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Adam Brady is the Director of Publications & New Media for the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center. Email him by CLICKING HERE.

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Updated June 30 at 4:25 p.m.

As the praise for the Ducks continues to roll in over what they got in return for Chris Pronger, much of the backslaps are centering on a lesser-known name in the deal.

While the Ducks reacquiring winger Joffrey Lupul is a huge boost to their previously lacking secondary scoring, the inclusion of young defenseman Luca Sbisa is what has many calling the trade a steal for Anaheim. Philadelphia fans, while thrilled about bringing in Pronger for what they hope is a run for the Cup next season, are lamenting what they had to give up to get him. Sbisa, a 19-year-old born in Italy but raised in Switzerland, is thought to be a future standout, and showed flashes of that over 39 games with Philadelphia last year. He is the first Italian-born defenseman in NHL history and youngest player to make his NHL debut after playing most of his minor league career in Switzerland.

Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer mourned the loss of Sbisa and wrote: ... he showed poise beyond his years and was one of the team’s best skaters. The kid looks like he’ll be a star someday. In short, this deal would look a lot more attractive if the Flyers had included one of their other defensive prospects instead of Sbisa.

Curtis Zupke of the O.C. Register found an old story on The Hockey News website on Sbisa, which noted his bright future in Philadelphia. The story was written back in mid-November, when Sbisa already had six assists in his first 13 NHL games. Flyers goalie Martin Biron is quoted as saying of Sbisa, "He was a standout. In the preseason he was one of the better players. At first I didn’t know who he was – he played like a veteran.”

Flyers center Daniel Briere: “Sbisa is playing way ahead of most players his age. What impresses us the most is his composure and poise. He doesn’t throw away the puck like many young defensemen are prone to do.

“He can be so good for many years. He has the chance to be impressive.”

Sbisa said over the weekend he was shocked when he first heard he was traded, but after a chat with Bob Murray he felt optimistic about coming west. "This will give me a great opportunity," he said. "[Murray] said I have a really good chance to make the squad, but I know it will depend on how I do in training camp."

Sbisa did reveal that he has suffered from a groin injury since last September but fought through it and mostly kept it from the Flyers. "I didn't say a lot because I was trying to make the squad," he said. "It was good for a while, and then [the pain] was off and on. I don't think it's a big deal.

"It's all good. It is nothing serious. It is not a big deal. I just felt really uncomfortable working out back home [in Switzerland] by myself. That's why I came back over here to work out with [trainer] Jimmy McCrossin so I have a better feeling about everything.

It is a very important season for me next year and I just want to be at 100 percent."

That injury isn't likely to affect the trade, and Ducks doctors will soon examine Sbisa. Even if he needs surgery, it's unlikely he wouldn't be ready for the start of the season.

- - -

The NHL free agency period officially begins at 9 a.m. Pacific tomorrow, and while Anaheim's main intent is to make a deal with Scott Niedermayer, the Ducks have also made strides toward re-signing a few others. The Ducks made qualifying offers to restricted free agents James Wisniewski, Brett Festerling, Brian Salcido, Petri Kontiola and Petteri Wirtanen. That means the Ducks have the right to match any offer sheets extended by other teams starting tomorrow.

It hasn't been announced officially yet, they are also in the process of signing Erik Christensen to a one-year deal. Christensen had major shoulder surgery last month and probably won't be ready to go by training camp, but I liked the potential he showed in his brief time in Anaheim last season after coming over before the trade deadline. I'd be very interested to see what he might be able to do here over a full season.

The Ducks likely can't come anywhere near any of the big free agents that will officially become available tomorrow, though it will be very interesting to see what happens with the likes of Marian Hossa, the Sedin twins, Marian Gaborik, Jay Bouwmeester and others. Murray, for one, is keeping an eye on things this week. “We’ll see where we are after a couple of days of free agency,” he said. “I’m not going to do anything quickly or irrationally at this point. I don’t feel like I have to jump at anything. I kind of want to watch what happens for the next little while. Some teams have some situations, some money issues, I’m going to monitor pretty closely. I want to see how they deal with those.”

Francois Beauchemin is likely to have some lucrative offers dangled in front of him starting tomorrow, and while he might command too much for the Ducks to afford, they remain hopeful they can lock down fellow defenseman James Wisniewski. Meanwhile, they are still in talks with Todd Marchant, and hoping to come to an agreement with him soon.

