Mike Halford

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Kesler was ‘really disappointed’ with World Cup atmosphere

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Check it out — a Team USA player talking about disappointment at the World Cup, yet not referencing his team’s lackluster effort!

“It was weird,” American forward Ryan Kesler said of the tournament’s atmosphere, per the O.C. Register. “I thought there’d be more of a buzz in Toronto. There wasn’t … It just didn’t seem like there was a buzz.

“If you didn’t know what was going on, you wouldn’t even know teams were playing. That’s the only thing I was really disappointed with.”

The World Cup reboot was always going to have issues in this regard.

The timing of the tournament — early September, when the sports landscape is dominated by NCAA football and the NFL — almost guaranteed it would be buried. That early September start also meant even the most hardcore hockey fans still viewed the World Cup as something of an exhibition, or glorified training camp.

Creating Team North America and Team Europe initially added an extra element of hokiness. While both eventually proved worthy competitors, that didn’t happen until the tournament was underway.

And yeah, Team Europe has been a remarkable story.

But it hasn’t helped the buzz factor.

In Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Canada in the first of the best-of-three final, Europe didn’t exactly bring in the fans. Several pundits tweeted out the alarming number of empty seats at the Air Canada Centre (see here and here), and Canadian forward Steve Stamkos addressed how the rivalry — or lack thereof — with Europe translated into a muted affair.

“It’s tough just because there’s not that natural rivalry here,” Stamkos explained, per Yahoo. “In some of the other games, we had away fans that were creating some noise.

“This was probably the team that had the least amount of support, just because of the makeup of the team in the tournament to start with.”

Attendance issues have been a theme throughout the event. Several group games started at 3 p.m. ET — on weekdays, no less — which resulted in subpar crowd numbers at the ACC. The highly-anticipated USA-Canada grudge match never came to fruition, with the Americans sputtering out as one of the tournament’s biggest disappointments.

North America’s elimination didn’t help the buzz factor, either.

In the end, all of this will probably be chalked up to a learning experience for the NHL and NHLPA, which is fair. This tournament was filled with several major unknowns coming in, and predicting how those would play out was a near impossible task.

Now, both sides know what worked and what didn’t. And they’ve got plenty of time to make some changes.

Report: Panarin wants six-year deal from ‘Hawks, at least $6M per season

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Artemi Panarin is looking to cash in on his Calder-winning campaign.

Chicago’s prized Russian sniper and the reigning rookie of the year, Panarin is reportedly seeking a six-year contract extension “worth more than $6 million per season,” per the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune points out, that figure could be problematic. Nobody’s arguing that Panarin isn’t worth the money — he’s 24, and coming off a 30-goal, 77-point campaign — but people are wondering how the ‘Hawks can afford him. Eight players on the active roster are pulling in at least $4 million per season, which includes Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they of the $10.5M cap hits.

That said, it sure sounds like Panarin will get done.

Reports last week said his agent and ‘Hawks GM Stan Bowman were well into extension talks, and Bowman seemed confident a deal would be inked.

“I respect Tom [Lynn, Panarin’s agent], he’s a very knowledgeable guy and I know Artemi put a lot of faith in him,” Bowman said. “Tom and I will work to get something done.”

Panarin’s heading into the last of a two-year, $6.775 million deal with a $3.387 AAV — a deal that gained plenty of notoriety as the season progressed. Since it was so performance-laden, Panarin cashed in a couple of times, including a $1.725 million bonus for finishing among the top-10 scorers in the NHL.

That led to Bowman making some tough financial decisions this offseason, including the deal that sent Bryan Bickell — more specifically, Bryan Bickell’s contract — and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina in exchange for draft picks.

So, this latest situation isn’t anything new for the ‘Hawks GM. He’s been down the financial squeeze road before, and usually found a way to keep his core players in the mix.

If Panarin is considered a core guy — and at this point, it sure sounds like he is — then finding common ground on an extension shouldn’t be too difficult.

Boedker to make Team Europe debut in World Cup final

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Mikkel Boedker‘s first game for Team Europe will be a big one.

