By Stu Hackel
The news out of Boston about Marc Savard is not good. “Marc Savard won’t play this year,” GM Peter Chiarelli told Fluto Shinzawa of The Boston Globe today. “Nothing has changed in our monitoring. He’ll be examined and he’ll be declared unfit to play....”
“Based on what I see, what I hear, what I read, and what I’m told, it’s very unlikely Marc will play again,” Chiarelli added. “Now, knowing the uncertainty of this injury, there’s always a chance [he could play]. But based on what I’m told, it’s very unlikely he’ll play. As an employer, I support him and hope he gets back to living a healthy life.”
This is not entirely unexpected news, but it's not good news in any event. The NHL has taken serious and good steps to reduce the chances of concussion but, sadly, they may have come too late for Marc Savard. He's not the only one whose career has been cut short in this manner, but everything should be done to make sure that deliberate hits to the head are no longer allowed in the NHL's rules. Right now, that's not entirely the case.
A Big Payday: Is James van Riemsdyk really worth what the Flyers have just signed him for -- six years, $25.5 million, an annual cap hit of $4.25 million? It's sure a lot of money for a 22-year-old who has scored 36 goals and 75 points in 153 regular season games over two seasons.
Anyone who saw JVR play during the playoffs, of course, had to be impressed by the Middletown, New Jersey, native who looked like the reincarnation of Rocket Richard (albeit on the left wing), explosively driving the net and dangerous every time he touched the puck, especially in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals against the Bruins in which he scored two goals in the first 10 minutes. He had 43 shots on goal in the seven games of Philly's first round series against Buffalo, and another 33 in the four games against Boston. He was also minus-3 for the postseason.
So which van Riemsdyk will the Flyers get for all that money...the one who scored seven goals in seven playoff games or the one who the previous November was a healthy scratch for four straight games?
Hockey history is filled with guys who had terrific postseason runs only to dissolve into mediocrity afterward. Will van Riemsdyk be one of those, or were the playoffs his coming-out party, the first big chapter in a storybook career? The Flyers believe the latter, or at least think they'll have a good bargain if he becomes better than a point-per-game player over the life of the deal. Unlike some of the other playoff flashes-in-the-pan, JVR has the talent to reach that level. If he can tap into that same extra gear he found last spring and sustain it for a few seasons, the Flyers will look pretty smart.
But Jim Matheson, the Hockey Hall of Fame writer for The Edmonton Journal, thinks some in the NHL aren't happy with Flyers owner Ed Snider's generosity. Matheson writes, "GMs on other teams with similar young players must be privately cursing the Flyers because agents will certainly use the JVR deal as their comparable....Used to be a player in his entry-level contract would hit a second stage in salary in his very early 20s before getting the big money as a Group Two free-agent. Say, $1 million in salary to $2.5 million. Now? Kids blow by that."
New Duds: The Kings unveiled their new sweaters this week, recalling the black and silver design they adopted in 1988 when they traded for Wayne Gretzky and became one of the NHL's marquee franchises. Their home jersey was their third jersey last year; the road jersey is a white version of that one.
“There was an overwhelming sentiment from our fans and from our players that has led us to this change," Kings exec Luc Robitaille, their former star, said in the statement. "Our fans really like the late 80s and early 90s era Kings uniforms which are very similar to this uniform. As a player, the colors give you an attitude and an edge. Dean Lombardi and I talked a lot about it with the players and they love it. We feel our fans believe in it as well.”
Earlier this month, the great blog Icethetics -- which tracks such things as jersey changes and other matters of hockey graphic design -- listed what are believed to be all the new sweater designs for the upcoming season here. Almost all of them clearly continue the retro look that has been in vogue for the last couple of years. The Panthers and Oilers are going back to their earlier designs.
The Maple Leafs' third jersey replicates the 1966-67 shirt they wore while winning their last Stanley Cup (well, they've tried everything else). The Penguins' third recalls their first design from 1967-68 with the multiple sleeve stripes and the original logo, which wasn't part of the first Pens' jersey. The Senators' third jersey concept goes all the way back to the orignal Sens, who played in the NHL from 1917 until 1934. That's really retro.
The new Tampa Bay sweater, a favorite here, was unveiled last season and is very sharp, with a much more simple design and looks like something from the 1960s. Nashville's new look is also very classic and appealing.
