Tuesday June 15th, 2010

The league may be in drydock, but the hockey world keeps on spinnin'...

NEWS: Maple Leafs name Dion Phaneuf captain

VIEW: You won't have to look far to find someone who thinks the Sideshow Leafs have managed to step on another rake with this choice, but it says here that the team made the most logical choice in slapping the C on Phaneuf.

For a club that's gone the past two seasons without having anyone in the role, it was pretty clear the Leafs weren't simply looking to slap the letter on anyone. But it's also safe to guess that they're not simply rewarding Phaneuf for the truculence he displayed during his brief 26-game stint wearing the blue and white.

This isn't just about providing a central figure for the young, unproven talent to rally around. It's a challenge to Phaneuf to bear down, to focus, to get the biggest scoop out of a pool of talent that he's been comfortable simply skimming for the past couple years. The deal to acquire the big defender was less costly but arguably more critical to the eventual success of this franchise than the one involving Phil Kessel and those long-gone first rounders. Putting Phaneuf at the head of the table, showing him that respect, places the burden directly on him to deliver everything he's capable of.

It says here that he'll live up to the challenge.

NEWS: Rob Blake expected to announce retirement

VIEW: The first interview I conducted as a college intern for the Simcoe (Ont.) Reformer was with Blake, a local kid who was expected to be selected at some point during that summer's draft. Thanks for making me feel old today, Rob.

Wasn't any talk of the Hall of Fame back then (probably just a lot of nervous stammering on my part), but after 20 seasons in the NHL, there's a better than zero chance that every story regarding his retirement will work that topic into the mix. So... does he go? It says here that he doesn't truly belong in the conversation when talking about the all-time greats, but the criteria for the Hall have deteriorated to the point that a consistently above-average career like the one Blake built should be enough to make the cut.

The argument for his inclusion? A Norris Trophy in 1998. A trio of All-Star Team berths. A Stanley Cup. An Olympic gold medal plus 240 goals, 777 points and 12 40-point seasons. Really solid. But salty? Let's just say not enough to earn my vote, if I had one.

That said, I'm really going to miss seeing Blake lowering that big rump and sending an unsuspecting opponent cartwheeling into the highlight reels...

NEWS: Senators ink Swiss vet Roman Wick

VIEW: Probably not the big name that Sens fans were hoping for, but the 25-year-old right wing could prove to be one of the smarter signings of the summer. Drafted by Ottawa in the fifth round back in 2004, Wick has developed his game well under the radar with Kloten of the Swiss league. He might have remained there if not for an impressive turn at the Winter Olympics, where his tenacity, speed and touch (five points in five games) suggested that he might finally be able to make his mark in North America.

By opting out of his Swiss deal and signing what's reported to be a one-year contract with the Sens, Wick gives himself, and the team, an out. If he can't cut it, Ottawa has limited exposure and he can return to Switzerland. If he proves to have some value, he increases it on a second contract, either with the Sens or another club. It says here he'll start the season in Binghamton, but will earn his way onto the NHL roster before long. Once there, he could contribute at a 20-goal pace.

NEWS: Hershey Bears win the Calder Cup

VIEW: There's no direct translation between minor league and NHL success, but back-to-back titles for the top farm team of the underachieving Capitals has to mean more than just a couple of rings for the kids. High-end prospects like John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Michal Neuvirth learned some hard lessons about what it takes to win after dropping the first two games of the finals to the Texas Stars, and those are lessons that should pay dividends when all three join the big club next fall. Playing with confidence in high-pressure situations may be the toughest lesson to learn in hockey...and judging by the lack of postseason success in the Washington, it's one that's escaped too many members of the Capitals. But it's something these kids have picked up, and that bodes well for the future of this franchise.

NEWS: The Globe and Mail reports two Canadians are vying for ownership of the Stars

VIEW: The paper suggests that bidding for the team in Dallas is down to Calgary oil magnate Bill Gallacher and Vancouver businessman Tom Gagliardi, but I wouldn't take that as gospel. Gallacher, who needed to add a few extra pockets to his jeans after taking Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. public, is likely the lead horse and exactly the sort of owner the league wants and needs to replace the villainous Tom Hicks. But Gagliardi, who owns part of the Kamloops Blazers, is thought to be far less interested in the Stars than the league is in him. He may be involved at some point in pursuing a franchise -- he came close to owning the Canucks a few years back -- but the fact that the Stars are frimly entrenched in Dallas is believed to be a sticking point for him.

There's a chance that a local group, headed by oil man (apparently, that's a good business) Billy Quinn, former team president Jim Lites and Mike Modano is still in the running, but the league would prefer a single, well-funded owner to an ad-hoc consortium. It says here that Gallacher will eventually write the check for somewhere in the $250 million range -- a steep price for the struggling club, but one that makes more sense given that it comes with a 50 percent interest in the American Airlines Center, the sixth-most profitable arena in North America according to Forbes. Once that happens, look for the Stars to come off their self-imposed cap of around $45 million and quickly return to the land of the viably competitive.

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