All posts in hockey


breaking the ice

In hockey by b murf / July 14, 2008 / 1 Comment

Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals and the most accessible sports owner this side of Mark Cuban, has focused an entire blog post on something called the Capitals Spirit Squad, in which he goes to great lengths to assure those concerned that these fine folks will not be “ice girls.” He went on to explain what these people will do, but to be honest – no one cares.

My question for you is this – when did “ice girls” become bad people? Raise your hand if you’d rather see a handful of youngsters playing glorified pond hockey during intermission rather than scantily-clad sluts with ice shovels? Again, we’re raising hands for kids versus sluts.

If your neighbor just raised their hands, then please, put a sign in their front yard or alert Chris Hansen.


long live the ladies’ man

(photo by Brian Murphy)

When you want it done right, you gotta go north of the border.

While that may not be the case in most instances, it definitely applies to all things hockey. And that is why, I would like to turn your attention to a few articles currently featured on the TSN Canada website (think ESPN, without the suck). For starters, the Washington Capitals have re-signed Brooks “Ladies’ Man” Laich to a three-year deal worth a little over $6 million. On top of that, TSN is also reporting that the Caps have re-signed Sergei Federov to a one-year deal worth $4 million. This, my friends, is what we in the business call “great news.”

Laich, whom some of you may remember the Caps acquired in the Peter Bondra deal, posted career highs in goals (21), assists (16) and points (37) last year. And while the ladies may love him for different reasons, Caps fans embraced the 25-year-old for being one of the few players in our nation’s capitals who showed a consistent willingness to post up in front of the net, even if it meant taking a beating from opposing defensemen. On a team largely comprised of finesse players, Laich isn’t afraid of doing the dirty work.

Speaking of finesse players, how great is it to have Federov back in town? The 17-year-veteran may have only been a Capital since the trade deadline, but I’ve yet to find a Caps fan who didn’t want him back for another season. The guy will forget more about hockey than most players will ever know, and the fact that he’ll head into next season as the third center (behind Nicklas Backstrom and Michael Nylander) is a wonderful luxury that most teams simply cannot afford.

And finally, I would like to direct your attention to this feature story on the Capitals’ next star, Karl Alzner. If you’re looking for a young stud defenseman to complement Alex Ovechkin and friends, this is your man. As a member of the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, Alzner earned defenseman of the year and player of the year honors. Oh, and he captained Canada’s gold-winning squad at the world junior tournament too. Needless to say, this guy is the real deal.

Unlike the Nationals, the Caps are quickly becoming must-see TV.


never a dull moment

A day after the Wizards brought back Antawn Jamison, the Capitals stepped up and re-signed a vital piece of their roster, by inking offensive defenseman Mike Green to a four-year, $21 million contract. The budding superstar led the NHL in scoring by a defenseman, and although he was a restricted free agent, other teams were still very much interested in the youngster. That’s probably because at 22 years old, Green was the youngest player to lead defensemen in goals since Paul Coffey back in 1981-82.

With lesser names earning bigger bucks on day one of free agency, the longer this dragged out, the more costly it would have been for the home team. There’s always going to be a need for a blueliner who can play defense and light the lamp, and the Caps should be commended for getting this done quickly.

Then, came the big swerve of the day – the Caps signed Colorado Avs goalie Jose Theodore to a two-year, $9 million deal. This happened because Christobal Huet, the guy the team traded for Feb. 26th last season, spurned the team in order to grab a few extra bucks elsewhere. Turns out that Caps general manager George McPhee called Huet’s people and said, “We want Huet back in town, so what’s it going to take to get this done?” Huet’s agent said they were looking for a three-year, $15 million deal, and so that’s what McPhee offered them. Instead of taking the offer they asked for, they shopped it around for more money, ultimately netted a four-year, $22 million deal courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks. Feeling used, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis blogged to let folks know that the only reason Huet left town is greed, and not because of a lack of effort on the team’s part.

Rounding out the day, former face of the franchise Olaf Kolzig signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning worth $1.5 million plus incentives. I love Olie, but I can’t help but think he and former Caps captain Jeff Halpern can room together on the road next season and enjoy another year of playing on a rebuilding hockey team. At least new coach/old talking head Barry Melrose will be able to break down their post-game highlights after losing another 6-2 game to teams actually capable of playing defense.

All in all, things worked out well for the Caps. They got one of the two guys they targeted, but more impressively, the moved quickly to lock in Theodore as soon as they figured out Huet was playing games. There were only two game-changing goalies available this offseason, so when one guy tried to screw them over, McPhee acted swiftly and brought in a former Vezina Trophy and NHL most valuable player. As far as backup plans go, that’s about as good as it gets. And for a team that promised to be quiet this offseason, that’s an awfully exciting day one.

All that’s left to do before next season is:

1. Re-sign Brooks Laich for me.
2. Re-sign Sergei Fedorov for my main man, Steve.
3. Take Brian Pothier out back, shoot him and put him out of his misery (and more importantly, get his $2.5-million deal off of the books).


odds and ends

Not much to share with the class today, but here’s a few things to help kill some time on a Thursday afternoon.

