Archive for May, 2004

Dave Lewis Sleeps Safer

With his first NHL head coaching position in limbo, after two disappointing playoff defeats in the first and second rounds, Dave Lewis appears likely to stay behind the Wings bench. This has a lot to do with who’s available on the coaching market. Up until yesterday, the biggest names of Joel Quenneville and Jacques Martin remained free picking.

Jacques Martin was hired as head coach of the Florida Panthers, on Wednesday, replacing interim coach John Torchetti. In addition, Mike Keenan, who was fired 6 months ago after two years as head coach, was hired as general manager. Keenan replaces Rick Dudley, who incidentally fired Keenan. A soap opera in the front office.

The Panthers have had four coaches in the past seven months. A quick recap. Keenan fired November 9. Rick Dudley goes 13-15-9-3 before John Torchetti (then assistant coach) takes over the reigns, to go 10-12-4-1. This is where Martin steps in.

Martin is a snake-bitten coach. He was 1999 NHL coach of the year, won 3 Northeast Division titles in 8 seasons with the Senators, and led them to their first Presidents’ Trophy in 2002-2003. But his success during the regular season has failed to convert to solid playoff runs. Martin and the Senators lost to the Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round this year, marking the fourth time in five seasons Ottawa has seen their team ousted by Toronto’s team. How many times can you say “ditto”?

Martin’s eight and a half seasons as the Senator’s head coach (half of the 1995-96 season) made him the NHL’s current longest serving head coach of one team. Paul Maurice held the title before getting the ax December 15, in his ninth season with the Canes. Now the longest-serving head coaches are Lindy Ruff of the Sabres (hired July 21, 1997) and Barry Trotz of the Predators (hired August 6, 1997). Joel Quenneville was also hired in 1997, but the Blues fired him in late February.

According to a source close to the Wings, Dave Lewis is likely to stay in command:

“The fact that it’s taken fairly long, probably everything will remain the same. It would be a surprise if the Ilitches (owners Mike and Marian) called for a change…I’d be shocked if it’s any different.”

I don’t see the Wings hiring Quenneville, since the Wings have had his number for the years he was in St Louis. Unless, of course, you follow the Detroit Piston Philosophy, and hire those whom you defeat. During the offseason, the Pistons fired Rick Carlisle and hired Larry Brown, whom they had defeated in the second round when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers. But I don’t follow basketball much, so maybe that makes more sense to b-ballers…

Another possible candidate is Paul Maurice, after his stint with the Hurricanes came to an end this past season. But I don’t see that happening either.

The Wings have told Lewis that a decision will be made by June 1. Owner Mike Ilitch is on vacation in Florida through Friday, and will meet with GM Ken Holland and the rest of management next week.

My Take on Lewis

At this point, I’m going to have to say keep Lewis. Sure, the Wings call it a bad season if they don’t win the Cup. His playoff record (6-10) spells first and second round oustings, but the problem lies more in personnel issues. The Wings have lost the past two years because they have choked offensively, among other things. The injuries and goalie drama played a role this season.

You have to respect Lewis for what he has done in the regular season (96-41-21-6). This past season the Wings easily won the Presidents’ Trophy with a 48-21-11-2 record. Sure, Martin and Quenneville were successful in the regular season and axed, but Lewis is only two years into his head coaching stint. And, to be honest, we all knew that this roster was going to meet a sort of End of An Era (don’t you love cliches?!) eventually. It was an aging team, behind an aging Captain, and I see the Wings in a transition stage now (which doesn’t mean that they can’t compete with the best of them while there).

Also, with the looming lockout and End of the NHL as We Know It, there’s no reason to make big changes now. If the Wings’ management was honest with the situation, they would nip the problem at the bud and look at their roster rather than front office. A lot of contracts are up this summer, and it’s a perfect time to make sweeping roster changes. The Wings did not lose because of Lewis the past two playoff runs. Give him another season.

Cujo Ankle Update

Curtis Joseph had minor arthroscopic ankle surgery last week to repair loose cartilage in his right ankle. Cujo also had surgery on August 19, 2003 to remove bone chips from his right ankle. That was when he threw the Wings for a loop, announcing the injury just before training camp started and when the Wings were trying to trade him (let’s not start thinking about the Hasek fiasco…).

