Thursday, July 22, 2004

7/22 NHL Notes

Wings sign four prospects    Yesterday, Assistant General Manager Jim Nill announced the signing of four prospects, Eric Himelfarb and Brett Lebda, and veterans Eric Manlow and Bryan Helmer.  The terms of the deals were not disclosed.  Center Eric Himelfarb (1/23/83) spent four seasons in the OHL before joining the Grand Rapids Griffins for the final eleven games last season.  After a 37 goal, 70 assist season (67 games) with Kingston of the OHL, Himelfarb notched two goals and six assists with the Griffins.    Defenseman Brett Lebda (1/15/82) spent four years at the University of Notre Dame before joining the Grand Rapids Griffins for the final ten games last season.  After a 5 goal, 15 assist season (34 games), Ledba contributed with a single assist for the Griffins. Center Eric Manlow (4/7/75) was picked by Chicago in the 1993 NHL Draft (50th overall).  He has appeared in 37 NHL games in the last four years, with Boston and the New York Islanders.  Manlow has 2 goals and 4 assists to round out his NHL career. Defenseman Bryan Helmer (7/15/72) has appeared in 134 NHL games in the last six years, with Phoenix, St. Louis, and Vancouver.  Helmer has 8 goals and 15 assists in his NHL career.  He has also played for Manitoba and Springfield of the AHL during parts of the last three seasons.   When I wrote of the Wings signing Jamie Rivers last summer around this time, I was unsure of the journeyman defenseman.  Rivers turned out to be a great asset when our veteran defensemen got injured.  He played solid defense and earned his stay in the second half of the season.  So, who knows, one of these guys could play a similar role for the 2004-2005 Detroit Red Wings.   Bertuzzi Update Todd Bertuzzi was charged nearly a month ago with assault causing bodily harm, in response to his March 8 suckerpunch of Avs forward Steve Moore.  Recovering from a broken neck and severe concussion, Moore's NHL career remains in doubt. It appears that we will not see the Canuck goon in court for awhile.  Today, the case will appear in provincial court, with the Crown and Bertuzzi's lawyer, Leonard Doust, ironing out the specifics of a trial schedule.  Says Crown counsel spokesman Geoff Gaul: "We are really at the early stages of organizing a trial date."  Reflecting this, Michael Mulligan, a defense lawyer with Crown experience says: 
"If somebody told me that the trial was going to be next year, that wouldn't surprise me.  It won't be next month, that's for sure."
Bertuzzi is believed to be spending the summer with family in Kitchener, Ontario.  If convicted of the assault charge, he could face a maximum of 18 months in jail.  Many believe jail time is unlikely for Bertuzzi. Beyond the criminal charges, Bertuzzi possibly faces a civil suit from Moore, which would be the NHL's worst nightmare.  In the event of Moore v. Bertuzzi appearing in courts, it would create the precedent of players filing suit against other players for on-ice events.  I understand why Moore would decide to sue Bertuzzi, since the rookie's NHL career could be over, and that equates to a significant loss of salary.  However, the precedent it would set could cripple the NHL.  Moore was left unsigned by the Avalanche this summer.  NHL Layoffs in Lockout      On Tuesday, the NHL told more than half of its employees (in Toronto, Montreal and New York) that they will be laid off on September 20, with the CBA expiring five days earlier.  This is assuming no deal is made by September 16.  One employee confides: 
"He (NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman) told us that the lockout could last 18-24 months."
The NHL appears to be preparing for a long shutdown, much longer than the strike of 1994, which shortened the 1994-1995 season to 48 games.  But expecting the NHL to get back on its feet after over a year of lockout seems quite optimistic and presumptuous.  The NHL, above all leagues, relies heavily on ticket revenues and fan support, as it lacks a strong national television deal.  So the NHL is assuming the continued support of its fans if the lockout goes for the distance, as Bettman warns.  NHL Group Communications Vice President Bernadette Mansur has said that there is no guarantee that employees will be retained once a new CBA is hashed out.  Up to 70% of the league's personnel could be affected. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman met with NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow at the league's headquarters in New York today.  This meeting marked the re-opening of negotiations between the sides.  