Sports Outside the Beltway

Claude Lemieux signs two-way deal with Sharks

He hasn’t played a NHL game since the 2002-03 season. From AP-

Claude Lemieux signed a contract with the San Jose Sharks on Monday after spending the past month with their top minor-league affiliate, giving another boost to his NHL comeback hopes.

The 43-year-old Lemieux signed with the Worcester Sharks on Nov. 25 after a five-year absence from pro hockey. The four-time Stanley Cup winner’s new contract is a two-way deal, allowing him to play in San Jose or Worcester.

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said Lemieux will stay with the Worcester Sharks if he clears waivers Tuesday after signing his new deal. He has two goals, four assists and 12 penalty minutes in 14 games in the minors.

“This is simply the next step in the evaluation process with Claude,” Wilson said.

Lemieux played parts of 20 seasons in the NHL, winning titles with Montreal (1986), New Jersey (1995 and 2000) and Colorado (1996). He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in 1995, and his 80 postseason goals rank ninth in league history.

Lemieux was a great player in his day, but five years away from the NHL is likely to leave him deficient as a player. MLB players(Jackie Jensen, Bruce Bochte, and many other) who came back after losing a whole season have had struggles. Two goals in 14 minor league games doesn’t exactly scream he is ready for a comeback either.


NHL trying to find new revenue for cash-strapped Phoenix Coyotes

There is a precedent for the league to take over the financially troubled franchise. From ESPN-

The NHL hasn’t taken over control of the Phoenix Coyotes, but it is taking an active role in trying to find new investors or ownership for the financially strapped franchise and is being kept apprised of any “significant” financial decisions the team makes, has learned from team and league sources.

The league also is trying to help broker changes to the existing lease with the city of Glendale in the hopes of making the situation more attractive to new investors or owners.

Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes is in dire financial straights, with his outside business interests — most notably Swift Transportation, a large trucking firm — having been hammered by high gasoline costs, followed by the dramatic downturn in the economy.

And although team officials say the club has never relied on Swift revenues to run the team, the Coyotes aren’t in much better shape and are expected to lose another $30 million or more this season, on top of the more than $60 million they are reported to have lost the past two years.

With money tight because of the economic downturn, finding a new investor is going to prove difficult to impossible. Can Phoenix maintain a NHL team? Ice Hockey in an area that sometimes sees temperatures in the 110 degree range during does seem out of place.


Phoenix Coyotes’ Brian McGrattan agrees to enter NHL substance abuse program

He played in only 3 games during the 2008-09 NHL hockey season. From AP-

Phoenix Coyotes forward Brian McGrattan agreed to enter the substance abuse program administered by the NHL and union.

No specifics on his case were given Saturday in the announcement by the league and the NHL Players’ Association.

McGrattan will continue to draw his salary and benefits and will face no penalty as long as he complies with his treatment and follow-up care. The program’s doctors are Dave Lewis for the NHL and Brian Shaw for the NHLPA.

McGrattan, an enforcer, is in his third NHL season. He has appeared in just three games for the Coyotes, drawing 12 penalty minutes. He spent the past two seasons with Ottawa.

This is only like the second or third time I’ve heard of a NHL player with a drug problem. Admittedly, I didn’t following the sport heavily again till 2006. I sincerely hope Brian McGrattan takes this opportunity to get his life in order.


Phoenix C Olli Jokinen to miss at least two weeks with shoulder injury

The former Florida Panthers 397 consecutive game streak comes to an end at 397. From AP-

Phoenix Coyotes center Olli Jokinen will be sidelined for at least two weeks by a shoulder injury, ending his consecutive games streak at 397.

Jokinen, the team’s second-leading scorer with seven goals and 18 points, was injured in the first period Wednesday night at Columbus when he was checked hard into the boards by Blue Jackets defenseman Marc Methot.

Jokinen went to the bench apparently favoring his left shoulder, then went to the locker room for treatment and did not return to the game.

The Coyotes released no details of Jokinen’s injury at Thursday’s practice, but coach Wayne Greztky said Jokinen will miss Friday’s home game against Colorado and “it looks like [he'll be sidelined] for two to four weeks.”

Jokinen, acquired in a trade with Florida in June, last missed a game during the 2002-03 season while with the Panthers.

Get well Olli. You still have many fans here in South Florida, me included.