Boedker, a healthy scratch throughout the World Cup, will make his European debut on Tuesday, replacing the injured Marian Gaborik (foot) in the first of the best-of-three final.

Head coach Ralph Kreuger opted for Boedker rather than dressing Luca Sbisa as a seventh defenseman, and lamented losing Gaborik’s presence in the lineup.

“We’re losing some leadership and smarts on the puck that were exemplary,” Krueger said, per the L.A. Times.

What the Europeans will gain, however, is speed. Boedker’s one of the fastest skaters in the league and is coming off a good offensive campaign, tying a career-high with 51 points.

The 26-year-old appeared in two of Europe’s exhibition games, both against Team North America. He received a ton of ice time in the first — 19:46 — but had that cut in half for the rematch, when he had 13 shifts for just 9:22 TOI.

Related: Gaborik (foot) to miss eight weeks

 

Under Bednar, Avs won’t ‘slow the game down’ like they did with Roy

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Though it’s hard to pinpoint just one standout from the high-flying North American team at the World Cup, speedy Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon was certainly in the conversation.

Now, MacKinnon wants that tournament success to translate over to the regular season — and he’s confident Colorado’s coaching change will make it happen.

From the Denver Post:

Is [Jared] Bednar’s system different from what the Avalanche did under Patrick Roy?

“Yeah, it is,” MacKinnon said. “Now every puck we get, we want to move it up quickly and use our speed and not wait and go D-to-D, back to D and slow the game down.

“We have very good skaters on our team, and we want to use that.”

One of the blueliners responsible for moving the puck quickly, Tyson Barrie, echoed those sentiments.

“There’s going to be no messing around with the puck, no playing around with it in our end, in the neutral zone,” Barrie said of Bednar’s system, per NHL.com. “We’re going to be pushing the pace, getting it into the forwards’ hands. We’re going to play fast and our defensemen are going to be jumping.

“I’m super impressed.”

Not utilizing Colorado’s speed was considered one of Roy’s major failings as head coach. With the likes of MacKinnon and Matt Duchene in the mix, it seemed like playing an uptempo game was the obvious choice — yet, as stated above, the Colorado blueliners were instructed to play more east-west than north-south.

That figures to change under Bednar.

In his previous stop, Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie, Bednar led a high-octane group that had no problem finding the back of the net. The Monsters led the American League in playoff scoring en route to the Calder Cup, and did it with a talented, versatile blueline that delivered pucks to the forwards.

(Bednar also had a glut of good, young talent at his disposal. Zach Werenski, the eighth overall pick in 2015, anchored the blueline with the likes of Oliver Bjorkstrand and Sonny Milano up front.)

Needless to say, Colorado should be a fascinating team to watch this year.

Related: Keep an eye on the goaltending situation in Colorado

KHL announces Sobotka will play with Avangard this season

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Big development on the Vladimir Sobotka-back-to-St. Louis front — on Tuesday, the KHL announced that Sobotka would play with Avangard Omsk next season, shooting down reports of his return to the Blues as “just rumors.”

Per Czech news outlet Ceska Televize, both Omsk’s team president and Sobotka’s agent confirmed the news.

This development comes after Sobotka’s stint with the Czech Republic at the World Cup. During the tournament, he addressed problems he was having with opting out of the last of his three-year deal with Omsk.

“We’re still talking and we’ll see what’s going to happen during the World Cup,” said Sobotka, per ESPN.com. “After that, I think we’re going to be smarter. It’s been going on for five months and I’ve had enough of it. It’s my agent’s job to to keep talking and we’ll see.”

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed via the Associated Press that Sobotka was having “issues” returning to the Blues.

A good, versatile checking forward, Sobotka fled St. Louis after an arbitration hearing following the ’13-14 campaign. He scored a career-high 33 points in 61 games that season.

The Blues have been keen to get him back in the fold.

Ken Hitchcock, heading into his final season as head coach, has talked about the “great chemistry” between Sobotka and winger Jaden Schwartz, and there’s no doubt Hitchcock would’ve like to use that chemistry in what will be his final chance at a Stanley Cup.