Friday, August 29, 2008

Stu Barnes named Stars assistant coach after ending playing career

For 16 years, Stu Barnes played the game with a lot of heart, a high level of hockey awareness and a natural ability to lead by example. If you've seen him in a National Hockey League uniform during his accomplished career, you know that he always left everything out on the ice each and every one of his 1,252 games (including 116 playoff contests) he played.

Barnes officially announced his retirement as an NHL player and then immediately signed a two-year contract yesterday to become an assistant coach for the Dallas Stars. He replaces the departed Ulf Dahlén, who decided to return home and become the new head coach for the Frölunda Indians of Elitserien (the Swedish Elite League).

Before we continue to talk about Barnes any further, the Stars posted a nice tribute video on their official web site.

video courtesy: Dallas Stars and NHL Productions

The 37-year-old former forward made his playing decision less than 24 hours after Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic opted to play for at least one more season.

"I was truly fortunate to play as long as I did, and I knew this was the time for me to wrap up my playing days," Barnes said in the team's news release. "A great opportunity to become an assistant coach was presented to me by the Stars and I look forward to making that transition and learning a new part of the game."

Drafted fourth overall in the 1989 Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets, Barnes finished with 597 regular season points (261 goals and 336 assists) in 1,136 games in his career. He participated in the playoffs 12 times in his 16 seasons, including two appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals. His first trip was in 1996 for the Florida Panthers, an expansion franchise only in their third NHL season. The second time ironically was for his current employer's opponent in the 1999 championship series, the Buffalo Sabres. Barnes also played for the Pittsburgh Penguins before he was acquired by the Stars on March 10, 2003.

Barnes finished his playing career by appearing in 329 regular season games for the Stars and accumulated 120 points (53 goals and 67 assists). He would also total 14 points (6 goals and 8 assists) in 38 playoff games while wearing a Dallas uniform.

His five-year tenure in North Texas certainly didn't go without notice.

"We congratulate Stu on an outstanding playing career and we are very excited that he will now join our coaching staff," Stars co-general manager Les Jackson said. "Stu was a consummate professional on and off the ice throughout his career, and was the type of player who always exhibited the qualities you would associate with a future coach. Stu will be an excellent addition to our staff, which we feel is among the best in the league."

Stars television color analyst Daryl Reaugh praised the Stars in his Razor With An Edge blog that Barnes was the perfect hire to replace Dahlén behind the bench as an assistant under head coach Dave Tippett.

"Ten years after being on the other side of Dallas' Stanley Cup victory over the Sabres he'll be joining the coaching staff to add his knowledge and his perspective - and perhaps that ring that proved so elusive during his days on skates," Reaugh wrote.

According to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News
, Barnes is expected to learn the role of an assistant coach by working at least early on from the press box.

"It's just continuing to learn more about the game," Barnes told Tracey Myers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I felt fortunate to play as long as I had. Now I have an opportunity to learn from a different angle. I want to help in any way I can. It's going to be a fun learning process, and hopefully we’ll have a lot of success."

The Stars also announced yesterday that both of Tippett's other two members of his coaching staff in associate coach Rick Wilson and assistant coach Mark Lamb were signed to new two-year contracts.

Wild plan to add team mascot for very first time

There are some teams around the National Hockey League that either don't have a mascot or don't need one. Does this apply to the Minnesota Wild?

The franchise that represents the Land of 10,000 Lakes announced yesterday that it plans to introduce a team mascot for the first time in their history. The Wild will make the unveiling at a Hot Tamales Wild Kids Club event on October 5th at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.

"It's something that we've been looking at for quite a while now, and the pieces fell together this summer after engaging some of our fans in the process," Wild vice president of brand marketing John Maher said in the team's news release. "Fans will see the mascot at community appearances and kids activities, and occasionally at a Wild home game if kids, families or one of our community partners is involved."

No doubt, it should be interesting what the Wild will come up with for a mascot. The primary logo was intentionally created to give it a mysterious element in its look. Fans still wonder what animal is represented in that logo. Is it a bear? How about it being a cat? To this day, we don't know and the team won't tell us. Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins have TC Bear as their mascot, the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings have Ragnar The Viking and the Minnesota Timberwolves have had Crunch since their team's inception into the National Basketball Association in 1989.

Now the Wild join their Twin Cities siblings on the sports landscape with a mascot that will relate to the targeted demographic, the youngest of Wild fans in kids. For everything they've done to cement a solid relationship with their fans, the team hopefully will introduce that symbol or icon children can relate to.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Ace of Cakes" hockey wedding cake episode airs tonight

After proudly putting together my July 10th blog entry on Michelle and Dave's very inspirational hockey-themed wedding, now the moment we've been waiting for since then is about to arrive in just over four hours.

As I mentioned toward the end of that blog entry, the newlyweds will be featured on tonight's brand-new episode of Ace of Cakes on Food Network. Titled as "Lord Stanley", you get to see how Michelle and Dave's Stanley Cup wedding cake was made at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, led by Duff Goldman and his team of artistic bakers.

The episode is getting plugs from Alanah McGinley's Canucks and Beyond blog entry at Kukla's Korner, Gustafsson's post at On Frozen Blog, George James Malik at's Snap Shots blog and last but not least, a video preview at the National Hockey League official web site with their program The Hockey Show.

The Washington Capitals official web site has for at least the past 48 hours been showing this preview of the show with a video clip in the "special offers" window on their home page.

video courtesy: NHL Productions and Scripps Networks, LLC

The episode debuts at 10:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time with repeating airings scheduled through at least October 19th.

Joe Sakic will play his 20th NHL season

Colorado Avalanche fans that have been hoping they haven't seen the last of their beloved captain Joe Sakic have gotten their wish.

"I am happy to announce the signing of Joe Sakic to a one-year contract," Avalanche vice president and general manager Francois Giguere said in the team's press release yesterday. "Our entire organization is very excited to have Joe back for another season. As the only captain of the Avalanche, his record of achievement speaks for itself. Having him return is great for our franchise and community, but also for the game of hockey."

