Tuesday, January 8, 2013
CANADIAN NHL TEAM NOTES
BROSSARD, Que. - The upbeat mood was evident as Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien got back into hockey mode on Monday after the nearly four-month NHL lockout.
Both will finally get moving on the jobs they were hired for when the Canadiens cleaned house after their dismal 28th overall finish in 2011-12.
"I've been waiting a long time,'' Bergevin told a packed news conference at the team's suburban practice rink. "I'm ready to go back to work.''
He spent most of the lockout scouting junior games, and noted that "I haven't seen this much junior hockey since I played for Chicoutimi in 1984.''
Team president and owner Geoff Molson also sat in, apologizing to the team's fans for being off so long and promising an as-yet undecided gesture to make it up to them.
"Our plans aren't completed,'' said Molson. "Here in Montreal, the fans are the most important thing and we recognize that.
"We want to do something that will be very much appreciated.''
Both men were sketchy on details about their plans, saying they won't know what can be done until the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players is ratified later this week.
The start of training camps is still unclear and depends on the ratification process of both sides. A compressed 48-game schedule likely begin on Jan. 19.
Bergevin got some work done before the lockout began Sept. 15, hiring Therrien, some new front office staff and adding some grit to the roster with the acquisition of defenceman Francis Bouillon and forwards Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong.
Between 25 and 30 players will be in camp. Therrien said the team will work on timing, conditioning and implementing a new system.
Many questions were directed at Molson and his role in the negotiations. He wasn't among the owners sitting in regularly at meetings, but said he was kept informed daily of developments.
He also defended commissioner Gary Bettman, even if the it appears the deal will not be advantageous to richer clubs like Montreal.
"Commissioner Bettman represents 30 teams and I feel he did the best job he could,'' said Molson. "Some teams are small markets. Everyone has different positions. It's not easy to satisfy everybody.''
Then he added: "I'm satisfied because we're playing hockey.''
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs will be reminded of the franchise's championship history every time they leave their locker-room at Air Canada Centre.
Images of the Stanley Cup engravings from the club's glory days have been emblazoned on the inside of the room's doors. They will serve as a motivation tool for a team that hasn't been to the post-season since 2004.
"We want to make sure that we don't lose touch with the past, but we are about the present too,'' said head coach Randy Carlyle.
His current squad is a far cry from the powerful lineups that earned Cup victories decades ago. The Maple Leafs haven't won a title since 1967 and are coming off a disappointing 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Still, optimism reigned Monday as several players got together at the team's practice facility for a scrimmage and on-ice workout.
They were buoyed by news that a tentative deal was in place to end the lockout and were looking forward to the frenzied pace that a 48- or 50-game season will provide.
"It's the same kind of mindset as a full season but it's going to be a little more desperate,'' said Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur. "You've got to be good right off the bat.''
Earlier, Carlyle was swarmed by a phalanx of media members for a 25-minute availability in an Air Canada Centre hallway. He said players were advised that expectations would include better conditioning, a more responsible defensive attitude and that accountability would be held to a higher level.
"Those are the three things that we left the players with over the course of the summer,'' Carlyle said. "And it's no different now that we're here in the beginning (of the season).''
A large rock now sits below a shiny new team logo on the Leafs' locker-room wall, one of several aesthetic changes to the space. Carlyle said the rock - believed to be blue limestone - was brought in from Wiarton, Ont., and symbolizes Toronto's rock-solid organization.
He hopes the changes instil an even greater sense of pride in wearing the Maple Leaf.
"You have to earn your right to be in here,'' he said.
Carlyle, dressed casually in sneakers, jeans and a long-sleeve collared shirt, said it was premature to get into roster specifics. However, he did confirm that newly acquired forward James van Riemsdyk would start out on the left wing instead of centre.
OTTAWA, Ont. - Despite a 113-day lockout, Paul MacLean believes every one of his players should arrive in camp ready to play.
The Ottawa Senators coach is eagerly awaiting the official announcement for training camp to open, but says he and his coaching staff has been working on plans for months.
"We've been patiently waiting like everyone else,'' MacLean said. "We were ready to go September 15th for training camp and we're ready to go now. We're just looking forward to getting going.''
It's anticipated teams will have a one-week camp to prepare for the season. With such a tight time frame, MacLean says he expects to have less than 30 players in camp.
The Senators biggest question mark appears to be on the blue-line. MacLean has just four veterans at his disposal - Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot, who will be making his Ottawa debut after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Nick Foligno.
The Senators will be forced to play without Jared Cowen, who suffered a season-ending injury while playing with the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators. In addition the Senators are missing Mike Lundin who fractured a finger while playing in Sweden. There is no current timetable for his return.
40-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson feels the shortened season could work in his favour.
