And the biggest star in the National Hockey League is...
Not Sidney Crosby right now. He’s out until further notice. And who knows when further notice will be.
Not Alexander Ovechkin. Not when you can’t put him in the Top 30 scorers.
Not Chris Pronger, who’s out for the season, the playoffs, and fill in the blanks.
Which means what for the NHL?
It means Jonathan Toews, Captain Serious of the Blackhawks is probably the best 200-foot player, combining offence, defence, grit and leadership. He’s followed ever so closely by Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings.
It also means in this time of crossover stars — be it Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, or the ridiculous Tim Tebow — hockey has a deep group of young emerging players of consequence, but not one who can or will transcend the sport, not with Crosby’s every step now in doubt.
There has always been a face of hockey, but instead right now, there is no real face, just too many injured brains.
THIS AND THAT
With Claude Giroux out of the Philadelphia lineup, another concussion victim, the opportunity for Phil Kessel grows stronger to remain among the scoring leaders, a place he has never been close to before this late in the season ... The remarkable Pronger can be sour at his best, when he’s playing 30 minutes a game and dominating. Imagine just how sour he will be not playing the rest of the season ... If I was picking a Leafs’ MVP after 30 games, it’s Joffrey Lupul. He’s made Kessel a better player, has had a down-low presence with a surprising power-forward game, leads the club in scoring on the road, and has performed beyond anyone’s logical expectations ... What Ricky Ray will soon find out: There are no Fred Stamps to throw to here. There aren’t any Jamel Richardsons or Geroy Simons either on the Argos roster .... With a name like DeMar DeRozan, shouldn’t he playing for the Boston Celtics? Can’t you just hear those New England announcers, calling him De-Mah ...
HEAR AND THERE
Maybe it’s the holiday season, but whatever it is, Rogers is clearly in a spending mode. First the communications giant came up with all that money to buy in to the Maple Leafs and then they allowed a monster bid by the Blue Jays in the crazy, seemingly non-ending Yu Darvish affair ... I’m not Alex Anthopoulos but if I was going to throw all kinds of money at someone in the off-season, I’d spend my money on a proven commodity in Prince Fielder rather than be unsure about a Japanese pitcher ... This is how you know NBA training camps are on: You’ll hear with sincerity that Andrea Bargnani is blocking out, rebounding with vigour and committing to playing defence ... It may be pre-season but in Tristan Thompson’s first NBA camp, the kid from Brampton wound up on the ESPN highlights of the night, with a crazy athletic shot block ... So if you’re Kirk Muller, are you wondering if you left the Montreal Canadiens a touch too early? Odds are Muller would have been the Habs head coach after the Jacques Martin firing had he had not left for Nashville’s farm team which turned into the Carolina opportunity. The Habs don’t have much but the Hurricanes have less ... My favourite moments from an otherwise dull first episode of HBO’s 24/7 heading to the Winter Classic. The science lessons from Ilya Bryzgalov and the awkward humility of Artem Anisimov ... What a waste of time and money the Barry Bonds trial turned out to be.
SCENE AND HEARD
The case for figure skater Patrick Chan as Canadian athlete of the year was a strong one, even if you’re like me, and weren’t certain about the choice. He was undefeated in 2011, winning every event he entered, including romping to a Lou Marsh Trophy victory. Like me, you may have seen him fall once, crash into the boards another time, but he still won. My complaint with Chan: The field he competes against is tiny. Maybe there are five people in the world near his ability. The field of play that Joey Votto competes in is 750 players and 18 countries deep. Votto would have been my choice to repeat as Lou Marsh winner, but clearly I’m in the minority on this ... Dominant speed skater Christine Nesbitt should run away with the female athlete of the year award ... We interrupt the non-stop Tim Tebow love fest to bring you the following information: Aaron Rodgers is having the quarterback season for the ages. The Green Bay Packers are almost certain to go undefeated and Rodgers will romp to the MVP. Now back to Tebow ... One more Rodgers item: You don’t hear much about the great work former CFL quarterback Tom Clements has done with Rodgers. Rodgers is Clements’ leading advocate ... In light of the Sam Hurd mess, wonder if the Chicago Bears wish they had given more of a shot to receiver Andy Fantuz ... Remember when rushing for 1,000 yards in the NFL meant something? The way I count it, there could be as many as 16 1,000-yard runners in the NFL this season. With four-down football and a 16-game season, that 1,000-yard number needs to change.