With the Democratic National Convention packing up and leaving town, there won't be a press conference until Tuesday when the Pepsi Center will be back into normal operation.

According to Adrian Dater of the Denver Post, Sakic will be paid $6 million, a $750,000 pay cut from last season. Also included in the new contract is a no-trade clause.

Following the Avalanche's season-ending 8-2 loss on May 1st to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, Dater reported that Sakic's agent Don Baizley was told to tell other National Hockey League teams that were interested in the 39-year-old unrestricted free agent that Sakic didn't want to play anywhere else.

"Joe instructed me from the get-go to advise any team that inquired that he was either going to play for the Avs or retire," Baizley said. "That's what I did. Even in situations where the teams said, 'Is there even any point in us making an offer?' Joe said tell them no."

Before the decision was made on Tuesday night, Sakic's teammate Ian Laperriere admitted he was concerned about whether or not the team captain would be back for a 20th NHL season.

"When you don't hear any news for a while, you're kind of worried," Laperriere told Rick Sadowski of the Rocky Mountain News. "Everybody was kind of wondering what he was going to do."

But Laperriere was relieved that Sakic wants to play at least one more season.

"It's great news," he said. "We talked a little bit this summer, but you want to give the guy some room. You don't want to bug him every time you talk. I'm just glad he's back. You're a much better team with Joe Sakic on your team."

How about Sakic's age? Is there a concern that father time will affect his ability to still perform at a high level?

"I don't care if he's 39. He's such a special player," Laperriere added. "He's such a special human being. I'm pumped. I'm excited to see him coming on the ice. I can't emphasize enough what he brings to the team."

One of their other teammates in defenseman John-Michael Liles echoed the same sentiments.

"Anytime you get a player like Joe coming back for another year, it's great news," Liles said. "I was optimistic that he was coming back. At the same time, if he didn't come back, it wouldn't be the end of the world. Our job is to go out and play the best we can, whether that's with Joe or without him."

Sakic was limited to just 44 games last season where he scored 13 goals and 27 assists for 40 points. The Colorado forward spent 38 games on the injury list with a groin injury and later had surgery for a sports hernia. Sakic would return to the lineup in time to help get the Avalanche into playoffs where he lead the team with 10 points (2 goals and 8 assists) in 10 games.

Whether or not Sakic wanted to avoid leaving the game on a bad note where Colorado got swept in four straight games by Detroit in the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals, we won't know. But now he has that chance to right the wrongs of last season with a 2008-2009 campaign.

"Ultimately it came down to the fact that I still enjoy playing and competing," Sakic said. "I'm comfortable with my conditioning and my overall health. I'm ready for the start of camp and am looking forward to the upcoming season."

The future Hockey Hall of Famer is currently ranked 8th on the NHL's all-time point scoring list with 1,629 regular season points in his 19-year career. After being selected 15th overall in the 1987 Entry Draft, he has spent his entire career with the franchise dating back to its days in Quebec City. Only four players in NHL history have recorded more points with one team than Sakic. They would be Gordie Howe (1,809) and Steve Yzerman (1,755) with Detroit, Mario Lemieux with the Pittsburgh Penguins (1,723) and Wayne Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers (1,669). Sakic does hold the NHL record for most playoff overtime goals with eight.

Among the other notable achievements in his hockey career, nine times has Sakic scored 30 or more goals and six times put up at least 100 points. The 12-time All-Star also has a 1996 Conn Smythe Trophy award as playoff MVP on his resume when the Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup championship, the 2001 Hart Trophy award during Colorado's second successful title run and an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2002. On top of that, he was chosen as the tournament's most valuable player.

Regardless of how the Avalanche fare, fans certainly will at the very least get to enjoy watching Joe Sakic play one more season.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

MSG Network to televise Rangers' entire 2008 preseason schedule

Great news for New York Rangers fans that have been hoping to watch their team on local television any of the games they'll play in Europe real soon.

Steve Zipay of Long Island Newsday wrote in his Blue Notes blog just a short time ago that MSG Network will televise all eight 2008 preseason games the Rangers are scheduled to play, including both at PostFinance-Arena in Bern, Switzerland on September 30th and October 1st. This will be the first time MSG Network will show an entire slate of Rangers preseason games in a given year.

Also assured are broadcasts of both games against the Tampa Bay Lightning at O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic to kick off the 2008-2009 regular season. The second game of the second NHL Premiere series will also be televised nationally across the United States on Versus.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Stars offer complete glimpse of Sean Avery's recent media day

Two weeks ago, I had brought up Sean Avery's press conference in which the Dallas Stars introduced him to the media. Mentioned were his words for his former employer as well as what he wants to do for his new one. That same week, Avery made some media appearances in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area to get acquainted with his new surroundings and his new fans.

Fans now can access three new videos from the Stars' official web site that gives us a more complete visual look of Avery's very busy day that included his appearance on KDFW-TV's Good Day show and radio interviews on KTCK-AM (Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket) and KLLI-FM (Live 105.3).

First, we have Sean Avery's Media Tour - Day One.

Next, Sean Avery on FOX 4 Good Day.

And Sean Avery on Live 105.3 FM...

So there you have it. A extra large dose of the Stars' newest agitator, Sean Avery. And my God did you see Jasmine in the Live 105.3 studio? How many men would sacrifice and an arm or a leg to go on a date with her? But remember guys, women are plentiful in Dallas. Need proof? Just look at some raw broadcast video of some female fans attending Stars games dating back at least 10 years and you'll agree.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rangers plan to retire #3 and #9 in 2009

Just a short time ago, the New York Rangers announced that they will honor three more of the most honored players in franchise history during the upcoming 2008-2009 National Hockey League season.

Fans have been waiting for months to find out exactly when Adam Graves will have his #9 retired, the last member of the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team to receive such an honor. That night will come on February 3, 2009 when the Rangers face the Atlanta Thrashers at Madison Square Garden.