For starters, we have my bi-weekly Hobotrashcan column, called Note to Self. This week, I’m a little angry at the sports world and decide to vent. Everyone from Don Imus to Kobe Bryant to Barry Melrose to Jim Bowden is in my sights this time around, so I hope you enjoy.

Once you plow through that, there’s a Washington Times feature story on the blacksheep Ovechkin. Alex’s brother Mikhail is profiled, but really, we don’t learn much about the 26-year-old other than he works for the Mystics and he chain smokes. This is roughly a halfstep away from living in a van, down by the river.

WUSA Channel 9 has video of Shaun “Shazam” Suisham “kicking an amazing 110-yard fieldgoal.” Since I’ve seen him blow ’em from half that distance with the game on the line, I’ll go ahead an say this might not be 100 percent real. If nothing else though, it gives me an excuse to post this awesomely legit video of Jason Campbell from last year, completely two passes like you’ve never seen before.

And even though I took a potshot at Suisham, at least he’s capable of actually making a fieldgoal in his video. Arizona Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers shanks four fieldgoal attempts in this video, and then actually looks pleased with himself. Let me just say, Rackers wasn’t so quick to pat himself on the back when I was standing next to him last season after he blew a chance to beat the Redskins on a last-second fieldgoal at FedEx Field.


how to fix the NHL

In hockey by b murf / May 29, 2008 / 2 Comments

Slowly but surely, people are coming back to the National Hockey League. The ratings might not be Super Bowl caliber, but all indications are that the league, led by young guns like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, and featuring a Stanley Cup match-up of two storied franchises, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, is in the best shape we’ve seen in some time.

But let’s not kid ourselves, things have been so bleak the last few years that a semi-steady pulse is considered a vast improvement. Just because the NHL has reminded the average sports fan that it’s still alive doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement. Here are some suggestions if the league wants to capitalize on these positive trends and officially regain its position in the “Big Four,” along with football, baseball and basketball.

Say goodbye to commissioner Gary Bettman. I don’t dislike him as much as some, but much like NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, Bettman has become the focal point for many disgruntled fans who still haven’t forgiven him for two labor stoppages, including the 2004-05 NHL lockout that saw the entire season canceled. Other complaints against Bettman include “Americanizing” hockey (which essentially means putting teams in places with no ice to make an extra buck), essentially outlawing fighting and putting the league on a television channel most people either don’t have or can’t find. But other than that, no one really has anything bad to say about the guy.

Hire Mark Messier as the new commish. Or Wayne Gretzky. Or Mario Lemieux. Or even Jeremy Roenick. It doesn’t really matter who, just get a player who is interested in putting forth the effort to help get hockey back on the sports landscape.

Having guys like Brett Hull running teams, who is a co-general manager in Dallas, is a good thing. Hull is bright, knows hockey and is funny as hell. He’s also not afraid to say what’s on his mind. If you’ve got a guy like Hull in town, you can bet he’ll make headlines. Hockey needs headlines.

Along the same lines:

Get Mark Cuban involved with the NHL. If he can’t acquire the Dallas Stars, find another team for him. Seriously. Owners like Mark Cuban and Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals are smart businessmen who understand marketing their product in the 21st century. Plus, Cuban is competitive as hell, so whichever team he ends up with can rest assured he’ll do everything in his power to make them a league powerhouse.

Eliminate the following teams: Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Honestly, would anyone truly lose any sleep over these five teams vanishing tomorrow?

Award franchises to the following cities: Quebec, Winnipeg, Hartford, Las Vegas. Canada knows hockey. Canada loves hockey. The NHL cannot go wrong going retro with the return of the Jets and Nordiques. Add in the loveable Whalers and a team in the forbidden city and you’re guaranteed to have people talking. In fact, let’s just give Mark Cuban the Las Vegas franchise. Nothing else needs to be said.

You’ll notice I eliminated five franchises and only added four. Here’s why:

Make every game matter. Taking a page out of Italian soccer, hockey should institute a promotion/relegation system, where the top American minor league team and the top Canadian minor league team play a best of seven championship series, with the winner becoming the NHL’s final franchise.

After year one, the top American and Canadian minor league teams would play each other with the winner advancing to play the worst NHL team in a best of seven series. Imagine if the Boston Bruins lost to the Hersey Bears, and were therefore relegated to the minors for at least one season. If nothing else, it would ensure owners would do everything within their power to remain competitive, which is always a good thing for the fans.

Fix the schedule and remember that people like rivalries. The fact that the Red Wings and Penguins didn’t get to play each other this season is embarrassing. If you have a superstar like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, why wouldn’t you want to showcase him across the league? Chalk this up as another blunder for the commissioner, and make sure that every team plays at least one home and one away game against everyone else in the league.

And finally:

Reach out to the casual fan. Sports have reached a point where it costs too much for an average family of four to go to a ballgame anymore. So do anything and everything you can to make a good chunk of your seats affordable to the blue-collar family. Offer student discounts. Offer military discounts. Come up with creative family promotions to make it fun and affordable for families to enjoy hockey together, so you’re getting more folks in the stadium and you’re growing future fans in the process. We’re not trying to just fix hockey today, we’re trying to make this work for the long haul.