- - -

Congrats to Bobby Ryan and Ryan Whitney for being among the 34 players invited to U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Orientation Camp, which is a step toward possibly making the team that will compete in Vancouver in February of 2010.

Although, lumping those two players together makes for some awkward headline writing. "Ryan and Whitney" or "Ryan, Whitney" sounds too much like Ryan Whitney.

Bobby and Whitney? Definitely not an option.

Updated June 29 at 12:15 p.m.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a weekend in late June where more things happened to one NHL team than what the Ducks went through last Friday and Saturday. When the confirmed return of the most popular player in the franchise's history is almost an afterthought, you know a lot has gone down.

It's hard to know where to start, but let's start with the two developments that require the least amount of commentary. Scott Niedermayer let Ducks boss Bob Murray know just before the draft that he intended to return to the team next season, and the next step for both Niedermayer and Murray is signing the Ducks captain to a new contract. On Saturday, Teemu Selanne not surprisingly followed suit, indicating that he too will come back to the team and fulfill the final year of his two-year deal. So, the Ducks have both key veterans back for 2009-10 and that is a very, very good thing.

Of course, sandwiched in between those major developments was a neutron bomb of a trade that saw the seemingly inevitable departure of Chris Pronger. And I don't think there is any doubt that trade was dramatically in favor of the Anaheim Ducks. And here's why:

First off, losing a Chris Pronger is never a good thing. He was a major reason the Ducks can call themselves Stanley Cup champs,. He's a tremendous defenseman, a big-time leader, a proven winner and a guy with a rocket of a slap shot that was a big reason Anaheim's power play has been so fearsome the last three seasons. Even though he wasn't at his best for the first half of this past season, he was one of the first guys you could point to (with his work both in the rink and in the locker room) when the Ducks made that dramatic run to get into the playoffs, then knocked off the Sharks and nearly took down the Red Wings.

Not surprisingly, Pronger did not want to leave Orange County, and he said he knew his days here were numbered when Niedermayer told him on the phone on Friday morning that he would be returning. Ducks fans will never forget what Pronger brought to this franchise in his three seasons here, both on and off the ice. And even though Pronger had his fun with reporters over the years (some of them taking it the wrong way), O.C. Register Ducks beat writer Dan Wood wrote a nice tribute upon his departure.

Said Pronger on Friday, “I can stand here with my head held high, tell everyone I played my best. I played my heart out and gave everything I had. I’ll do the same thing in Philly.”

It's hard to see him go, but the fact is -- especially when Niedermayer announced his return -- the Ducks were going to have a very hard time keeping Pronger and his salary. He is due to make $6.25 million next season, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent. It wasn't as if Bob Murray was actively shopping Pronger, but other teams knew the Ducks were in a position to trade him and the offers came pouring in. Finally Murray got one he couldn't refuse. 

“The offer Philly threw at me, it was the right thing to do for the organization no matter what Scott said,” Murray said."It was going to be very difficult to sign Chris going forward. Then if you lose him for nothing we couldn't do that, so when an offer like this comes along we listen."

To review: Pronger and forward prospect Ryan Dingle go to the Flyers for winger Joffrey Lupul, young defenseman Luca Sbisa, Philadelphia's first round pick this year, their first round pick next year and a conditional pick. And almost immediately, we were hearing that the scuttlebutt on the draft floor was that the Ducks unquestionably got the better of that deal. (There has been a more unsavory word bandied about on several fronts describing what the Ducks did to the Flyers, but I won't repeat it here.)

Even Flyers GM Paul Holmgren acknowledged, "It's a lot to give up, absolutely." He added, "Ask me a year from now if it's worth it."

In Lupul, the Ducks address their major need for secondary scoring and get back a guy who doesn't even turn 26 until September . He had 25 goals for the Flyers last season and had 28 (plus four in a single playoff game) in 2005-06, his last season with the Ducks before being traded to Edmonton in the deal for Pronger that offseason. Lupul has hung onto his Newport Beach home and spent summers there in the years after that trade that devastated him at the time. He was in that home when he heard the news he was traded back to Anaheim.

"It's just awesome," he said. "I hope to be here for a long time this time."