Graves may not have the Hockey Hall of Fame kind of numbers that one would expect to have that accompany such number retirees with 280 goals and 227 assists for 507 points in 772 career regular season games. But along with his heroics in which he scored 10 goals in 23 playoff games in that successful 1994 postseason run and a then-franchise record 52 goals during the regular season, Graves was a man that was an unquestioned leader and gave back so much to the community in which he is revered, loved, adored and inspired by everyone around him. I was fortunate enough to have him autograph a piece of that memorable season, a photo of him scoring in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. I can thank Mark and Donna Rubin at American Legends in Scarsdale, New York for making that possible.

"Adam Graves is one of the most beloved players to ever don a New York Rangers sweater," Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather said in the team news release. "Off the ice, there isn't a finer person. His effort and production as a hockey player was nothing short of triumphant and, even today, his dedication to the community is incomparable. We are proud to have Adam join his fellow 1994 Stanley Cup Champion teammates Mike Richter, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch, as well as legends Rod Gilbert and Eddie Giacomin, as his number is raised to the rafters of Madison Square Garden."

I seriously doubt it was intentional as far as having the Thrashers be the Rangers' opponent again as they were when Brian Leetch Night took place on January 24, 2008. Remember Graves' reaction when Leetch told him in front of 18,200 fans that he'd be joining him up there in the Garden rafters as among the greats of Rangers history? The visual needs no words.

video courtesy: NHL Productions

I don't know if it was a coincidence or not either in terms of exactly where particular people were at that exact moment, but if you noticed this in the video clip, Howell was standing right next to Graves and was the first to congratulate him. Bathgate was next to Howell as well. Now all three will have not just the moment of reflect on when Graves was given that big surprise, but all will be among the Rangers elite players ever to play for the Broadway Blueshirts.

But any those Atlanta players that saw Leetch's #2 go up there who will be on the roster six months from now will be in for another treat. All on-ice competition aside, this is an event that is great for the game of hockey, at least in this town.

I will say more in reflecting back on Graves' 10 years in New York City after his number his retired. There is no doubt about it.

As for the other two honorees, they are special in their own right. Just a few weeks later, they will join Graves among the honored Rangers. Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell will have their numbers retired on February 22, 2009. Bathgate will then share #9 with Graves while Howell will have his #3 hang from the rafters of the world's most famous arena.

"Rangers history is enriched by players like Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell, who laid the foundation for what a Rangers player should be," Sather said. "They will now take their rightful place in The Garden rafters alongside those players who have carried their tradition throughout the years."

Bathgate played 12 of his 18 NHL seasons in New York between the 1952-1953 season to the 1963-1964 campaign and was Rangers captain from 1961 to 1964. He scored 272 goals and had 457 assists for 729 points in 719 regular season games for the team.

Howell also began what would end up as a 17-year run on Broadway also starting in the 1952-1953 season and he captained the Rangers from 1955 to 1957. He played a team record 1,160 of a possible 1,200 games during his time in New York. He may not have put up the kind of numbers as a defenseman like Leetch did, but he sure was durable, wasn't he?

Stan Fischler ("The Hockey Maven") had some nice words to say about each of the three future number retirees where it's hard not to like Graves, called Bathgate the consumate performer and feels that Howell was among the most underrated defensemen to play the game. It is certainly worth checking out.

One way or another, generations of Rangers fans (not just the more recent ones) have much to look forward to next February when these three legends join Gilbert, Giacomin, Richter, Messier and Leetch as the greatest ever that New York City has seen play this great game.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ceremonial new arena groundbreaking finally arrives in Pittsburgh

The day finally came for those long-time Pittsburgh Penguins fans hoping this dream would become reality.

Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux (third from left) with team and government officials shovel dirt during
the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony for Pittsburgh's
new arena on August 14, 2008.

(photo courtesy: Pittsburgh Penguins)

Key members of the Penguins' front office and government officials were on hand yesterday to participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at the site of where a new $290 million multipurpose arena will be built in downtown Pittsburgh.

Now Pittsburghers can say and feel that a new era is coming without hesitation as Robert Dvorchak of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pointed out. No more hoping and praying the team will stay in town. No more hoping and praying that a new arena can be built in the Steel City so that for one, Pittsburgh can catch up with the current times instead of staying stuck in yesteryears. And for two, the Penguins can financially compete on the same playing field as other National Hockey League teams.

What a difference a few years make. Just think, when the 2004-2005 lockout happened, the Penguins were in bad shape. Mario Lemieux, one of the greatest players in league history would have to rescue the team from bankruptcy not once, but twice. They couldn't pay their top players market value. They couldn't compete on the ice when it came to wins and losses. Too few fans were coming out to Mellon Arena to watch the Penguins play.

Pittsburgh's fortunes would change dramatically with the arrival of their rising superstar forward Sidney Crosby thanks to the lady luck of the NHL Draft Lottery and officially being drafted first overall on July 30, 2005.

"To go from Junior to the NHL is a big step, but I am excited and a little nervous not knowing what to expect. It's going to be a great time," Crosby said three years ago, just two months before he played his first NHL game. "I think there's pressure, obviously with no season last year, they are going to look to players to step up and bring interest to the game. I believe I am going to be one of those guys, but I don't think I have the NHL on my back. There's a lot of great players that are going to bring interest, but I do feel part of that group."

So far, Crosby has already met expectations and even exceeded them. He became the youngest player ever to win the Art Ross Trophy with a league-best 102 points in his 2005-2006 rookie season. Then he earned league MVP honors with his 120 points in the 2006-2007 campaign. And of course last season with a little help from his friends, Crosby was able to help lead Pittsburgh as their captain all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals just a few months ago.

With all that momentum of a promising future on the ice, now the Penguins are ready to make the transition into a new era of franchise history off it as well. When all hope was all but lost with Lemieux's battles with the state of Pennsylvania, Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh to make public funding available to get a new arena built, somehow all the parties involved were able to finalize a deal on March 13, 2007.

