NHL lockout could be blessing for some

Zach Parise (11) and Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild are introduced during a press conference on...

Zach Parise (11) and Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild are introduced during a press conference on July 9, 2012 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (AFP)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Losing a half or full season in an NHL lockout could be the death knell for some players on their last legs.

In 2004-05, despite attempts to keep sharp in circuits from Fargo to France, many couldn’t cut it a year later, especially in the faster NHL.

The same fate could await many this year, even if the projected labour dispute is settled in time for the Winter Classic.

But in hindsight, one group might have benefitted from the league being mothballed in 2004-05.

“Everyone talks about the 2003 draft being so great,” an NHL exec told QMI Agency. “But what they don’t recall is how many spent that (lockout) year getting better in the American Hockey League.”

No. 1 overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury won 26 games in Wilkes-Barre for Pittsburgh. No. 2 Eric Staal improved upon his rookie numbers in Carolina with 77 points back at Lowell. That was just ahead of Manchester’s Dustin Brown, the now Cup-champion captain of the Kings.

Tomas Vanek fired 42 goals in Rochester for the Sabres, while across the state, Zach Parise had 40 assists for the Albany River Rats.

Ryan Suter got his feet wet in Milwaukee and Mike Richards joined the Philadelphia Phantoms for the playoffs and had 15 points in 14 games for the Calder Cup champs.

Others from the exceptional ’03 class used their extra year of junior or college hockey to full advantage, but for the AHLers, the big tent didn’t seem so intimidating when they finally arrived. The 2011 grads, a few of whom made the NHL jump last year, are dreading a year off at this stage of their career. Yet it could be a blessing in disguise.

HEART FOR HARTNELL

Two things will keep getting bigger with the Flyers the next few years, their size at forward and Ed Snider’s weak spot for fan favourites.

In the dying days of this CBA, chairman Snider gave six-year extensions to a pair of ideal Broad St. Bullies. Last week was Wayne Simmonds getting a new pact and then on Monday, Scott Hartnell had his pay day.

Hartnell’s no movement deal will be for $28.5 million, though he did sacrifice money for term. Both players had career years, Hartnell with 37 goals. Under the owners’ initial proposal for the next CBA, contract length can’t exceed five years.

JOIN THE CLUB

Hockey sticks and golf clubs have a symbiotic relationship, keeping the same company when not co-habitating in the car trunk or basement.

CCM and golf giant TaylorMade have taken it a step further this summer, unveiling the RBZ stick in mid-August, with fingers crossed the NHL starts on time so young gun sponsors can test the new hybrid technology.

“I’m surprised this kind of thing hasn’t been tried before,” said Phillipe Dube, general manager of Reebok-CCM Hockey. “We have a lot of confidence that the stick is going to be popular.”

Its SpeedBlade feature borrows from TaylorMade’s Rocketbalz club (both CCM and TaylorMade shared research under parent Adidas). The foam that fills the bladder of other hockey blades has been removed, which the company insists will make pucks more ‘hot’ off the blade.

Dube says get ready to for more golf geek terms working into hockey, such as co-efficient of restitution, a trampoline-like effect that determines energy at point of impact. The RBZ, which retails for close to $300, has already been endorsed by Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and a number of first round picks from the 2012 draft.

But the next few weeks will determine if players get more time to work on golf swings than slap shots.

ICE CHIPS

Mike Danton’s attempt to play in England with the Coventry Blaze has been thwarted by government officials who won’t grant him an entry visa. The 31-year-old ex-NHLer, who spent five years behind bars in the U.S. in a failed murder-for-hire plot, plans to re-apply with the support of the team ... Dany Heatley of the Minnesota Wild is suing former agent/business advisor Stacey McAlpine for $11 million in an Alberta court, alleging varied financial mismanagement by McAlpine and his parents, tied to real estate and banking matters ... After matching the $110 million mega-deal to keep Shea Weber from the Flyers, the Predators have extended forward Mike Fisher for two seasons. His $8.4 million deal will be split over two years ... Leafs GM Brian Burke will be attending USA Hockey’s national coaching symposium this week in Washington, D.C., along with NHL bench bosses Dan Bylsma and Peter Laviolette. Burke’s seminar topic is ‘The Job Of The Coach’ ... Nail Yakupov’s agent, Igor Larionov, says the No. 1 pick will wear No. 64 for the Oilers. That number was only worn previously by first-round flop Jason Bonsignore.


Videos

Photos