5/25 Notes

Coaching Situation

A decision on the future of the Wings’ coaching staff could be coming soon. Owner Mike Ilitch was out of town last week, and has met with Ken Holland to discuss the future of the player personnel and coaching staff this week. A decision is expected by the end of next week.

While Dave Lewis and Barry Smith are likely to find coaching positions somewhere in the league in the event that the Wings hire a new coaching crew, Joey Kocur has to feel nervous about his stature. After retirement in 2000, Kocur joined the Wings as the video coach for two seasons, before Dave Lewis promoted him to assistant coach for the past two seasons. Kocur is a fiery and emotional coach, as exemplified by the March 29, 2003 chair-throwing incident in St Louis. When Joel Quennville sent out mugs in the final minute of a 6-2 Wings victory, Kocur sent a message and defended his players.

In all the vagueness of coaching terminology, Joe Kocur is listed as “Assistant Coach”, while Barry Smith as “Associate Coach.” This reflects the hierarchy of the Wings coaching staff, Lewis on top, followed by Smith, and finally Kocur. So, in the scope of presidential succession, Barry Smith is the Vice President and Joe Kocur is the Speaker of the House. And your government lesson is done.

An interesting twist is that Barry Smith has been contacted by teams in the Swedish Elite League about coaching there next season. If you remember, Smith coached team Malmo of that very league during the 1996-1997 season, before joining up with the Wings in time for the successful playoff run. Smith’s ties to Sweden also include acting as assistant coach for Sweden at the 1998 Olympics and 1996 World Cup of Hockey tournament. In addition, Smith coached in Sweden from 1981-84 (and in Norway from 1984-86) before moving to Buffalo to join Bowman in 1986.

Chelios Closer to Return

General Manager Ken Holland has told Chris Chelios that the Wings want him back next season, and Holland is going to try to work out a deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. This is after serious doubts that the future Hall-of-Famer would play another game in the Winged-Wheel.

Part of me definitely wants Chelios back, but I also would like to see the Wings move away from aging stars and open their roster for young guys who’d otherwise end up on the farm team in Grand Rapids. This led me to list Chelios under the heading “Bon Voyage” on May 7th. Despite these hints that Chelios might return with a reduced salary, I stand by my position that the Wings need to move on with certain players. We can respect their Hall-of-Fame careers while also deciding that it is best to part ways. Chris is welcome to sell all the chili he wants at Cheli’s Chili Bar, and I know he wants to stay in the Detroit area after he slips out of his skates.

Shanny’s Stock

Ken Holland met with Brendan Shanahan for three hours in the rash of player interviews going on recently. Says Mr. Holland: “Brendan and I talked about his season, what could have been done differently, and it was all positive.” It is likely that Shanny will have to take a pay cut to stay in Detroit, as the Wings will not exercise the $6.5 million club option to bring him back next season.

Stanley Cup Finals

After a grueling first three rounds, the playoffs are concluding with the Finals series of the Calgary Flames versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames beat the Sharks 4-2 and the Lightning beat the Flyers 4-3.

While I picked the Flames to win the San Jose series, I never would’ve expected the youthful Lightning to win their series against the physical Flyers, especially in a grueling seven games. While the Lightning have a highly-skilled roster, I was certain that the Flyers would grind them down on the boards and enforcer Donald Brashear would take out a few of the Lightning stars.

Overall, the Lightning are a fun team to watch, and guys like St Louis and Lecavalier always score great goals. The feel-good story down in Tampa is that Dave Andreychuk is in Cup Finals for the first time after playing in 1,752 games. The other feel-good story is that the Flames are the first Canadian team to reach the Finals since Vancouver in 1994. The last Canadian team to hold up Lord Stanley’s Cup were the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

The NHL has to be concerned about the ratings the Flames/Lightning series will bring, as they will almost certainly be less than what a Wings/Philly series would produce.

While Detroit money would lead me to root for Bill Davidson’s Tampa Bay Lightning, quite simply, I like the Flames more than the Lightning. Jarome Iginla is a great ambassador to the game, and Darryl Sutter’s no-nonsense, blue-collar coaching is admirable. In addition, Sutter is in the unique position of the head coach and general manager of the Flames, the only such dictatorship in the league. He is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, and one of six hockey-playing brothers of the Sutter family hockey dynasty. The Flames are a passionate team, and I’d much rather see them hold the Stanley Cup above their heads, in the midst of an infamous “C of red” in the Saddledome.