Despite what he or anybody else says publicly, Lemieux was serious about relocating the Penguins to another city had the arena deal not been completed. Just two months prior to it being signed on the dotted line, Lemieux as the team owner had gone to Kansas City to speak with city officials and those that run the new Sprint Center about possibly moving the team there and a proposal was in fact submitted to #66 and his ownership group. Thanks to funding help coming from revenue that will be generated through casino slots over the next 30 years, the Penguins will remain where they are. Despite financial issues involving the original owner of the winning casino slots license where Detroit businessman Don Barden defaulted on loans and ran out of money to continue construction at the casino site on Pittsburgh's North Shore, new blood was infused into the project. A new investment team led by Chicago real estate billionaire Neil Bluhm received approval last night in Harrisburg from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to take control of the casino with Barden keeping a minority share. More importantly, Bluhm has promised to honor Barden's pledge of $225 million in financial assistance toward the construction of the new arena.

"I'm pleased the Gaming Control Board was able to complete its due diligence regarding the transfer of the Pittsburgh gaming license in a timely manner," Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said in a statement after the slots license transfer was approved. "According to the board, Neil Bluhm's investment group has the financial wherewithal to open a state-of-the-art casino on the North Shore in 2009. In addition, Mr. Bluhm has pledged to honor all of the obligations originally made by Don Barden, including $7.5 million for 30 years toward construction of the new arena and funding for Hill District and North Side redevelopment projects. We look forward to seeing construction resume in the very near future."

Hours earlier, with fans in attendance at the construction site where the new arena will be built, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl, officials from the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh & Allegheny County (SEA) as well as Onorato joined Lemieux, Penguins chief executive officer Ken Sawyer and team president David Morehouse for the groundbreaking ceremony. After some remarks by key speakers including Rendell, all of them gathered in the spot where center ice is expected to be located and shoveled some dirt to mark the historic occasion. There were plenty of smiles and sighs of relief the day finally came.

"I am delighted to be a part of this historic event," Rendell said. "Construction of this new arena will provide immediate economic stimulus by creating construction jobs but, more importantly, it will benefit residents for decades to come."

Couldn't disagree with that, Mr. Governor.

"This facility will not only be home to the Pittsburgh Penguins for years to come, but it will also serve as an entertainment centerpiece and economic generator for our entire region," said Onorato echoed the same sentiments as Rendell.

Ravenstahl already envisions the impact of a new world-class facility in his city.

"Through strong leadership and a vision, the Pittsburgh Penguins will soon be playing in a top-notch arena," the mayor said. "Very soon, our city will be able to attract larger events in this multi-use facility, spurring more development around Pittsburgh's new and improved 'face'."

With the city having both PNC Park and Heinz Field each opened its doors in 2001, now the Penguins will finally have a new playpen of their own. For seven years, Lemieux pressed hard to get a venue built in which his team can enjoy the same benefits the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively have with their facilities.

Even though he was not one of the speakers during the ceremony, he had plenty to say afterwards. No doubt about it, by the tone of his voice, he's happy and relieved at the same time.

Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux speaks with the media after the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony for Pittsburgh's new arena on August 14, 2008.
(photo courtesy: Pittsburgh Penguins)

"It felt pretty good; it's been a long time coming and a lot of hard work from a lot of people through the years from the Penguins side and, of course, our politicians," he said. "To be here and to see it going up in the next couple years is something that is exciting for all of us – not only the Penguins, but the region in general. The entire community should be proud of this building going up in the next two years and being able to enjoy it for the next 30 years."

The 1997 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who spent his entire 17-year playing career with the Penguins had to admit he wasn't sure if this happy ending of shovels in the ground would come to pass based on the struggles of getting the arena deal done last year.

"There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the negotiations. I got frustrated a few times, but, at the end of the day, I wanted this team to stay here," Lemieux said. "I have been with this franchise since 1984 and it would have been a shame to see this franchise go somewhere else. The Penguins belong in Pittsburgh and that's where we are today."

But before then, was he serious about moving the team to Kansas City?

"We had to do a few things to put pressure on the city and the state, but our goal was to remain here in Pittsburgh all the way. Those trips to Kansas City and Vegas and other cities was just to go and have a nice dinner and come back," Lemieux said with a slight grin on his face.

Hmmm, I don't know if those Lemieux met with in Kansas City and Las Vegas would take that very well. He probably assumes they would with a grain of salt. Well, not exactly. The Kansas City media ran with his comments, including KMBC-TV taking the time to air a report on this very subject. The station even went out of the way to gauge reaction from Kansas Citians.

But, if the NHL is able to continue its recovery from the lockout of just a few years ago and remains on track economically, those two cities could get serious considerations for expansion teams.

The new multi-purpose arena that will sit across the street from Mellon Arena will seat nearly 18,100 fans for Penguins games and is expected to be on schedule to open in time for the 2010-2011 NHL season. KDKA-TV's John Shumay reported last night that Sawyer said steel framework on the site that is between Fifth and Centre Avenues in the Lower Hill District could rise from the foundation by the end of this year or the beginning of 2009.

Now with this next step in a process that has two more years to go, now Lemieux can also breathe easier with his young and highly skilled superstars such as forwards Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal plus goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury contractually here for a while, winning a Stanley Cup championship in the new digs is a realistic goal now within reach.

"He's (Crosby) under contract for a while now and hopefully he wants to stay here for his entire career like I did," Lemieux clearly stated. "I know he's a loyal kid and he loves Pittsburgh and he loves playing here. I'm sure that he'll want to stay here for the remainder of his career."

How about Lemieux himself? Are his days numbered as chairman and co-owner of the team? There has been talk of #66 potentially selling his share in the NHL franchise his ownership group purchased in 1999.

"Not for a while," Lemieux told Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh-Tribune-Review. "As long as the ownership group is having fun and putting a good product on the ice, I'll be here for a while."

