Like E.T., Many NHL Players Interested in Going Home

Los Angeles Kings left wing Ryan Smyth #94 during the NHL regular season game between the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.

If there’s been a recurring theme to this off-season, it’s been players going home to play where they want to play.

First, you have Brad Richards, the jewel of the free agent class, who’s allegedly looking to play at a destination he likes, as opposed to taking whoever offers the most money. Some rumors have him wanting to return to the Lightning, where he won a Stanley Cup.

Obviously, Richards hasn’t signed anything yet, so he still might go for the big pay day, but the fact that he’s even (possibly) considering not taking the largest contract is kind of interesting.

You also have Jaromir Jagr trying to return to the NHL from the KHL. Jagr is supposedly interested in returning to the Penguins, where he spent the glory days of his career (although Puck Daddy wonders if Jagr will wind up a Red Wing).

I’m not sure at this phase of his career, if Jagr would play for a new team. He very much seems to be a creature of habit, so I’m thinking he’ll either return to a familiar team or a familiar coach.

Finally, the LA Kings’ Ryan Smyth is looking to orchestrate a trade back to the Oilers, where Smyth began his career.

Salary is still very much on the table in these scenarios. No one can say where Richards will sign when free agency officially begins. Jagr could still abort his NHL return if he feels insulted by the contract offers. In fact, you might recall that’s kind of how he wound up leaving the NHL.

And Smyth isn’t in Edmonton right now because contract issues resulted in the Oilers trading the beloved Smyth out of Edmonton, setting him on a cross-country journey from Long Island to Denver to Los Angeles.

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You’ll Never Get 3:45 for Tripping

Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome #29 get escorted off the ice after putting a late hit on Boston Bruins right wing Nathan Horton #18 (not shown) which cost Rome a 4 game suspension during the Canucks game against the Bruins in The Stanley Cup Finals game 3 at TD Bank Garden in Boston, MA

One of the few nice things about a minor penalty, like a hooking call, is the duration is always a given.

The hook could be a minor infraction or a bold water-skiing-like take down, and either way, the responsible party is always going to get two minutes.

It’s simple, yet effective.

There’s no judgement required. Officials don’t need to determine intent or severity. Something is either a hook or it isn’t. If it’s a hook, the penalty is always two minutes.

The system works for players, too. They know the consequence for getting called for a hook is always going to be two minutes. Smart players will assess the on-ice situation, and risk a hook, knowing their team can kill a penalty for two minutes. Smart players will also be mindful of a hook, knowing their team’s penalty kill hasn’t been great, or that their team is down and can’t afford to waste time on a kill.

Whatever a player decides, that kind of planning is possible because a player always knows the penalty for a hook. They don’t have to worry about being called for a 30-second penalty or a three-minute one, depending upon what the official thought of the hook.

So why not extend that model to more severe penalties? Why not come up with a consistent set of penalties for anything deemed a headshot?

NHL GMs are still trying to figure out what to do about headshots in the game and want to broaden the definition of what a headshot is.

That’s fine. A definition is great. But until there’s a standard punishment for taking a headshot against an opponent, players are going to risk them.

Aaron Rome famously got four games against Nathan Horton during the Stanley Cup finals. But most people expected a shorter suspension. But what if the first headshot, no matter who committed it, resulted in an automatic four-game suspension? And what if the automatic suspension dramatically increased for each subsequent infraction, perhaps with a reset after a certain number of games without a headshot?

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Brad Richards Might Find More Joy with Less Money

Brad Richards

Larry Brooks says word on the street is that unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Brad Richards is looking for a hefty long-term contract.

I don’t begrudge Richards taking a payday, but I do have a suggestion.

Don’t go for a cap-busting contract.

Instead, consider a long-term, cap-friendly deal that will see him make decent money, but will also allow his future team to surround him with talent.

Because once a team commits $7 million plus to a single player (a single player with possible concussion-related issues), they suddenly run out of personnel options. Bad signings become permanent and it becomes challenging for a now struggling team to bring in help.

Richards can help his future team avoid that pitfall by taking a smaller contract. Obviously, he’ll make less money, but it will also increase his chances of winning another Stanley Cup.

