1. Balsillie Not Done Yet
Despite being ruled against by Judge Redfield T. Baum in an Arizona court this week, Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie is far from giving up his dream of moving the debt-ridden Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, Ontario. Richard Rodier, legal counsel for Balsillie, explained his client’s position at a media conference held in Toronto on Tuesday. “At the end of the proceedings and the whole process, I think the Phoenix Coyotes are going to end up in Hamilton,” said Rodier. “The team is still bankrupt and the team still has to be sold through a bankruptcy process that’s going to be administered by Judge Baum. I would imagine ours is the only offer on the table right now, as the judge pointed out.” Rodier indicated that the Balsillie camp will resubmit a bid to purchase the club and move it to Hamilton. Rodier also said that they will pursue mediation with the league regarding a potential relocation fee.
According to Baum’s 21-page ruling, Balsillie’s self-imposed deadline of June 29 may have been a major reason that his bid was rejected in court. "Simply put, the court does not think there is sufficient time (14 days) for all of these issues to be fairly presented to the court given that deadline," said Baum in his findings. Judge Baum also ruled that the NHL has not violated any anti-trust laws, as Balsillie’s camp had previously contended. For their part, the league issued a statement saying they will be looking for new owners who wish to keep the team in the Phoneix/Glendale area, but Rodier, for one, doesn’t see that as a viable possibility. “To defy the laws of economics is like defying the laws of gravity. It can’t be done.”
Whatever happens next in this soap opera, it is clear that Balsillie will not easily give up his dogged pursuit of an NHL franchise. As long as his is the only tangible bid for the Coyotes, Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL brass will be hard-pressed to convince anyone that the best option for the good of the league (not to mention the Coyotes’ creditors) is to keep the team in the desert.
2. Richards Ready To Go Wild
If Todd Richards has his way, the days of defensive, trapping hockey are over in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Wild announced the hiring of their new head coach Tuesday, and the incoming bench boss immediately vowed to implement a more exciting, up-tempo style of hockey this season. Richards was hired by new GM Chuck Fletcher after only one year spent on an NHL coaching staff. Following two seasons as head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League (a team that also employed Fletcher at one time), Richards accepted a job as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks last year. Despite the young coach’s limited resume, Fletcher is confident Richards is the best man for the job. "I think your skill set and your overall talent takes precedence over experience," said Fletcher. “He’s earned my trust.”
Richards plans to implement a style of play similar to that of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins; he wants to emphasize aggressive forechecking and extended puck control. The young coach believes that transitioning from a disciplined, defensive style of play to a more wide open one is easier that doing the opposite. “You have to give Jacques Lemaire and his staff a tremendous amount of credit," said Richards, according to TSN. “As a coach, it's tough to implement the defensive style. I shouldn't say it's tough, but it's tedious. The players have a great foundation to play defensive hockey, and that's something that we can't lose. There always has to be that responsibility.”
The Wild ranked 9th in the NHL in overall attendance this past season (averaging more than 18,500 fans per home game) despite the fact they ranked 22nd in goals scored (2.61 per game) and failed to make the playoffs.
The Wild were one of only three non-playoff team to post a positive goal differential (Buffalo and Florida were the others), due primarily to their sparkling goals against average of 2.40. While the Wild have traditionally been a standout defensive club, they actually posted a negative Goal Versus Threshold (GVT) in even strength defense last season. Their mark of -7.4 was offset by the sparkling play of goaltenders Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, who combined to notch an even strength goaltending GVT of 13.6, and by their second-overall short handed defensive rating of 19.1. Their even strength offensive GVT was an ugly -23.6, fourth worst in the league.
There may yet be more changes in store for Minnesota hockey fans as Fletcher must now decide what to do with star forward Marian Gaborik. According to twincities.com, Fletcher plans to contact the winger, who is currently in Slovakia, to try to sell him on the team’s new philosophy. “I think that will help the process,” Fletcher said, “and where it will lead us, we'll find out.” Gaborik, widely considered to be one of the most offensively gifted players in hockey, will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. While he has been dynamite in stretches, a history of groin injuries has hampered him throughout his career.
3. Sutter Rumours Swirl In Calgary, Rolston Lashes Out
Following Brent Sutter’s resignation from the New Jersey Devils, rumors abound in the Stampede City that Flames GM Darryl Sutter is currently in negotiations to free his brother from the last year of his contract. One can understand why this assumption is so prevalent. Prior to Brent’s departure from the Meadowlands, Darryl told the media in Calgary he felt the three best coaching candidates for the Flames’ job were all under contract to other NHL teams. During the same meeting he acknowledged that Brent was “one of the top coaches” in the league.
It is also a logical leap to suppose that the Flames’ job has remained vacant for as long as it has because Darryl is negotiating with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello to secure Brent’s services. Teams usually look to have their front office and coaching staff in order prior to the entry draft, and with the league ready to welcome a new batch of fresh-faced youngsters on June 26, the Flames are running out of time. Sutter dropped the axe on head coach Mike Keenan and his staff of assistant coaches back on May 22.
As for the Devils, forward Brian Rolston reacted to the suggestion that Jacques Lemaire might return to coach the club my proclaiming, essentially, that anyone would be better that Brent Sutter. “Whoever comes in, it'll be a different situation for me altogether,” Rolston told the Newark Star-Ledger. “The fact of the matter with me is I didn't get a fair shake last year at all as far as I'm concerned. Anybody who comes in will be a welcome change for me.” Rolston managed only 15 goals and 32 points in 64 games last season after notching point totals of 79, 64 and 59 in his previous three seasons, all spent with Lemaire and the Wild. His ice time also dropped precipitously, from 20:04 in 2007/2008 to 15:06 last season.
4. Penguins Set For The Long Haul
Pity Marian Hossa. Regardless of whatever else he accomplishes in his NHL career, the playmaking forward will forever be remembered for leaving the Stanley Cup runner-up Pittsburgh Penguins to join the defending champion Detroit Red Wings....only to lose in game seven to the Penguins the following year. Hossa’s decision not to accept the Pens’ lucrative, long-term contract offer last season might have been the best thing that could have happened to Mario Lemieux and Co. Clearly, it has already worked out for them in the short term. Aside from the fact that Hossa failed to score and was generally a non-factor in this year’s finals, the Penguins have been able to lock up their young stars with money that would have gone to the 30-year-old Slovakian winger.
Sidney Crosby, 21, and Conn Smythe trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, 22, are both locked up at a cap hit of $8.7 million per season. Crosby’s deal ends in 2012/2013 while Malkin’s runs through the 2013/2014 season. Additionally, Jordan Stall, 20, is signed through 2012/2013 at an annual cap hit of $4 million, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, 24, has a deal that runs through 2013/2014 at an average of $5 million per season and defenseman Brooks Orpik, 28, will be a Penguin for the next five seasons with a cap hit of $3.75 million. Barring anything unforeseen, the Penguins have the look of a team that could be a regular participant in the Stanley Cup Finals over the next handful of seasons. At least Hossa can take solace in the fact that a long-term deal with the Red Wings is imminent. Considering Detroit’s equally enviable situation, he may get another crack or two at the Penguins, and that elusive Stanley Cup, very soon.
Bill Duke is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Bill by clicking here or click here to see Bill's other articles.