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The Cross-Ice Pass: The Return
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
Jul 7, 2005 - 7:25:00 PM

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With the imminent return of hockey comes the return of The Cross-Ice Pass!  Today we talk about the impending CBA deal and coaching shuffles from around the league.

A Done Deal?

Despite a report in a Los Angeles newspaper that a deal has been reached, it appears as though the NHL and NHLPA will not have an announcement on a new collective bargaining agreement today, though it could happen as early as this weekend, and will almost certainly be done by the middle of July.  Most of the critical issues have supposedly been dealt with, and at this point the issues are more of the dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s variety, as they say.

This is certainly welcome news for, if you’re a hockey fan such as myself, you’ve been sick to death of all the talk since February, and really didn’t want to hear anything from either side until a deal was reached.  While we’re not quite there yet, all reports indicate we will be shortly.

Now comes the fun part.

Two things immediately spring to mind at this point concerning how things will proceed once a deal is reached.  The first concerns the entry draft and everyone’s favourite up and coming star, Sidney Crosby.

Who gets Sid the Kid?

Teams will be falling all over themselves for the chance to draft Sidney Crosby (photo:

Really, at this point it’s anyone’s guess.

It’s almost a dead-certainty that the league will hold a draft lottery to determine the 2005 draft order.  That same Los Angeles Times report states that every team will have an equal shot at the first overall pick, while other sources believe it will be a weighted lottery, with the performance of a team within the last two-to-five years determining how good a shot they have at first overall.  This certainly makes a lot more sense than an equal draw, though it would follow that every team be included in the lottery, rather than how it works during your average season, when just the teams who missed the playoffs get their names in the hat, so to speak. 

If Crosby is as good as they say, however, this year’s draft lottery could mean more than just the short- and long-term success of the franchise that wins it.  It could have serious ramifications on the future of the league.  Should Crosby go to a media hub like New York, Los Angeles or Toronto, the benefits to the league are obvious; the Crosby hype would be deafening, and, if the kid really is that good, could result in a new surge of popularity for the league.  On the other hand, the benefits should Crosby end up in a struggling market such as Washington or Pittsburgh or Phoenix are obvious as well.  Imagine the fans who would flock to see Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, the two brilliant young stars, in Washington, or to see Crosby and Mario Lemieux wearing Penguin jerseys, or to see Wayne Gretzky coach young Crosby in his rookie season.  Heady stuff.  Of course, all this is contingent on Crosby actually being as good as some say he is.

Who Goes Where?

The second question that pops up about a post-new CBA NHL is where do all the players go?

As of right now the number of players each team has under contract runs from a low of four in Boston (Patrice Bergeron, Nick Boynton, Tom Fitzgerald, and Ian Moran) to a high of fifteen in Phoenix (Jason Chimera, Mike Comrie, Boyd Devereaux, Shane Doan, Denis Gauthier, Brett Hull, Brent Johnson, Ladislav Nagy, Tyson Nash, Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci, Michael Rupp, Oleg Saprykin, Brian Savage, and David Tanabe).  This means that some teams are going to have an awful lot of work to do to sign enough players to fill out a training camp roster come September.

Fortunately for them, there are a lot of free agents out there right now.  And considering that under a new CBA the age a player must reach before qualifying for unrestricted free agency will almost certainly be lowered, and that new rules will likely be in effect for restricted free agents, there will be even more once the deal is reached.

It’s been said that once the CBA is signed, the negotiation to watch will be in Atlanta, where both Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley are restricted free agents coming off their entry-level contracts, which saw both of them make millions in bonuses.  Many believe that just how much these two get will set a new standard of sorts for young stars, and considering that both played in Europe last season and lucrative options exist there for both players, negotiations could get ugly.

More interesting to me, however, will be the situation in Colorado.

Peter Forsberg will be back in the NHL next season, but will he be back in Colorado? (photo:

Currently, Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix sits with nine players under contract for next season, including Joe Sakic and Rob Blake, both of whom made in excess of $8 million last season.  Even with a rollback of salaries, those two will eat a fair chunk of salary cap space.  Not only that, but in the restricted free agent category Lacroix has three players, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, and David Aebischer, coming off excellent 2003-04 seasons; combined, those three made more than $12 million that season.  With all that taken into account, how will Lacroix ever find the space to sign even one of his unrestricted free agents?

Granted, Lacroix likely won’t even consider re-signing Paul Kariya or Teemu Selanne, who both signed with the team in the summer of 2003 but turned out to be less than successful in Colorado.  But as much as Lacroix might not be able to afford to make an offer to longtime blueline stalwart Adam Foote, can he really afford not to?  

Then there’s Peter Forsberg.

