron to Philadelphia. Biron had lost his starting spot in Buffalo and was going to walk away from the team this summer as a free agent, so they pick up what they could for him. I imagine the draft pick will be determined based on Philadelphia’s ability to sign Biron this summer. (in a minor deal, Buffalo acquired Ty Conklin from Columbus for future considerations a 2007 5th Round Pick to fill Biron’s role as backup for the rest of the season and playoffs)

To Pittsburgh: F – Gary Roberts
To Florida: D – Noah Welch
Roberts is a power forward who loves to crash the net and battle for loose pucks. At 40 years old, he is a short term rental for the young Pittsburgh team to provided leadership and grit from past Stanley Cup Playoffs. Welch is a 24 year old defenseman; he’s a big presence on the blue line (6’4″) with a big shot from the point. With his upside this could pay off for Florida in the long run.

To Vancouver: F- Bryan Smolinski
To Chicago: 2007 Conditional 2nd Round Pick

To Vancouver: D – Brent Sopel
To Los Angeles: 2008 2nd and 4th Round Pick
In both of these trades are to improve Vancouver, currently the #3 seed in the West. Smolinski is a veteran center, who becomes a free agent on July 1st, while Sopel can play like a top 4 defensemen (but is prone to stupid mistakes) and provides additional offensive spark at the blue line. The picks are a wash; Los Angeles got a better deal than Chicago as the 2008 draft is projected to be stronger than the 2007 draft.

To NY Islanders: F – Richard Zednik
To Washington: 2007 2nd Round Pick
Islanders pick up extra offense to sneak into the Playoffs, provided Zednik doesn’t go into one of his prolonged scoring slumps.

To Atlanta: F – Keith Tkachuk
To St. Louis: F – Glen Metropolit, 2007 1st and 3rd Round Picks, 2008 2nd Round Pick
Atlanta gets a veteran scorer (with historic playoff scoring problems), while St. Louis gets a career reserve forward and a bunch of picks to rebuild the time. This deal is mainly to set the price for Bill Guerin.

To Philadelphia: D – Braydon Coburn
To Atlanta: D – Alexei Zhitnik
Philadelphia gets a young defenseman with lots of upside, while Atlanta gets a veteran defenseman with a big slap shot and the ability to play a big man’s game…when he’s motivated to.

To Carolina: F – Anson Carter
To Columbus: 2008 5th Round Pick
Carolina gets Carter, who had been a disappointment from Columbus on the cheap. Could pay dividends for Carolina IF Carter rediscovers his scoring touch.

To Nashville: F – Peter Forsberg
To Philadelphia: F – Scottie Upshall, D – Ryan Parent, 2007 1st and 3rd Round Pick
Nashville sold the farm to get Forsberg, which means this is the year they are really going for the Cup hard. Forsberg is a immense talent and game changer, but recent history shows he is one big hit away from the injured list. By far the biggest risk-reward player out there and really could push Nashville over the top. On an ironic side note, Nashville now has two of the biggest divers in the League on their team in Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya.


Atlanta Spirit Squabbling Continues

According to an article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a former member of the Hawks and Thrashers ownership group could potentially end up owning both franchises himself:

Could Steve Belkin, whose deal to depart the Hawks and Thrashers’ ownership group drew applause from employees last summer, wind up as sole owner of the teams?

Yes, he suggests in a new court motion.

In the latest twist to an ever-deepening legal quagmire, Belkin contends that a recent ruling by a Maryland judge means he should have the right to buy out his partners at cost.

The motion asks the Maryland court to enter a judgment declaring, among other things, that Belkin’s partners “failed and refused” to complete the buyout of his stake under the prescribed timetable, and that Belkin therefore “shall purchase all of the interests” held by his partners “for a price equal to [their] aggregate contributed capital.”

In other words, the argument goes, the other owners would get back the money they have put in — about $31 million to date — and Belkin would get the teams.

Obviously, the other owners will have something to say about this as well. As arrogant (and incompetent) as some of the professionals sports owners can be, there’s a lot to be said for having just one person running the ship.


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