Sports Outside the Beltway

Twenty three days to the NHL trading deadline

Across Canada and the US, General Managers are already evaluating their team in preparation for Feb. 26th. For the Columbus GM Scott Howson, the big decision is what to do in regards to goaltender Pascal Leclaire. From the Columbus Dispatch-

The next three weeks are crucial for the Blue Jackets, who must decide whether they are a playoff-caliber club and a buyer or a seller at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

On Feb. 27, the off-ice focus should shift to re-signing goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who is set to become a restricted free agent July 1.

First, a little background.

In the old NHL, there was a gentleman’s agreement that general managers wouldn’t poach other clubs’ restricted free agents by signing them to offer sheets. In the new NHL, gentlemen have gone the way of enforcers, which is to say there aren’t as many left.

Last summer, Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe extended offer sheets to Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek and Anaheim’s Dustin Penner. The Sabres matched the Vanek offer (seven years, $50 million), but the Ducks let Penner leave for five years, $21.25 million. And a new day dawned.

Offer sheets used to be rare. There were only seven of note between 1990 and 2006. Now, it’s considered another way, albeit an expensive one, of adding star power.

Many have assumed that offer sheets could be extended for the likes of pending restricted free agents Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf, Corey Perry, Matt Stajan and Alexander Semin, among others.

Does anybody doubt that Leclaire would be near the top of that list?

I might. Leclaire is having an exceptional 07-08 but what was his record like before this year?

59 games played 17 wins 32 losses 0 Overtime losses 3.13 Goals against average .905 save percentage

Those statistics are below average for a starting NHL goaltender. I could also add that Leclaire wasn’t even the starting goalie for the Blue Jackets in 06-07. Instead Fredrik Norrena did most of the net work for Columbus, playing in 55 games.

Could Leclaire have blossomed into a top goalie? Perhaps, but part of one season proves nothing. With his being a restricted free agent and Columbus in contention for a playoff spot, I wouldn’t trade the goalie. That’s unless some team wants to trade the farm to get Leclaire. That will happen sometimes. Nashvile last year traded three players to get the oft injured Peter Forsberg just before the trading deadline. What is Forsberg doing these days?

Update- Another player rumored to be on the trading block is Toronto’s Mats Sundin. He is 36 years old and still a good scorer, Sundin does however have a no trade clause in his contract is a unrestricted free agent at season’s end. A team trading for Sundin could see the Swede take a hike a little over four months after acquiring him.

If Toronto does trade Sundin, lay odds it is to a Western Conference team and definitely not Maple Leaf Division rival, the Ottawa Senators.


Ottawa Senators to fine Goalie Ray Emery up to $14,700

For being late to practice the team’s General Manager says

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Ottawa Senators goalie Ray Emery will be “fined substantially” by the team after arriving late for a team skate a day after the All-Star Game.

Emery’s explanation for being four minutes late was that he went to Nassau Coliseum for the skate, when it was being held at the Islanders’ practice rink Monday afternoon.

“Ray has got to be in uniform with the rest of the team,” general manager Bryan Murray said. “This is a uniform league. We have rules, and he has to follow them, just like anyone else.”

Murray said Emery will be “fined substantially.”


“We think Ray is a good goaltender,” Murray said. “We’re asking him to be accountable.”

Emery could be docked up to one-187th of his $2.75 million salary, roughly $14,700.

That is a great deal of accountability. The fine coming out at 3,675 dollars a minute.

Why was Emery late? The goalie had this to say.

“When the club came back from the break, I just didn’t go to the right location,” Emery said. “I didn’t want to cause a ruckus, and I want to make up for it.

“They said it was a one-time thing, and they know it was accidental, but it’s kind of me all the time, so it’s [management's] job to do something about it,” he said. “I didn’t want to miss the practice, but I did, and I have to try to get past it. I haven’t heard any of my teammates say it harmed them or anything like that. All I can do is show up on time and try to get through this as best as I can.”

What Emery’s teammates think, has nothing to do whether the Goalie should or shouldn’t be fined. That is a decision for management.

A $14,750 fine would seem excessive. Then maybe GM Bryan Murray is sending Emery a message to get his act together.

Murray did admit that the transgression itself wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be, but this wasn’t Emery’s first incident this season. He threw his stick in the stands after a morning skate, angry that he wasn’t starting that night’s game. He also fought teammate Brian McGrattan in practice.

