New York Rangers Fire John Tortorella

Just days after losing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the New York Rangers have already started a team shakeup. Earlier Wednesday, Rangers management fired head coach John Tortorella after five seasons behind the bench in Manhattan. Tortorella served as head coach since February 2009, and went 171-144 in the regular season with the Rangers.

Tortorella was known for his fiery personality, both on the bench and in front of the media. His Rangers teams were known for their physical style of play, selfless defensive ability, and propensity for fighting opponents. Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup victory in 2004, and leads American coaches in career wins with 410.

The Rangers lost twice in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Washington Capitals in 2009 and 2011, before breaking through in 2012. That season, the Rangers led the Eastern Conference with 109 points and reached the Conference Finals before losing in six games to their rival New Jersey Devils. The Rangers won each of their three playoff series under Tortorella in seven games, including this year in the Conference Quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals.

Tortorella also brought several big name stars to Broadway to lead the Rangers during his tenure. In 2011, the Rangers signed forward Brad Richards to a nine-year contract worth $58.5 million. Richards, currently 33, previously won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy under Tortorella in Tampa Bay. This past offseason, the Rangers brought in prolific goalscorer Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets to strengthen the front lines. Still, the Rangers could not find their niche from the previous season and finished in sixth place in the East, losing to the second-seeded Bruins in the second round.

Now the New York Rangers enter a period of uncertainty headed into the offseason. Tortorella is gone, and Brad Richards will likely become victim to the NHL’s new amnesty clause, which allows teams to buy out a player’s contract. This means that Richards (7 years, $36 million remaining) would be paid his $36 million over the next 14 years. Chances are, though, both men will find jobs soon enough.

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Winners at the NHL Trade Deadline

The Boston Bruins got their plan B in Jaromir Jagr, who has 36 points in 34 games with the Dallas Stars.

The Boston Bruins got their plan B in Jaromir Jagr, who has 36 points in 34 games with the Dallas Stars.

The NHL’s annual trade deadline passed this afternoon, with plenty of trades involving almost every NHL team. After sifting through all the trades, several teams stood out as winners at the trade deadline. Here are the three biggest winners at this year’s deadline:

Pittsburgh Penguins- The Penguins were the clear winners this week, picking up several veteran players to gear up for a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins traded a defenseman and a fifth round pick to Dallas for veteran forward Brendan Morrow, who will anchor the Penguins third line and provide offensive prowess deep in the lineup. If that wasn’t good enough, the Penguins traded for 33-year-old defenseman Doug Murray of the San Jose Sharks the next day, and traded a 2013 first-round pick and two prospects to Calgary for their captain Jarome Iginla. The Penguins also added forward Jussi Jokinen from Carolina for a late round pick. If Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal didn’t have enough offensive talent, the Penguins added much more in the past week, and are primed to make a deep run.

Boston Bruins- Another team set for a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the Boston Bruins. Yesterday, they traded two forwards and a conditional draft pick to Dallas for 41-year-old veteran winger Jaromir Jagr. A top-ten all time scorer, Jagr immediately brings experience, leadership, and offensive presence to an already deep Bruins squad. To add depth to the blue line, the Bruins added veteran defenseman Wade Redden, who they acquired from the Blues for a seventh round draft pick. Redden will be reunited with former Montreal teammate Zdeno Chara, who now captains the Bruins, and led Boston to the 2011 Stanley Cup.

Columbus Blue Jackets- Invigorated by the strong play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets also made some deadline moves. They shipped backup goalie Steve Mason to Philadelphia for a draft pick and goalie Michael Leighton, also acquiring forward Blake Comeau from the Calgary Flames. But the Jackets also made the biggest move at the trade deadline, acquiring right-winger Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers in exchange for three prospect players and a third round draft pick in 2013. Gaborik scored 40 goals last year on Broadway, and will give the Blue Jackets a superstar forward to build around (they traded long time captain Rick Nash to the Rangers last summer). The Blue Jackets haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, but with the addition of Gaborik, who has had his work ethic come into question, look for Columbus to be around come May.

Simon Gagne Returns to Philadelphia

In 664 games with the Flyers, LW Simon Gagne had 259 goals and 265 assists in ten seasons.