If for the long-term future the Penguins are going to be a more stable and successful franchise with Lemieux in charge, it doesn't hurt to have one of the best players in the NHL today be in Pittsburgh for years to come. The new arena will help go a long way in getting there as Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes.

Now it is just a matter of waiting until 2010 to see him wearing that black #87 jersey with the skating penguin logo on the front in front of his home fans in a brand spanking new building. The team set up a new arena web site page with detailed information on the arena, complete with fact sheets, images of what it will look like and even a computer-generated "fly through" video (see below). Plus, you can watch the construction progress as the Penguins set up a webcam for your 24/7 viewing pleasure.

video courtesy: Pittsburgh Penguins and HOK Sport

Penguins fans have waited this long already, two more years won't feel like such a long ways away anymore.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

NHL unveils 2008-2009 national television schedule

Ever since the 2008-2009 regular season schedule was unveiled on July 17th, fans have waited to see how the national television schedule would take shape. Now we have a clear view of what it looks like.

Earlier today, the National Hockey League made the announcement on their official web site with a breakdown of schedules for each of the network carriers. I actually put together the following information for those I post with at one of the online hockey communities I'm a part of.

Over 300 games will be televised nationally as all 30 teams will make at least one appearance during the 2008-2009 season on either NBC, CBC, Le Réseau des Sports (RDS), Versus or The Sports Network (TSN).

The NHL Network plans to show 75 games in the United States and 40 across Canada. No full broadcast schedule has been finalized for both the NHL Network and NBC, but will be announced soon.

Here is the breakdown of what is in store for each of the national television broadcasters...

After signing a new six-year broadcasting contract with the NHL on June 3, 2008, TSN will show 70 games during the 2008-2009 regular season, all in high definition. They provide a complete list of the NHL on TSN games that are on tap and even have a brief video to preview it. With the launch of TSN 2 on August 29, 2008, games may also been seen there on what was called the TSN "alternate feed". This would especially be the case during days of doubleheader coverage when the first game may not end before the second game is scheduled to begin. For the first time in 10 years, TSN will also show preseason games this fall with each of the six Canadian NHL teams each making one appearance.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has 69 games planned for their regular season Hockey Night in Canada coverage, including 25 of them being all-Canadian matchups. The network that has traditionally shown NHL games on Saturday nights for over 50 years will have a new theme song after CBC's broadcast rights to its very famous predecessor had expired. CTVglobemedia, Inc. acquired the rights to "The Hockey Theme" on June 9, 2008. As a result, TSN and RDS will now feature the song in their NHL broadcasts starting this fall. CTVglobemedia owns Canadian Television (CTV) and a share of TSN and RDS. "The Hockey Theme" will also be featured during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Speaking of RDS, the French-language broadcast network will show all 82 Montréal Canadiens games across all of Canada. They will also showcase for Francophone viewers the 57th NHL All-Star Game in Montréal on January 25, 2009 as part of the Canadiens' centennial season anniversary celebration. CBC and Versus will show the game for Anglophone viewers.

Versus will broadcast 56 games in their fourth season of national cable television coverage in the United States, including October 5, 2008 when the second day of two NHL Premiere games in Europe are played. The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning square off in Prague, Czech Republic while the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins play in Stockholm, Sweden. In addition to their full list of games they plan to air, Tom Layberger highlighted what he felt was his top 13 games to watch.

American viewers will have NBC once again provide over-the-air national television contests starting on New Year's Day with no fewer than 10 games in 2009. The second edition of the Winter Classic kicks off their fourth season of coverage with an Original Six matchup between the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks from Wrigley Field in Chicago. CBC and RDS will show the game for Canadian viewers. The Rangers and Penguins face off in Pittsburgh during NBC's second broadcast of the season scheduled for January 18, 2009. The remaining 8 games in the following 10 Sundays are "flex games" in which the league and NBC will finalize which games they'll show on those days.

When I was surfing the web (and that includes the media blogosphere) to dig deep for some details on the national television schedule, I found one that would be useful for my fellow fans. That would be Paul Kukla on his Kukla's Korner blog providing a more in-depth breakdown of schedule team by team.

Regardless, you'll have plenty of hockey to watch during the 2008-2009 season. Go get NHL Center Ice if you really want to be a couch potato and make sure you have the television schedule in front of you so you can keep up.

TSN 2 to debut on August 29th; A-Channel now simply "A"

Here are two quick media tidbits for those of us that will be watching any National Hockey League games originating from Canada during the upcoming 2008-2009 season, especially if you are doing so via NHL Center Ice.

For all the Canadian hockey fans that are priviledged to watch a lot of games on The Sports Network (TSN), here is some news for you.

TSN officially announced today there will be a launch of a second channel for its sports programming. TSN 2 will make its debut on August 29th at 7:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time.

"In today's day and age of immediacy, fans want and crave live coverage of sports. TSN2 will deliver more premium live sports programming while complementing TSN's already powerful live sports lineup. The days of tape delayed sports coverage on television are over," TSN president Phil King said in the network's press release issued today. "Sports fans have identified a strong need and desire for this complementary service. TSN2 provides additional value to our progressive and passionate sports audience as it allows us to air two live events simultaneously, giving sports fans more choice and diversity."

I did get an e-mail notice of this back on Sunday, but I figured I'd wait until TSN had the press release available on their web site before writing this quick blog entry.

Meantime, three days ago, A-Channel has re-branded itself to simply as A. Interesting new name, don't you think? Talk about using one letter to identify the name of a network, huh? If it makes it easy for viewers to remember it, it's a brillant move for those in charge.

How does this effect the NHL, you ask?