Game 1 is 8:00 PM tonight in Tampa Bay. The Lightning have home-ice advantage, as they were the runner-up in points for the regular season. Calgary is a sixth seed from the West, and Tampa Bay is a one seed from the East. Calgary’s road to the Finals took them through Vancouver, Detroit, and San Jose. Tampa Bay faced the Islanders, Canadiens, and Flyers, a much easier route.

Igor Grigorenko Update

After a car accident on May 16 of last year, Igor Grigorenko is healthy and ready to play with the Wings again. He suffered a broken left thigh bone and two fractures in left shin bone. In addition, complications arose and he developed a fat embolism in his left lung, which is potentially fatal. Said his agent, Mark Lapush: “They gave him a 10-percent chance to be alive, and he made it. He’s feeling good. He said, ‘Mark, trust me, I’m going to play hockey. I’m going to play for Detroit.'”

The 2001 second-round draft pick made a rather quick recovery and attended the Wings’ training camp last September. He then joined up with Lada Togliatti and played for their farm team in Russia’s third-tier league. Says Ken Holland: “All reports are, he�s feeling 100 percent. He was able to play in the playoffs (in Russia), and played well.”

World Cup of Hockey

August 30 through September 14, with games in six countries. Competing countries include Canada, United States, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Finland, and Germany. The USA won the first tournament in 1996, with a shocking victory over hockey-pompous Canada. The following Wings are participating in the tournament:

Steve Yzerman, Canada
Kris Draper, Canada
Kirk Maltby, Canada
Barry Smith, USA assistant coach
Chris Chelios, USA
Derian Hatcher, USA
Mathieu Schneider, USA
Brett Hull, USA
Nicklas Lidstrom, Sweden
Tomas Holmstrom, Sweden
Henrik Zetterberg, Sweden
Pavel Datsyuk, Russia
Robert Lang, Czech

Tuesday Trivia

The Wings have 377 consecutive home sellouts in the regular season and playoffs, dating back to December 1996. But this isn’t the NHL record, as the rival Avs have a streak of 434 games, dating back to November 1995 (the first season in Denver).

Senators may pick up Hasek

Although Dom has said repeatedly that he is not done playing, the
Wings have said just as many times that if he does play again next year, it will not be with them. Because of this fact, Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News makes some educated speculations in the first section of his NHL Notebook today when he discusses three teams which could possibly pick up the option on Hasek’s contract next year.

The most likely team, he says, is Ottawa. He supports this with

Ottawa GM John Muckler was in Buffalo during Hasek’s glory days with the Sabres. The two have a long, amicable history and that could mean a lot to Hasek when he ultimately decides on a new locale.

That doesn’t seem like a very strong reason to me, especially since the Sens already have a good young goalie in Patrick Lalime (regardless of the less-than-stellar season he just had).

Another possible team is the New York Rangers (who else?). They don’t have a legitimate #1 goalie at the moment and certainly could afford Hasek. The only problem from Dom’s end is that they aren’t Stanley Cup contenders like the Senators and Wings and because that’s his biggest requirement for a team, the Rangers aren’t very likely either, in my opinion.

The Canucks are the third team Kulfan mentions, mainly because he
believes new Vancouver GM Dave Nonis will want to make a “splash.” He points out that Hasek won’t be in a very good bargaining position and would have to take a smaller contract with a lot of incentives, especially if he wanted to play for the ‘Nucks. They are no further than a good goalie away from being a solid Cup contender and I think they’d be Dom’s best option.

I personally think Dom should just hang ‘em up again, though, and not make himself look any worse by wasting another season on injuries. He went out on top in 2002 and if he really wanted to play, he should have continued then.

World Cup of Hockey

Overview

The tournament begins August 30 with games in six countries. The eight countries of Canada, United States, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Finland, and Germany will compete. Canada, Russia, Slovakia, and the United States make up the North American pool, and Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, and Sweden make up the European pool. The tournament concludes September 14 in Toronto.

This will be the second World Cup of Hockey tournament, with Canada still stinging after the US won the 1996 tournament championship.