Emery is definitely a talented goalie. He has issues however, ones Ray Emery needs to address. A hit in the wallet may be exactly that message.


Post NHL All-Star game playoff assessment- Eastern Conference

From top to bottom, the standings

Ottawa Senators 51 32-15-4-68
Montréal Canadiens 50-27-15-8-62
Philadelphia Flyers 49-28-16-5-61
Pittsburgh Penguins 50 28-18-4-60
New Jersey Devils 50-28-19-3-59
Boston Bruins 50-26-19-5-57
New York Islanders 51-24-21-6-54
New York Rangers 52-24-22-6- 54
Carolina Hurricanes 53-25-24-4-54
Washington Capitals 51-23-23-5-51
Atlanta Thrashers 52-23-25-4-50

Buffalo Sabres 49-22-21-6-50
Florida Panthers 51-22-24-5-49
Toronto Maple Leafs 52-20-24-8-48
Tampa Bay Lightning 51-20-26-5-45

Note- The numbers above from left to right are- Games played, wins, losses, Overtime losses, total points

Teams in Bold are Southeast Division teams

First of all barring a complete collapse by these teams, you have to think Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Montreal are locks to make the playoffs. You can probably also toss Boston in.

The rest of the conference is pretty wide open. The only teams that appear to have little chance are Tampa and Toronto.

The Southeast Division is wide open. It is also a division likely to send only one team to the playoffs. First to fourth place is separated by a measly 5 pts, and the 4th place team Florida has played two less games than division leader Carolina. That would point to Florida having a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. On the other hand, there is the team’s listless play of late, only 4 wins in 14 games and this from today’s Palm Beach Post.

The Panthers, who return to action tonight against Buffalo following the All-Star break, say they are determined to end their agonizing playoff drought.

But some observers think the Panthers haven’t exhibited enough determination to reach the post-season for the first time since April 2000.

To put it more bluntly, some critics think they are soft.

“This team plays too much on the perimeter; I haven’t seen the willingness to get their noses dirty and do the dirty work,” said NHL broadcaster John Vanbiesbrouck, who starred in the nets for the Panthers when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

“Winning isn’t easy. You’ve got to make up your mind you’re going to do whatever it takes to get there and play like that every night.”

I’m not totally sure if Vanbiesbrouck is right in what he says. Florida has blown at least five games this year in the last minute of play. They’ve also played games where they either quit or showed little effort. I’ve missed only a handful of games on television this year, Florida has the talent to win the division and even make a run in the playoffs. The only teams I worry about in the conference are Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Toronto (The Maple Leaf oversized defensemen seem to intimidate the Panthers) when Florida faces them.

I question if the Panthers has the desire, and perhaps the coaching. Why the hell did the team send Shawn Matthias back to the minors? He scored two goals in four NHL games, two of which Jacques Martin barely played him in, and 21 in 32 games of OHL play before his callup. I rather have Matthias on the roster than the overrated Brett McLean or Kamil Kreps. After all, Kreps has just 4 goals in 45 games played!

Boy am I getting gloomy about this Panthers team.


NHL Players complain about European games

This season’s opener was played in London. On Saturday, the NHL announced its intention to play two games in Europe to open the 2008-09 season. From AP-

ATLANTA – Basking in the spotlight of its All-Star game, the NHL decided Saturday was the perfect time to unveil a big announcement for the start of next season: Four teams will get the honor of opening in Europe.

Maybe the league should have made sure the players were on board.

Saying there were still details to be worked out, the leader of the NHL Players’ Association objected to the league announcing two games would be played in both Prague and Stockholm to start the 2008-09 season.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the New York Rangers are scheduled to meet the Tampa Bay Lightning at Sazka Arena in the Czech Republic, while the Ottawa Senators would face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Globe Arena in Sweden’s capital city.

The games would be played Oct. 4 and 5 — assuming the Players’ Association signs off on the plans.

That might be a problem. Paul Kelly, the NHLPA’s executive director, said he was aware of the European games but warned the league not to make a firm announcement until the two sides worked out all details.

“If they want the Players’ Association to be a true business partner, then they have to include us in discussions about these matters at the earliest stages,” Kelly said. “We shouldn’t read about it in the press and we shouldn’t find about it after the fact.”

