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.
It’s safe to say that I’m thankful the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t make the playoffs this season. In fact, that’s about the only thing that’s safe about the National Hockey League right now.
Coming home after a poetry reading last night—the fire and brimstone fury of Amiri Baraka—I flipped on the television to catch whatever first-round playoff action might be on. The eight opening series of the Stanley Cup tournament are the bounty that every hockey fan has been anticipating for months. Regardless of the match-ups, you tune in because this is what hockey is all about. The quest for the Cup. Cue the trumpet fanfare and roll the footage of hockey’s silver grail turning slowly in a spotlight.
But as my television screen came to life from darkness, I didn’t see the graceful action of game play. No skaters darting about like a school of fish to contest the puck. No goalies flashing their pads or gloving point shots.
And I saw Phoenix forward Raffi Torres looking like the cat that ate the canary—or in this case, the Coyote that concussed the Blackhawk—sitting on the bench, unpenalized, waiting for his next shift.
Soon the replays came, from every available angle, both in slow motion and at game speed. At center ice, Hossa touches the puck on to a teammate, skates a half stride, then curls a tight pirouette. As Hossa comes out of the turn, Torres rockets into view at tremendous speed, leaps at Hossa, leading with his shoulder, thrusting his shoulder upward as a soccer player would to head a ball.
RALEIGH, NC—When a team is mathematically eliminated from the National Hockey League playoffs, newspapers put a lower-case “e” in front of the team’s name in the NHL standings.
The Carolina Hurricanes don’t have their “e” yet, but somewhere a typesetter has taken it out of the drawer and polished its leaden face.
Still, there are five games left, including home games Friday and Saturday against Winnipeg and New Jersey, and there are good reasons to go to them.
A win over the Jets on Friday would leapfrog the Canes into third in the Southeast Division. Although this isn’t much consolation for missing the playoff cut, it’s something worth acknowledging. Carolina’s been in the division’s basement almost all year. Beat Winnipeg and they tromp up the stairs to the guest bedroom.
PNC ARENA, RALEIGH—I am skilled, as it turns out, at avoiding jinxes.
In order to snap my team out of a bad stretch of play in a game, I can sense just when to change clothing or turn my jersey inside-out. To fend off a favorite player’s injury in his first game back after a long concussion absence, I recently ate a hard-boiled egg while doing a handstand, knowing that such an absurd act would prompt the hockey gods to protect his noggin from further harm.
How, then, to approach the description of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 3-1 victory Wednesday night over the division-leading Florida Panthers? The primary storyline of this, the Canes’ fourth straight win, is obvious: the team’s now only five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with eight games remaining in the regular season. But, surely, even mentioning the playoffs at such a fragile moment would be a terrible jinx.
The Canes would essentially have to win out the rest of their schedule and hope for each of Washington, Winnipeg, and the streaking Buffalo Sabres to drop at least half their remaining games. Breathe a word about that and its mathematical possibility tumbles off the skate blade it’s balanced on. No jinx.
After all, there are plenty of other secondary storylines to yammer about after this win.
Before you click away elsewhere, take a quick look at the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster. And, as you read it, refresh the page a few times. Chances are fair that it might change before your eyes.
The trade deadline approacheth.
Another name might vanish though. I’m actually hurrying to write this and get it posted before something happens. General manager Jim Rutherford, between presumed gulps of an energy drink, could be typing up his third press release of the day right now. In addition to the Gleason announcement, Riley Nash was recalled today from the Charlotte Checkers. Sure, not a big deal. It’s Nash’s second cup of coffee this season. And he’s probably just taking the spot that Zac Dalpe vacated when he was sent down a week ago.
But it could also foreshadow a roster forward’s departure, possibly Tuomo Ruutu, whose contract expires at the end of the season. Ruutu leads the Canes with 15 goals and has been playing his guts out for months. Any team with hopes of going deep in the playoffs would love to have his mix of grit and skill.
Unfortunately, the Canes are not one of those teams.
This past weekend’s National Hockey League All-Star break provides the last pause before the spring playoff rush. It’s a time for teams to take stock of where they are in the standings, to decide if their play thus far merits improving their rosters before the Feb. 27 trading deadline or if they should dump pending unrestricted free agents for draft picks and prospects. In short, it is when teams become either buyers or sellers.
RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—Jussi Jokinen fished the puck out of the net. With a flick of Jerome Samson’s wrist, the two-dollar disk had instantly become the most valuable object in the rink.
Stepping over vanquished Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, Jokinen delivered the puck to Samson who, called up from the Charlotte Checkers Monday night, had just scored his first NHL goal.
The ritual goes like this. Even as the goal horn is sounding, a veteran teammate retrieves the puck. He gives it to the breathless scorer after the on-ice hugs have finished. Handling the puck like a lump of radiant plutonium, the scorer tilts it gently into the cupped palms of one of the trainers on the bench. Quickly, a stripe of athletic tape is wrapped around the otherwise anonymous puck so it doesn’t get mixed up and lost. In shaky capital letters, the trainer writes the scorer’s name and “first NHL goal” around the puck’s equator with a magic marker.
“It took longer than I thought,” Samson noted calmly with the slight lilt of a French-Canadian. “I’ve been scoring in the AHL for the last couple of years.”
“I’ve been waiting a long time—four or five months. I came here in training camp with the mentality of making this team right off the bat. It didn’t happen. So I went down [to Charlotte] and did what I had to do. And I finally got the call last night. It was a long drive—two-and-a-half hours, by myself. The butterflies were already starting last night. But as I stepped on the ice, it was still the same game, so I just tried to do my things out there.”