As one of the largest multimedia companies in Canada with ownership of Canadian Television (CTV) and shares of TSN and A, CTVglobemedia has established a significant footpoint in the NHL. TSN plans to show 70 games nationally for the 2008-2009 season while sister network and French-language Le Réseau des Sports (RDS) will show all 82 Montréal Canadiens games. Ottawa Senators fans tuning in around the National Capital Region to watch their team on CHRO-TV (known as "A Ottawa") should expect to see the new A logo in the television station's graphics package during game telecasts. Oh, and did I tell you that CTVglobemedia has an ownership stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs? Yes, as usual, they'll get their fair share of air time locally and nationally.

And by the way, a legendary staple in Canadian society after it was composed by Dolores Claman in 1968, "The Hockey Theme" makes its debut on TSN and RDS hockey cablecasts this fall. You'll have to get used to it not being on CBC with their Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts as the rights contract was not renewed this summer.

As for TSN 2, it basically replaces what was called the TSN "alternate feed" and would come in handy in the event an overflow channel is needed during NHL on TSN cablecasts. This would especially be the case during days of doubleheader coverage when the first game may not end before the second game is scheduled to begin.

ESPN already has a family of channels here in the United States, but with the addition of TSN 2 as a full-time cable channel in Canada, this will create more room to alleviate a crowded program lineup on TSN. When it comes to NHL games, nobody wants to miss a minute of the action.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

20 years ago today, Wayne Gretzky trade changed NHL forever

It is very difficult to even think of attempting to write the perfect blog entry on a topic with unprecedented significance and of a subject that so many others will talk about at greater and more detailed length. But at least from my own perspective, I'll just post any thoughts that come to mind.

When my passion for being a National Hockey League fan skyrocketed in the 1980s to where I'm a full blown hardcore fanatic today, there was one man that I always felt was responsible for making that happen. It certainly goes without saying it is true amongst millions of others like me, but without Wayne Gretzky, would the NHL exist as it does today? In my opinion, the answer is clear. No.

The legendary chronicles of Gretzky's career have been well documented over the last three decades. We've seen countless interviews and shows, special events and of course all the games that makes #99 one of the greatest players in the history of professional sports. As the NHL's all-time leading point scorer with 2,857 regular season points, he owns at least 60 league records, including his 894 goals. The 1999 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee also is the only man in a professional hockey career to amass at least 1,000 goals (46 of them came from the World Hockey Association) and score at least 200 points in an NHL season (done four times).

Gretzky had burst into the NHL with such force, he was already breaking NHL records. One that stands out in the earliest years of his career would be him surpassing Mike Bossy and Maurice Richard's record of 50 goals in 50 games. But on December 30, 1981, #99 was able to do it for the Edmonton Oilers by scoring 5 goals in a 7-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. How was it a new record? Gretzky reached the 50-goal plateau in just his 39th game of the 1981-1982 season. Then there were the four Stanley Cup titles he helped win for the Oilers, the only ones he'd get in his 20 NHL seasons. Those unmatched achievements were all done in Edmonton. One would think he'd be there forever in that uniform.

But it was not meant to be. Twenty years ago today, it is a day that will go down as one of those with the biggest impact in the history of sports and culture. August 9, 1988 will be remembered as the day of "The Trade". Due to rising economic costs in the NHL and with his other business ventures suffering financially, Oilers owner Peter Pocklington traded Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings just two months removed from winning the 1988 Stanley Cup championship. Along with Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski went to the Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash and first round draft picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993.

This trade obviously created such opposite perspectives of it like none we may never see again.

The city of Edmonton, Oilers fans and hockey fans across Canada were either in mourning, shock or downright irate over the trade of their hockey hero. The National Post had an editorial published today to point out this was more than losing a player, it was like losing a son. Canadian fans were so angry that unleashed numerous death threats toward Pocklington, took to the streets of Edmonton in protest demonstrations and New Democratic Party House Leader Nelson Riis went as far as asking the Canadian government to step in and block the trade. Those efforts failed, but in the end, Kings owner Bruce McNall acquired the best player the NHL had to offer and in turn helped bring his team into relevance. But it did so much more than that.

In Gretzky moving his career to Los Angeles, it generated the kind of excitement you'd swear you never saw before there in the second-most populous metropolis in the United States behind New York City. As Thomas Bonk of the Los Angeles Times pointed out, it also would be important in saving a struggling hockey market in Los Angeles and then putting the sport more securely on the map in the state of California. In turn, this would later help grow the sport across much of the Sun Belt region of the country. Many historians and hockey observers believe had it not been for this trade, several current franchises would likely not exist such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers. Some can make a claim that the impact of Gretzky's arrival in Los Angeles sparked an establishment of hockey at the grassroots level across California to a point that adding the San Jose Sharks would be very beneficial for the NHL. Orange County Register hockey writer Dan Wood encourages people to give thanks to Gretzky for jump starting the growth of hockey in California and elsewhere across the Sun Belt.

Gretzky had marginal success with the Kings. The biggest highlights are pretty obvious. Los Angeles Daily News hockey writer Rich Hammond posted video clips at his Inside The Kings blog highlight versions of the goodbye press conference in Edmonton and the hello one in Los Angeles, plus Sports Illustrated columnist Michael Farber's overview of the trade. Five years later, Gretzky helped lead them to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. It was his unforgettable hat trick performance to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in Game 7 of the Campbell Conference Finals on May 29, 1993 to propel Los Angeles to the championship round for the first time in team history. Two other moments in time we'll never forget when he was donning the silver, white and black of the Kings was when he broke Gordie Howe's records in points (1,851st on October 1989 in Edmonton) and goals (802nd on March 23, 1994 against the Vancouver Canucks at the Great Western Forum).

This 20-year anniversary is being noted league-wide. Amongst those in the media:

*Bob Stauffer of the Edmonton Sun compared the Gretzky trade to the assassination of former United States President John F. Kennedy while his colleague Terry Jones discusses how the NHL is today since the trade.

*David Staples of the Edmonton Journal pointed out in The Cult of Hockey blog that this was not a trade, it was a sale.

*Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic stated that Coyotes captain Shane Doan who grew up as an Oilers fan was crushed by the news Gretzky was traded away.