Team Canada

On Saturday, executive director Wayne Gretzky announced Canada’s tentative roster for the World Cup of Hockey. The press conference was made at Calgary’s Saddledome on an off-day of the Flames/Sharks series.

Some notable omissions include suspended Todd Bertuzzi, as well as Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Jose Theodore, and Brendan Shanahan.

Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman will be the seasoned leaders of the team. Gretzky is uncertain whether Lemieux will be healthy enough to compete:

“If he can’t do it, maybe some things will change. But we’re not expecting Mario to have any complications.”

Defensemen include Rob Blake, Adam Foote, Chris Pronger, Ed Jovanovski, Scott Niedermayer, Eric Brewer, Wade Redden, and Robyn Regehr.

Forwards include Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Smyth, Simon Gagne, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Shane Doan, Brenden Morrow, Kirk Maltby, and Kris Draper.

Goaltenders are Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour, and Roberto Luongo.

Training camp opens Aug. 21 in Ottawa.

Team USA

The roster for the US team has yet to be announced. The US team will be coached by San Jose’s Ron Wilson.

Comments

After a botched shootout attempt in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, I can understand why Gretzky left Brendan Shanahan off the team Canada roster. Other good reasons include Brendan’s sloth-like speed and inability to score in recent months.

It must’ve been a tough decision to omit Keith Primeau, who has had a great playoffs thusfar. He has been arguably the best forward in the playoffs, with seven goals and four assists in 15 games.

It was an easy decision for Gretzky to keep Todd Bertuzzi off the team Canada roster. While the forward has served his time, with the suspension banning him from the final games of the regular season and the entire playoffs, Bertuzzi still has to meet with Gary Bettman before being reinstated in the NHL. Bettman would have had to reinstate Bertuzzi for the tournament, and that would’ve created a circus-like atmosphere surrounding team Canada.

It’s good to see Steve Yzerman on the team. Just in case a NHL lockout keeps him off the ice, at least we have the comfort of knowing he’ll play in the tournament. Yzerman will wear a visor, as he became a convert to the eye protection after taking a puck to his left eye in Game 5 of the Wings/Flames series.

It’s also good to see Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby crack the lineup together. I’d have considered Draper a lock for the team, with a career best season and finalist for the Selke, but Maltby is a surprise. It was a great move by Gretzky, though, to keep the league’s best penalty killing tandem intact. Draper and Maltby are pure chemistry.

Derian Hatcher Suspended

As the Wings hit the golf course and try to enjoy the start of their long summer vacation, the league is reminding us of the stinging second round loss to the Flames. Colin Campbell, the league’s NHL Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations, has suspended Derian Hatcher for the first three games of the theoretical next season for elbowing Matthew Lombardi in the head. Here is my recount of the play from the Game 6 summary:

“At 15:58 [of the first period], Derian Hatcher laid out a viscous elbow on Matthew Lombardi at the Wings’ line. Lombardi left the ice dazed, and the crowd booed Hatcher for the rest of the game. If there was a Game 7, Hatcher might’ve been suspended from it for the dirty elbow to Lombardi’s head.”

While I noted that it was a dirty hit, enough to be suspended for, I hardly expected league action 8 days later. It’s a low blow to the Wings for the league to do this so after the fact, reminding us of the second round failure a week later.

I’d like to see the league rules concerning the statute of limitations regarding player suspensions. If common sense prevailed, it’d be set at 7 days so that Campbell isn’t watching video all summer long, gleaning the tapes for another suspension. If anyone knows of any NHL rule that sets a deadline for filing player suspensions, I’d be interested in hearing about it.

According to the Calgary Sun, Lombardi is suffering from “Hatcher Hangover.” To be more specific, the forward has been out since Game 6 of the Wings/Flames series with what is believed to be a concussion. Interestingly, Lombardi returned from the dressing room to finish Game 6, but felt the results of the crushing elbow the next morning. Flames head coach Darryl Sutter wouldn’t give the specifics of the symptoms, only that “he’s not relatively healthy.”

World Hockey Championships

Sunday was medal-day at the World Hockey Championships in Prague, Czech Republic. The United States won the bronze medal, beating Slovakia 1-0 in a penalty shootout. It was a scoreless regulation and 10-minute overtime, so the teams faced off in a penalty shootout. The United States won the shootout, 4-2, to secure the 1-0 win.

