Archive for July, 2004

Blues sign Chris Pronger for $10 million

In a move that sets a bad precedent in the Wings’ quest to re-sign defenseman Mathieu Schneider, the St Louis Blues have signed Norris Trophy winner Chris Pronger to a one-year, $10 million deal. Pronger will have a base salary of $9.5 million with a $500,000 signing bonus. He was a finalist for the Norris last season, finishing third in voting, and having won it in 2000. The $10 million deal is, without a doubt, the biggest signing of the offseason. With many teams sitting on their hands and conducting fiscal responsibility, in fear of the lockout and a possible salary cap, it is surprising to see such a blockbuster deal.

Mathieu Schneider, 35, made $3.75 million last season, and is looking for a significant pay raise after finishing seventh in Norris voting. He notched 14 goals and 32 assists in 78 games, but was snubbed by the Western Conference All Star Team. Many have linked Schneider’s great season to linemate and three-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, who has made linemates look good in the past (Larry Murphy, to name one). Lidstrom finished sixth in Norris voting this past season. The Wings are not willing to offer Schneider more than $4 million a season, which could be reason for the all-time leading Jewish scorer in NHL history to walk.

The Pronger signing also sets a bad precedent for the New Jersey Devils, who have a self-imposed salary ceiling of around $7 million (Martin Brodeur making $6,891,103.13 and Scott Stevens making $6,916,747.25). But it looks like that ceiling is crumbling. New Jersey General Manager Lou Lamoriello has said that he will pay whatever it takes to keep the 2004 Norris Trophy winner Scott Niedermayer in the Devils’ sweater. Niedermayer earned $4 million last season, and previous speculation had that salary at least doubling. Now it’s almost certain that Niedermayer will seek a $10 million contract that mirrors those of Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom. Another player of similar stature is the Avs’ Rob Blake, who will make $8,349,375 next season.

Jason Williams re-signed by Detroit

The Red Wings have signed center Jason Williams, 23, to a one-year deal.  While many news outlets are reporting “terms of the deal was not disclosed,” I found his 2004-2005 salary to be $425,000 via Williams’ NHLPA profile.  Williams made $440,000 last season. 

The Wings originally signed Williams as a non-drafted free agent on September 18, 2000.  Previously, he had played two years in the OHL for the Peterborough Petes.  After leading them in scoring (36 goals, 37 assists), he got an invite to the Wings’ training camp in Traverse City in the fall of 2000.  After signing with the Wings, Williams has been splitting his time between the AHL and NHL.

The London, Ontario native had six goals and seven assists in 49 games last season.  His career totals are 17 goals and 15 assists in 95 career contests.  At 5’11,” 185 pounds, Williams lacks size, but makes up for it with consistently hard-working shifts. 

So far this summer, the Wings have re-signed Kris Draper, Jamie Rivers, Mark Mowers, Brendan Shanahan, Mathieu Dandenault, and now Jason Williams.  The Wings have agreed to a deal with Chris Chelios (yet to be signed with Chelios training in California).  The Wings are furthest apart in the negotiations with Pavel Datsyuk, and remain far apart with Mathieu Schneider.  Jiri Fischer remains as the Wings’ last restricted free agent.  Steve Yzerman will re-sign with the Wings if he decides to forego retirement. 

Don Cherry re-signs with HNIC

After reports from the Globe and Mail on July 16 that Don Cherry would be returning to the CBC’s top-rated Hockey Night in Canada program, the deal is now official. CBC Sports announced Grapes’ return this afternoon, ending speculation that Cherry would be canned after years of controversial comments on “Coach’s Corner.” The deal is believed to be for one year, as all previous Grapes deals have been. Cherry, 70, will likely make $500,000, his salary last year. Ron MacLean is also set to return to “Coach’s Corner.”

Also returning to Hockey Night in Canada are analysts Bob Cole, Kelly Hrudey, Greg Millen, and Harry Neale. In addition, former Canucks’ president and general manager Brian Burke will join HNIC for its World Cup of Hockey tournament coverage, as well as regular season games. Finally, Flyers goaltender Sean Burke will do some in-studio analysis. Analyst Glenn Healy, who was asked to work exclusively at the CBC, declined so he could continue working for other outlets. It will be Hockey Night in Canada’s 53rd season. Says Nancy Lee, executive director of CBC Sports:

“We’re pleased to have Don, Bob, Kelly, Greg and Harry back for the upcoming season. Our fans have come to expect the highest quality from our show, and these commentators are the best and most insightful in the business.”

