Already suffering from a slide down the Eastern Conference standings, consistently poor goaltending from partyboy Carey Price, and the surprising dominance of their rivals in Boston, the Montreal Canadiens have yet another problem ruining their centennial campaign. La Presse is reporting today that several Habs players, namely Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, are linked to an alleged drug trafficker named Pasquale Mangiola. The National Post sums it up for us non-Francophones:
Pasquale Mangiola, who faces drug-trafficking and illegal weapon charges, is a close associate of the brothers and spoke to them often, La Presse says.
The three were often seen together at local bars and restaurants, the French-language newspaper reports.
Canadiens defenceman Roman Hamrlik was also acquainted with Mr. Mangiola, La Presse reports.
The gossip is only the latest problem facing the team, following a string of game losses.
Montreal police on Friday refused comment on the anti-gang operation, Project Axe, as well as the rumours circulating about the Canadiens’ players.
“Concerning the numerous rumours that have been running around last night and this morning, they are still rumours as far as we are concerned,” Constable Yannick Ouimet said.
Habs fans have not been taking the news well, forcing HFBoards to shut down briefly. Perhaps this scandal is a blessing in disguise for trade-rumor magnate Alexei Kovalev, or perhaps his diabolical master plan has come to fruition.
The New York Islanders have sent head coach Ted Nolan packing after a disappointing 35-38-9 season in which he sparred with GM/former goaltender Garth Snow over personnel decisions.
The rift between Nolan and the organization became apparent last spring after his request for a contract extension before the final year of his three-year contract was denied by owner Charles Wang. When Snow became convinced that Nolan did not share his belief in rebuilding by emphasizing the development of the organization’s young prospects, he made the decision to end the power struggle and seek a partnership with a coach of his own choosing.
Describing the reasons for making a coaching change, Snow said, “There were philosophical differences between Ted and myself. Since last season and continuing into the summer, I have realized we don’t share the same philosophies. I’d like to thank Ted for his two years with the team and wish him the best.”
Asked why it took three months since the end of the season to reach this conclusion, Snow said, “That’s a fair question. This has been a difficult decision for both Ted and myself, especially for me because of Charles Wang’s desire to give Ted the opportunity to coach in the NHL and because of his loyalty to those he hires.
“I understand there could be some criticism, and if there is, it can fall on me. What I can tell you is there was a process. I spoke with Ted regularly following the season and when the draft and free agency ended. Our strong belief about our philosophical differences led me to believe, and Ted as well, that we needed to part ways. I know this decision will be best for not only the team and our fans, but for Ted as well.”
Considering how little talent the Islanders possess, the decision to fire a coach who kept them in the playoff race until Rick DiPietro’s season-ending hip surgery in March does not seem like a sound hockey decision. Game On hopes former Lightning boss John Tortorella fills the Islanders’ vacancy, which would invert his “great offense, no goaltending” conundrum in Tampa by introducing him to the Isles’ current scoring vacuum. After losing Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedetenko to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders are left with the aging combination of Doug Weight and Bill Guerin, Hillary Duff“accessory Mike Comrie, and unproven rookie Kyle Okposo to improve on their conference-low total of goals from last season. Recently signed defenseman Mark Streit is effectively a forward, so add his name to that impressive core of talent upfront. Perhaps the only good news for Islanders fans is that this move puts them in contention with the Maple Leafs, Thrashers, and Kings in the John Tavares sweepstakes.
As for the fate of Ted Nolan, he did push the team to the playoffs in his only other season on Long Island, so hopefully he’s earned himself a shorter sabbatical from coaching than his decade-long absence after being deemed a “GM killer” in Buffalo back in 1997. Maybe the Los Angeles Kings will snap him up to fill their coaching vacancy and instill some team defense, a concept the Kings struggled to understand under Marc Crawford.
Several sources in the NHL have informed TSN that former Penguins sniper Marian Hossa has signed a one-year, 7.4 million dollar deal with the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. Mark Spizziri of Hockey Buzz recognizes that Hossa left money on the table to head to Motown:
Another outstanding move by Ken Holland & Company. As great a move as it is, it took the co-operation of Marian Hossa to forego a huge sum of money from many teams offering multi-year contracts. Hossa gets to play for a Cup once again this season and then can hit the jackpot next July 1st for a long-term deal. For his sake, I hope he gets insured against injury this season.