In 664 games with the Flyers, LW Simon Gagne had 259 goals and 265 assists in ten seasons.

The Philadelphia Flyers already brought back two former players this season, and today they added a third former star. The Flyers traded a conditional fourth round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings to acquire LW Simon Gagne. Gagne was drafted 22nd overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Flyers, and played 10 seasons in Philadelphia from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010. He was traded to Tampa Bay in 2010 for Matt Walker and a draft pick, then signed a two year contract with the Los Angeles Kings in 2011, winning his first Stanley Cup this past season. Gagne, goalie Brian Boucher, and winger Mike Knuble all rejoined the Flyers this season.

Gagne was a fan favorite in Philadelphia, known for his speed and offensive abilities. He scored 20 goals in his rookie season, and scored 30 or more goals four times in Philadelphia, including a 47-goal season in 2005-06. He is perhaps better known for his clutch scoring in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2004, Gagne netted an overtime winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to keep the Flyers alive. More recently, Gagne scored the overtime winner in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2010 against the Boston Bruins. And the left winger forever surmounted his legacy in Philadelphia by scoring the deciding goal in Game 7 of that same series, capping an incredible comeback from three games down.

Gagne is a bit older and more susceptible to injury than he was during his prime years with the Flyers. He suffered a concussion that ended his season in 2008 after just 25 games, and another in December 2011. Gagne was out until the Stanley Cup Finals, where he played four games but did not score a point. In 11 games with Los Angeles this season, Gagne has no goals and five assists. Gagne returns to a team decimated by injuries and inconsistency this season. The Flyers have recently surged into the top ten in goals scored, but also lost center Matt Read for six weeks with a rib injury. Gagne will fill a hole for the Flyers and provide much needed veteran leadership. Joining farmiliar names like Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and Mike Knuble in the lineup, Gagne could help the struggling Flyers get back on track.

Gagne is in the second year of his contract, earning $3.5 million this season. He will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Surprises and Disappointments of the 2013 NHL Season

We are about a third of the way through the lockout-shortened, 48 game NHL season, and things are starting to settle into place. There have been many surprising performances so far, both good and poor. And while it may be too early to look at award candidates, here are some insights into the NHL thus far.

Buffalo's Thomas Vanek leads the NHL in goals (12) and total points (23). (Image Source: USA Today)

Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek leads the NHL in goals (12) and total points (23). (Image Source: USA Today)

Most Surprising Player (and MVP front-runner): Thomas Vanek, LW, Buffalo Sabres

Thomas Vanek has been on fire this season. He currently leads the NHL with 12 goals and 25 points for the underperforming Buffalo Sabres this season. Vanek has three games with two goals or more this season, and is scoring about once every four shots he takes. If the 29-year-old forward can continue this torrid scoring pace, he is likely to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Disappointing Superstar: Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Last season was a breakout year for 25-year-old Claude Giroux; he scored 28 goals and finished third in the NHL with 93 points. He performed especially well in the playoffs for the Flyers, leading the team to an upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins and scoring 17 points in 10 games. This season, Giroux was named as the new Flyers captain, and expectations were incredibly high, but Giroux has struggled offensively. In 17 games, Giroux has just 13 points and a meager 5 goals. Philadelphia has struggled along with Giroux, currently sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

Best Netminder: Craig Anderson, G, Ottawa Senators

We saw a glimpse of Anderson’s ability in the Senators’ first round playoff series with the New York Rangers last season, and the 29-year-old American has continued to impress. Anderson leads the NHL in save percentage (.948) and is second in goals-allowed-average (1.61). He also has 7 wins this season, including two shutouts, and his excellent play has the Senators currently in a playoff spot.

Despite winning last year's Stanley Cup, Jonathan Quick and the Kings have struggled in 2013.

Despite winning last year’s Stanley Cup, Jonathan Quick and the Kings have struggled in 2013. (Image source: Associated Press)

Disappointing Team (and Goalie): Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick)

It looks like the Kings are the latest victims of the famous “Stanley Cup hangover”. After hosting the Cup after a miraculous playoff run last June, the Kings have struggled to play good hockey this season. Playoff MVP Jonathan Quick has a save percentage under .900 (.895), and is a far cry from the stonewall he was in the playoffs last year. The Kings are 27th (fourth worst) in the league in goals scored (only 2.2 per game), and currently sit in second to last place in the Western Conference.

