Of everything I heard at the Heritage Classic, the quote that stood out most came during a discussion about the NHL's wish to hold even more outdoor games:
"That shows you how much money they're making."
It is believed that a "Stadium Series" (for lack of a better term) will be a focal point of the next U.S. television contract, with several in a row highlighting the package. Can't imagine that, in the long term, outdoor game after outdoor game will be a good thing for TV viewership, but I'm just a talking head, not an executive.
Fact is, there is incredible demand amongst NHL ownership for these. At a Board of Governors meeting, one owner said there should be six a year. And, to be honest, some of the possibilities are pretty exciting. Jerry Jones wants one at his new Cowboys Stadium, and I'll be the first to admit I'd love to see that, providing anyone who buys a ticket actually gets their seat. That venue would bring enormous exposure, as would the new Yankee Stadium - which is unavailable around New Year's because of an NCAA tie-in. Having more than one of these per season eliminates that problem, as you're not beholden to Jan. 1.
Multiple games also create the possibility of American/Canadian matchups. There's a possibility for Toronto/Detroit at The Big House (Michigan Stadium), but you're probably not going to get that if there's only one U.S.-based game per year.
What does the NHLPA think? When you're getting 57 per cent of the revenues (at least under the current CBA), it's tough to say no.
The money is intoxicating, and so is the atmosphere at these events. The fans' enthusiasm is what really makes them special. That's why it's easy for owners/executives to overlook the occupational hazards. The best thing about the NHL is the intensity of the games. Only in the NFL is the regular season more meaningful than hockey. I'm finishing this blog Monday night while watching Washington/Pittsburgh, and it feels like a Game 7. But that's pretty scary on these surfaces.
Ice guru Dan Craig and his staff do a phenomenal job, but as Robyn Regehr put it, even the best outdoor ice isn't as good as anything indoors. We've tempted fate this season, with the rainfall in Pittsburgh and the choppy ice that scared the alumni in Calgary. (I'm not one of those who believes the elements contributed to Sidney Crosby's concussion.) If you want to take it to a warmer weather climate, watch what the ice was like at McMahon before the sun went down.
All it will take is one cancelled game. Or, one game called after two periods (that, technically, counts as complete). Or, one game where a player is injured and you can unequivocally point at the conditions.
1. Philadelphia has a shot at next year's Winter Classic, either at Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Eagles) or Beaver Stadium (home of Joe Paterno and Penn State football). Canadian version: Montreal really wants it, and will get it at some point. Appears only other possibility is Vancouver, and it would be interesting to involve BC Place's new retractable roof.
2. The Canadiens almost had an outdoor game last season, but lost it because the Alouettes hosted the CFL's Eastern Final. Apparently, Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo (who also has a box at the Bell Centre) is pitching to host at his stadium after an expansion for Major League Soccer. But it probably won't be big enough.
3. Hate writing about rumours at this time of year, because so much changes so quickly, especially when you're dealing with secretive organizations like Colorado (and I say that as a compliment). General manager Greg Sherman told Pierre LeBrun that Milan Hejduk won't be moved. The Denver Post's Adrian Dater mentioned a rumour involving Paul Stastny and the Kings. I heard something similar (although not that specific deal) at the Heritage Classic. There's a real mix of opinions on his future. Some say Colorado regrets that five-year, $33 million US contract. Others believe he won't be dealt.
4. One thing to know about the Kings: Dean Lombardi and Terry Murray feel their players have shown real commitment to the organization and each other. Therefore, they don't want to break up the group unless forced to. That means an ownership directive, or a sense of supreme underachievement. This is still a young team that needs to add, not subtract.
5. Two things others say about the Avalanche: they are targeting a young goalie and they will trade John-Michael Liles. It's believed they like Jonathan Bernier and Cory Schneider, although I can't imagine the Canucks doing that. I had also heard Steve Mason, but that appears to be incorrect. As for Liles, every year, he must submit a list of 12 teams he will agree to be traded to. His best friend in the NHL is Ryan Miller and it sounds like Buffalo is interested. By now, you've heard Toronto is, too. It is believed both Buffalo and Toronto are on his list.
6. Years ago, a baseball GM told me the Pedro Martinez/Delino DeShields deal (where the Expos fleeced the Dodgers) scared a lot of his brethren from making youth-for-youth trades. Thought of that conversation after hearing about Erik Johnson/Jay McClement-for-Chris Stewart/Kevin Shattenkirk. Two opinions heard most about this trade: shock that the Avalanche would deal Stewart and that both organizations wanted to shake up their rooms.
7. Heard there was at least one GM who called St. Louis about Johnson and was told "not available." That happened with Boston and Joe Thornton. When he was Anaheim's GM, Brian Burke got wind about the Thornton trade shortly before it happened and tried to step in. The Bruins said no.