"If I could choose I would play 48 or 50 games every year,'' Alfredsson said. "Not just because I'm older, but because I think it would make for better hockey and a better product overall. For me selfishly it's not a bad thing.''
Alfredsson has maintained his conditioning throughout the lockout, and is confident that his groin and hip flexors will be able to handle the intensity of camp.
MacLean is aware of fan apathy, but he's hopeful that a solid product on the ice will help draw some people back.
"We're really looking forward to showing our loyal fans here in Ottawa what an appreciation we have for them by coming out of the gate and really playing,'' he said.
Notes: Senators president Cyril Leeder said 35 staff members have been hired back and those on shortened work-weeks will return to a full five-day schedule. The team also anticipates hiring an additional 25 people. ... The team will also be announcing a number of initiatives in the coming days in an effort to help draw fans back.
WINNIPEG - He's still unsure when he'll be back in the Winnipeg Jets' lineup following wrist surgery but defenceman Zach Bogosian is just happy to be back on skates.
"It felt good today,'' he said following Monday's workout, his first icetime since August. "I didn't really push it too much.
Bogosian was one of a handful of injured NHL players who collected a paycheque during the NHL lockout. That means he still couldn't skate with teammates Monday since the deal that ended the labour impasse hasn't been ratified.
"My social life is going to bump up now that I can actually hang out with my teammates in the room,'' he said with a chuckle.
While still collecting on his two-year, US$5-million deal, Bogosian said he received a few calls to pay for dinner during the lockout.
"A couple of times I got suckered into it,'' he said.
Centre Jim Slater, who filled the role of team ambassador last season, says he hopes fans will understand and come back to support the Jets.
"Here, fans are very knowledgeable, they understand the game of hockey and, you know, the business part's a big part of the game now,'' he said. "Hopefully, they understand why we had to go through this and, hopefully, no hard feelings when we get back on the ice.''
Fortunately for the Jets, there isn't much chance they'll lose significant support. The MTS Centre is sold out for years to come with a paid waiting list of 8,000 names on it.
CALGARY - With the 2013 NHL season finally in sight, Jarome Iginla wants to focus on winning back fans rather than on his impending status as an unrestricted free agent.
The captain of the Calgary Flames said he doesn't want to be a distraction once NHL teams get back to playing games for real.
"I definitely don't want there to be any distractions and I want us to be a very good team which I believe we will be,'' said Iginla, who's entering the final year of a five-year deal that pays him US$7 million per season. "
"It would be my preference to stay here for sure.''
A day after the NHL and its players reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, Iginla practised at WinSport's Joan Snyder Arena with several of his teammates as well as players from other teams such as Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals and T.J. Galiardi of the San Jose Sharks.
"It felt like the first day of camp today,'' Iginla said in regards to the ramped up intensity during the practise session. "We've been fortunate skating at WinSport in Calgary here these last three months. We've had somewhere around 12 guys with some other NHLers and other pros that have kept a good group going with coaching and stuff to keep the tempo up. Hopefully that does pay off.''
Flames' forward Michael Cammalleri was happy to be back in Calgary skating with his teammates just a week after losing a few teeth during an on-ice session in Toronto with some other locked-out NHLers.
"I took a puck in the face a few days ago,'' Cammalleri said. ``I'm missing a few teeth. It's part of the gig.''
The freak accident didn't stop him from taking part in Monday's intense practice.
"It's definitely as excited as everybody's been in a long, long time,'' Cammalleri said. "It was high paced today. Guys just can't wait to play hockey. For us it's a matter of trying to get together as a group and seeing how good of a team we can become and how quickly we can do that.''
Once training camp starts, the Flames will have to adapt to new systems implemented by head coach Bob Hartley and his assistants Jacques Cloutier and Martin Gelinas.
"We've got to do a lot in terms of knowing where we're going to be on the ice and what systems we're going to play and taking it from there,'' said forward Lee Stempniak, who's set to return for his second season with the Flames. "Aside from that everyone looks in good shape and will be ready to go.''
EDMONTON - From the top down, the Edmonton Oilers are ready to get going.
Management and players welcomed Sunday's announcement of a tentative agreement between the NHL and the players' association to end the lockout with smiles and a sense of relief.
Oilers president Patrick LaForge was looking forward to welcoming back employees who had been lent out during the four-months of no hockey and to see the stands of Rexall Place again filled with fans. He said the drop-off in season ticket holders this season was about the same as it has been any other year, with or without hockey.
LaForge said there are no plans at the moment to do anything special to welcome back fans or to offer an apology.
Meanwhile, general manager Steve Tambellini is looking forward to a training camp - which could come as early as Wednesday if the two sides vote to ratify the 10-year collective bargaining agreement - and to seeing how the young Oilers have progressed during their time in the American Hockey League and elsewhere.
Tambellini spent much of the last few months monitoring the Oilers who were in the NHL last season, especially those with Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League, including Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (until he joined Canada's team for the world junior hockey championship) and newcomer Justin Schultz.