Kelly said he was approached by league officials Friday night and asked to sign off on the European games, which would mark the second straight year the NHL has opened its season on the other side of the Atlantic.

His response: “Look guys, you know we have a lot of details to work out. Travel, promotional issues, NHLPA involvement, accommodations, the schedule, etc. So there’s still lots of details to work out, but if you want to announce it generally, that’s fine.’

From Kelly’s statements, it appears the NHLPA is unhappy because they weren’t included in the decision making process. They should have been, but that’s water under the bridge now.

As to playing games in Europe, I don’t like it from the point of view of the Sports US fans. Both Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay will be losing one home game. If you’re a season ticket holder of either team, you have a right to complain. Why should your team have to play a home gain 1/3rd the way around the world? I didn’t like it when the Miami Dolphins agreed to play The New York Giants in London last year. Dolphin fans had more reason to be upset, considering they only get 8 home games a year, and the Giants were making a rare appearance in South Florida.

US football in Europe if it wasn’t a financial bust, was hardly a success either. As to hockey, most countries have their own hockey leagues. How many Czechs and Swedes are playing in the NHL now? Quite a few. I think local fans prefer to watch their own teams. Not ones brought in from another continent. Even if interest is generated, I’d bet it is only temporary.


Ottawa Senator Daniel Alfredsson scores 7 pts in win over Tampa Bay

And you were worried the defending Eastern Conference Champ may miss Deny Heatley. From AP-

TAMPA, Fla. – Daniel Alfredsson had three goals and four assists for an Ottawa-record seven points, leading the struggling Senators to an 8-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who had two goals and two assists, scored 29 seconds apart during Ottawa’s three-goal first period. The Senators’ captain added a short-handed goal and his 500th career assist in the second as the Senators took a 5-0 lead.

Alfredsson topped his career high of six points at Buffalo on Nov. 2, 2005.


Alfredsson scored from the top of the left circle at 13:43 of the first. Spezza made it 2-0 from the high slot at 14:12.

Alfredsson scored a power-play goal with 1:19 left in the first and added his sixth short-handed goal of the season on a 2-on-1 to put Ottawa up 4-0 at 4:38 of the second.

Alfredsson got his 500th career assist on Vermette’s goal later in the second at 9:36.

One third of Ottawa’s ‘Cash line’, Alfredsson has been one of the NHL’s most consistent scorers for over a decade. All for Ottawa. Its players like Alfrdesson, Heatley, and others who make the Senator’s the class of the Eastern Conference.


Florida Panther Coach Jacques Martin gets his 500th victory

He is only one of 10 NHL coaches to win that many games. From AP-

NEWARK, N.J.– Jacques Martin joined a club so exclusive, its members numbered in the single digits.

Until he joined, anyway.

Martin became the 10th NHL coach with 500 wins after Radek Dvorak and David Booth scored early in the third period to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday. Backup goalie Craig Anderson made 31 saves and the Panthers ended a three-game losing streak.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work in this league, the best league in the world and to have some good players to coach,” said Martin, who is also Florida’s general manager.

Dvorak and Booth scored 1:17 apart in the third to give Florida the lead. Dvorak got the equalizer 2:28 in. Brett McLean unloaded a hard shot on Martin Brodeur who made a stick save. Dvorak pounced on the rebound for his first goal in 11 games.

Before taking over the Panthers, Martin coached in St. Louis and Ottawa.

Friday’s win was Florida’s 2nd triumph over Martin Brodeur this year in three tries. At present the Panthers are mired in a slump that leaves me doubtful about the team’s prospects for winning the weak Southeast Division. The team losing 5-3 to a weak Washington team on Saturday night. The team isn’t scoring and Goalie Tomas Vokoun is in a slump. I’d let Craig Anderson start versus Ottawa on Tuesday night, but Martin seems reluctant to use his #2 goalie much.

If Florida doesn’t get their act together soon the 2007-08 year can be marked as just another disappointment for the team’s fans.


Ottawa’s Deny Heatley may miss six weeks due to shoulder injury

Heatley was the Senators’ second leadin scorer at the time of his injury. From AP-

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators’ Dany Heatley will be sidelined up to six weeks because of a separated right shoulder. He’ll miss Sunday’s game against the New York Islanders, ending a streak of 205 straight games with the Senators.

Heatley crashed into the end boards with Detroit forward Dallas Drake in the second period of Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Red Wings. He was slouched over when he left the ice, favoring his right shoulder.

