PNC ARENA—Kirk Muller is a ruthlessly positive man. If you fell down the stairs, he would shout down at you, “Now you don’t have to dust.”
But after last night’s 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, in which Cam Ward looked below average, Muller sounded like he was trying convince himself about his starting goaltender.
Thanks, coach. But this is his second straight game in which he allowed three goals the third period. Isn’t that a problem?
“I think he was hoping to come back with a big game after the last game in Montreal. But we win as a team and lose as a team and we just didn’t close the door at the end as a group.”
So coach, will we see Dan Ellis in net Saturday night against the Lightning?
“I’ll generally sleep on it tonight and come back tomorrow. It’s a new day. I thought we had a good game tonight. It’s not all down and negative. And we’ve got a big game coming up. So I’ll talk to the coaches and sleep on it tonight and make a decision tomorrow or the following day.”
In the peculiar language of coaches, that’s about as definitive a “yes” as you’re going to get. And truthfully, the Canes are still in first place in their division even after these losses.
FOX SPORTS CAROLINAS (TV)—Remember grumbling about the Hurricanes a couple weeks ago? In a word, they were middling. They'd win one and then lose one, very Jekyll and Hyde.
It turns out that they just needed a little trip.
The trip started off with a familiar ring, though—a gutsy 5-3 loss in Philadelphia. Backup goaltender Dan Ellis, fresh off a shutout of Ottawa in Raleigh, earned a second consecutive start, raising murmurs about the depth chart in net. But Ellis gave way to Cam Ward after 40 minutes, and Ward's been in net ever since.
PNC ARENA—The first time the little boy threw the hat, it barely left his hand. The second time, held aloft by his dad, he bounced it off the top of the glass and it fell back in his arms. Finally he threw harder and got it onto the ice.
Third time’s a charm. Just ask Eric Staal.
“I wanted the win more but once you get the puck on your stick and there’s no goalie, you always want to make sure you cash in,” a smiling Staal said afterwards amid the bedlam of a locker room that was both celebrating and packing up gear. The Canes complete a home-and-home series in Buffalo on Friday night.
The big guns were big guns and the role players played their roles. Jeff Skinner added a pair of goals and Justin Faulk scored shorthanded. Zac Dalpe, Joni Pitkanen and Jordan Staal each had a pair of assists. Even Bobby Sanguinetti, the young defenseman who had struggled throughout the first two games, made nice plays.
Cam Ward found his form in goal, counting several old-school standup saves among his 30 stops on the night.
PNC ARENA—In 1944, the poet William Carlos Williams published a crucial book called “The Wedge.” Wartime conservation had shut down his regular publisher, New Directions, so the tiny Cummington Press brought it out in an edition of 380, which was all the paper they could get their mitts on during the war. Williams’ famed preface opens with a blunt acknowledgement of the international—and individual—situation: “The War is the first and only thing in the world today.”
Paint it over the locker room doorways. Tape it on the weight room ceiling over the bench press.
Fans certainly know that sentence. They chanted it during the third period of the Canes’ 4-1 home-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Except, translated into the language of competitive frustration and economic hardship, it sounded like boos.
Sports is not an escape from daily life anymore. There will be no patience while the multi-millionaires figure their game out. They work for us, after all.
Back in the early weeks of the lockout in September, fans sided with the players. Hockey fans are overwhelmingly workers, not captains of industry. So: screw the owners, the players actually sweat and hit and play the games; pay them. Even well-heeled fans like to adopt hockey’s blue-collar identity. Though very few of us pull on work gloves and shape raw materials into goods anymore, we still ascribe labor’s nobility to our hockey players.
But as ignominious months ticked off, and especially as the scheduled start of the regular season passed, that nobility drained away. November’s near-resolution was torturous. It broke that nobility. These guys weren’t workers like us anymore.
FSN CAROLINAS (TV)—We waited through a four-month lockout for this?
The Carolina Hurricanes opened the shortened 2013 season with a whimper, surrendering four first-period goals in a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. Mercifully, this was Florida’s home opener, so Canes fans didn’t have to pay for tickets to see their team’s meager display.
Jonathan Huberdeau, playing in his first NHL game, scored in the opening minutes of the game, notching two assists before it was done. Brian Campbell put a puck over each of Cam Ward’s shoulders and Alexei Kovalev—the 39-year-old Russian whom many figured was out of hockey—added a goal and two assists.
Patrick Dwyer had the Canes’ sole tally. Cam Ward lasted a period. Dan Ellis replaced him after the first intermission and surrendered only Kovalev’s trickster goal.
Anyone who took chemistry in high school knows that sometimes, when you pour the chemicals together, nothing happens. That was the case for Canes coach Kirk Muller’s line combinations on Saturday night. Instead of assembling two lines entirely of high-end talent, he mixed one green winger in with two veteran stars on the top two lines. It didn’t really work.