Forsberg got some press last month when he expressed his desire to return to Colorado after a year playing in Sweden.  At this point, Forsberg’s return to the NHL is all but certain, but his return to the Avalanche?  Forsberg made $11 million in his last NHL season.  While it seems unlikely he’ll get that amount from anybody next season, he’s even less likely to get it in Colorado.  Forsberg’s situation will be one to watch, because with apologies to Kariya, Mike Modano, Markus Naslund, Martin St. Louis, Zigmund Palffy and Scott Niedermayer, all of whom will also be unrestricted, he will be the first bona-fide superstar to hit the market under the new system.

Many probably can’t imagine an Avalanche team without Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg, let alone an Avalanche team that isn’t a contender.  Just wait until next season.

New Chicago Blackhawks coach Trent Yawney (photo:

Yawney In As 'Hawks New Coach

Trent Yawney was announced today as the new head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, which follows the announcement two weeks ago of the hiring of Dale Tallon as GM and the firing of former coach Brian Sutter.

Of course, to regular readers of this column, Tallon’s ascension to GM came as no surprise, and really, the firing of Sutter in favour of Yawney isn’t much of one either.  Sutter did manage to out-last former ‘Hawks GM Mike Smith, with whom he had several rather public debates, but it seems clear now that when Smith was fired in October of 2003, the biggest reason Sutter didn’t go with him was to give Yawney more minor-league experience.  It was certainly no secret that Yawney was being groomed to be the next head-man in Chicago, just as it was no secret Tallon was in line for the GM’s position.

Quite frankly, they deserve each other; if the ‘Hawks brass were inclined to think rationally about their team, they would’ve hired Dean Lombardi to manage, then let him decide whether or not to retain Sutter.  Of course, who can accurately predict just what owner “Dollar” Bill Wirtz and president Bob Pulford are thinking most of the time?  Luckily for Tallon and Yawney, expectations for the team will be rock-bottom, so they should be fairly secure in their jobs for a little while, and thanks to the efforts of Smith and Sutter they’ll have some good young prospects to play with who have a solid work ethic.

Babcock Finished in Anaheim, Heading to Detroit?

Finally, on the subject of coaching, one of the most interesting stories/rumours this week has come from Anaheim and spread to Detroit.  Now, the hiring of Brian Burke as general manager by Anaheim’s new owners was a good move.  However, Burke is the sort of guy who really needs to have full control over his team, particularly coming out of a bad situation in Vancouver where he clashed with ownership on several occasions.  Everyone remembers when Burke was hired in Vancouver in 1998 and Mike Keenan was already installed as coach, right?  Keenan didn’t last the season, but Burke probably would’ve fired him right away if ownership had let him.

Mike Babcock berates somebody, something he may well be doing from behind Detroit's bench next season (photo:

Now, Burke heads into a similar situation in Anaheim, though the previous regime, led by Bryan Murray, who left the team to coach in Ottawa, did a pretty decent job.  Still, he has a coach hired by the previous administration in Mike Babcock, not necessarily an ideal situation.  When Babcock’s contract expired at the end of June, Burke did offer a one-year extension, a testament to Babcock’s success and stature as one of the league’s up-and-coming young coaches.  However, Babcock asked for a week to test the open market and see if he could get a longer deal elsewhere.

Which is where Detroit comes in.

Rumours today indicate that Red Wings GM Ken Holland will be meeting with current Wings’ head coach Dave Lewis, who’s contract also expired last month, to tell him that he will not be retained.  This would then pave the way for the Wings to hire Babcock.

This would, needless to say, be a somewhat bold move on the part of the Red Wings.  However, two seasons with no playoff success may very well have spelled doom for Lewis, who was badly out-coached in the 2004 playoffs by Darryl Sutter of the Calgary Flames during the Wings’ second round loss, and again the season before by none other than Babcock and the Ducks.  Babcock is not wholly unfamiliar to the Wings’ organization, having coached the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL for two seasons while Anaheim and Detroit were both stocking that franchise and, as stated before, is widely considered one of the league’s rising stars among coaches.  The Wings have looked entirely too complacent under Lewis, who was Scotty Bowman’s longtime assistant coach, taking over the reigns when the legend retired, and Babcock could well be just what they need.

As for the Ducks, Burke reportedly began looking at candidates for the head coach’s job as soon as Babcock said he wanted to look at the market.  The leading candidate is thought to be Randy Carlyle, the head coach of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.  Carlyle was very much in the running for Washington’s head coaching job before the position was given to Glen Hanlon, and has a solid track-record with Manitoba and a prior relationship with Burke, as the Moose are Vancouver’s primary minor-league affiliate.

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