It’s a significant loss for the Senators (29-10-4), who hold a seven-point lead atop the Eastern Conference. The 26-year-old has 56 points (25 goals, 31 assists) in 43 games this season, good for seventh place in the NHL scoring race. Heatley is also second in the league with a plus/minus rating of plus-31.

Heatley joined he Senators in a trade with Atlanta in August 2005, and has recorded 264 points (125 goals, 139 assists) with the team

Even with Heatley injured, I predict Ottawa to lead the Eastern conference at the end of the regular season. As long as the left winger returns to the lineup, I stick to my prediction that the Senators win the Stanley Cup next spring.


Are the 2007-08 Florida Panthers over the hump?

They won last night, marking for the fist time this season that the team has a winning record.

Thursday night’s Panthers-Hurricanes game might as well have been played on a roller coaster, it had so many ups and downs.

In the end, the final up went to Florida, which registered a 5-4 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, taking the lead for good on Brett McLean’s goal midway through the third period.

Back home after winning three of four games on the road and facing the Southeast Division leaders, the Panthers had nothing but opportunity in front of them. A win would cut into their five-point division deficit and set an energizing tone for a year-end schedule that features four of five games at the BankAtlantic Center.

It looked bleak when Carolina took a 3-1 lead after the first period, but the Panthers rallied for their third consecutive victory. They now trail the Hurricanes by just three points.

I have felt from Opening Night, that this Panther team is capable of taking the Southeast Division. That the team is right on Carolina’s back at the moment says something(Other than the SE division being mediocre) about how Florida has come this far. They’ve been plagued by injuries this year, particularly to defensemen(Three are out at this time, and its not known when any will be back) but all through this the team has pulled themselves over .500. Yes I still worry about the lack of punch the team has, their tendency to sit on a lead, and whether they give up when they fall behind. As to the last, maybe we’ve seen the end of it. For Florida was down 3-1 a little over 16 minutes into the game. The Panthers then stormed back.

The Eastern Conference playoff picture stands like this. Teams in italics are Southeast division teams

1- Ottawa 22-8-3 47 pts
2- Boston 18-12-4 40
T3- Montreal 17-12-5 39
T3- Carolina 18-15-3
T3- New Jersey 18-13-3 39
6 NY Rangers 17-14-3 37
T7 Florida 17-16-2 36
T7 Pittsburgh 17-15-2
T9 with 35 pts Buffalo and Philadelphia(32 games played each) and Toronto(35 games)
T12 with 33 pts Atlanta and Tampa Bay in 34 and 35 games respectively.

You can look at it one of two ways. Florida is four pts out of 2nd place in the conference or that the cats are just a game or two from being in 10th place because of the fewer games played by Buffalo and Philadelphia. As I see the conference, Florida can play as well as anyone with the exception of Ottawa, and arguably Carolina and New Jersey. The cats, who are notoriously bad as a road team, are 8-9-1. When you factor in injuries and the Panthers road record, this team could finish as high as 2nd in the conference, but more likely 4th or 5th. I think my preseason prediction of Florida making the playoffs for the first time since 2000, is looking better and better.


Ottawa Senators suffer 1st 7-game skid since 1996

A team many thought was headed to the Stanley Cup finals, has hit a tough patch.

TAMPA, Fla. – Vinny Prospal scored in the fourth round of a shootout and the Tampa Bay Lightning extended Ottawa’s losing streak to seven games with a 4-3 victory over the Senators on Tuesday night.

The Lightning, who blew a 3-1 lead in the final two minutes, won the shootout 2-1.

Daniel Alfredsson scored twice during a three-goal third, helping the Senators tie it at 3. Alfredsson (1:57 left) and Wade Redden (1:21 remaining) completed the comeback scoring 36 seconds apart late in the period.

The Senators have lost seven games in a row for the first time since Feb. 22-March 9, 1996.

Mathieu Darche, Chris Gratton and Filip Kuba scored for the Lightning.

Despite the streak, the Senators are still 16-7-3. Hardly in danger of missing the playoffs.

Next up for the Senators? My home team, the Florida Panthers. Ottawa will be playing back to back days while the Panthers have been off for four days. Sounds like good news for Florida, except Ottawa easily won the only other meeting of the two teams this year. A 4-1 Senator win back in October.


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.


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