[Editor’s note: After much internal discussion, the plan changes slightly. We’re going to leave the Blue Jackets in Columbus and give the shaft to Hartford. Everything else remains the same. Thanks.]


damn it feels good to be a gangsta

It’s becoming more and more apparent that these aren’t your parent’s Washington Capitals anymore.

The big news today is that Alexander Ovechkin has been named The Sporting News’ Player of the Year. This may be a no-brainer considering how he will presumably sweep most of the individual awards when the NHL hands out hardware at the end of the season, but it’s still a big deal because, if we’re being honest, Capitals players typically don’t get much love and respect outside of the beltway.

It should also be pointed out that congrats are also in order for Capitals defenseman Mike Green, who joined Alex the Great on The Sporting News’ All-Star team. All of this comes a few days after Team Russia, led by a top line of Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin, took home the gold medal after defeating Team Canada (and Mike Green) in overtime 5-4 at the world hockey championship. Semin even chipped in two goals in the championship game.

Like I said, these ain’t your daddy’s Caps. This is probably a good time to mention that the season tickets are still available. Get them now, because I have a strong feeling this is going to be one of the most difficult tickets to get in town in the not-too-distant future.


olie the goalie

In hockey by b murf / May 9, 2008 / No Comments

Today is a sad and rainy day in town, which is fitting because a staple of sports in the District is saying good bye. Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig has let it be known that he will enter free agency and will not return to play for the only team he has ever known in his NHL career.

Since he was drafted with the 19th pick in the 1989 NHL draft, Kolzig has been the face of the franchise. He earned a steady roster spot backing up a one-hit wonder named Jim Carey in net in the mid-90’s, and has been a mainstay ever since. While league rules prevent goalies from wearing the captain’s “C” on their sweater, there was never any doubt who was the vocal leader of the Caps. If the team needed a kick in the pants to get them going, Kolzig had no problem breaking a stick over the net or having a word with a sluggish teammate.

He was in the crease for the good times, like the 97-98′ Stanley Cup Finals run and in 2000, when he earned the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. He’s also been around for the not-so-glorious years, even after veteran names like Bondra, Konowalchuk, Nylander, Witt and Jagr were shown the door so management could blow up the roster and start from scratch. While he might have been teamed with minor-league caliber comrades on the ice, Kolzig was still nothing but class off of it.

After the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, Kolzig wanted to do his part to help the families of the victims.

“I’m a big guy who plays with a lot of emotion. I wanted the mask to show that. I sent three to the artist, and we came up with the concept together. After 9/11, I had him put the Pentagon on the left side to pay tribute to those people. Once the season is over, I’m going to auction off the mask and donate all the money to victims of 9/11,” Kolzig said in an ESPN the Magazine article from January 2002.

If my memory serves me correctly, that goalie mask, which Kolzig autographed, raised more than $30,000. Just another day at the office, for a guy who is also involved in programs such as Athletes Against Autism, Olie’s All Stars and the Carson Kolzig Foundation.

In January 2007, I was fortunately enough to sit down for a one-on-one interview with Kolzig, who might very well be the most down to Earth athlete I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing. One of the questions I asked him that day was, “
How important is it for you to play your entire career here in Washington?”

“There have been some question marks about that these last couple years because of the rebuilding that’s going on here,” Kolzig told me. “But I committed myself last year and was really optimistic about where this organization is going and the kind of players we have here. I thought that getting traded might give me a better shot to win the Stanley Cup in the short term, but at the same time you lose that stature that you’ve established with one team.

“You go to a new team and even though you’re a veteran you have to get to know all new guys and you’re lower on the totem pole,” he said. “With my comfort level here I didn’t really want to go through that. I thought there wouldn’t be a better story than starting and finishing my career with one team and winning the Stanley Cup. So I’m trying to give myself an opportunity here with my team the next three or four years to win the Cup. Ultimately that would be the best scenario.”

Echoing the same sentiment in an interview with the Washington Post, Kolzig said this week that his only regret was never winning the Stanley Cup with the Caps.

“It’s unfortunate, because they have a good team here now. It’s a fantastic team, fantastic group of guys. Not to be a part of that is going to be tough, especially after 17 years and three years of what we went through post-lockout,” Kolzig told the Washington Post.

It was tough for diehard fans to see Peter Bondra in a Ottawa Senators jersey, and it’ll be equally as tough to see Kolzig wearing anything other than the red, white and blue of our nation’s Capitals. But he’s earned the right to end his prolific career any way he sees fit, even if that means closing it out in Vencouver, Ottawa or elsewhere. And if the right offer doesn’t come along, then Kolzig admits he has no problem moving on to the next chapter of his life.

“I’ll just sit by the pool with a six-pack,” he said.

So the next time you crack open a cold one, think of the man they call Godzilla. After nearly 20 years of giving his heart and soul to the town, he deserves the proper send off.

(Random fact: While with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans, Kolzig scored a goal on November 29, 1989.)

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