The Wings also signed backup goaltender Ty Conklin away from the Penguins for a mere 750K.
While big name forwards like Penguins sniper Marian Hossa and Maple Leafs center Mats Sundin remain on the market, most of the
premier living defensemen in the NHL free agent pool have been snapped up. The biggest deal went to former Shark and Sabre Brian Campbell, who parlayed coining the term “Umbergered” (and smooth puck-handling skills) into eight years and 56.8 million dollars with the Chicago Blackhawks. Campbell moves a bit further east to be closer to his family, but he certainly didn’t take a pay cut to do so.
Elsewhere, Wade Redden turned no interest (and some disdain) from his former team, the Ottawa Senators, into six years at 6.5 million per year with the New York Rangers. The Rangers also re-upped Michal Rozsival for four years and twenty million.
If these salaries seem inflated given the relatively recent history of the 2004-2005 lockout, keep in mind that redbeard defenseman Mike Commodore swindled the Columbus Blue Jackets out of 18.5 million over five years and the Toronto Maple Leafs gave Jeff Finger, a young defenseman with twenty-four career points, 14 million over four years. The latter move prompted All Things Avs to quip “No wonder that team hasn™t won a Stanley Cup since 1968.“
While increasing the salary cap 6.4 million to a ceiling of 56.7 million means that teams can afford to pay second-pair defensemen like Commodore more than five million per season, these moves seem downright ludicrous considering NHL owners’ gripes about rising salaries during the lockout. The NHL still lacks a TV deal that pays money up front or garners attention on the Worldwide Leader
of Idiocy, so perhaps employing a bit of restraint might be a good idea if fans want to watch hockey in two years.
It’s Canada Day for our neighbors to the north (opening day of NHL free agency for the rest of the world) and is there a better way to celebrate than to sit around TSN and wait for jaw-dropping free agent signings like… Radim Vrbata to the Lightning for three years, nine million?
Just like hockey fans throughout the great white north, Radim can’t control his glee for signing with a restocking Lightning club that’s already grabbed Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, and Vinny Prospal to replenish their meager talent at wing past Martin St. Louis.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe followed up his deal for Kings offensive defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky by dumping children’s entertainer and gritty winger Raffi Torres on the Columbus Blue Jackets for permanent prospect Gilbert Brule and sending Joni Pitkanen to Carolina for injury-prone winger Erik Cole. The Minnesota Wild filled a need for an offensive defenseman as well, picking up Marek Zidlicky from the Nashville Predators for a prospect and a fourth-round pick.
Numerous teams have resigned their own pending free agents, the most notable being Ducks winger Corey Perry getting 26.625 million over five years. The Detroit Red Wings resigned both good defenseman Brad Stuart and weakest link defenseman Andreas Lilja. I suspect the NHL mandated Lilja’s presence on the team in the interest of league parity.
Update: The Vancouver Canucks have apparently offered Leaf Legend Mats Sundin a 20 milliion dollar two-year deal to bolster their anemic offense. The Washington Capitals signed former Avalanche and Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore to a two-year deal, starting an exodos from Colorado that has also seen corner-man Andrew Brunette sign a three-year, seven-million dollar deal with the Wild and defenseman Kurt Sauer sign for four years at 1.75 per with the defense-decimated Phoenix Coyotes.
TSN.ca reports that the Anaheim
Mighty Ducks placed Todd Bertuzzi on waivers today with the ultimate intention of buying out the remaining year of the two-year, eight-million-dollar contract he signed last summer. It’s difficult to stomach one of the NHL’s true class acts being without a home, but I imagine some team direly in need of a once-dominant power forward with crippled confidence will give Bert his fifth home in four years.
I must admit that the possibility of Bertuzzi and Rangers super-pest and pending free agent Sean Avery landing on the same team is tantalizing. Imagine the potential increase in merchandising revenue from fans hoping to deface their new jerseys. Somebody call Gary Bettman. Hell, he might even create a new expansion franchise for the occasion, since Penguins agitator Jarkko Ruttu is also available.
