9 August 2009

A-to-Z of the NHL off-season

Formal process whereby NHL GMs (agents) tear down (inflate) the performances of a player in front of an independent adjudicator, in order to determine whether said player will be horrendously overpaid or merely generously overpaid for the coming season. Noted humanitarian Mike Milbury famously reduced then-Islanders goalie Tommy Salo to tears at his arbitration hearing - an emotion also induced for many thousands of Islander fans in subsequent years.

Brian Burke
A one-man attempt to liven up the dead period that is the Maple Leafs since 1967...er, I mean the dead period that is the NHL off-season. His bold attempts to (a) draft John Tavares, (b) draft Brayden Schenn, (c) sign Colton Orr to a contract worth less than $4m and (d) pass a microphone without comment, over the last couple of months all ended in glorious but entertaining failure. For that, bored and restless NHL fans of all allegiances are thankful.

English summer game (with parallels to baseball with much lower steroid use and even more incompetent administration). Absolutely no connection to the NHL other than it being the main focus of my sporting attention in the absence of hockey and football, plus the regular appearances of Washington Capitals defenseman Milan Jurčina as an umpire at village games in Gloucestershire.

I could write almost 3,000 words about the NHL Entry Draft. Oh wait, I did...(HERE)

Exit interview
I don't know if NHL teams carry these out when players/coaches/GMs leave or not, but some of the conversations could be interesting:
  • "What are your primary reasons for leaving?"
    Scott Gomez: "Mostly the $51.5m."
  • "Were there any company policies or procedures that made your work more difficult?"
    Tony Granato: "I'd say a pretty poor roster, my best players being injured and you openly trying to hire my replacement before firing me for the second time."
  • "What did you find most frustrating about your job"
    Brent Sutter: "I missed my family. Specifically, my brother Darryl."
Free Agent Frenzy
The natural counterpart to Trade Deadline Trauma. Both feature hastily conceived player transactions, ranging from the inspired (rarely) to the disastrous (more plentiful - hello, Glen Sather), allied to hours upon hours of TV coverage of men in suits playing with their Blackberries. Whereas TDT starts as an often soporific affair, gradually warming up to the deadline climax and the near instant gratification of seeing the players in action within days, FAF starts with a bang ("No, Mr Ohlund, we are not permitted to present you with this complicated legal document prior to noon EST. I'm sure you can read, consider and sign it within 15 minutes, though.") and fades away over a day or two until the point where the signing of Andrew Alberts becomes the biggest news of the week.

Revealed to be the favourite off-season pursuit of NHLers in a recent survey, with 99.78% of players saying they were keen golfers (Sean Avery being the lone exception - he would apparently love to play, but wearing the clothing would be "an unthinkable humiliation"). Members of the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes are said to be particularly good exponents of the sport, due to both their teams' locations and the extra two months' practice available to them each year. The recent exploits of Tom Watson at the Open Championship are also credited with the publicised desire of Chris Chelios to now play in the NHL well into his eighties.

Heatley saga
Dany likes Bryan. Bryan likes Dany. They agree to be together for a long time. Bryan employs Cory. Dany doesn't like Cory, so Dany wants to leave Bryan. Dany tells everyone he wants to leave Bryan before he tells Bryan. Bryan no longer likes Dany. Bryan sets up Dany with his friend Steve who's very keen on Dany. Dany flirts with Steve, but at the last minute, Dany gets cold feet and stays with Bryan while still wanting to leave Bryan. Dany and Bryan's boss Eugene isn't happy that he still has to pay Dany while he's around. Some of Bryan's other friends (including Glen, who's interested in everybody) are kind of interested in Dany, but Bryan and Eugene don't want to give Dany up so easily. Dany, Bryan and Eugene stay unhappy. For now.

Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament
If you're going to watch an U-18 international hockey tournament held in August in the towns of Hodonín and Piešťany, most hockey observers reckon it should be this one. So named following the death in 2001 of any hope of Europeans being taken seriously as candidates for NHL head coaching positions.

Judge Redfield T. Baum
Owner of a spectacularly good name, Judge RTB is one of the key players in this summer's headline event: Who should own the Coyotes and where should they play? (Otherwise known as Bettman vs The Entire Nation of Canada or The Rules vs Balsillie's Bottomless Pit of Cash/Ego.) Solely responsible for the 548% increase in applications to study bankruptcy law at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Sergei Zubov? да! Jaromir Jágr? да! Jiří Hudler? да! Alexander Radulov? да! Friendly cooperation with Gary Bettman and the NHL? нет!

Late night habits
No, not a reference to the nocturnal activities of players in their time off (see the next entry for that), but the phenomenon of European NHL fans regularly staying up past 2am even when they have no reason to, just because they've screwed their body clocks up so much over the rest of the year.

Mischief and misdemeanours
Although reports concerning the off-season pursuits of NHLers generally appear to contain far fewer references to dead bodies, dog fights, strippers, firearms and egomaniacal self-publicising (or any combination thereof) than those of their NFL and NBA brethren, the relative freedom afforded to players while outside the clutches of a tightly-knit group of team-mates and a disciplined coaching staff does lead to the odd minor scrape with justice on occasion. The under-age Staal brothers and a "lively" bachelor party, Peter Worrell kicking a police car window (18 months before dreaming up his ingenious plan of telling the cops he was the slightly whiter and slightly shorter Andreas Lilja when arrested) and now the multi-millionaire Patrick Kane allegedly going postal on a cab driver over 20 cents - all part of the rich tapestry of NHL off-season life...