"Just trying to assess the steps our young players, first year players and guys who have only played a couple of years in the organization, how they're doing,'' Tambellini said. "I loved the fact that they were playing in the American Hockey League, which is the same kind of hockey as in the NHL. It was tough for them, it was grinding for them. Their stats were outstanding and now it's time for them to get back to the National Hockey League.''
Tambellini said the Oilers would bring about 25 players to camp, including the bulk of last year's team that missed the playoffs, along with two key newcomers - Schultz, the highly touted free agent defenceman they signed last summer, and Russian forward Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 draft pick last June. They will be missing two injured players, defenceman Andy Sutton and forward Ryan Jones.
Tambellini said veteran netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, who suffered a groin injury last season, is progressing well but he was waiting for an updated medical report this week.
"It's important for us to take the next step to being a better team,'' Tambellini said. "I'm excited to see a young player like Justin Schultz get his chance to play in the NHL, excited for Taylor Hall, who been playing real hard in Oklahoma City, to prove he's an elite (NHL) player. Looking forward to seeing Jordan Eberle, who went to Oklahoma City and the leadership he showed was incredible.
"The young people who are part of our core have been in growth areas of the game. They've been pushed, they've been asked to show leadership and they've done it well. I hope it all translate quick to the next step, playoffs.''
The Oilers will head into the shortened season with Ralph Kruger behind the bench. He replaced fired Tom Renney last June and Tambellini said Kruger and his staff are eager to get the team back on ice.
VANCOUVER - The future of goaltender Roberto Luongo is one of a number of pressing issues facing the Vancouver Canucks now that the NHL and the players' association have to come to a tentative agreement to end the lockout.
And so long as the new collective bargain agreement is approved by both the owners and the union's membership, the veteran netminder will be expected at training camp.
"It's become a priority for a number of other teams,'' said general manager Mike Gillis on a conference call Sunday, suggesting there is strong interest in the goaltender. "So it's become a priority for us.''
Luongo was displaced as the starter in last spring's Stanley Cup playoffs by Cory Schneider. After the Canucks were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, Luongo said he would agree to waive his no-trade clause if the team asks him to.
However, Gillis was unable to swing a deal before the lockout began. In the meantime, the Canucks signed Schneider to a new three-year, $12-million contract that begins this shortened season.
Luongo openly wondering about his future Sunday, tweeting: "So (what) do we do now?''
Pending a trade, Luongo ($5.3 million) and Schneider ($4 million) pose a $9.3 million salary cap hit to the Canucks this season. While the total is tenable, the two contracts will become more difficult to manage in the 2013-14 season, when a reduced salary cap takes effect.
Luongo's presence could also prove to be a distraction as the Canucks try to regain the form that helped them come within a game of winning the Stanley Cup in 2011.
So there is more urgency to move Luongo, who has a 12-year, $64-million contract that runs until 2022. Presuming he is moved in the near future, the Canucks will also have to acquire a goaltender to back up Schneider, either as part of the Luongo deal or through a free-agent signing. Eddie Lack, Vancouver's top goaltending prospect, is expected to spend the entire season in the minors with the Chicago Wolves.
Overall scoring is also an issue because Vancouver tends to rely on Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows and defencemen Alex Edler, who underwent off-season back surgery, and Kevin Bieksa for most of its offence. Defenceman Jason Garrison, signed as a free agent in July, should add more production, but the Canucks need more goals from their forwards.
Coach Alain Vigneault will be expecting more output from wingers David Booth, who was inconsistent after being acquired in an early-season trade from Florida, and Mason Raymond, who struggled after returning in December 2011 from a serious back injury suffered in the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
Gillis said no acquisitions will be made until the new CBA is ratified.
"Until it gets ratified, we're not talking about trades with any other teams,'' he said.
The GM said his biggest concern going into a short season is injury. The shorter season increases the risk of health problems and the effect they will have on the team.
But he is confident that players are in the best shape possible. Wingers Manny Malhotra and Chris Higgins are concerned about the increased injury risk that a compressed season could bring.
Higgins said a compressed season will be a "unique experience'' to which everybody will have to adjust.
Notes: Gillis said front-office staff who had their work weeks reduced by 20 per cent will be brought back to full-time status as quickly as possible. The club hopes to pay tribute to fans for their loyalty on the opening night of the regular season. "We're going to try to our hardest to give back,'' he said. Gillis added the Canucks lost season ticket holders as a result of the lockout, but he declined to provide a number. ... The Canucks plan to bring up winger Zack Kassian, acquired in the Cody Hodgson trade, from the minors. Chris Tanev, one of the seven defencemen with NHL experience, is also expected to be recalled. Defenceman Kevin Connauton is another candidate for promotion.
© 2013 The Canadian Press