Friday, September 26, 2008


Earlier this afternoon, the Thrashers acquired Mathieu Schneider from Anaheim for Ken Klee, Brad Larsen and Chad Painchaud.

My initial thoughts are that I like the deal for both teams. Anaheim unloads a $5.75 million salary to get under the cap. Plus, they free up enough room to likely make a contract offer to fan favorite Teemu Selanne, the reason Schneider was moved.

For Atlanta, they take on additional payroll, but not past this season. They get a former all-star who should be a great mentor for some of the younger defensemen including Boris Valabik, Zach Bogosian and Grant Lewis. They also get a powerplay point man.

Klee is very replaceable. I thought he was serviceable for most of last season. But I guess I expected a little more flash, especially with his plus/minus numbers in Colorado. Steady is a good word to describe him and I'm sure he'll be just that in Anaheim.

Larsen was a pick-up from Colorado back during the Bob Hartley era who played for the former Thrashers head coach in Denver. He played honest and hard. But the Thrashers have a glut of third and fourth line forwards and he was easily expendable as a throw-in player.

Painchaud is a bit of a wild card, but was a long way from making the NHL roster. No big loss here.

Getting back to Schneider for a moment......his acquisition might actually aid the youth movement on the blueline without rushing the movement on the blueline.

Confused? Let me explain.

As I mentioned earlier, he'll come to Atlanta and instantly become a mentor to some of the young blueliners. Should general manager Don Waddell no re-sign him next summer, it will free up an additional spot for another young defenseman, say Arturs Kulda. so I think there are plenty of reasons why this is a good deal for the Thrashers.

Schneider had not been participating in Anaheim's training camp, so his conditioning could be in question. I doubt he'll play Sunday in Detroit. Look for him to make his Atlanta debut at one of the home pre-season games next week.


Veteran hockey writer Ed Moran wrote a nice piece on the Philadelphia Spectrum in today's edition of the Philadelphia Daily News. The building is scheduled for demolition sometime in 2009. And even though the facility will make way for a hotel complex, it's memories will live forever.

If you say Spectrum to a hockey fan, they'll likely blurt out Kate Smith. or Broad Street Bullies. Or Bobby Clarke. Or Gene Hart.

I had the pleasure of calling two games in the old Spectrum and have the distinction of having gone 1-0-1 as a broadcaster. The final game I called there was in 1996, an overtime win for the Mighty Ducks thanks to an overtime goal scored by Garry Valk. The great part calling games there was your proximity to the ice surface. You were close and the place felt intimate compared to the rinks today. There was no restroom in the press box, so you'd have to sprint to one of the concourse facilities between periods in order to make it back for puck drop.

Two of my favorite stories about the place come from two close friends. Pittsburgh Penguins Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike Lange loathed the place. After all, his Pittsburgh Penguins went 15 years without winning a single game there. He tells a story about how he'd arrive for the morning skate and Flyers legendary broadcaster Gene Hart would present him with the updated stats to the streak! Lange would fume inside, waiting for the day the streak would come to an end and he could tell Gene where to put his stats. Remember, 15 years without a win. That's an eternity. There was the night some 25 years ago or so when the Pens went into Philadelphia during the Flyers historic unbeaten streak. Lange would watch defenseman Ron Stackhouse score to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. It held up until late in the third period when Flyers defenseman Behn Wilson located a loose puck in the Pittsburgh goal crease and literally kicked it into the net with his skate (yes...a VERY distinct kicking motion) to tie the game and keep the streak alive. Lange described to Pens fans back in Pittsburgh how referee Dave Newell couldn't even look at Pens coach Johnny Wilson when the game had ended, probably because he knew he had blown it. But Lange finally got his wish one night in 1989 when the Pens finally broke into the win column.

The 0-39-3 streak was history.

My other favorite story about the Spectrum comes from my old Anaheim broadcast partner Charlie Simmer. Chaz and the Kings rolled into the Spectrum in March, 1979 for a game as part of an east coast trip. Keep in mind, these were the days of the Broad Street Bullies, a tough as nails Flyers outfit that featured the likes of Bobby Clarke, Ed Van Impe, Don Saleski and Dave Schultz. Back then, the goal was not to win in Philly, but to leave the rink with your health and all limbs attached!

During the first period, things seemed a bit subdued. Each team exchanged scoring chances and the Flyers were behaving. It was just what the Kings had hoped for. Then, out of nowhere and right at the end of the period, Kings defenseman Randy Holt took a run at Philadelphia agitator Ken Linesman and all hell broke loose. The altercation turned into a bench clearing brawl with the brunt of the "action" located around the Los Angeles bench. Holt was assessed a triple game misconduct and a total of 67 penalty minutes, an NHL single game record. The fighting eventually subsided and the Kings headed to their dressing room. Holt took his spot in his locker room stall and was greeted by about a half dozen teammates screaming at him and saying he was nuts for stirring the pot. As Simmer tells it, the entire team was ready to beat the crap out of the guy!

It's too bad that arenas come with a shelf life. In the next couple of years, we'll not only lose the Spectrum, but the Igloo in Pittsburgh as well.

But never the memories.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Just got back from Thrashers camp and wanted to give an update before sharing some thoughts about their new head coach John Anderson.

The team split into two groups this morning; those making the trip to Nashville and St. Louis for back to back pre-season games, and those who are staying put. Not making the trip are veterans Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Perrin, Slava Kozlov and Kari Lehtonen. Some of the younger players staying back include Joey Crabb, Rylan Kaip, Joe Motzko, Zach Bogosian and Arturs Kulda.