Says Joel Darling, executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada, on the additions of the two Burke’s:

“Adding Brian Burke and Sean Burke to our coverage of the World Cup is an added bonus. Sean has played on the international stage for Canada on several occasions and can provide valuable insight. Brian has proven to be a great guest on the show. His frank and thoughtful comments are sure to add excitement to the World Cup and regular season broadcasts.”

Don Cherry has been on Hockey Night in Canada for 23 years. Cherry has bashed French/European hockey players, Canada’s decision to not send troops to Iraq, and Sidney Crosby hot-dogging in the QMJHL, among others. The culmination of his controversial comments led to the CBC placing “Coach’s Corner” on a seven-second delay. And in a country that works hard at maintaining unity with French and English speaking citizens, Cherry has insinuated that French hockey players are wimps: “Most of the guys that wear them [protective visors] are Europeans and French guys.” In response to his derogatory remarks, Cherry was investigated by the Official Languages Commissioner of the Canadian Government.

The World Cup of Hockey tournament runs from August 30 to September 14, and CBC Sports plans on airing all 19 games of the tournament. Hockey Night in Canada begins NHL coverage on October 16.

My Views

I expected the CBC to backtrack on its Cherry-bashing and keep him as the hallmark of Hockey Night in Canada. First of all, there was a rush of support behind Cherry’s partner, Ron MacLean, when it was announced that he was leaving two years ago. MacLean never went anywhere. In addition, “Coach’s Corner” has been the spike of Hockey Night in Canada (all of CBC, for that matter) ratings for the longest time, and that is solely due to Cherry’s straightforward, no-nonsense approach to hockey analysis. Not only do hard-core hockey fans tune in, but people who change the channel to CBC just to watch Cherry’s first intermission antics. The Archie Bunker in Don Cherry is what people love. Finally, with Cherry’s status in the hockey world, it would be inevitable for another station (such as TSN and Rogers Sportsnet) to pick him if the CBC declined his services. That would essentially kill Hockey Night in Canada, the CBC’s highest rated program.

I am relieved that Don Cherry will be back in the hot seat (23 years and counting). Cherry is one of the biggest ambassadors of the game. He speaks from the heart (which gets him in some trouble) and gives hockey a grassroots, homey feel. As a hockey fan, I have been blessed with being able to watch Hockey Night in Canada from the United States (Detroit area gets CBC). I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be the impassioned fan I am without segments like “Coach’s Corner.”

Cherry before HNIC

Cherry was a career minor league player (16 years) whose only NHL game came in the ’55 playoffs with the Bruins. After retiring as a player, Cherry drifted away from the game and got a job as a construction worker. After the 38-year-old Cherry was layed off by foreman Whitney Smith, Cherry returned to the game as coach of the Boston Bruins three years later.

In his coaching career with the Boston Bruins, Cherry translated his tough personality to making his team tough-as-nails and one of the best teams in the latter 1970’s. It is also said that he modeled the Bruins’ playing style after his dog, Blue (the one seen in the “Coach’s Corner” theme). Cherry won the Jack Adams in 1976. The outspoken Cherry also had his faults. Coach was fired after the 1979 playoffs. This was due to his famous too-many-men-on-the-ice call in Game 7, versus the Canadiens, when the Bruins were up by a goal with less than two minutes remaining. The Canadiens tied the game on the powerplay and won in overtime. If you ever meet Don Cherry in person, do not ask him about that game. I’m sure many journalists could tell you why…

Chris Chelios Stirs up Trouble

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that defenseman Chris Chelios was booted from the restaurant FIX on Saturday.  This was the result of Chelios practicing the Greek tradition of plate breaking.  After explaining himself, Chelios was allowed to return to his group, which included Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, tennis star Jennifer Capriati, actors Cuba Gooding Jr and Alan Thicke, former Wings Sergei Fedorov and Luc Robitaille, and stick-swinging Marty McSorley.  Chelios was in Vegas with the star-studded group for Detroit native Jerry Bruckheimer’s annual Bad Boys of Hockey weekend.  

To Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Norm Clarke, this was just “More proof that NHL veteran Chris Chelios has the IQ of a hockey puck.”  Clarke recalled a previous Vegas incident in which Chelios grabbed a lobster from a restaurant tank, and proceeded in torturing it at his table.   

Chelios has a history of bad behavior: on-ice dirty plays (elbow of Brian Propp in ’89 playoffs), off-ice bar-hopping in Chicago, refusing to reveal the names of the Team USA players who trashed their rooms at the ’98 Olympics, and numerous suspensions (sat out eight games during the ’93-’94 season).  His dirty play was the reason that Wings fans hated Chelios before he joined the team in 1999.  You hate Chelios unless he’s on your team, much like ex-Wing Sean Avery.

After watching Fox Sports Net’s “Beyond the Glory” segment on Chelios, and keeping in mind his charity work with Cheli’s Children’s Foundation, I have a hard time looking at Chelios and seeing the blockhead that Clarke sees.  Sure, Chelios has made mistakes throughout his career, but you can’t put on the blinders to the good and make him out like a total goon.    

Chelios is at his off-season home in California, where he trains with TR Goodman.  He has agreed to a base salary of approximately $2.5 million for one season, and only negotiating bonus clauses keep Cheli from inking the deal to stay with the Wings.   

Report: Mathieu Dandenault re-signed by Detroit

Sportsnet.ca is reporting that the Red Wings have re-signed defenseman Mathieu Dandenault to a one-year, $1.595 million contract on Monday.  Dandenault, who was a restricted free agent, had until midnight July 15 to file for an arbitration hearing, but decided to stick with negotiations.  No Red Wings filed for arbitration this summer.  Dandenault made $1.45 million last season.   

The Wings picked Dandenault in the second round (49th overall) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.  His career numbers include 48 goals and 101 assists in 616 games, and he had 3 goals and 9 assists in 65 games last season.  Dandenault, 28, is highly sought-after for his two-way game, as he is able to play both as a defenseman and as a forward.  In past years, the Wings have rejected numerous trade offers due to the strong interest in Dandenault.

If his $1.595 million salary turns out to be below the 2004-2005 league average salary (last season’s was $1.83 million), this would mean that he would become a Group V Unrestricted Free Agent next summer.  This is a likely scenario, as all indications show that the average salary will not change significantly next season, and Dandenault will be a 10-year veteran by next summer.
Note that although this deal may not yet be official (ie no press release), Sportsnet.ca is usually good with premature reports.  For example, they reported the re-signing of Kris Draper two days before it became official.

I am happy to see Dandy staying in the Winged-Wheel.  His speed and defensive poise are a great asset to the Wings, adding depth to a still veteran club.  Hopefully fellow defensemen Jiri Fischer, Chris Chelios, and Mathieu Schneider follow suit in re-signing with the Wings.     

So far this summer, the Wings have re-signed Kris Draper, Jamie Rivers, Mark Mowers, Brendan Shanahan, and now Mathieu Dandenault.  The Wings have agreed to a deal with Chris Chelios (yet to be signed with Chelios training in California).  The Wings are still far apart in the negotiations with Pavel Datsyuk and Mathieu Schneider, but don’t foresee any problems in re-signing Jiri Fischer and Jason Williams.  Steve Yzerman will re-sign with the Wings if he decides to forego retirement.  The only Wings to leave the club officially are Boyd Devereaux, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, and Dominik Hasek, who signed with the Ottawa Senators.  Anticipated departures include Brett Hull and Steve Thomas, who were not offered contracts to stay in Hockeytown.

UPDATE
 
The Detroit Free Press reports that Dandenault signed for $1.754 million, although the NHLPA’s player profile of Dandenault lists his 2004-2005 salary as $1.595 million.  In any case, Dandenault’s salary will probably be less than the NHL average salary for next season.  In other news, the Wings hope to have Jason Williams signed to a one-year deal by the end of the week.  Also, the Coyotes have extended Brett Hull a two-year offer.  Brett’s agent and brother, Bobby Hull Jr, has said that the offer is “generous” and that Phoenix would be a good fit for the Golden Brett.  Don’t expect a signing any time soon, since, if Brett stays true to his word, he will not take contract offers until after the World Cup of Hockey tournament (August 30 to September 14).     