Richards’ last contract was pretty steep and it wound up getting him traded from Tampa Bay to Dallas (after Tampa ran into financial problems and Richards waived his no trade clause). His last two seasons in Dallas saw him regain his dominant form, but there are lots of concerns about how he’ll rebound from the concussion he suffered in February. That concussion is on the mind of every GM considering Richards. Richards giving teams a salary break could go a long way toward making GMs comfortable signing him.

Of course, there’s probably enough interest in Richards that he doesn’t have to give any concerned GMs a break. The market will probably force GMs to ignore the concussion and to take a chance on Richards.

But imagine what it says to future teammates if Richards does take less than what the market is offering. What does it tell a team when the top unrestricted free agent takes less money to play somewhere?

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Cheaper Tickets Might Have Saved the Thrashers

 Atlanta Thrashers center Rich Peverley (47) stands near some fan signs during warm up before a regular season game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Atlanta Thrashers at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an interesting look at how the economy played a part in the Thrashers probably leaving Atlanta for Winnipeg.

Obviously, a team deciding to relocate is complex and there are going to be multiple variables, but reporter Mike Tierney spoke to some Atlanta fans who can no longer afford to go to games, NHL and otherwise. Those fans no longer going to games translated to a smaller gate which created an impetus for the team to leave Atlanta.

When you look at NHL attendance, it seems a lot of the teams with attendance issues are either a) really bad or b) in a non-traditional hockey market.

When fans in non-traditional hockey markets need to choose how to spend limited resources, they’re probably going to choose things other than hockey.

But what the NHL needs to remember is that buying a ticket is always a choice. As ticket prices increase and as the U.S. economy continues to rebound painfully slowly, more and more fans are going to choose to spend their money on other things, like rent and gas and tuition.

Fans, even fans in traditional hockey markets, won’t always choose to spend limited funds on hockey.

Look at Detroit. The Red Wings have been below 100% attendance at the Joe Louis Arena for quite a few seasons, something that at one time seemed almost impossible.

But a horrible Detroit economy made it possible.

But if fans can be priced out of tickets in a hockey-mad city like Detroit, then it can happen in any NHL city.

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Psychology Helps Roloson Reclaim His Starting Job

Dwayne Roloson (35) skates off the ice with goalie Mike Smith of the Lightning after the NHL Eastern Conference Finals - Game #4 between the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, FL.

Some days, Tampa Lightning coach Guy Boucher’s psychology background is practically visible.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Down three games to two and facing elimination, Boucher has named Dwayne Roloson as his starting goalie for game six.

Roloson struggled in game four and was replaced by Mike Smith in game five. Smith was very strong in game five, leading some to speculate Smith might get the starting call for game six.

Boucher obviously believes Roloson has what it takes to win game six. But naming Roloson has some other advantages, too.

Like Roloson is now the storyline. No one is talking about anything besides Tampa’s goaltending. That lets the rest of his team focus on preparing for an elimination game since the media is pretty much ignoring the rest of the team now.

If Boucher had stuck with Smith, I’m not sure goaltending would be such strong storyline. Because it would just be a coach sticking with a hot goalie.

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New Jersey Devils Should Consider a Coach Tasting

New Jersey Devils head coach Lou Lamoriello leans in as New Jersey Devils Colin White and Tommy Albelin get into it with Ottawa Senators Zdeno Chara and Patrick Eaves in the third period, , Ottawa Senators at New Jersey Devils, February 1, 2006 at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.

Jacques Lemaire, the Devils most recent coach, insists he is going to stay retired.

This time.

You might recall Lemaire came out of retirement to coach the Devils after John MacLean’s disastrous tenure as a rookie NHL head coach.

There has been rumbling about Lemaire possibly coming back because of the tremendous job he did stepping in for MacLean.

But also, Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello is very much a creature of habit, and loves returning to former coaches.

Lamoriello is also a big fan of the coaching switch as a means to motivate his team.

Which is why I’m kind of hoping for next year, Lamoriello will go with a Greatest Hits coaching rotation.

Why pick one coach? Why not pick a few and just have them work different parts of the season.

Larry Robinson has coached the Devils twice and is currently as assistant. Bring him back for 20-30 games.

Lemaire coached the Devils twice. He wants to retire. But maybe he’d be open to returning for a 20-30 game coaching stint. A sort of semi-retirement, as opposed to a full one.

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Sharks’ Joe Thornton Could Never Go Back to Boston

Team Captains San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton #19 and Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown #23 during the NHL Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 6 between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.

