By Allan Muir
July 21, 2009

Looks as though the NHLPA's protest about inadequate insurance coverage for prospective Olympians who will take part in their countries' orientation camps next month is falling on deaf ears. At least in North America.

While eight NHL-employed German players pulled out of that country's camp on Monday, several prominent Canadian hopefuls including Martin Brodeur, Rick Nash and Joe Thornton have acknowledged the PA's concerns about the risks involved in any on-ice component of these camps, but are set to ignore them.

"I've skated [in the summer] for years and have never been hurt, so I'll be skating," said Thornton, who is on the bubble for making the squad.

"I think we need the ice," Nash told CTV. "I think we need to practice."

Along with orientation meetings, Canada (Aug. 24-27) and the U.S. (Aug. 17-20) are expected to hold on-ice sessions as a chemistry-building exercise. The sessions, perhaps as few as two, are expected to feature light drills and limited contact. Not the most likely scenario for a major injury, but stranger things have happened.

So you can't blame the PA for playing the role of concerned parent. That's part of its mandate. But instead of simply pointing fingers at the limited insurance provided by the national federations, why not be part of the solution?

Here's a thought: the PA has been the most vocal proponent of NHL player participation in the Olympics. In fact, the union has already made it clear that the players want to play in the 2014 tournament in Soci, Russia, a position that seems to put them at odds with their league, which merely tolerates the event. While the NHL would be just as happy to pass on future involvement, the PA believes, and rightly so, that the Olympics provide an unparalleled opportunity to promote the stars of the game.

So why wouldn't the union put everything behind the Olympics? A bigger pie means a bigger slice for the players. Since the PA stands to gain from the exposure provided by the Games, why wouldn't it see fit to make up the perceived insurance shortfall from its own significant cash reserves?

The PA is sold on this Olympic process. Rather than provide ammunition for a league that's disinclined to proceed after 2010, they'd be better served by digging as deep as they feel necessary to turn a problem into an opportunity.

Smart move by Clarke MacArthur to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres before going to arbitration on Monday. The pact spared the 24-year-old left winger the embarrassment of having the team publicly air its grievances with his one-dimensional game. MacArthur displayed a nice touch around the net with 17 goals in his first full season, but his lack of commitment to two-way play, and his absence of jam down low frustrated the Sabres' coaching staff and earned him repeated visits to the press box.

The Sabres also inked Andrej Sekera to a two-year, $2 million deal on Monday. It's a make-or-break term for a young player who'll be expected to pick up some of the offensive slack left by the departure of free agent blueliner Jaroslav Spacek to Montreal. Sekera's play in the second half of 2007-08 hinted at his potential, but there were stretches during his first full season when he would make Barney Fife look overconfident by comparison. For a player advertised as a puck mover, Sekera sure is prone to the yips in his own zone. Hoisting a beer every time he coughs one up would test the tolerance of all but the most iron-gutted drinkers in Western New York.

Now all that's left on GM Darcy Regier's plate is to sign -- or trade -- RFA winger Drew Stafford. Expect the former (look for something in the $2.5 million per year range). If that happens, though, the Sabres will be perched perilously close to the cap. That's a hefty tab for a team that will have to catch a few breaks just to contend for the eighth playoff spot in the East. An improving farm system suggests better days are ahead, but you have to wonder if Regier will be in Buffalo to see them.

There are plenty of rumors swirling around Edmonton's apparent need for a third line center, most of it focusing on free agents Manny Malhotra and Blair Betts. No doubt the roster would really benefit from the signing of character guy like Malhotra, but his asking price (thought to be three years, $6 million) is too high. The familiarity of coach Tom Renney with Edmonton native Betts makes him a logical fit, too, but the guessing here is that Oilers stick with what they have and hope that an option emerges in camp. Good luck with that.

As if the loss of Joe Sakic isn't enough for the sad-sack Avs to deal with, it looks like the schedulemakers had to get their shots in, too. Colorado, which had a league-low eight back-to-back games in 2008-09, has 16 of them slated for 2009-10. So who catches a break? That would be the Blue Jackets, who led the league with 20 B2Bs last season, but have just 12 on the new sked (that should make life easier for phenom netminder Steve Mason, who clearly wore down under the workload as last season progressed). The average number of B2Bs, for the record, is 15. The Islanders have a league-high 19 lined up, but they balance that out with one of the lightest travel schedules.

You May Like