Where all 5,592 Players in NHL History Came From

The following is a list of the places of origin for all NHL players in the history of the league (1926 to present), based on the database on hockeydb.com, “the internet’s largest repository of hockey data,” as of 7/22/04.  This data is intended to give a general idea of where professional hockey players come from.  I do not vouch for the numbers to be precisely accurate, as some players’ birthplaces were not listed in the database.  I have previously researched where current NHL players come from, as well as where minor league hockey players come from.  This concludes my study of NHL player origins with a comprehensive listing of all player places of birth.    

Europe/Other

Czech Republic: 155
Sweden: 148
Russia: 136
Finland: 101
Slovakia: 43
Scotland: 16
Germany: 16
England: 15
Ukraine: 14
Latvia: 10
Switzerland: 7 
Poland: 7
Ireland: 6 
Belarus: 5 
France: 5 
Kazakhstan: 3 
Brazil: 2
South Korea: 2
Yugoslavia: 2
Wales: 2
Netherlands: 2
Italy: 2
Norway: 2
Lithuania: 2
Venezuela: 2
Brunei: 1
Austria: 1
Belgium: 1
Denmark: 1
Lebanon: 1
Jamaica: 1
South Africa: 1
Paraguay: 1
Nigeria: 1
Taiwan: 1
Haiti: 1
Tanzania: 1

Total Europe/Other: 717

United States

Minnesota: 151
Massachusetts: 131
Michigan: 90
New York: 56
Illinois: 27 
Rhode Island: 18 
Ohio: 18
Connecticut: 16
California: 13
Wisconsin: 10
Pennsylvania: 9
Washington: 7
North Dakota: 6
Indiana: 6
New Jersey: 5 
Virginia: 5
Alaska: 5
Missouri: 5
Maine: 4
Colorado: 4
New Hampshire: 4 
Oklahoma: 3
Florida: 3
Georgia: 3
Oregon: 3
South Dakota: 2
Idaho: 2
Texas: 2
Maryland: 2
Iowa: 2
Delaware: 1 
Washington DC: 1
Utah: 1
Vermont: 1
Nebraska: 1
Alabama: 1
Arizona: 1

Total United States: 619

Canada

Ontario: 1690
Quebec: 632
Alberta: 421
Saskatchewan: 379
Manitoba: 282
British Columbia: 251
Nova Scotia: 50
New Brunswick: 40 
Prince Edward Island: 19 
Newfoundland: 18 
Northwest Territories: 4 
Yukon: 1

Total Canada: 3787

Total Parts Unknown (no birthplace listed): 469 

 
Total NHL players documented: 5592

Percentages (not including the 469 unknown birthplaces)

Canada: 73.9% (3787/5123) 
Europe/Other: 14.0% (717/5123) 
United States: 12.1% (619/5123)  

Big Three

Europe/Other: Czech Republic (155), Sweden (148), Russia (136)
United States: Minnesota (151), Massachusetts (131), Michigan (90)
Canada: Ontario (1690), Quebec (632), Alberta (421)

Factoids

To put these numbers into perspective: Between 1969 and 2003, 7970 players have been drafted in the NHL Entry Draft.  Also, here is an interesting breakdown of hockey players and month born, made by an individual interested in the seasons and/or astrology.  And finally, a breakdown of total NHL salaries per country of birth

Analysis
 
Looking at the data, an NHL player is just as likely to have been born in Tanzania as in Alabama, with one player produced by each location.  Southern states of Virginia (5), Georgia (3), Florida (3), Alabama (1), North Carolina (0), South Carolina (0), Tennessee (0), Mississippi (0), Arkansas (0), Louisiana (0), and Kentucky (0) have left virtually no mark on the player production chart through 78 years of NHL history. 

36 states (and the District of Columbia) are represented on the player production chart, with North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, Kansas, and West Virginia lacking any production.  I find it scary that, in 78 years of NHL history, no native of these states has ever skated on an NHL rink.  I’d think a random blip in the general pattern of player production would eventually favor them, so maybe we’ll see a Hawaiian native in another 78 years.

Of the 192 countries in the world (US recognizes 191, with Taiwan still as a part of China), 37 are represented on the player production chart (Wales and Scotland are a part of England).  I’d say that’s a pretty good number, considering that hockey hasn’t permeated into South America (15), Africa (54), or Asia (37), number of countries in parenthesis.