RALEIGH—Caniacs will be smiling today. After 113 days, the National Hockey League lockout is over.
The first-place Checkers took the ice just hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr announced that the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement had been finalized. At 4:40 a.m., to be exact.
There are still many unknowns at this moment. The official start date of the season hasn't been determined. Team schedules haven't been made yet. Hundreds of players are hurriedly packing their bags to depart the European and Russian league teams that they've been playing for during the lockout. They have flight schedules and visas and work permits to deal with.
Oh, and they still have to write the actual CBA. "We have to dot a lot of I's and cross a lot of T's," a bleary Bettman said in his pre-dawn announcement Sunday at the Manhattan hotel where the final stretch of negotiations had been held. "There is still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework has been agreed upon. We have to go through a ratification process and the Board of Governors has to approve it from the League side and, obviously, the players have to approve it as well."
Does Cheerwine come in champagne bottles?
It also shows a hockey franchise making every effort to run with the big boys.
The 2010-2011 Calder Trophy winner will pocket $4,350,000 in the 2013-14 season and then $6 million per season through 2018-19. He has one year remaining on his current entry-level deal that will pay him $900,000 this coming season.
Nice raise, Jeff.
“It’s nice to be a part of the organization for even longer,” Skinner said in a conference call with media this afternoon. “Obviously I’m very grateful to them for selecting me in the draft and, today, for showing the confidence to have me around long-term.”
You often encounter the word "mercurial" in the world of sports. Sports journalists slap the adjective in front of the names of inconsistent players. Mercurial athletes tantalize you with second-to-none play in one moment and devastate you by vanishing into oblivion the next. They're more than streaky; they're hair-losingly maddening. And they tend to wear out their welcome.
Semin's talent is hard to figure out. He scored 40 goals just a few seasons ago, seeming to have come of age into an elite scorer and point-a-game player, the kind of guy whose name you etch onto trophies. But over the last couple of seasons, his effort has waxed and waned. Coaches have benched him here and there to try to motivate him. Caps fans had come to jeer him more than cheer for him. He netted just three goals and one assist in 14 playoff games this year.
Many hockey fans would tell you there's something mercurial in the Russian nature. Alexei Kovalev, Alexander Ovechkin and former Cane Sergei Samsonov all fit the profile: wingers who appear to have the talent to score at will and skate circles around opponents, but that are as likely to turtle after a big hit and simply drift around the ice or need a map to find the defensive zone. Sometimes you forget that they're playing. Other times, they make you forget that anyone else is playing.
For Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford, it's a high-risk, high-reward move. Or is it? The risk is, in hockey terms, minimal and exactly quantifiable: $7 million. Semin's one-year deal makes a divorce easy if he underachieves, i.e. pots fewer than 35 goals.
Because that's what Semin does. He scores goals. He's not coming to Raleigh to vie for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward. Jordan Staal's now here to combine backchecking with goal-scoring. Semin's here to uncork his incomparable wrist shot and pump his fist when it goes in.
Cue up Sly and the Family Stone, Canes marketers. It's a Staal family affair in Raleigh.
In the league's biggest deal on the first day of the draft in Pittsburgh, Carolina acquired center Jordan Staal from the Penguins for center Brandon Sutter, minor league defenseman Brian Dumolin, and the eighth overall pick.
First and foremost, Carolina makes one of its franchise cornerstones happy. Jordan is the third Staal in the organization now. Younger brother Jared plays for the Canes' American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte.
Given how dreary a year captain Eric had this past season, when the locker room could at times be mistaken for a buffet-less wake, the morale boost expected here is significant. Carolina has certainly been missing some kind of spark. This might be it.
In a more concrete respect, Carolina also upgrades their offensive punch. Given the second-line minutes he never got in Pittsburgh, 35 goals is a realistic target for Staal. He potted 25 this past season in 62 games. Staal's career high is 29 goals during his rookie season six years ago.
Even though the Triangle is finally getting its full summer swelter on, and the only ice on your mind has beer bottles nestled down into it, it's time to talk hockey.
As the National Hockey League entry draft begins on Friday night in Pittsburgh, trade rumors are flying and the Carolina Hurricanes are right in the thick of them. Scorers are in play and deals seem imminent. Caniacs, keep your sports radio on at the pool or beach this weekend.
"Patience isn't fun when you're not meeting your goals," he said, going on to state that the team would be actively looking to bring on a top-line scoring forward. Rutherford took pains to specify his interest in a "first-tier" player, rather than bargain alternatives like Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart, whom he signed last offseason. Let's just say that they didn't impress.