Random thoughts leading up to one of the most intriguing Stanley Cup finals in recent memory:
• Much of what you hear leading into the final is that it will be decided by goaltending. Why? Perhaps it will come down to which one is better between Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton, but why would people come to that assumption before the series even starts?
The view from here is that goaltending will have little to do with how this final turns out. For some teams, goaltending is a huge factor. For these two teams, it simply is not. My guess is that both Niemi and Leighton will play as well as they have throughout this spring and which team wins will come down to a host of other factors, such as how the Flyers will handle the Blackhawks’ speed to the outside and whether or not the Blackhawks will be able to handle both the physical element and the depth of talent the Flyers possess.
• Amid all the fanfare surrounding the Memorial Cup, it was announced that EA Sports and the Canadian Hockey League had come to a four-year agreement that will see both the names and likenesses of CHL players used in the EA Sports NHL franchise.
The CHL maintains it will make no money off this deal, but it will garner a ton of free exposure from it. EA Sports, of course, stands to make more money off this venture, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.
The players? As usual, they get nothing beyond the embarrassing pittance of $50 a week they currently make. As is the case with almost everything related to junior hockey, other people are making money off the backs of teenagers and it is disgraceful.
Players in the CHL sign away any rights to their names or likenesses when they sign a contract with a junior team. They also basically ensure that, on an hourly basis, they’ll be paid less than minimum wage.
It is time for the NHL Players’ Association to step in here, not that it will ever happen. The NHLPA has long maintained it has enough on its plate already and that it really has no business in the affairs of junior teams and their players because the players are not yet members of the association. A player does not officially become a member of the NHLPA until he has played one regular season NHL game.
Of course, that doesn’t keep the NHLPA from throwing the world’s most talented teenagers under the bus by negotiating away their collective bargaining rights in the form of entry-level contracts and a rookie salary cap.
• A study commissioned by Simon Fraser University finds no correlation between an NHL team’s wealth and its ability to scout players and use the draft successfully.
We’ll simply file that under the “Well, duh” category. It baffles the mind that academic resources and taxpayer money was used to fund a study that could have been done simply by looking at the draft records of the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers over the years. Those two franchises are flush with money, but have been dismal at both drafting and developing players.
In fact, it could be argued that teams with less money have the motivation to be better at drafting than their financial big brothers, because their margins for error are much smaller. Those teams cannot afford to make the mistakes rich teams can because they don’t have the ability to make their problems go away by spending to the limits of the salary cap.
• A headline on THN.com Wednesday claimed: “Los Angeles-based filmmaker Rollins says he ‘would love’ owning Thrashers.” Perhaps a more fitting headline would have read: “Los Angeles-based filmmaker Rollins needs to have his head examined.”
• Don’t want to sound like a whiner, but next season’s outdoor game in Calgary that will be announced by the NHL Friday was reported by THN.com two months ago.
• Monday marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most tragic events in league history. It was May 31, 1970 that Terry Sawchuk, considered by many to be the greatest goalie who ever played the game, died of a pulmonary embolism, a month after being hospitalized for internal injuries suffered during a drunken scuffle with Rangers teammate Ron Stewart.
By this time, Sawchuk was essentially washed up as a goaltender and his life was in disarray. His wife had left him and taken the couple’s seven children and Sawchuk was living with teammates. Sawchuk’s tale is a cautionary one, but one that has played itself out over and over again in the game of hockey. Others who either literally or essentially lost their lives because of alcohol include Doug Harvey, Pelle Lindbergh, Bryan Fogarty, Steve Chiasson and countless others.
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