In 1983, 78.3% of NHL players were born in Canada, as opposed to the 52.6% today.  Conversely, 16% of NHL players today were born in the United States, the highest mark in league history.  This reflects the apparent growing diversity of the NHL.  However, I find a void in this diversity when considering Southern states.  While Northern/Midwestern states have steadily increased player production in recent years, Southern states have lagged far behind. 

To me, this reflects how the Southern Culture and hockey are like oil and water.  I have no hard time saying that hockey is not culturally compatible in all parts of the world.  It’s just a fact of the world that certain cultures and regions are more apt to play certain sports.  Like I’ve said before, expecting hockey to flourish in the South is kind of like expecting Canadians to become world-class surfers and compete with Hawaiians and Californians. And would it really make sense for Canada to organize its own surfing league and import southern talent?  If you say “no,” then you should also say “no” to NHL hockey in the South, because that’s exactly what’s going on today. 

I don’t expect Southerners to play the “Yankee Game” at high levels, because it is meteorologically impossible for their children to skate on the local ponds.  It takes a conscience investment in buying indoor rink time, as well as the expensive equipment that makes hockey a high-maintenance sport anywhere.  The expensive aspect of playing hockey makes it difficult anywhere, something that sets it apart from sports like baseball and soccer, which only require willing players and an open field.  In addition, hockey has generally become a fad down south.  The Florida Panthers that made the Finals in 1996, but a franchise downspiral in years later saw the hockey craze in Miami disappear as fast as Beanie Babies.  I see Southern hockey as more of a business venture of entertainment than passion of the Game.

After finding only one Southern hockey player playing on a southern team in the five minor hockey leagues which the NHL recognizes (that’s 34 teams and 622 players), I can’t help but be pessimistic about future Southern hockey production.  The fact is that Southern states are not producing much hockey talent beyond the high school level.  And that happens to be the level where players can’t realistically be outsourced from the North.  In college and levels above, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any Southern-born players.

One of the biggest problems I have with the expansion of hockey to the South is that it happened so fast.  Nashville, Florida, Carolina, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay.  In ways, interest should be a prerequisite for having an NHL team.  Rather than implanting an NHL team in a dead-zone of hockey, and hope that interest trickles down to lower levels, I’d like to see a building interest in lower levels of the Game before awarding the region a team.  Gary Bettman’s good intentions of spreading the Game turned into forcing it on a population and hoping that they would accept it.  I’d rather teach people about hockey at lower levels of play, rather than starting from square one at the professional level.  I would certainly not be against NHL hockey in the South if I saw a concrete interest in the Game.  That said, I don’t believe such a great interest will ever precipitate in the South, unless there’s a mass exodus of Northerners moving into the region.  Though this “mass exodus” happens every Spring Break in Florida, the second home of every Michigander, so I’d give Florida the best chance of becoming a viable hockey community.      

The goal of this study is not to badger the Southern region nor divide the nation in terms of hockey in the North and Nascar in the South.  I mean to offend no one, but want to present this data, and, at the very least, allow the reader to draw his/her own conclusion.    

It’s now official: Brendan Shanahan re-signed by Detroit

The Red Wings announced today that they have re-signed Brendan Shanahan. Although financial terms were not disclosed per club policy, the contract is for one year with another year as a player option and is believed to be worth $3.5 to $4 million. How much of that would be base salary and how much, if any, would come through incentive clauses is unknown. Either way, he will be making significantly less than the $6.5 he would have made had the Wings picked up the option remaining on his last contract.

Since coming to the Wings from the Hartford Whalers in 1996 along with Brian Glynn as part of a deal involving Keith Primeau, Paul Coffey, and a first round pick in the 1997 draft (which turned out to be Nikos Tselios), Shanahan has helped the Wings to three Stanley Cups and has become one of the most popular athletes in the city. Many rightly believe he was the final piece in the puzzle which led to the 1997 championship, Detroit’s first in 42 years, and, while his scoring has been on the decline in recent years, he is still a valuable part of the team’s core group as a leader.

I’m personally very glad to have Shanny back and I hope it won’t be for just one more year. We fans can be pretty hard on him at times but we’d still defend him against other power forward in the league as the best. I don’t expect him to score 40+ goals any more but I know he’ll be a clutch player regardless.

It was a classy move by the Wings to bring him back and an even more classy move for him to take the pay cut to come back. To give you an idea, after becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1, Brendan Shanahan only spoke with one team. Detroit.