Is it late August already? WowÂ…only three more weeks until training campsÂ…begin. So, it must be time to talk hockey, then, right? Right.
As always, the past couple of months featured the usual slew of summertime signings and sunny promises of brighter days in 2007-08. Of course, that’s easier to say if you’re a Rangers fan rather than Rick Tocchet.
Here are six stories worth revisiting as you settle into the sofa:
Swedish swan song for Eagle
After 17 NHL seasons and 484 wins Â– third-most all-time, behind only Patrick Roy (551) and Martin Brodeur (494 and counting) Â– the 42-year-old goalie is packing up his pads and, according to reports, heading to Leksand, a second division team in the Swedish League.
It’s a bittersweet ending to Belfour’s NHL career; he compiled a winning record (27-17-10) in Florida last season Â– no easy feat Â– but an alcohol-fueled incident at the Panthers’ year-end party (he spent a night in jail) likely scared off any NHL clubs that might’ve considered signing the ever-competitive veteran.
Belfour made it to the Stanley Cup final three times, with Chicago in 1992 and Dallas in 1999 and 2000. The Stars won it all in ’99; Belfour went 16-7 in the playoffs with a 1.67 GAA and .930 save percentage.
His fierce determination and professional dedication might have been undermined by those occasional off-ice wobbles Â– as well as a reputation, deserved or not, for being rather unfriendly toward his backup goalies Â– but Belfour will go down as one of the greatest netminders of his generation. Plus, he was a throwback to a time when goalies truly were a different breed.
He could be sullen and seldom said much, but he was a winner and, as Russian legend Vladislav Tretiak (who mentored Belfour in Chicago) told The Hockey News a couple years ago: Â“Â…I’m sure many people don’t realize that there is a very kind man beneath the mask. Sometimes he is rough around the edges and historically has not been very friendly with the media, but that is only on the surface. Inside, Eddie is a very gentle man.Â”
Fighting for the right to fight
Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, along with his junior slugger brother Aaron, received much publicity for their one-day summer camp in Regina in August that taught 12- to 18-year-olds how to duke it out on the ice.
Organizers maintained the camp’s aim was to help kids Â“protect themselvesÂ” and wasn’t promoting fighting among youth players. That stance was mostly decried in the media and public, although the camp did have a contingent of sympathizers and supporters.
The best one-liner goes to sroberts152 on tsn.ca, who wrote: Â“How to fight by Derek BoogaardÂ…Step 1: Be 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds.Â”
Forsberg: Have skates, will travel
The will-he-or-won’t-he question of the summer has been whether Peter Forsberg will return to the NHL or go back home to Sweden and finish out his career with MoDo, where the superstar has always said he wanted to conclude his playing days.
Forsberg, one of the game’s giants since the mid-1990s, has that rare combination of elite skill and a warrior mentality; at his best, he’d run you over, pick up the puck and either score or set up a teammate. But it’s hard to believe he has much left in the tank, due to an endless list of injuries and all those lengthy playoff runs that have made his body old at only 34.
Consider this: in the past seven NHL seasons, Forsberg has topped out at 75 games (in ’02-03) and 73 (in ’00-01). He also had campaigns of 60, 57, 39 and 33 games Â– and zero games in 2001-02, when he took the year off to heal (although, he did come back for the playoffs and led the post-season in scoring Â– despite not making it to the Stanley Cup final Â– with 27 points in 20 games.)
If I were a betting man, I’d put a buck on Forsberg staying in Sweden this season, then being lured back to the NHL in 2008-09.
Speaking of bettingÂ…
The Rick Tocchet/gambling ring affair was settled in late August.
The former power forward-turned-Phoenix assistant coach pled guilty to third-degree counts of conspiracy to promote gambling and promoting gambling and received two years probation.
Tocchet, who has been on indefinite leave from the Coyotes bench, partnered with a New Jersey state trooper and another man in a sports betting ring they apparently ran for five years. (The trooper, James Harney, received a five-year prison sentence earlier in the summer after pleading guilty to conspiracy, promoting gambling and misconduct.)
Tocchet wasn’t vindicated by any stretch, but the fallout from Â‘Operation Slap Shot’ (New Jersey police’s name for the investigation) is less severe than it first sounded when charges were laid in February 2006.
In response to the verdict, the NHL said it is conducting an internal investigation; neither the league nor the Coyotes have decided whether to permit Tocchet to return. Since there was never any evidence that Tocchet was involved in gambling on hockey games Â– the bets centered around college football and the NFL Â– here’s betting that, one day, we’ll see Tocchet back in the league.
Pete Rose, eat your heart out.
The Rangers ride again
Free agency was its usual frenzy in the first week of July, with more money changing hands than a Super Bowl party at Rick Tocchet’s. (C’monÂ…hockey columnists, like the players themselves, are entitled to the odd cheap shot. Tocchet, of all players, would surely acknowledge that.)
And while we’re not going to get into a team-by-team breakdown of who went where and for much, we will say this: the Rangers came out on top by scooping two of the top UFAs in centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.
They’ve got to be considered Cup favorites for the next couple of years.
Not yet, Mike
Los Angeles center Mike Cammalleri earned a $6.7-million, two-year contract in arbitration, the biggest settlement in the seven cases that actually made it to the arbitrator. (The other 23 cases settled before they went to a hearing.)
Cammalleri, 25, is shifty and skilled with soft hands and is coming off a career-best 34-goal, 80-point season for the Kings; he may prove to be a bargain over the next couple of seasons.
Nevertheless, the $6-million-per-year demand that he went into arbitration with was over the top. (The Kings reportedly countered with a $2.6-million offer.) While there are as many as 35 NHLers set to make $6-million-plus in the upcoming 2007-08 season, that number is exaggerated by all the front-end-loaded contracts that have become vogue since the lockout ended and the new CBA began.
Players such as Daniel Briere and Kimmo Timonen and 10-15 others Â– who signed lengthy four- and five- and six-year deals Â– will get big paydays for the next few seasons, and then, ahem, a mere $3-4 million in the final years of their pacts.
Hopefully, they’ll have something left from the $7-million salad days, so they’ll be able to scrape by on just a few mill.