Neck and neck
The off-season has surely been one of the favourite points of the entire year for fans (both of them) in Long Island, Phoenix, Atlanta and Florida in recent years - when else can they say that their teams have in a tie for a playoff place for three straight months?

Offer sheet
Legitimate team-construction tool permitted by the CBA or nefarious tactic under-used by colluding group of GMs unwilling to upset or risk ridicule by Brian Burke?

Press conference
While falling some way short of the fanaticism/idiocy of some European football fans when faced with the unveiling of a new player (see HERE), the appearance of that newly-signed injury-riddled winger or traded-for violent goofball defenseman in your team's jersey for the first time brings only hope and joy to the NHL fan. Even if the player and/or GM normally treat the media with undisguised misery and contempt during the season, it's usually all smiles at the off-season press conference - good humour that can dissipate extremely quickly on all sides as the player is exposed to be an overpaid, disinterested bum two or three weeks into the new season.

Qualifying offer sheet
Standard piece of documentation (check page 302 of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement for a thrilling look at what it should look like) necessary to ensure clubs preserve their rights to compensation in respect of their restricted free agent players. Apparently can get held up in the mail in the Chicago area - should always be marked "Private and Confidential". Dale Tallon came to regret offering the chance for Denis Savard to stay on as a "special ambassador" in the post room after canning him as coach.

Rookie camp
Annual team ritual where first-year NHL players are compelled to attend team meal and/or board charter flight while wearing the most flamboyant women's clothing to be found. An idea thought to have originated around the time of Sean Avery's first pre-season scrimmage with the Red Wings.

Stanley Cup tour
Of course, the concept of spending a day with the Cup is pretty good and a well-deserved reward, and many players do worthy things when it's their turn. But I'm short on fascination with what Pascal Dupuis or Mike Zigomanis might have done unless they can top Kris Draper's daughter defecating in the thing. Come on guys, the bar was raised! Of course, if Sidney Crosby is anywhere near the Cup, I want to read every last detail of the entire day, however mundane or saccharine. What do you mean he got two days?

If you keep revisiting enough times (four, five times a day...) throughout late July and early August, you too will be among the first to learn about exactly which undrafted college free-agent forwards the Senators have signed to minor league contracts. Anything less frequent than that - you call yourself a fan?

Unlikely comebacks
No off-season seems to go by any more without reading about a veteran player trying to make an unlikely/miraculous return to a once All-Star calibre career after an absence of several years, often in the face of a mountain of scepticism and scrutiny. Claude Lemieux, Theo Fleury, Wade Redden...who will be next?

The transplant of the NHL awards show to Sin City was a brave, attention-seeking move. I, for one, can't think of another place where attracting contemporary superstar artists like Chaka Khan and finding out Jeremy Roenick's eloquence doesn't automatically translate to the ability to read an autocue could've been possible.

Seemingly gone are the days when NHLers returned home to paint the barn or help out on the farm to prepare for the grind of the new season. Instead, players just have enough time to take a quick vacation and play some golf (or to combine the two) before commencing gruelling off-season workouts, often via attendance at a boot camp/Californian retreat run by a sadist, ex-military infomercial star with some distant connection to Chris Chelios. Optional for Kyle Wellwood.

While certainly a year-round activity for some of its more enlightened practitioners, extra cheer is always brought to the anti-Euro crew in the summer months by any non-Canadian returning home ("back where they belong") to play for whatever reason.

Common reflex among NHL fans during the period between June and October. Largely maintained as a local phenomenon in the state of New Jersey between October and June as well.

(It was this or Zamboni...) A reasonably amusing interview with the newly-free Ukrainian enigma (from prior to his recent arbitration hearing) can be found HERE. "I didn't hear any specific reprimands in his address" is probably a fair summary of Torts' placid coaching style and a view shared by scores of players in Tampa Bay and New York, right?


  1. Bravo for doing an off-season blog...I’m still in winning mode so not at the stage of thinking about the coming season...give me a couple of weeks more!!! Anyway just a few things........ Late night habits....right there with ya buddy as you well know!! I’m assuming the Kane part was a quick edit! Still don’t get cricket even after you explained it twice to me! Avery is in Vegas Su says....she saw him playing on the strip...hahahaha!!! If Cheli ever decides to run a boot camp himself...I would pay to attend cos it would be funny as shit, mobility scooter races and all!!! Yep done a lot of yawning. Off track a bit...but OH MAN I CAN’T WAIT FOR CAMP TORTURELLA...but I’m probably the only one who will enjoy seeing half the team spewing on the blue line!!!! And, lastly, my favourite part of the off season was Brian Burke mic’d up of course...comedy gold!

  2. Pfft - that's two (TWO!) off-season blogs I've done now, amateur.

    Avery was being a good citizen at a youth hockey camp a few days ago (HERE), so I can hardly see him raising hell in Vegas now.

  3. Yeah, come to me when you've done 10 or 15 in an off season genius and we'll talk!

    "I swear I just saw Sean Avery go into the bathroom!! I stared at him. He stared back, as though waiting for me to speak. I demurred."
    If Su says it was Sean Avery, it was Sean Avery....the girl knows hockey!!!