It was the United States’ first medal since finishing third in 1996. It was also an improvement on last year’s affair, in which the US placed 13th.

Andy Roach scored the shootout/game-winning goal for the US. Roach has played hockey for the past five seasons in the DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga), a German elite league. He was born in Mattawan, Michigan, which is near Kalamazoo.

US coach Peter Laviolette, head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, had this to say:

“It was tough after the loss in the semifinals. The objective was to get the team up for the bronze-medal game. They can be proud of themselves.”

Canada won the gold medal, beating Sweden, 5-3, for the second straight year in the gold-medal game. Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester scored the game-winning goal.

It was Canada’s record 23rd world title, sharing that distinction with Russia. Canada’s back-to-back titles are a rare achievement, as the last time they had done that was in 1958-59. Sweden was awarded the silver medal.

Captain Ryan Smyth, of the Edmonton Oilers, had this to say on the gold-medal win:

“It hadn’t been done since 1959, and it’s great. It tops off the NHL season a bit better and helps finish the year off right.”

Check out the boxscores for the US/Slovakia and Canada/Sweden games. You’ll see a lot of familiar NHL names on the respective rosters.

Mike Danton Speaks Publicly

St. Louis Blues forward Mike Danton read a prepared statement over the phone Friday night from Clinton County Jail in Carlyle, Illinois. Danton is charged with murder-for-hire of his agent, David Frost.

Mike Danton, known as Mike Jefferson until 2002, blasted the Jefferson family for physical and emotional abuses while he grew up and staunchly defended his agent. The following are portions of his read statement:

“First of all, I’d like to thank my agent, Dave Frost, and his family for all their time and support. Also, my close friends for their co-operation and involvement. I would also like to express my appreciation to the St. Louis Blues organization and players for their caring and support…With regards to the Jeffersons, their recent publicity rants are nothing new to myself. The deceptions and lies throughout the past three weeks are a sign of the erratic lifestyle that I have lived. I have changed my last name to fully distance myself from the Jeffersons and, in no means, have had or will have anything to do with them in the future.

This abuse occurred as early as I can remember and also continued until the time I left the household. I was constantly degraded and put down at early ages…As mentioned before, I was neglected many daily necessities, as well as the abandonment of love, care and direction…One pair of track pants and two t-shirts created an abundance of embarrassment for a young boy going to school such as myself, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t given lunch to eat or money to buy lunch. Dinner was rare and, on many occasions, I would visit friends’ houses in search of food and washroom use, due to the fact that there was no toilet paper at the Jefferson house.

I wanted to share this small amount of information with you to set the record straight and show that there are two sides to the story. Also, that I have had no interest and will have no interest in the future to have any contact whatsoever with the Jeffersons.”

Understandably, the Jefferson family was shaken by the allegations. Steve Jefferson, Danton’s father, responded:

“I’m really hurt by it. His mother will be floored. That’s Dave Frost talking. You’d think that his brother and his mother would remember these things and they don’t at all. It hurts the family to hear that type of nonsense from him, but it just shows how badly Mike needs help.”

His father also believes that the public statement was simply David Frost manipulating his son:

“It does not hurt what Mike said because Mike did not say it,” Jefferson said. “What really hurts is that Mike is not saying the right things. He is not saying the truth. If he really thinks Dave Frost is going to save him in all this, he is going to end up doing a lot of time in jail.”

The story is even stranger in that Danton told his agent David Frost that he was going to speak publicly, but failed to inform his attorney, Robert Haar.

On Tueday, Mike Danton pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to kill an acquaintance in a murder-for-hire plot. Present at the hearing were three of his relatives (mother Sue Jefferson, brother Tom Jefferson, and aunt Linda Gebe) as well as two of his teammates (Scott Mellanby and Doug Weight). Danton’s trial begins July 20.

Sources:
Buffalo News
Canada.com
CTV.ca
GlobeAndMail.com
St Louis Post-Dispatch

WHC Update:

With the help of Nicklas Lidstrom and Peter Forseberg, Sweden beat the United States 3-2 in the World Hockey Championships semifinals round. Earlier Saturday, Canada beat Slovakia 2-1. The United States fell short of creating the first all-North American final in 54 years.

On Sunday, the US will face Slovakia in the bronze-medal game (10 am), and Canada will face Sweden in the gold-medal match (2 pm).