In his Sunday notes column, Kevin Paul Dupont let himself wonder what life would be like for the Bruins had the Joe Thornton who’s currently playing in San Jose been the same Joe Thornton who played in Boston.

Dupont acknowledges that Thornton has taken a while to blossom and that the coaching situations in Boston didn’t do much to develop Thornton’s playing.

It’s tempting to look at a player on his current stop and wonder what he would have been like had he stayed at a previous one.

It’s a game Islanders fans and haters play all the time, wondering what the franchise’s fortunes would have been like had they not made any number of their Mike Milbury-driven, notoriously bad trades.

But if those trades hadn’t been made and the Islanders had held onto the litany of talented players they let slip away (Zdeno Chara, the pick that became Jason Spezza, Roberto Luongo, Todd Bertuzzi, Mathieu Schneider, etc.), there’s no guarantee those players would have developed into the NHL stars they became (except for Spezza — I suspect his “development” as an Islander probably would be right around where it is as a Senator).

It’s the same thing with Thornton. It’s not that Boston traded him too soon. It’s that Boston wasn’t the right environment for Thornton to mature. The expectations were too high. The fan base was too rabid. And Thornton had no other players to lean on.

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Phoenix Drama Ruins Good News for Islanders

Phoenix Coyotes players take to the ice at the start of the first period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Detroit Red Wings, at Joe Louis Arena, in Detroit, MI

The timing of the announcement of a proposed new arena for the Islanders is unfortunate, coming right on the heels of the City of Glendale needing to kick in another $25 million to keep the Coyotes.

Glendale has little choice, though. While the Coyotes are bleeding money, the city needs the team to occupy Arena. They need to keep the Coyotes around until they can find someone to buy the team and take over the lease.

There aren’t many details on what the potential Islanders arrangement will be, but the Glendale situation is a great example of what happens to cities when these kind of city/team partnerships go south.

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Without Ovechkin’s Trust, Boudreau Has Nothing

Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau talks with Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) in action against the New York Rangers at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. where the Washington Capitals defeated the New York Rangers 3-1 to win the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

It looks like Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau’s job is safe. At least until next season starts.

But Boudreau is going to have a tough job next year. There are basically two theories floating around about how the Capitals were swept by the Lightning:

  1. The Capitals were outplayed.
  2. The Capitals were outcoached.

Tarik El-Bashir says the Capitals were outplayed and lays the latest playoff failure on the players. But ultimately, isn’t Boudreau responsible for the performance of his players? Isn’t it his job to motivate them and get them prepared to play?

My theory is the Capitals were outcoached. Washington had tremendous regular season success playing a defensive system, and pretty much completely shut-down the New York Rangers in the first round by applying an even more stringent (and physical) defensive system.

The defensive system broke down against Tampa and the physical game never re-appeared. That in itself isn’t a problem, except it wasn’t replaced by a particularly offense-friendly attack either. Alex Ovechkin was never given the chance to cut loose and put the team on his shoulders.

There have been some rumblings about how Ovechkin didn’t do enough in the playoffs, but I think he was trying to be the good soldier and execute his coach’s plan. Ovechkin did everything asked of him and his team wound up getting swept out of the second round. What’s the incentive for Ovechkin to listen to Boudreau next season? Why should Ovechkin trust a coach who ran a system that probably stifled his every hockey instinct?

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Capitals Spending Too Much Time Chasing Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis (26) in action against Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner (27) at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. where the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Washington Capitals 4-2 in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With the Washington Capitals down two games to none in their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, I have a suggestion for the Caps: don’t chase the Lightning in the defensive zone.

For all of the talk about how system-oriented and defensive Tampa coach Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 system is, once the Lightning enters the offensive zone, they turn into a completely different team. It’s all east-west puck movement and touch passes. It’s not about taking a ton of shots so much as it’s about taking the right shots.

Washington has been trying to play the puck in their defensive zone, but the quick Tampa puck movement winds up pulling players out of position. That’s how Capitals defenseman Mike Green got burned on that game two goal that bounced in off of his skate.

Conversely, the Capitals had a great chance on a penalty kill when Marco Sturm challenged Tampa’s points, moving up, standing still, and waiting for the puck to come to his stick, which it did, leading to a short-handed odd-man rush.

Obviously, Washington doesn’t want to become passive in its own zone, but it seems that in cases when they can’t properly play their man, they might just want to maintain their position and keep their sticks in the passing lanes.

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