TORONTO - The combination of sports television and salary cap has turned the NHL trade deadline day into something of a gong show.
Itís not really trade deadline day anymore: Itís trade deadline month. Which features half a season of buildup, rumours, possibilities and then more buildup.
And now this is an event on the NHL calendar, just as the Winter Classic is an event, just like July 1 free agency is an event, just like the NHL draft and awards are events.
Once upon a time, teams made trades when they needed to improve or change their teams. Trades happened in every month of every season. But the lockout and salary cap basically put an end to player-for-player deals in the NHL. Almost all deals now are about money, cap consideration and pending free agency. Every year, there is a list of buyers and sellers. And the players are caught in the middle, so to speak, as live pieces in a hockey reality show.
If there wasnít an appetite for this, the networks wouldnít be involved, but far too often the buildup outstrips the reality of both the day and the event. Yet in an era of Twitter, Facebook, television, mobile television and just about every other form of communication, the insatiable appetite of the beast is devouring the product: The public wants more. But at what point does more become too much?
THIS AND THAT
So a Sports Illustrated poll has determined that Phil Kessel is the easiest star to intimidate in the NHL. Now, letís look at the big picture. There are more than 700 players in the league, and 145 took part in that question for SI. Twenty-two of those players picked Kessel first on their list. A more accurate assessment: 22 NHL players think Kessel is easily intimidated. The other 680-plus players either didnít pick Kessel or didnít participate in the poll ... The Leafs have to make the playoffs, and not because they necessarily deserve it. You canít not miss the playoffs in a year in which the entire Eastern Conference has imploded. Missing this season under these circumstances will be far worse than other misses in recent times .... Intimidation aside, as of Saturday afternoon, Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were the highest scoring wingers in hockey. The top four scorers in the league, ahead of Kessel and Lupul, were all centremen .... The Leafs have eight defencemen. According to NHL numbers, Luke Schenn is getting fewer minutes per game than any of the eight rearguards. He doesnít think heís having a bad year. Clearly, at 16 minutes a night, his coaches disagree.
HEAR AND THERE
In between sentences, Jeremy Lin did something spectacular to make his legend all the more special. After Moneyball and The Blind Side, I canít wait for the movie ... And I donít believe for a second this nonsense that teams overlooked him because heís Asian. This is the NBA. There are Spanish point guards, French point guards, Eastern European point guards. What you look like doesnít matter. How you play matters ... This changes year to year, but the three best goalies in the NHL right now are 1. Henrik Lundqvist; 2. Marc-Andre Fleury; 3. Miikka Kiprusoff. The best goalie likely to blow up a building: Tim Thomas ... Ron Wilson is quick to say that goaltending is a major component in penalty-killing statistics, but if thatís the case why do the Nashville Predators, with Pekka Rinne in goal, have trouble with a man short? ... Torontoís Wayne Simmonds, who was just part of the deal for Mike Richards, has more goals and more assists than Pierre McGuireís favourite ... It appears Philadelphia has broken a mirror: Eight more years of Ilya Bryzgalov in goal ... Now this doesnít happen often: If you were born in 1956, youíre turning 56 this year.