Florida Panthers lose their sixth in a row

It’s going to be a long year for South Florida hockey fans. From AP-

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Olli Jokinen had a goal and an assist against his former Florida teammates in the Phoenix Coyotes’ 4-1 win over the Panthers on Saturday night.

Jokinen was traded from Florida to Phoenix for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton during the offseason.

Mikkel Boedker added a pair of goals for Phoenix, marking the first multigoal game of the rookie’s early NHL career.

Florida has lost six straight (0-5-1).

Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 26 shots to improve to 5-5 this season.

The Panthers took an early lead when Richard Zednik scored during a goal mouth scramble at 13:49 of the opening period. It was Zednik’s third point in 11 games.

Zednik is just one of a group of over the hill vets filling Florida’s roster. Can’t this team find players in the minors, Sweden, or Outer Mongolia that can produce more than Zednik, Bret McLean, Radek Dvorak etc?

Florida’s six losses have come against- St. Louis, Ottawa, Nashville, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. None of these teams have more than 14 pts. This is the easy part of the schedule! Tonight Florida plays Anaheim, before returning home to play among other teams, The Detroit Red Wings.

It’s true, I’ll be watching almost every game. Just like I did last night. I am truly the Florida Masochist.


Florida Panthers deal Olli Jokinen to Phoenix

In return for trading their team Captain and all-time leading scorer, Florida gets a petrified starfish and a bag full of potporui*two defensemen . From the Palm Beach Post-

Olli Jokinen insisted he wasn’t bitter, but his words said otherwise.

The Panthers’ captain and all-time leading scorer said Friday night he got the trade he had come to expect when General Manager Jacques Martin dealt him to Phoenix for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton and a second-round pick in this weekend’s draft.

The player Florida selected with the draft pick was-

Name: Colby Robak

Position: Defenseman

Team: Brandon (WHL)

Height/weight: 6-3/194

Birthplace: Dauphin, Manitoba

Career highlights: No. 13-ranked North American skater and seventh-rated defenseman in a draft deep with defensemen. … Was Brandon’s only 16-year-old rookie in 2006-07. … Was a member of Canada’s gold-medal entry in the World U-18 tournament in April.

Quote: “He (has) lots of good tools. He’s a big kid, gets around the ice real well. All his basic skills are strong. He played real well for us.” – Canada U-18 coach Pat Quinn

Another defensemen. I haven’t a clue about how good Robak will be. All I know is it will be sometime before Panther fans know themselves.

How about the defensemen Florida acquired.

Ballard, 25, clearly was the key to the deal. Martin said the 5-foot-11, 208-pounder fills what he had identified as the team’s No. 1 off-season need, a puck-moving defenseman. He was taken 11th overall by Buffalo in 2002.

“He’s a real competitor, a real gritty player,” Martin said. “He’s in your face. He’s physical. He’s a great skater, moves the puck. He’s just a solid all-around defenseman.”

Darren Pang, the Coyotes’ TV analyst and former NHL player, gave Ballard a glowing review.

“An extremely competitive player who basically puts his heart on his sleeve every time he steps on the ice,” Pang said. “He’s a model for great skating (and) a wonderful character guy. They got a wonderful hockey play in Keith Ballard.”

Boynton, 29, was a first-round pick by Boston in 1999 who plays with an edge. He is also expected to earn a spot in the Panthers’ top four.

Like Robak, I know little about these players. Both were in the western conference, and I seldom watch games played by teams(also rans) like Phoenix unless they are playing Florida.

Florida has traded their best scoring threat for two players who seldom put pucks in the net or even assist on goals. These better be two great defensemen to fill the scoring void the Panthers have now.

Note- Florida has a young and upcoming player named Shawn Matthias. Florida GM Jacques Martin must be hoping for Matthias to fill the gap Olli’s departure creates. For I wouldn’t be counting on veterans like McLean, Dvorak, or Zednik to pick up the slack. They’ve proven what they can do in the NHL, which is far less than Jokinen.

BTW I like Shawn Matthias, but he is as of yet, untested but for a few games in the NHL.

What’s the reason given for trading Jokinen?

Martin downplayed talk of a rift between himself and Jokinen and said there was nothing personal involved in the trade.

“I enjoyed working with Olli. He’s an excellent player,” he said. “I look at improving our hockey club and never looked at things from a personal standpoint. I wouldn’t have made the trade if I didn’t feel it was good for the organization.”