Most Surprising Team: Anaheim Ducks

Last season, the Ducks had just 80 points, and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Now, the Ducks have turned their team around, currently sitting atop the Pacific Division with 25 points. The main reason for their success has been goaltender Viktor Fasth, who has not lost a decision this season. In 9 games, Fasth is 8-0-0 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.76 goals-against average. With veteran leaders like Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, and former MVP Corey Perry, the Ducks have all the tools to succeed in the NHL this year.

NHL Lockout Ends, with Interesting, New CBA

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Regardless of the team you root for, NHL fans across North America can rejoice: Hockey is back!

In what was perhaps the most unnecessary lockout in the history of organized sports, the NHL and NHL Player’s Association have finally agreed to a new, 10-year CBA allowing for a shortened 2013 season at 48 games, starting Jan. 19.

113 days later, fans–some of whom won’t come back–finally get their NHL back, but not without some changes to the game:

Draft Lottery: The 14 teams that don’t make the NHL playoffs will now be subject to a draft lottery, similarly to the system the NBA employs.  Prior, only the NHL’s bottom four teams could receive the no.1 overall pick.  The Oilers have had the last three picks (Yakupov, Nugent-Hopkins, and Taylor Hall).

Salary Cap:  Originally, the NHL owners wanted a salary cap of $60 million, while the NHLPA desired a cap of $65 million for 2013-2014 seasons.  The thought was that teams would have more financial flexibility to sign players if the players had their cap in place. For the 2013 season, teams will be allowed to spend up to $70.2 million, with a cap of $64.3 million for the next year.  Under the owner’s desired cap of $60 million, teams like Philadelphia and Montreal would only have about $200,000 to spend on players, given the contracts handed out to other players, which brings me to the next point.

Contract Length:  Players are now subject to a seven-year contract, which increases by one more year if said player is signing with his own team.  Max salary variance is 35 percent, and cannot exceed 50 percent in the last year.

Third Party and Suspensions: While Brendan Shanahan made a household name for himself last year following his inaugural year as the NHL’s head disciplinarian, appeals will still now go through Commissioner Gary Bettman, and for suspensions lasting longer than six games, a third party is to be involved (sound familiar?)

Last, revenue sharing will increase to $200 million among teams.  While the NHL desired to delay free agency until July 10, the players kept their date of July 1.  The minimum salary a player can be had for is still $525,000 but by 2022, it will be $750,000.  The 2013 NHL season will start on January 19 provided the Board of Governors and Players agree to the deal, which, by all accounts, they should.

CBA talk aside, I’m left wondering how fans act now.  Does the bitterness of another lockout rapidly subside now that we’re about two weeks away from a puck drop?  On social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, I saw no anger from fans, with a universal reaction of delight.  Regardless, the universal consensus seems to be that the NHL will always be the last of the “Big Four” of sports leagues, and with another season half-lost, this certainly rings true.

Some ways the NHL could appeal to it’s toyed-with-fanbase are the following:

  1. Free Center-Ice and NHL GameCenter for this shortened year, and next year.  Allow the “fringe” fans to see the games at the comfort of their own home, laptop or mobile device, while the die-hard fans (and casual goers) have:Image
  2. Discounted Tickets:  On the right is the New Jersey Devils seating and pricing options for the 202-2013 season.  While secondary markets like Stubhub exist and fans can get their cheaper tickets that way (tickets for Winnipeg @ New Jersey start at $36 despite this schedule being the original one prior to the agreement of a new CBA), it would behoove the NHL to act in good faith and drop all these prices across the league by, lets say, anywhere between 10-20 percent.

Last, I realize a lot of fans will want to see Gary Bettman resign, but as we saw in the suspension portion of the new CBA, it’s apparent he will not step down, and according to former Boston Bruins coach Don “Grapes” Cherry, of Hockey Night in Canada fame, it was Bettman who agreed to this at the last minute, contrary to reports that Bettman was ready to cancel the season.  Also, there is no reason as to why the marathon talks with federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh could not have happened earlier.  This lockout will be remembered for one thing in the history books: satisfying the egos of Bettman and Fehr up until the very end.

The puck drops January 19!