In Sbisa, the Ducks get a young defenseman who was Philly's first round pick last year and by all accounts has a promising future ahead of him. The 19-year-old who was born in Italy but raised in Switzerland played 39 games with the Flyers last season and he'll have a very good shot of making the Ducks roster in the fall.

“I’m really excited about Sbisa,” Murray said. “He can do everything, and he’s a guy who just goes out and plays. I know Philly was planning on having him on their team this year. My guys tell me he will play on our team this year, but he will ultimately determine that.”

And Lupul was incredibly high on Sbisa as well, calling him "a talent like I haven't seen in awhile. He stepped in as an 18-year-old defenseman and never looked out of place. At some points, he looks more than in place. He's very physical, very fast and just a natural. If he keeps developing the way he is, he'll be a No. 1 defenseman."

Lupul's a former first round (of the Ducks), Sbisa is a former first rounder and the Ducks got two more first round picks (this year and next year) from Philly, the first of which they put into another deal. They traded that 21st overall selection to Columbus for the Jackets' 26th and 37th picks, giving the Ducks a second round selection when they didn't have one previously (traded away in the '07 Brian Sutherby deal). The Ducks had already taken forward Peter Holland with their original 15th overall pick, a kid Murray said he had focused on way back when it looked like the Ducks might get a higher pick by missing the playoffs. "That tells you what we think about him,” Murray said.

With that 26th pick, they took Notre Dame-bound Kyle Palmieri of the U.S. national team and the next morning used that brand new 37th pick on defenseman Matt Clark of the OHL’s Brampton Battalion. Of course, we won't know just how good those guys are for at least a couple of years, but the fact is the Ducks built for the future by getting three players with the first 37 picks of the draft.

"We have some good, young assets now," Murray said. "As we go forward, if we need to move one of them, I feel like I have more bullets left in my gun. We were getting down to where there were no bullets left."

And Murray delivered a bit of an understatement when he said, "This was a good weekend for us."

I'm not just saying this because his office is about 100 feet from mine, but the job Bob Murray has done since taking over in November has been nothing short of amazing. That includes what he did over the weekend and at the trade deadline. And that's not just coming from me:

- Brian Burke himself called Murray "the star of the first day of the draft."
- Kevin Allen wrote in USA Today: The read on Murray's performance since taking over for Burke early last season is that he has done an impressive job of making over the team without entering a rebuilding mode.
- Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com listed the Ducks as one of the big winners on draft day and wrote: Murray achieved the almost impossible task of getting younger, cheaper and more explosive offensively. Yes, the Ducks will miss Pronger, but with Sbisa looking to step into a full-time NHL role and Scott Niedermayer returning to act as a mentor, the Ducks have positioned themselves nicely for next season.
- Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times wrote: The Ducks left no questions about their intent to remain among the league's elite while staying under a salary cap that will increase next season by $100,000, to $56.8 million. And she quote Kings GM Dean Lombardi, who said of the Pronger deal, "They got everything back that they gave up for him and a Stanley Cup," he said. "As a franchise, that's a heck of a use of an asset. That's an impressive deal."

Just one of many in the last four months by Murray, and with the possible departure of Francois Beauchemin and guys like Todd Marchant and James Wisniewski left to re-sign, he's not close to being done this summer.

Meanwhile, Selanne pretty much summed up the weekend with this line: “The message is clear. We want to win right now."

Anyone else ready for next season?

Updated June 27 at 9:05 a.m.

We probably saw this coming, but now it's official: Teemu Selanne is coming back to the Ducks next season.

You may commence breathing again.

Updated June 26 at 6:03 p.m.

Joffrey Lupul took part in a conference call with reporters from his summer (now permanent) home in Newport Beach. Here it is.

Updated June 26 at 4:21 p.m.

The Ducks have traded defenseman Chris Pronger to the Philadelphia Flyers for former Ducks winger Joffrey Lupul, Italnia defenseman (and last year first-round pick) Luca Sbisa, first-round draft picks this year and next year and a conditional third-round pick in 2010 or 2011. As much as we love Pronger, this is absolutely huge. The Ducks were bound to lose Pronger anyway, and I think they got a lot in return.

You'll recall that Lupul was traded by the Ducks in 2006 to Edmonton for Pronger. How often have two players been traded for each other twice?