AND ANOTHER THING
Will all NHL players who are not concussed please raise their hands? ... So where was commissioner David Stern when the Raptors traded Vince Carter away for nothing? Why didn’t he disallow that trade? And where was Stern was Stu Jackson was running the Vancouver Grizzlies into the ground. Oh, never mind, Stern moved the team to Memphis and hired Jackson in his front office ... Doesn’t sound like Mike O’Shea is going to end up as head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — the job will likely go to Dave Dickenson — but Osh has an offer to stay with Argonauts, an offer to go to Montreal with Marc Trestman, who is probably not long for the CFL. The Double Blue didn’t think O’Shea was ready to be a head coach but clearly he’s not far away ... It is almost impossible to do what Mark Hominick did last Saturday night. Losing in seven seconds at last week’s UFC 140 card at the Air Canada Centre. Special Delivery Jones lasted longer against King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania 1 and that was choreographed ... Best of the holiday season to one and all. Will be back in the New Year ... Happy birthday to Joe Barnes (60), Jim Clancy (56), Roy Howell (58), Charles Oakley (48), Jeff Finger (32), Trish Stratus (35) and Brian Orser (50) ... And hey, whatever became of Rick Tocchet?
HIGH COST OF RICKY RAY
The Argos are paying a big price for quarterback Ricky Ray, and it isn’t just the $400,000 that Ray’s salary will take up on the team’s salary cap this coming CFL season.
You see, in order to make the deal for Ray, they had to include quarterback Steven Jyles, who had recently signed a new deal with the Argos. In that deal, Jyles was given a $75,000 signing bonus (which counted on last season’s salary cap) and therefore is on-the-book salary will come in around $125,000 for the coming season. It’s a good thing owner David Braley has deep pockets: He anted up 75 grand for a QB he watched traded away a few days later, which brought the price of acquiring Ray to $475,000, not to mention the second pick in the CFL draft squandered away.
The Argos probably couldn’t have made the Ray trade without the bonus paid to Jyles — but the deal was, by CFL standards, a pricey one.
CASEY HERE A YEAR TOO EARLY?
The hiring of Dwane Casey as coach of the Raptors seems a year premature, considering the roster he has been given and the organizational thought to play for a high draft pick this season.
In fact, if it was the Raptors notion to bottom out in this shortened season, maybe they should have left Jay Triano coaching the team and quietly and not intentionally (nudge, nudge) play for last place.
If Casey is the defensive wizard of a coach he is purported to be, then it’s possible that an undermanned Raptors team may win three to five more games than they might have otherwise managed. And if that moves them back a position or three in the draft, how does that benefit the franchise long term?
Casey’s push for as many wins as possible could actually set the Raptors back in their building for that inevitable future.
HIRED, FIRED ... TIRED PRACTICES
Within a day of firing Bruce Boudreau as coach of the Washington Capitals, GM George McPhee received a call asking for permission to talk to Boudreau about coaching another NHL team.
This, I have a problem with.
If McPhee fired Boudreau as coach, why should permission be necessary for the coach to seek another NHL position. I know the argument: The team is paying the coaching salary therefore should maintain control over the coach. This is where I think coach’s need better wording in their contracts. The job is difficult enough that they should be paid for the length of the contract, but once removed from the job they were hired for, should be free to make their own decisions to pursue their futures. Randy Carlyle, for example, has this season and two more left on his Anaheim Ducks contract. The club made that commitment to him: And now if Carlyle or Jacques Martin for that matter, wants to coach again, he requires permission. It strikes me that NHL clubs have it both ways here and the coaches may get paid — but they also get minimalized in the process.