August is usually a quiet time in the NHL. Most of the relevant free agents have been signed, the big trades have been made and teams are just gearing up for training camp. There are still some interesting story lines out there and I've decided to take a closer look at a few of them. In no particular order:
Heatley to San Jose?
First, confirming a rumor I initially read about from Eklund on Hockeybuzz, TSN is reporting that the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks have discussed a deal for Senator’s winger Dany Heatley. The Sharks’ players being bandied about in these rumors are F Jonathan Cheechoo and Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. However, both sources have indicated that a third team may have to be included in order to facilitate the move. The team being mentioned is the Montreal Canadiens. It isn’t clear which players would need to be included on the Canadiens’ side to make the trade work.
Personally, unless the Canadiens are getting some very valuable pieces in this move, I find it difficult to believe that they would do anything to help out the rival Ottawa Senators. The Senators are in a tough spot because of Healtley’s no movement clause which he already exercised to nix a trade to Edmonton and also the money left on Heatley’s contract. Not many teams are in the position of both having the required talent to send back to Ottawa (reportedly a top six forward, a puck-moving defenseman and a high draft pick) and also the cap space to make a deal work. If I am Canadien’s GM Bob Gainey, I make it even more difficult for Ottawa to swing a deal to move Heatley.
I am getting tired of the whole Heatley drama anyway. I am glad that Glen Sather pulled the Rangers out of this game. Granted he is an ultra-talented player but with stories of him not going to teammate Jason Spezza’s wedding (despite the fact that they are supposed to be close friends) and the way in which Heatley dealt with Edmonton, he is just not worth the headache.
You can argue that Heatley simply exercised his fairly negotiated right to veto the trade with Edmonton and shouldn’t be looked at as the villain in this story. However, I get the sense that Edmonton truly believed that Heatley would ultimately approve a trade to the Oilers. They bent over backwards to show him their commitment to winning and how much they would have valued his services. For a guy whose main complaints with Ottawa were how new coach Cory Clouston utilized him on the ice and Healtey’s desire to prove himself as a leader, I don’t get how Edmonton wouldn’t have been a good fit for him. If Heatley didn’t want to go to Edmonton he could have been up front with them and said so in the beginning. Heatley and his agent simply tried to use Edmonton’s interest in him to ratchet up the interest of other teams with which he would have been willing to waive his NMC to go to. For all I care, Heatley can stay in Ottawa and face the wrath of the Sens faithful night in and night out.
NHL to Investigate Hossa Contract
I find this story to be both amusing and a sad indictment of the NHL and how Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners are running the league. As you know and I have already written about, the Hawks signed Hossa to a 12 year contract that he will almost certainly not fulfill in order to bring the average annual salary and thus the annual cap hit down while still allowing Hossa to collect a majority of the value of the contract since the contract is severely front-loaded. Clearly this contract was structured to circumvent the salary cap. It isn’t illegal however, according to my understanding of the CBA. What it is though is a smart move that any or all GM’s in the league can use.
The salary cap was something that the NHL owners insisted upon because they couldn’t curb their own bad spending habits. Now, the GM’s in the league, at the behest of the owners, have figured a way around the salary cap. And the league is upset about it?!?!?!? Look, if the NHL wants to prevent this from happening in the future then they are going to have to negotiate a term limit of some kind into the next CBA. If they try to throw out the Hossa deal with Chicago now then the NHL will come across like hypocrites considering the league has already approved the contract.
Phoenix Ownership Situation Murkier Than Ever
Is there a sadder story in all of hockey right now? Or do enough fans even care enough about this to make it a sad story? As expected the NHL Board of Governors has rubber-stamped Jerry Reinsdorf’s bid to purchase the sad-sack franchise while unanimously voting against the bid of Jim Balsillie. Considering Balsillie’s bid was roughly $70 million more than Reinsdorf’s, outgoing owner and creditor Jerry Moyes is not happy. He, along with many other creditors, would have to take a huge loss if the Reinsdorf application goes through. Whereas if the Balsillie bid were to be approved, Moyes would make back much of the money he has invested in the team.
Face it; Bettman and the NHL are very stubborn when it comes to hockey in the Sunbelt. They are the ones credited with bringing hockey to non-traditional markets like South Florida, Phoenix, San Jose, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. True, their efforts have been met with mixed results as Nashville, Florida and now Phoenix have had questions surrounding the viability of sustaining a team in their market. Nashville was another target of Balsillie’s when they were sold a few years ago. Only the NHL stepping in and rubber-stamping a very questionable ownership group may have saved Predators hockey in Nashville.
To their credit however, the NHL has rescued franchises in trouble before. The league has saved hockey in Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Ottawa when the owners of all of three of those franchises sought the protection of the bankruptcy courts. All three of those teams have achieved on-ice and box-office success since their rescue with the Penguins even winning the Stanley Cup last season.
What’s going to happen in the Coyotes ownership quandary is anyone’s guess. I only hope that once this situation is finally resolved the franchise can get back to the business of building a winning program whether they are in Phoenix or Hamilton or some other locale. Right now this situation is a black eye on the NHL and an embarrassment for fans of the sport.
BIG, BIG day on Long Island Tomorrow
As a Rangers fan I count the Flyers as our biggest rival. Every game in the last few seasons has been filled with attitude and dislike for each other. It makes for some very entertaining hockey. After the Flyers I would rank the Rangers’ biggest rivals in the following order:
Geographically speaking, it would make more sense for the Islanders to be the biggest rival of the Rangers. To this day one of the more common and popular chants at MSG is the “Potvin Sucks!” chant. Unfortunately, the Islanders have not been a very good team for quite some time and a lot of juice has been lost in the Rangers/Islanders rivalry. The Islanders face their own problems with their very existence on Long Island in doubt. Tomorrow is a critical date in New York Islanders history. Tomorrow morning is when a public hearing is to be held to discuss the Lighthouse project.
The Lighthouse Project is a wide-ranging real estate development that will include a new arena and facilities for the club. The biggest disadvantage facing the Islanders franchise is their outdated arena and facilities. Free agents tend to stay away from the Islanders because of that. The Nassau Coliseum, much like Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, cannot generate enough revenue to sustain a viable NHL team.
Owner Charles Wang has made no secret of his willingness to move the franchise if the Lighthouse Project is not approved. In fact, Wang has already made his intentions of attending an exhibition game the Islanders will play in Kansas City well known. Kansas City is a likely destination if Wang were to move the team as K.C. has a modern new arena for basketball and/or hockey but no permanent tenants.
I'd hate to see a team with the rich history and zealous fan base of the Islanders leave their home to go elsewhere. Hopefully, Gary Bettman has reserved some resources to help the Islanders on Long Island instead of blowing it all on the ownership disasters in Phoenix and Tampa. The bottom line is this; as a Rangers fan I do not want to see the Islanders leave the area and the potentially great rivalry that they have with the Rangers. Bettman, do something!!!