Updated June 26 at 4:05 p.m.

Okay, I'm going to try and live blog the draft while watching on Versus in my office. You can follow along here.

Updated June 26 at 3:32 p.m.

Scotty's coming back.

More later.

Updated June 26 at 12:54 p.m.

Alright, enough is enough.

After today, no more mention of Scott Niedermayer's name in this space until he has made an official decision on whether he is coming back to play next year. The speculation, the waiting, the news that there is no news -- I'm tired of it. No more.

Okay, just a little more.

With the start of the NHL Entry Draft less than four hours away, all indications are that Bob Murray still hasn't heard from The Defenseman Who Shall Not Be Named. At least that was the case yesterday, when Murray told the O.C. Register, "   “I’ll know when I get to the draft. If I don’t, I’m going to be upset. I’ll hear from Scotty. He’s supposed to tell me. That’s all I know. Then I’ll call Teemu.”

Oh yeah, Teemu. Almost forgot about him in all of this.

Murray himself acknowledged that Ducks fans are feeling the frustration with what is becoming an annual routine when it comes to both those players.

“They’re getting tired of it," he said. "That’s for sure."

Yes, that is for sure.

Murray reportedly met with You-Know-Who's agent, Kevin Epp, last night and spoke directly to Kevin Epp's client. But apparently a definitive answer did not come out of it. If he does come back, but doesn't sign with Anaheim, there is word that among the teams that have interest are San Jose, Vancouver and Calgary.

With 27 apparently waiting until the last minute on this thing, here's a scenario I have fantasized when Murray steps to the podium to announce Anaheim's first selection in tonight's draft:

"With the 15th pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Anaheim Ducks select defenseman ... "

(Cell phone rings)

"Hello? Oh, hi Scotty. How's it going? The Hangover? No, haven't seen it yet, but I heard it's hilarious.
So, about next year, what are you ... I know, it was crazy to hear about Michael Jackson. I couldn't believe it. My favorite? I don't know, probably "Billie Jean" or "Thriller." Yeah, that was a really cool video. So have you made a decis ... I know, Farrah Fawcett on the same day. Yeah, really bizarre. So, I'm kind of busy right now, so have you made a decision about next year? Really? Oh, that's great news. Alright, gotta run. Talk to you soon."

(Puts phone in pocket)

"Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the Ducks select forward ..."

Or something like that.

Even though it might require his captain to make a decision even sooner, Murray acknowledged yesterday he might try to swing a deal to move up in today's first round, but said the likelihood of that is "about 10 percent."

“Everybody tries to move up." he added. "It’s whether a certain name is at a certain spot, and you decide it’s worth giving up an asset. We’ve identified a couple of players that if they’re around, it would be worth giving up an asset.”

Murray can right now afford to sleep in a little longer on Saturday morning, since they currently don't have a second round pick,  which they lost in the '07 trade for Brian Sutherby. Although, Murray also indicated he might want to make a deal to get a pick in that round.

Even though I'm not there this year, I'll be doing some blogging while watching the draft on Versus. So, log on starting at 4 p.m. Pacific if you're interested. Word around here is that there could be some interesting stuff to report in the next few hours.

- - -
While there was talk that the NHL might put some limits on fighting during this offseason, that doesn't look like it's going to happen. I ran into George Parros in our offices yesterday, and he said, "Thank God for that." Parros was part of the NHLPA meetings last week in Las Vegas that discussed many topics, including the possibility that so-called "staged fights" (dropping the gloves right off the faceoff) would be tagged with a 10-minute misconduct in addition to the normal five for fighting. Parros was among the players who made a recommendation to the NHL competition committee that they vote against the rule, and that's what happened yesterday in Montreal.

- - -

The other big news from the competition committee was the rejection of the "staged fighting" misconduct penalty for players who drop the gloves after the faceoff. The NHLPA rejected it, and now the NHL competition committee has done the same.

"It's dead as far as implementing it," said NHL VP Colin Campbell. "The managers may want to talk about it and discuss it again in September. If we do want to change it or implement a rule then we have to go back through the competition committee."

- - -

So when I chatted with Sergei Fedorov last week in Vegas on a walk toward the theatre for the NHL Awards and he told me that the reports that he might play in Russia next year were not true, clearly he was being straight with me.