Glen Wesley, the last remaining member of the Hartford Whalers in their no-longer-new digs as the Carolina Hurricanes, retired today after twenty years of NHL service. No word if “The Brass Bonanza” was played at his press conference.
Wesley won the Cup back in 2006 with Carolina, but I usually think of the Whalers’ failed attempt to sign him to an RFA offer sheet followed by the Bruins dealing him to the Whalers for three first-round picks, which included Sergei Samsonov and Kyle McLaren. He also accompanied Cam Neely from Vancouver in the Canucks’ ill-fated deal for Barry Pederson. Wesley follows former Flyer, Whaler, and Hurricane Sami Kapanen into NHL retirement.
The Atlanta Thrashers have fired fifth-year head coach Bob Hartley today after their 0-6 start. GM Don Waddell is expected to name himself interim coach, perhaps so he can encounter the follies of his main gig firsthand, e.g. presuming Bobby Holik is a number one center, drafting Patrik Stefan, trading for short-term solutions like Keith Tkachuk, and letting valuable two-way center Eric Belanger go. Well, except for Stefan, who was shipped to Dallas and then deported to Switzerland.
“You know what? If anyone is not satisfied with the team effort, I don’t agree,” Hartley said. “I think those boys work hard. … Let’s keep working, let’s get a couple of breaks going our way and we’re going to turn this thing around.”
“The last thing that those guys need right now is to be hard on them,” he added. “It’s hard enough right now. When people don’t have great confidence you don’t step on them. I’m part of this. We have to find solutions, we have lots of young players, we have lots of new faces, and to get in those guys face and to start yelling and throwing stuff, I think that we would go backward.”
Given that Hartley is only six games removed from coaching the Thrashers to their first playoff appearance in franchise history, perhaps the ax swung a bit too soon. It’s unfortunate that Mike Keenan can’t be cloned for the rare circumstances when a head coaching job opens up and he is gainfully employed.
The New York Islanders have bought out the remainder of Alexei Yashin’s ten-year, $87 million contract for the paltry sum of $17.6 million. Owner Charles Wang apparently no longer needed the Yashin deal as evidence that handing Rick DiPietro fifteen years and $67.5 million was nowhere near the dumbest move he’d helped author. Considering that the Isles traded behemoth defenseman Zdeno Chara and newly drafted scoring stud Jason Spezza (now in the Cup finals with the Senators) for Yashin, perhaps hoping that he would average a point a game during some point in his Islanders career is not outrageous. Despite his scant ice time and lack of production during the the Isles’ first-round defeat to the Buffalo Sabres, Yashin leaves with his head high:
“The Islanders have treated me with the utmost respect,” Yashin said on the Islanders’ Web site. “I’ve always believed in the vision Charles Wang has for the organization and although I won’t be a part of it, I believe that the team is headed in the right direction. I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my life.”
That chapter? Not giving a fuck somewhere else.
Super-sophomore Sidney Crosby (above) can focus on breaking scoring records and getting home ice for the first round of the playoffs now that the Pittsburgh Penguins have reached a deal to stay in Pennsylvania for at least 30 years:
The Pittsburgh Penguins reached a financing deal for a new arena that will keep the NHL team in the city where it has played since 1967.
Gov. Ed Rendell announced the agreement Tuesday at the Pennsylvania Gaming Congress. He said money from the state’s new slot machine parlors would help fund the arena.
According to multiple media reports, the new arena would be completed by the start of the 2009-10 season. The Penguins would pay $3.8 million a year for construction and $400,000 annually for unspecified capital improvements, the newspaper reported, citing unidentified sources.
Apologies to Kansas City, Las Vegas, and Houston, who are now out of the running for the franchise, but Scott Burnside nominates the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators as deserving candidates for new locales. Burnside doesn’t suggest that the west-leading Predators move to Chicago to replace Bill Wirtz’s infuriating Blackhawks, but I don’t think that too many fans in the Windy City would mind.