Asked about the rumored rift, Jokinen replied, “We’re definitely not going out to dinner. It’s a different relationship than I had with Mike.”

Mike is Mike Keenan, former Panther head coach and Martin’s predecessor as Panther GM. Keenan, who is now with Calgary, was the person mostly responsible for the Roberto Luongo trade which was a fiasco for Florida. My gut feeling is the Jokinen trade we be regarded similarly in a short time.

BTW Florida acquired Luongo and Jokinen in the same trade with the NY Islanders eight years ago. Only seems appropriate Florida return the favor by letting these two key players get stolen back?

Back to why Florida traded Jokinen.

Martin said the bottom line to the deal was he addressed his team’s shortcomings on defense, which were apparent last season when the Panthers led the league in shots against for the second time in three seasons.

“Last year, I indicated that I would improve our goaltending and we have no regrets there,” he said. “We acquired a goaltender (Tomas Vokoun) who gives us a chance to win every night.

Florida has no lack of defensemen, including a very good to excellent one in Jay Bouwmeester. After that you have Bryan Allen, Karlis Skrastins, Cory Murphy, Mike Van Ryn, Magnus Johansson, Wade Belak, Steve Montador, Branislev Mezei, Jassen Cullimore and a couple of other warm bodies.

I’m counting Belak and Montador as defensemen. They are also forwards, and Martin likes to play them there. Truth is, both players don’t score enough to be even 3rd or 4th liners in my book. Belak is there to hit and intimidate players, which he’s fairly good at, however he puts pucks in the net once every four or five years.

Florida had injury problems at defensemen last year, Van Ryn, Mezei, and Murphy missing large chunks of the season. Set aside Montador and Belak, I don’t see Florida hurting if Bouwmeester, Allen, Murphy, Van Ryn, and Skrastins stay healthy. What’s the big need for Ballard and Boynton?

Martin seems to like acquiring defensemen. Allen came in the Luongo trade, Cullimore was signed or traded for during last off season,Johansson was acquired during last season as was Skrastins and Belak. Didn’t these players shore up Florida? If they didn’t, what does that tell us about Martin’s ability to evaluate players. Will he any better with Boynton and Ballard.

Palm Beach Post hockey writer Brian Biggane has something interesting to say at his Panther blog.

One league executive, who team was rumored to be among those pursuing Jokinen, called the former Panthers center “a dog” late Friday night and said any talk of sincere interest on the part of his team was “a plant.”

Panther fans today are bemoaning Jokinen’s departure, many insisting they won’t renew their season tickets as a result. But the league view on Jokinen is he’s a player who lost his motivation after Mike Keenan headed out of South Florida and has been on a steady decline ever since.

I liked Jokinen and still do, as a person. He was always helpful with the media. But as the old saying goes, if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. It’s no coincidence the Panthers never made the playoffs during his seven years in their uniform.

We read and heard so much about Sidney Crosby and his leadership a few weeks back. Jokinen was not a good leader. First guy off the ice almost every practice. Very involved with his own issues. A negative influence for Nathan Horton who, with his significant role on the team, pulled down everyone else.

“This isn’t a guy you want on your team,” the league exec added.

Biggane relates Jokinen’s habits only after Florida deals him. Why wouldn’t a reporter paid to cover a sports team not relate the truth about a key player? So that key player keeps talking to the reporter, but isn’t the reporter supposed to report the whole news?

I’m not a big Brian Biggane fan, so I’d take his Jokinen revelation with a large lump of salt. The annonymous NHL executive doesn’t help persuade me of what Biggane is writing either. Couldn’t the reporter find at least one person in the NHL willing to go on the record about how Olli really is?

Bottom line- I think the Florida Panthers have made another bad trade. ESPN’s Scott Burnside once called Florida the most dysfunctional franchise in the NHL. I have a hard time disagreeing with Scott, and I’m a big Panther fan.

*- I borrowed this wisecrack from baseball stat man, Bill James. He used it a long time ago to describe some MLB trade.


