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January 29 News and Notes

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Time again for M and G to have a look at some of the news around the NHL. This week, the Flames and Oilers bungle their way towards this year's last BOA, the Canucks head out on their Olympic sojourn, and the league may be brokering a deal in Tampa, but at what cost?


The Flames:


Another loser point racked up in Phoenix last night, with the Flames falling 3-2 to the Coyotes. That snoozy second period did them no favours, but at least there was some pushback to finish the game.  They still have issues with converting attempts to shots, with 52 total attempts leading to 26 SOG in a fairly low-event affair. That 50% conversion rate is good by recent standards, and no good at all compared to the rest of the conference, as we discussed last week. Dion Phaneuf's line was particularly, uh, impressive:

2 SOG, 6 attempts blocked, 1 miss.

I wish that was an unusual line for the Flames' rearguard, but that isn't the case. I'm all in favour of directing mass amounts of rubber at the net, but he and the team as a collective have had problems turning attempts into SOG all season, and I'm not buying bad luck as an excuse. Teams all pretty much play the same style of defence, emphasizing protecting the middle of the ice, so either every other team in the conference is "luckier" by at least one standard deviation at getting shots through, or the Flames have a problem. Not everything is an accident.

Despite a shoot-out miss that made for an unsatisfying conclusion to the young man's night, Mikael Backlund broke his duck with a seeing-eye goal that ensured at least one point from the proceedings. The Swede featured on a line with Jarome Iginla and Dustin Boyd, and got over 8 minutes of TOI in the third period and OT. He didn't look out of place, and I did notice that if anything, he was erring on the safe side in the offensive zone, trying to ensure he didn't get caught too far up ice. Given the fact that Phoenix doesn't have the most imposing collection of forwards, I hope you'll allow me to hold off on the HHOF plaque for now. That noted, it's still a big moment for the Flames' prospect, and since Kent gave Gio's bit of excellence an airing in the post-game, let's have another look at the play that got the newest Flame the googly-eye treatment from Tara McCool after last night's match:



Moving on, Kipper 5 v 5:  CHI 1-26, STL 2-24, DAL 2-25, PHX 1-18. Season total 69-1002, SV% .931. Some day, the Flames will score a few goals, right?




The other half of Alberta's NHL entry is in even more of a bog than the Flames. The Oilers dropped a 2-1 decision to the Blues, the highlight being the Blues shooting 100% in the third. One shot, one goal. That's the sort of efficient work that our friends down in Denver could appreciate, no doubt. The loss sets up a titanic battle on Saturday at the Dome, with the Oilers' 12 game skid making the Flames' nine gamer look paltry in comparison. Even with the sad state of affairs that exists, I'm not quite sure the two teams would endorse this manner of recognizing coaches past, well-intentioned as it might be ;-)


The Canucks, like a few of their fellow Lower Mainland residents, are on the move to facilitate the Olympics. They'll manage in slightly nicer style than most of those on the hoof, and as a couple of old-timers noted, certainly better than their predecessors were furnished with. It's still a time for teams with designs on overtaking the Canucks (read:Calgary) to take advantage, because for all the creature comforts that the modern player may have when travelling, most teams find it harder to win away from home. Not the Flames of course, but they currently find any wins hard to come by, so they may not be an ideal example at the moment.

Vancouver's first stop on their 14 game trek is in Toronto, and apparently the war of words between the Canucks and the People's Network has ended with some sort of agreement just in time for their Hockey Day in Canada visit to the ACC. A shame, really. I'd heard a rumour that the CBC was planning to escalate matters by launching Mike Milbury via trebuchet at the Vancouver team bus. Here's some secret footage of the preparations:






Now that would be good television.


Michael Nylander's exile was formalized this week, with the Capitals' center agreeing to join Jokerit of the Finnish SM-Liiga on a loan. This move, as Willis notes in his piece, gets Washington cap relief but they're still stuck with covering his salary. I have a feeling that the 5 million isn't exactly Ted Leonsis' largest financial concern these days, but I do wonder if a team will take a chance on the Czech next season, with it being the last year of his deal.


There's plenty of other news from the Southeast Division these days. Carolina has started to play better, winning last night against the Islanders, and that turn of events got our friends at Canes Country wondering if winning is losing when your only hope for the season is to get the best lottery position. It's a legitimate problem for a team like Carolina or Edmonton, because openly tanking asks your fan base for a significant level of tolerance. It's easy for those of us who aren't paying for tickets every night to say, "Oh yeah, blow it up." If I were paying several thousand dollars a season to watch that sort of crap, I might not be so sanguine about matters, even if I knew it was rational.


The Panthers are part of the mushy middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race, so they would welcome the news that David Booth is nearing a return from his concussion. Steve Gorten intimates that Flames' fans might get the first look at the returning winger next weekend when the two teams meet in Sunrise. Good luck to him. As I've noted before, brain injuries suck, and aren't to be wished on anyone. 


On the Gulf Coast side of the Sunshine State, there might be a potential suitor on the horizon for the Lightning. The Hockey News reported last night that the team was on the verge of being sold to financier Jeffrey Vinik for 170 million dollars. The other tidbit that came from that story was that the new ownership would attempt to move Vincent Lecavalier to help balance the books. Ken Campbell's follow-up piece this evening suggests that the Kings might be an interested party if a deal goes down for the Tampa captain.

A different piece of Lightning news that was of interest to me, and should be to a certain GM we all know and love, was Rick Tocchet's declaration that Mike Smith is the guy in net that will be counted on as the Lightning move forward. That might mean Antero Nittymaki could be on the loose at the deadline, and he's UFA with a 600k price tag. Curtis McElhinney makes 525k. Hmm.


Finally, Colin Campbell took time out from doing what ever it is he does to tell Ken Dryden and Jim Flaherty to take a flying leap. Like most people, I haven't any interest in politicians or judges policing the game when they should be consumed by matters more important to society, even in a hockey-demented nation like ours. That stipulated, I'm not entirely convinced that anyone in the league, from the executives to the players, will take this stuff as seriously as they should until some poor schmuck is in a coma or worse, and at that point, the law will very likely get involved whether the league likes it or not. The Commissioner is on the record at this point saying things will be addressed in the summer. I hope he's sincere.


That's all for this week. As a programming note, I'm off to Edmonton tomorrow afternoon, so you'll be exclusively in the good hands of the boss until Wednesday-ish. I'd suspect he, and you, will manage somehow.