The plan calls for taking enough players to fill out two rosters. I would imagine the veterans who play tonight in Nashville will likely sit out in St Louis on Friday and vice versa, although there will be some overlap. I'm sure some of the young kids getting longer looks may play in both nights, especially if earned. Johan Hedberg and Ondrej Pavlec are the goalies making the trip.

For the most part, the team remains healthy. Erik Christensen's MRI on his shoulder was negative, making him day-to-day. Bogosian participated in a full practice today as he tries to work his way through a nagging hip flexor.

So it's on to Nashville, where tonight, game play begins to dictate the decisions facing first year head coach John Anderson. And as a fan of the underdog, I'm excited to see what type of play style the Thrashers will incorporate.

In talking with Anderson, one of his early goals has been to create a prideful atmosphere around the dressing room. He emphasized that thought earlier today when we talked. He wants his players to take pride in their uniform, to play for one another, and to have fun. As for an expected style of play, he wants to be up tempo, engaging the defensemen in the rush to aid the forwards offensively. Look for the Thrashers blueliners to have the green light this season. In fact, Anderson singled out Garnet Exelby's play during training camp and his willingness to jump into the offense. The team's defensive philosophy seems to be in order to cut down on shots against, they need to be up ice and in the opponent's offensive zone a heck of alot more than has been the case in the past. We'll see if that holds true as the season unfolds.

It should be fun to watch.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


From the "What's new" category, there's been quite a bit of talk lately regarding the configuration of the schedule. But then again, when hasn't there been active talk on this subject? In the past year, the NHL's board of governors approved a modified version in which each team plays at least one game against every other team with the exception of a single division from the other conference. Interconference games are up and that's a good thing. Unfortunately, the league didn't go far enough.

Let's forget for a second the travel logistics and the costs associated with each franchise playing coast to coast every season. Instead, let's think about the fans.

Earlier today, I was listening to Don and EJ on XM Home Ice. Both brought up a great point about the need for a "league wide" system of scheduling. EJ's point was well taken when he talked about Sidney Crosby's appearances in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver last season were reminiscent of the Beatles descending on a city during one of their concert tours back in the 1960's.

It was fun....and it was the way it should always be.

With ticket prices at or above $100 a game in some cities, the league and it's players owe the fans a chance to see the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Lecavalier at least once a season.

So how do you do it? Glad you asked.

My suggestion would be to play four home games and four road games against each opponent within your division, then play one home game and one road game against everyone else. That would equal 82 games.

The lopsided slate of divisional games would help promote geographic rivalries, which I believe would be a highlight to local fans. Four home games against the same opponent still factors to less than a game a month based on a six month schedule. To add spice to these tilts, some could be scheduled as home and homes. As for the remainder of games, fans would be able to see every player in the league at least one time each season in their city. Seriously, do Thrashers fans want to see the Islanders and Buffalo two times a season and vice-versa? Wouldn't they rather see them once and guarantee themselves a chance to see every player and team in the league once a season as a trade-off? There's not a team marketing manager that would turn down the opportunity to build a sales campaign around the Pens coming to town on a Saturday night in December. And how does an Ovechkin appearance in Vancouver for a late January weekend showdown on Hockey Night in Canada sound? I actually floated this idea by Lou Lamouriello and Don Waddell a while back and both thought it had merit.

What do you think? Are 8 conference games (4-home, 4-road) too many per season or is it a fair trade-off to be able to see every team once per season?

Monday, September 22, 2008


Good Monday morning to all of you! When I first started this blog, I said I had no idea of what direction it might take. I think today's post is a good indication of that. And while teams across North America gear up for the season, owners across the National Hockey League must be fretting about the status of our economy.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed this subject last week in Toronto when they met the media for a Q&A. Let's face it. Everything costs more these days. The fan that commutes 60 miles round trip for a game just added another several dollars to his game day experience. The salary cap goes up and, typically, so does the cost of attending a game. More and more teams are offering "deal games" in which tickets are discounted and packaged with meals and/or additional discounts on ancillary products from in and around the arena.

Bettman acknowledged in that conference that there's no way to predict the future of the economy, then added that some positive insights.

"Based on the projections we are seeing, based on data that we're getting with respect to things like season ticket sales, we're actually running ahead of last season," he said.

That's great news. And there's no doubt in my mind that people in places like Toronto and Montreal and Edmonton would likely decide to go without a days worth of food in order to afford a ticket to see the Leafs, Habs or Oil. I'm not so sure that's the case in other places. For example, let's use Atlanta once again.

They play a Tuesday night game in October against Minnesota. Let's say you want to sit in the lower bowl between the goal lines. That ticket will cost you $98. Tell me this; who in Atlanta is going to shell out $98 to watch a Tuesday game in October? In other words, the strength in these sales has to lie within the strength of the corporate ticket base. And in tough times, the entertainment budget of corporations is one of the first to disappear.

Please understand this isn't a shot at the Thrashers and their pricing policy. For that matter, the team has had in place since it's inception a $10 ticket that enables fans to sit between the goal lines, albeit halfway to the moon.

So what do you think? Is the current state of the economy causing you to re-think the use of your entertainment dollars? Will you still attend games, but fewer in numbers? Will you nix the dinner out prior to puck drop?