Post NHL All-Star game playoff assessment- Western Conference

From top to bottom, the standings

Detroit Red Wings 51-37-10-4-78
San Jose Sharks 50-28-15-7-63
Dallas Stars 54-29-20-5-63
Anaheim Ducks 53-27 20-6-60
Minnesota Wild 50-28-19-3-59
Calgary Flames 50-25-17-8-58
Vancouver Canucks 51-26-20-5-57
Colorado Avalanche 50-26-20-4-56

Phoenix Coyotes 50-27-21-2-56
Columbus Blue Jackets 52-25-21-6-56
Nashville Predators 51-25-21-5-55
St Louis Blues 49-23-19-7-53
Edmonton Oilers 53-23-25-5-51
Chicago Blackhawks 50-23-23-4-50
Los Angeles Kings 52-20-29-3-43

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

Teams in Bold are Northwest Division teams

I think its more than reason to say Detroit, San Jose, Dallas, and Anaheim are going to make the playoffs, while the LA Kings have no chance. Edmonton’s chances are slim also.

The closest division is the Northwest. Three points separate first to fourth place. I like Vancouver because of Goalie Roberto Luongo. The division is both talented and very tight and I could see anyone but Edmonton could come out on top and deservingly so. The Avalanche, Wild, Canucks nor Flames rate as mediocre or badly underacheiving teams unlike members of the Southeast Division.


Ilya Bryzgalov signs 3-year contract extension with Phoenix Coyotes

The Russian born goalie was put on waivers by Anaheim barely two months ago. From AP-

PHOENIX — Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has signed a three-year contract extension with the Phoenix Coyotes, the young team he has helped become a winner this season.

A league source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the club does not make salaries public, said the deal is worth $12.75 million.

Acquired off waivers from the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks last Nov. 17, Bryzgalov has played a crucial role in the Coyotes’ surprising surge into contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“I chose to stay in Phoenix because I love our fans, my teammates and I’m confident that we have a bright future ahead of us,” Bryzlagov said Tuesday in a news release announcing the signing.

The 27-year-old Russian has appeared in 28 games for Phoenix, going 16-10-2 with a 2.33 goals-against average. Counting his time with Anaheim early in the season, Bryzgalov is 18-13-3 with a 2.38 GAA.

He has an NHL career record of 43-33-10 with a 2.44 GAA in 97 games.

Bryzgalov won his first four games with the Coyotes.

“He’s a world-class goaltender with a Stanley Cup on his resume and has been a great addition to our hockey club,” general manager Don Maloney said. “We are thrilled to have him in a Coyotes uniform for the next three years.”

Bryzgalov’s career has taken some odd twists of late. He was a member of a Stanley Cup Championship team, then shopped around during the off-season(he was rumored to go to Florida before the Vokoun deal happened), then released by the Ducks because of disagreements with his coach and picked up by Phoenix. I truly think Anaheim is going to regret letting go of this goalie. Bryzgalov’s at least the match of Jean-Sebastien Giguere the Ducks’ current goalie IMHO and three years younger to boot. Letting Bryzgalov go to a division rival I think will boomerang on Anaheim long-term.


Sharks Goalie Evgeni Nabokov shuts out Phoenix third straight time

Nababov has started every Shark game so far this season. From AP-

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Evgeni Nabokov shut out Phoenix for the third straight time as the San Jose Sharks beat the Coyotes 1-0 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Milan Michalek’s goal with 15 seconds left in the second period was the difference in the Sharks’ fifth consecutive road victory.

San Jose improved to 4-0 against Phoenix this season. The Coyotes scored the first goal of the series, then the Sharks scored the next 16. Nabokov has shut out Phoenix 5-0, 6-0 and now 1-0. The Coyotes have gone just under 231 minutes against the Sharks’ goalie without scoring.

Nabokov has four shutouts this season and 38 for his career, moving him into a tie for fourth with Buffalo’s Jocelyn Thibault among active goalies.

Michelek, who scored his ninth goal of the season, slipped a wrist shot past goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from about 10 yards in front of the net, with an assist from Joe Thornton. Jeremy Roenick got the second assist.

Nabokov, who had 26 saves, is the only goalie in the NHL to start all of his team’s games this season.

San Jose better be careful. While Nabokov has been playing in the NHL only 7 years, he’s been playing professional hockey for twice as long. Some goalies can take a heavy workload, Martin Brodeur for example. Nabokov on the other hand hasn’t played more than 59 games in goal during an NHL regular season since 01-02. The Sharks may want to avoid burning out the Russian.

I always wondered why no one picked up former Florida Panther goalie Eddie Belfour after the 06-07. He’s playing in Sweden now. The Eagle showed he could still play last year. He’d be a more than good #2 goalie for some NHL team.


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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