SCENE AND HEARD
Must be a miracle. One week Milos Raonic isnít healthy enough to play Davis Cup for Canada. The next week, heís defending his ATP title in San Jose. Whoís his doctor, Benny Hinn? .... So I see where Jays manager John Farrell said that he expects big things from Adam Lind this season. Canít remember the last time a manager opened spring training by saying he expected small things from a player ... Let me get this straight: Eric Tillmanís best quarterback, Ricky Ray, is in Toronto and his best running back, Jerome Messam, is in Miami and he has salary cap dollars. How do you explain this to the good folks of Edmonton who take their football seriously ? ... Okay, this is now getting ridiculous. ESPN Classic in the U.S., is now airing Linís first big game with the New York Knicks on its station ... The one constant about A.J. Burnett: No matter the team, no matter the price, no matter the circumstance, he ends up disappointing you ... Is there anything more juvenile than Knicks fans booing the Sacramento rookie Isaiah Thomas, simply because of his name? ... I guess everything is for sale: On television, Saturday: ďTodayís faceoffs are brought to you by ...Ē
AND ANOTHER THING
All Kevin Eiben did was his job. Year in year out, game in game out. The Argos will miss his professional diligence. And no doubt, they will find themselves missing the new Ticats linebacker, who did the Double Blue proud ... How long was the knuckleballer Tim Wakefield with the Red Sox? Well. Put it this way? Longer than every Bosox player not named Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski or Dewey Evans ... Monday is Family Day in three of Canadaís provinces. So if a family in Toronto wants to go pleasure skating as a family at the local rink, guess what? The rinks are closed for Family Day ... Weíre going to find out quickly how much quarterback Henry Burris has left in Hamilton. If he canít succeed throwing to Andy Fantuz, Dave Stala and Chris Williams, heís done ... Until that botched defeat to Charlotte on Friday night, this was the perfect week for the Toronto Raptors. They were close at home with the Lakers, last second in the Lin-sanity game with the Knicks and last minute with San Antonio, all home defeats. The best thing the Raps can do: Lose close ones at home, entertain your fans, and get a high draft pick ... Rest in peace, Warren Hudson. The onetime Argonauts running back left us far too soon at age 49. He was a good football player and a good man ... Happy birthday to Dave Stewart (55), Joe Crozier (83), Dr. Randy Gregg (56), Russ Howard (56), Gary Leeman (48), and one day earlier to Dick Duff (76) and Alex Mogilny (43) ... And hey, whatever became of Mark Whiten?
DOMINIC WILL DO MOORE FOR SHARKS
I liked Dominic Moore from the day I first met him. I also like the way he plays the game, in a third-line-centre sort of way. So why, does this rather inexpensive, personable, intelligent player keep moving team to team? If you count the minute or so Moore was owned by the Nashville Predators, the San Jose Sharks represent his 10th NHL team, although he has only played for nine of them. Thatís nine teams in seven years.
Moore is on his way to challenging Mike Sillinger, who played for 12 teams and was traded nine times in his career. And you know, there is some similarity between Moore and Sillinger in how they made teams better. Both have been useful players. For reasons, not entirely explained, they are easy fodder. Look for Moore to make the Sharks better in the post-season and then move on. Thatís what happens.
SILENCE OF THE GLENS
The disappearance of the Glens, Sather and Grunwald, as figures of prominence in the largest media market in the world, is somewhat staggering in these times of multi-dimensional communication.
Glen Sather runs the successful New York Rangers franchise while Glen Grunwald is GM for the moment of the New York Knicks and best known of late for adding this Jeremy Lin fellow. You may have heard of him.
Sather, though, has become basically invisible under the umbrella of James Dolanís Madison Square Garden ownership. Grunwald, who was most affable when he ran the Raptors, made himself unavailable for an interview this week, indicating by e-mail that he ďisnít doing much media these days.Ē
But being Grunwald, he did add, ďhope all is well.Ē Knowing that Sather and his cigar were front and centre in the dynastic years of the Edmonton Oilers and seeing that he is MIA for public consumption now, lost behind layers of bureacracy seems odd, just as it doesnít fit Grunwaldís persona.
When I asked an MSG communications voice this week if it was company policy to muzzle its general managers, he denied it was. He can deny all he wants. The evidence is apparent. Two of the more available voices in their games are no longer available.
MESSAGE NOT GETTING THROUGH
As someone who has been intimately involved with minor hockey for more than 20 years as both coach and executive, I tend to go crazy about the misinformation spread over the dangers of youth hockey.
There are, for those counting, almost 9,000 players in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, playing the highest levels of minor hockey in the sport. And yes, there are injuries. Just as there are injuries when kids ski or ride their bikes or play in the backyard. But to infer that minor hockey organizers care little about concussions or head trauma is to be absolutely inaccurate. Never has the game been called more closely, particularly when it comes to head hits. Never have coaches been supplied with more information regarding injuries and protocol.
The GTHL season began with a mandatory seminar for coaches on concussions. The season also began with the North York Hockey League, a league of similar size to the GTHL, going from contact hockey to non-contact.
There will always be injuries in sport, but minor hockey, with more than 75% of its participants now playing without contact, has never been better patrolled. Why doesnít that message ever get out?