*The Tennessean's John Glennon credits Gretzky for making the placement of an expansion team in Nashville possible.

*CBS Sports' Wes Goldstein provides a retrospective of the roller coaster ride of NHL hockey in the United States since "The Trade".

*TSN covered the shock angle to the trade.

*CBC posted an archive audio clip of when the news broke.

*Rogers Sportsnet put together a timeline of how the trade materialized and some classic photos of Gretzky's days in Edmonton.

*Like what Bonk covered, FOX Sports hockey contributor Lyle Richardson (Spector) felt it was a great trade for hockey.

*ESPN's Scott Burnside notes the league-wide ramifications as does USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen in calling it a "seismic impact".

*The Sporting News' Craig Custance got McSorley to weigh in with his point of view of how he saw the trade.

* correspondent Evan Weiner brought up the question of whether or not the WHA's Indianapolis Racers (Gretzky's first professional team) actually sold him to the Oilers before that team joined the NHL in 1979.

The Brantford, Ontario native has made such an impact on hockey and in professional sports, the list would be far too long to keep a blog entry relatively short. After getting traded to the St. Louis Blues on February 27, 1996 and playing only 18 games for then-head coach Mike Keenan, #99 finished his incredible playing career with the New York Rangers where he helped lead the team to the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals with re-united teammate Mark Messier. Certainly April 18, 1999 will forever be the saddest day of all when Gretzky retired, but "The Trade" that is already 20 years removed is what changed the NHL and the sport in the United States forever.

When a trade is of such astronomical magnitude as this one was, you cannot help yourself but take a long hard look at how the trade went down and the what ifs of what the NHL would be like today had Gretzky stayed in Edmonton. Damian Salvati, a gentleman I worked with while I was a junior in high school, I recall being a huge Oilers fan. To this day, he is the only person I remember in my life that wore Oilers clothing in the New York City metropolitan area as proudly as he did. I'll never forget watching one of the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals games with him on one of the TV monitors during some down time at our job. I do wonder what he thinks 20 years after #99 left Edmonton.

Since Gretzky's retirement as a player, the Great One has continued to be an ambassador of the game. His biggest achievement was being the architect of the 2002 Olympic Gold Medal-winning Canadian hockey team. But now, as managing partner and head coach of a franchise that has fallen on hard times, Gretzky looks to build a winning tradition with the Coyotes and eventually bring a Stanley Cup title to Phoenix.

If you're looking for wall-to-wall coverage of this 20-year anniversary of "The Trade", besides the newspaper and national network sources I've provided, you can certainly go to's 20th Anniversary of Gretzky Trade page, the Los Angeles Kings' Wayne Gretzky Anniversary page, watch NHL Network's continuing coverage that has been airing since Wednesday of this memorable day or if you're really dedicate this August 9th as "Wayne Gretzky Day", then grab the DVD set Ultimate Gretzky, plop on the couch and enjoy.

Among the bloggers that put in a significant amount of their time to commemorate the trade anniversary, my recommended reading...

NHL FanHouse:
Remembering the Gretzky trade: 20 Years later and 10 years too young

Covered In Oil:
The day Wayne Gretzky broke his non-crying promise to Mark Messier

Counter Trey

Frozen Royalty:
20 years since Wayne Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles, there is one little, nagging thing

The Battle of New York:
A look back at the historic Gretzky trade
Twenty years later

One Fan's Perspective:
The Gretzky Effect

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stars introduce Sean Avery at press conference

Ken Sims led off his feature story at the Dallas Stars official web site with the perfect theme. He said that the team already had two players who bring a mix of toughness, agitation and even scoring ability with Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott. Now with Sean Avery in the fold, can this trio of forwards not only get along, but make an impact on the Stars for the upcoming 2008-2009 season?

The Stars introduced Avery to the media at a press conference yesterday (see below). Avery didn't waste any time trying to make an immediate fashion statement by showing up in a light plaid jacket and long shorts along with salmon-colored dress shoes and not wearing socks. Remember this is a guy that had just interned at Vogue magazine.

video courtesy: Dallas Stars

"We're excited about the opportunity to add a player like Sean Avery to our group," Stars co-general manager Brett Hull said. "His ability to play the game with skill, toughness and tenacity makes us a better team."

That is kind of the point behind the Stars signing Avery on July 2nd. However, some question the move considering they already have Morrow and Ott to adequately fill the shoes of what Avery could do had they not been on the team. But since Hull and Avery were once teammates and lived to together for a time when Avery broke into the National Hockey League with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002, it isn't surprising that Hull made the move to bring Avery aboard.

The team's other co-manager Les Jackson also supported Hull's idea to bring Avery to Dallas and commented on what the 28-year-old can do for the Stars during his four-year commitment.

"The way he plays and the way he represents himself on the ice and the way our team plays, he's a great fit," Jackson said. "We did some real good things the last half of last season and Sean can complement what we have."

It did not take long at all for Avery to take a parting shot at his most recent former team in the New York Rangers. The first question asked by the reporters gathered inside the American Airlines Center was what attracted him to sign in Dallas.

Tracey Myers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted Avery in her Five For Fighting blog in which he answered:

"It's certainly a better team than the one I formerly played on. That's really the most important thing it comes down to is being able to come in and win. This is a better opportunity."

Uh huh. Okay. Very interesting choice of words for Avery to say how much better the Stars were last season. Would you have said that had you remained in New York?

Let's see, the Rangers and Stars each finished the 2007-2008 regular season with 97 points. Both teams ended up losing to a Stanley Cup finalist this spring, but I guess a 10-8 playoff record is so much better than 5-5. Better postseason run for the Stars? Absolutely. But winning a few extra playoff games doesn't really make you a much better team. However, the truth can be said that it drew them closer to the ultimate goal than what the Rangers accomplished. That is about it.