NHL Cancels 2013 Winter Classic

What began as perhaps the most anticipated—and lucrative–Winter Classic ever is now no more.  Earlier today, the NHL made the announcement to cancel the 2013 Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Featuring arguably the NHL’s premier franchise in the Red Wings, as well as the first Canadian team to play in a Winter Classic, eagerness ran high since the announcement was made in early 2012.

With the NHL lockout claiming more games in November, the canceling of the NHL’s signature cash cow event cannot be undone.  It is estimated that the cancellation will result in the loss of $3 million–$3.5 million for some league sponsors, as well as tens of million to the already struggling Detroit area.  Those 115,000 expected to attend the event at Michigan Stadium will now have to wait until Jan. 1, 2014 to see the event.  They also have the option to refund their tickets.  In a market dominated by  the Superbowl, and to a lesser extent, the NBA’s Christmas Day games, the Winter Classic offers the common sports fan a day to themselves to appreciate the game, with the league trying to send a message essentially saying “While there’s Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA, the NHL is here, too.”  The first Sunday belongs to the NFL, Christmas to the NBA, and the belief was that Jan. 1 was the NHL’s day.

But, no more.  For this year at least. With a league that lost a great amount of fans and revenue after the 2004-2005 lockout (Only the Outdoor Life Network was willing to carry the NHL post-lockout), you’d think there’d be some sort of compromise to get this signature events going, but unfortunately, the answer is no.  And with new college football playoff formats coming, the hits just keep on coming for the NHL, who seems to be digging their own grave, despite the recent partnership with NBC Sports and the fact that a major market in Los Angeles just won the Stanley Cup, bringing hockey to what is usually a baseball town.

The NHL believed that total revenue from the Winter Classic would equate to roughly $70 million.  This isn’t including the concurrent—and also cancelled—outdoor event at Detroit’s Comerica Park, which would have started on Dec. 27.  Termed the “Hockeytown Winter Festival,” it would have featured an NCAA tournament with Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan and Michigan Tech playing against each other, as well as an AHL game between the affiliates of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, respectively.  The very anticipated Alumni game between Detroit and Toronto legends is now lost.  These events will still continue, but in the less-appealing Joe Louis Arena, located in Detroit.  In a statement by the NHL, it was expected these events would draw over 400,000 people.

Another fatality is the third season of the thrilling and captivating HBO reality series “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic.”  Giving the fan a look inside the locker room and everyday life of an NHL player, and despite the fact that there could’ve been a rise in ratings due to a large Canadian audience, this unique perspective will also have to wait another year.   Also lost are the throwback jerseys and sweaters, the event hats, jackets and special commemorative pins.

Paying $3 million to secure the rights to play at Michigan Stadium, the NHL had to forfeit (to them, meager) $100,000 today to the University of Michigan for cancelling the Winter Classic. While Deputy Commissioner of the NHL Bill Daly stated he doesn’t anticipate anymore games being cancelled anytime soon (Technically, games after Nov. 30 are still “on”), the damage is already done to the league’s reputation.  What was a rising league following the last lockout has now become a laughingstock again, with the cancelling of the Winter Classic perhaps the climax of such.

NHL Cancels November Schedule

A full 82-game NHL season is now out of the question. The NHL announced today it has cancelled the remainder of November’s schedule, which brings the total number of games cancelled to 326. As a result, the league cannot complete a full season with playoffs.

The NHL is also planning to withdraw its offer to the NHL Players’ Association, an offer that proposed a 50-50 revenue split between team owners and the players. The league has estimated that players have lost about 27% of this year’s salary because of the 41-day lockout. In the meantime, many top players continue to play in leagues in Europe and in the American Hockey League.

The NHLPA made three counter-offers to the NHL on October 18th, the last day that the two parties officially met. All three offers were quickly rejected by NHL management. Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to the NHLPA, said, “It’s been take, take, take on the owners’ side and give, give, give from the players’ side. There’s got to be a line somewhere and the players have drawn it.”

As of today, the NHL’s Winter Classic, scheduled for January 1st at the University of Michigan between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, is still on. So too is NHL All-Star Weekend, scheduled for January 26-27 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Both events could be cancelled this month if no further progress is made. There are no commitments by the two parties to continue formal negotiations at this time.