The one design that bucks the trend is the Islanders' third jersey, which has not officially been revealed. It's a hodge-podge of colors and it spells out the team name in an arc on the chest, a baseball/basketball look that some teams have adopted in recent years. It shows a clear lack of both imagination and acknowledgement of hockey tradition. Maybe the design was leaked to gauge reaction, and if so, it's been largely bad. The poor Islanders, who finally had the sense to restore their classic sweaters during the past couple of years, can't seem to escape their own alternate tradition of inflicting on the world some of hockey's worst uniforms ever.
Old Time Hockey: Speaking of retro, Richard Johnson, curator of the New England Sports Museum in Boston, dug up this amazing film posted on YouTube. It's of a 1933 game between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs that clearly shows how differently the game was played during the NHL's early years.
As you can see, both teams are wearing dark sweaters (one would be blue, the other mostly red) and the ice has fewer lines. In fact, only the blue lines seem evident and they are pretty thin. There's only one face-off dot, in the middle of the rink. Face-offs are taken with the centers facing the sideboards. There's much lower fencing on top of the boards than we currently have (there was no plexiglass at the time, so it was likely chain link).
Note how the defensemen rarely stray from their posts and are so often stationary on the ice. Very few defenders were mobile back then (Eddie Shore and King Clancy were, to name the most prominent), and you can see where they get the nickname "blueliners" from.
There's also very little passing compared to a few decades later. Puckcarriers tried to beat defenders one-on-one, which was a factor in why the games were so low scoring. Prior to 1926-27, forward passing was prohibited in the neutral and attacking zones; the puck could only be passed laterally or behind the puckcarrier. This footage is from seven seasons later and it's obvious that these players are not head-manning the puck much and haven't really adjusted to the new rules. That's a lot different from when rules change today.
Happy Birthday to Le Gros Bill: He didn't play in the '30s, but Jean Béliveau was one of the game's best in the mid-20th Century. He turns 80 years old today. Perhaps the greatest ever team captain in hockey, Béliveau played on 10 Stanley Cup champions with the Canadiens. As an executive with the Habs, he was part of seven more Cup teams. The 17 times that his name has been engraved on the old chalice is more than any other individual.
In 1965, Béliveau was the first player awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup playoffs' most valuable player. Here’s video of the Canadiens winning the championship that year and the presentation of the Cup and the MVP trophy to Béliveau.
It's safe to say that no single individual has ever been more universally respected in the game as a player and a gentleman. Red Fisher covered much of Béliveau's playing career for The Montreal Star. In a fine tribute to him today, Fisher wrote, "Wayne Gretzky had his critics. So did Mario Lemieux. Some players didn't like Phil Esposito and Bobby Clarke -- but I can't recall any player who had anything but the utmost admiration for Béliveau."
Capital critics: Former Capital Matt Bradley, now with the Panthers, kicked up some dust earlier this month when he was openly critical of his former organization in an interview on the "TGOR Show" over Team 1200 in Ottawa (audio). Charging that the Capitals were too nonchalant and lacked discipline, Bradley singled out Alexander Semin as not caring enough to get the most out of his great talent and coach Bruce Boudreau for not being tough enough.
Now a second former-Cap has added his voice to Bradley's charges. David Steckel, now with the Devils, told Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post (who relayed it on his Twitter account) that “I don't have anything to say on what Brads said except that he was spot on," and "It's not like he went out and told lies." (More of Steckel's remarks to El-Bashir, including comments on Sidney Crosby, whose concussion problems began with their collision during the Winter Classic) can be found here.
New views: NBC Sports Group, which oversees Versus, has officially announced a block of new live studio shows on the channel to air every evening. The certain hockey component looks to be the lead-in show to the Versus NHL Monday game. Starting Oct. 10, NHL Live will debut at 6:30 Eastern Time, after the new nightly NBC SportsTalk program, which focuses on the NFL Mondays and Fridays and whatever else is considered hot in the sports world on Tuesday through Thursday. It will be interesting to monitor how much exposure hockey gets on SportsTalk.
As was reported earlier this month, Versus itself will change its name to NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2, 2012. Why wait until then? The NHL is Versus' big live programming element right now and it would be more sensible to roll out the new name in October to coincide with the new season.
From NBC's standpoint, it takes time to build the new "NBC Sports Network graphics and other elements it wants to use in rebranding Versus. But probably most important, NBC wants to take advantage of the huge audiences it will get in the first few weeks of the New Year. It will have the last week of the NFL season followed by the Winter Classic, then the first NFL playoff games all in eight-day window, and it continues all the way to the Super Bowl a month later. This gives NBC a chance to promote the name change to a massive captive audience.
From a hockey fan's standpoint, it'll be a little awkward to have a new name and a new graphic look in midseason, but we'll somehow all manage to survive.