Yesterday became a public relations blitz for a guy that isn't considered a star player in the NHL. But given his personality and sideshow antics, it was perfect opportunity for hockey fans in Texas to get acquainted with Avery. We are not talking about just booing him as an opponent when he played for Detroit and the Los Angeles Kings earlier in his career.

First, according to Dallas Morning News hockey writer Mike Heika, Avery appeared on KDFW-TV's Good Day show where he talked about his passion for fashion. Interestingly, he said that Morrow and Marty Turco took him out for a night on the town. Avery then appeared on the Dunham & Miller Show on KTCK-AM (Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket) and The Jagger Show on KLLI-FM (Live 105.3)... hmmm, so Jasmine is the "sexually repressed aspect" of their show? She's too hot not to have sex! And lastly, Avery threw out the ceremonial first pitch at last night's Texas Rangers home game against the New York Yankees (in which they LOST!).

The Dallas Stars official web site has hooked up fans with a video clip of Avery's appearance on The Ticket (see below) while Andrew's Dallas Stars and NHL Blog has his second radio interview from Live 105.3 so they are available for your listening pleasure.

video courtesy: Dallas Stars and KTCK-AM

Myers followed up with a nice article in today's edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in which she asked the all-important question. She said:

Is Avery the missing piece of the Stars' puzzle? They'll find out soon enough. He's one more player who keeps the Stars' median age in the late 20s, something they honed by re-signing players such as Morrow (29) and Mike Ribeiro (28), and picking up Brad Richards (28) at the trade deadline. And they'll all could be here for a while.

If it works as planned, Avery and the Stars will get attention for the right reasons.

You better hope if you're a Dallas Stars fan that ends up true. Otherwise, you'll be in for a long season with this guy on your team. A friend of mine from Lewisville, Texas (a northern suburb of Dallas) expressed some serious disgust and anger over Avery's decision to play for the Stars because of who he is and how he plays. While that initial reaction may have cooled, will he win over that devoted fan as well as many others in Texas? Time will tell, but at least for a day or two this week during this hot summer in Dallas, the Stars wrestled the media attention away from Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and the Dallas Cowboys.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Phoenix Coyotes Hot Stove with Panger and the Fight Doctor

While the 2007-2008 season may not have brought to Phoenix that coveted playoff berth fans in the Valley of the Sun have been longing for, this summer has become an exciting time for Coyotes fans. There may not be any hockey right now and with temperatures routinely being over 100°, the team has made some big offseason moves that could very much bode well for their future.

The June 20th acquistion of forward Olli Jokinen from the Florida Panthers certainly is the biggest transaction to date, there have been other important moves Coyotes general manager Don Maloney has made that are helping make the playoffs a much better possibility come next spring. We know Jokinen is certainly motivated since he has yet to get a taste of postseason action in his career.

Phoenix Coyotes television color analyst Darren Pang and from the radio side Louie DeBrusk both break down the offseason moves and what impact they'll have on the team for the upcoming 2008-2009 season. It is definitely worth checking out if you're a Coyotes fan! This is the first installment of a two-part series at the team's official web site.

video courtesy: Phoenix Coyotes

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Penguins' new arena groundbreaking set for August 14th

Remember when the Pittsburgh Penguins where dangling by the thinest of threads that they would be either staying in Pittsburgh or moving to another city two years ago? Many of us do.

Well, it is a sight that Pittsburghers and Penguins fans were not sure would ever come. But it will. The team announced today that they and the city plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on the site of where the new $290 million arena will be built, directly across the street from Mellon Arena between Centre Avenue and Fifth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh.

According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Mark Belko, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell let the news slip during a press conference yesterday in which he announced the state would allocate $95 million in funding for local bridge repair and other economic projects in the Pittsburgh area.

At the same time, KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh reported that Rendell eased concerns over eventually getting a financing plan completed that would transfer ownership of PITG Gaming from Don Barden to Neil Bluhm. Two years ago, Barden won a highly sought bid to acquire a gaming license to be able to build a casino on the north bank of the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. A suspension of the construction project dates back to June 30th. The Penguins eventually worked out a deal in which funds from slots from this new casino would go toward the construction of the new arena.

As mentioned previously when the new arena deal was struck, the new multi-purpose facility will open in time for the 2010-2011 National Hockey League season.

Friday, August 1, 2008

1-year anniversary of Interstate 35W bridge collapse

Today is a day of rememberance in the Twin Cities.

One year ago, the Interstate 35W bridge collapse took place in Minneapolis as 13 died and another 145 were injured. The news coverage both locally and even at the national level were understandably intense. Given my own connections to the Twin Cities and Minnesota, I paid close attention and it was very tough to see unfold.

From a sports perspective, I'm really happy that the Minnesota Twins paid tribute in their way last season. Josh Harding's goalie mask had the Interstate 35 emblem on it when he wore it last season for the Minnesota Wild.

For me, I was heartbroken to see this happen. It was tough to watch the video of the fallen bridge, the people that were interviewed and how everything effected the lives of the locals, especially those lost. While few people perished, it was still 13 too many to have been claimed.

It is likely you will see the national news networks show some footage of the ceremonies taking place today in Minneapolis, but I certainly have my thoughts with those who were effected.

If you'd like to catch up on some of the local coverage, you can check out these news sources. You can also watch live online beginning at 6:05 PM Central Time at KMSP-TV's web site a rebroadcast of their August 1, 2007 newscast that covered the bridge collapse.

Star Tribune (August 1):
Hundreds gather to mourn victims on 1st anniversary of deadly Minnesota bridge collapse

St. Paul Pioneer Press (August 1):
Disaster struck I-35W bridge a year ago today

WCCO-TV (Minneapolis) (August 1):
Hundreds gather in Minneapolis to mourn bridge collapse

KSTP-TV (St. Paul) (August 1):
35W one year later

KMSP-TV (Eden Prairie, MN) (August 1):
Minneapolis bridge collapse: One year later

KARE-TV (Minneapolis) (August 1):
*Remembering, Rebuilding: I-35W Bridge (special site section)