8. Instructive that Pittsburgh would use one of its biggest chips - Alex Goligoski - on James Neal. Neal is not a rental, but a long-term piece. Even if Sidney Crosby does not return this year, Neal can make an impact going forward.
9. Scott Howson wasn't going there, but I think Columbus really wanted Goligoski.
10. Don't think any GM has a tougher challenge over the next week than Joe Nieuwendyk. Brad Richards+looming free agency+concussion+2-9-1stretch+banks controlling everything = migraine.
11. For a team battling financial instability, Atlanta is getting a lot of important work done. Dustin Byfuglien signed last week and Andrew Ladd should follow shortly.
12. Penguins fans pointed out that they'd rather have Kris Letang at four years, $14 million instead of Byfuglien at five and $26 million. But you can't solely compare players. You must compare situations. Byfuglien has more leverage than Letang, and the Thrashers understand that.
13. If he could do it over again, would Steve Tambellini put Sheldon Souray on waivers back in October?
14. It's pretty common knowledge Tambellini is asking a lot for Ales Hemsky, but the feeling is he'd prefer to keep Dustin Penner because Edmonton lacks size. That could change with the right offer.
15. One scout, who sees the Oilers a lot, on Taylor Hall's potential: "He has barely scratched the surface."
16. Filip Kuba has an interesting no-trade: If the Senators want to move him, they must ask for a list of 10 teams he will go to. It is believed that's been submitted. The New York Post and Ottawa Sun have reported the Rangers' interest. He'd clearly go there, having enjoyed playing for John Tortorella in Tampa and being close with Marian Gaborik from Minnesota.
17. It is very hard to predict what Eugene Melnyk will do. For months, he's been gathering advice on future GM candidates. But, Bryan Murray's work is leading to rumblings he will be retained. He's done very nicely, with more to come.
18. Last week, some Flames fans questioned the note about Curtis Glencross "liking" playing for Brent Sutter, because the coach made him a healthy scratch. I didn't write that one as well as I could have. Players may not like their coaches, but they recognize which of them put them in position to succeed. Glencross knows Sutter is giving him great opportunities.
19. One coach gave an interesting breakdown of the Flames: they're not a team that beats you with X's and O's. They beat you by going at you hard. They send it deep, or on net, and go get it. When you play confidently, that style can win a lot of games.
20. Another coach said the biggest difference he saw in Calgary was Miikka Kiprusoff's confidence in his defencemen. Kiprusoff, who is terrific with his preparation, likes to know what defencemen will do if they get beat. It's going to happen, so there's got to be a plan. The Flames, apparently, have worked at that.
21. Couple of Jarome Iginla stories we had to cut from our interview: last year, he was taping a commercial for Scotiabank and was asked to say something along the lines of, "I'm proud to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics." He was also asked to say, "I'm proud to captain Team Canada." This was before the selections, and he refused. Scotiabank promised nothing would be seen unless they came true. He still refused. That's pretty impressive.
22. Theo Fleury tells a story in his book about Iginla joining a group of players for a summer retreat. At one point, they saw a buoy in a lake and bet he couldn't swim there and back. Iginla did it. Now, he said he'd pretend he couldn't make it, so someone else would have to get in.
23. What the Ducks are doing in Jonas Hiller's absence only increases his Vezina Trophy worthiness.
24. Totally agree with Zenon Konopka on one thing: people take shots at the Islanders because they are an easy target. Didn't want to write about the Penguins' goonfest, but it was kind of hard to ignore it.
25. This is a tough draft to predict, because after the top 6-8 picks, "It will be a total crapshoot," according to one scout. But, if your team traded/acquired a later-round first pick and you'd like to check out some prospects, watch the Oshawa Generals or the Saint John Sea Dogs. Each team has three guys who could be available around then. There's Lucas Lessio, Boone Jenner and Nicklas Jensen in Ontario; Tomas Jurco, Nathan Beaulieu and Zack Phillips in New Brunswick. Obviously, there are others, but this makes it a little easier.
26. Another player is rising out of "nowhere land" is Toronto-born Jamie Oleksiak from NCAA Northeastern. He's 6-foot-7, 244 pounds with room to fill out more. But he might not be there when teams pick late in round one.
27. Don't think the Canadiens were too thrilled about the photo of James Wisniewski's sliced cheek ending up on Facebook. A week ago, they asked players to stop talking about their injuries.
28. Quote of the week: One executive on Kris Versteeg and Toronto. "Sometimes a rebound girlfriend doesn't work."
29. Maple Leaf fans must be patient with Joe Colborne. He'll likely need another year in the AHL. This has been a big adjustment for him, but he's in good hands with Dallas Eakins.
30. Final thought, and it comes from another GM: When is Dale Tallon going to pull the trigger?
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