The sides can't agree on what percentage of the league's $2 billion in annual revenue should go towards player salaries.  The owners want a salary cap while the players want an open market system.  The NHL recently proposed a $31 million salary cap, but the NHLPA is staunchly against any form of a salary cap.  The NHL hired former US Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt to analyze the league's financial situation, and he reported that the NHL lost a combined $273 million in the 2002- 03 season.  Still, the players stubbornly believe the NHL underestimates its revenues, reflecting the huge lack of trust between players and management. During the four-hour meeting, the first negotiations since May 25, the NHL presented six models for a new CBA, none of which included a luxury tax system.  All of the proposals amounted to a salary cap, according to the NHLPA.  After seeing the models for a new NHL economic system, Ted Saskin, senior director of business affairs for the NHLPA, said: 
"There's no reason to be optimistic.  Each of them had a concept that total player compensation wouldn't exceed an agreed-upon amount of NHL revenues.  Five were structured in a certain way, the sixth was a little different, but it would still have a link with player compensation and what the league was prepared to recognize as leaguewide revenues."
I hope that either the NHL or NHLPA extend an Olive Branch Petition to the other side and get a deal done.  But what I see now are two special interest groups, with staunch agendas, who are unwilling to give and take enough to get a deal done.  The sides meet next on August 4.    Penguins for Sale? With the Penguins' lease at Mellon Arena expiring after the 2006-07 season, player/owner Mario Lemieux is looking to build a new arena in Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, the city and county are financially strapped and will be unable to contribute to an arena project. In order to finance the arena, the Pens are pursuing a parlor in downtown Pittsburgh for up to 5,000 slot machines.  The organization would have to apply for a slots license, which costs $50 million, but future revenue could finance the arena. If the prospects of building casinos to keep the franchise afloat appear grim, Lemieux has said be might put the Penguins up for sale.  This would mean no more NHL hockey in Pittsburgh.  Lemieux has received three unsolicited inquiries from out-of-town bidders.  Lemieux has been the backbone of the franchise as a player and now as an owner.  He bought the club in 1999 to keep them from going bankrupt, and returned to the ice to become the first-ever player/owner in the NHL.    I don't like the precedent of casinos becoming a part of a hockey team, but I guess the Pens are running out of options and it looks like the slot machines could be the single thing that keeps NHL hockey in Pittsburgh. Brett Hull   Agent and brother Bobby Hull Jr. is saying that Brett Hull will not take contract offers until after the World Cup of Hockey tournament, which takes place August 30 to September 14.  They have contacted the Blues, where Hull scored 50+ goals five straight seasons, including an 86 goal, 45 assist effort.  The only teams to have expressed interest in Hull are the Blues and Stars, as well as the WHA club in Dallas (which is a "remote possibility").  The Wings have expressed no interest in having Brett back next season.    After a stagnant playoff outing with the Wings, Hull is looking to the tournament as a chance to showcase his aging talent.  Once he gets back in the NHL, his priority is passing Gordie Howe's 801 goals.  Hull sits at 741.  Says Hull's father, Bobby Hull, about what he thought about passing Mr. Hockey:
"Before I went to the WHA, folks asked me what I'm going to do when I approach Gordie. I said that I'm going to score one less goal than Howe, then retire. I don't think I could have gone by the great old man."  
Playing in Dallas seems a natural fit, having a home and many friends in the Dallas area.  Hull also won his first Cup as a Star in 1999. I wish Brett the best in his post-Wings career.  I'll be pulling for him and Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, but hope that he doesn't  pass/tie Gordie by scoring 60 or more goals.  Scoring 25 goals last season, Hull would likely need two full seasons, and a lockout lasting "18-24 months" would virtually end the hopes for the Golden Brett.  The Belleville, Ontario native turns 40 on August 9.  


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