The 39-year-old former Duck just signed a two-year deal with Russian club Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League yesterday.

- - -

It's just been reported that the NHL salary cap will rise slightly next year, a whopping $100,000, as it goes from $56.7 million per team to $56.8 million in 2009-10.

Great, now the Ducks won't have to trade anyone.

- - -

Speaking of The Hangover, the music our video guys used to do this very cool Power Players promo video to hype the upcoming tryouts reminds me of that movie (and its trailer). It also reminds me of cute girls in crop tops and spandex pants. Not sure why. 

Updated June 24 at 1:24 p.m.

It could very well be an interesting weekend for the Anaheim Ducks.

And no, I'm not talking about them drafting half a dozen guys you've probably never heard of.

The Ducks could be hearing about Scott Niedermayer on whether he's coming back for another season. And they could trade away a big name to make salary cap room for such a return.

Then again, none of those things could happen -- well, except for the drafting.

We've been through this routine enough times to know that no supposed deadline for Niedermayer (and Teemu Selanne, for that matter) is ever set in stone. Since the end of the Ducks' season, we've heard Niedermayer would let Bob Murray know his intentions by the Draft. Then that date became June 14. Then it became, according to Murray, by the time he left for Montreal for the Draft.

And we're still waiting...

And we could be still waiting even after this weekend, if Murray's latest comments are any indication. During an interview he did with the NHL Live radio show yesterday, Murray was asked if he expected to hear from Niedermayer during the draft weekend or before the free agency period begins July 1.

“Right in there,” Murray said. “Right in that time frame.”

There is also the possibility that Murray already knows what Niedermayer's plans are, and the details for a new contract -- and the repercussions that will have on the Ducks -- are still being worked out.

Also in that interview, Murray addressed what the Ducks need to do to get better, focusing on that lack of secondary scoring that cost them in the Detroit series. “There wasn’t a lot coming from anybody else except the power play,” Murray said. “We just didn’t have enough this year once Getzy got kind of banged up.”

Hear that, folks? "Banged up." So much for the flu.

Continued Murray, “We haven’t been the same since we lost Andy McDonald. I’ve got to be honest.”

Back to the Draft, where the Ducks will be picking 15th overall but for now don't have a second-round pick. And that second round pick has been passed around more times than a bong at a Grateful Dead concert. In November of 2007, the Ducks traded it to Washington for Brian Sutherby. Three months later, the Caps dealt it to Montreal for goalie Cristobal Huet. Then last February, the Canadiens dealt the pick to Atlanta in a deal that brought them Mathieu Schneider.

Yes, that Mathieu Schneider.
- - -
The Ducks blog on the O.C. Register website dug up a story beat writer Dan Wood wrote on the 2003 Draft, which netted the Ducks a guy named Getzlaf and a guy named Perry. The story includes comments on each player by a Ducks GM named Murray, but of course it was Bryan Murray, who is now the GM in Ottawa. Here's what Murray had to say about them at the time, with the Ducks just coming off the Final appearance against New Jersey: “The good thing about being in the position we’re in now is that these kids are going to get a little time to become men, develop their games and do it the proper way.”

I'd say that pretty much worked out. On Getzlaf, Wood wrote: Getzlaf might have slid down because of questions about his skating ability. Still, a strong physical presence, tremendous competitiveness and above-average hockey smarts make Getzlaf an intriguing prospect.

And Murray said of Perry, "He’s a big guy, not a great skater, but a really determined, high-skill guy. We thought for sure if he didn’t go in the first round, he would go first or second in the second round. We just didn’t want to miss the kid.”

The story is a reminder that when the Ducks saw that Perry was still available late in the first round, they traded their two picks (36th and 54th overall) in the second round to Dallas in order to jump up to 28th and nab Perry. Dallas used those picks on Vojtech Polak (currently playing in the Czech Republic) and B.J. Crombeen (claimed on waivers by St. Louis last November).

I wonder if the Stars regret that trade.

You know who else got traded in that draft? Mathieu Schneider, from the Kings to Detroit for, among others, Sean Avery.

Yes, that Mathieu Schneider. And yes, that Sean Avery (more on him later).

- - -

Bobby Ryan talks about his time in Vegas on the latest edition of Duck Cast. And despite being one of the few Ducks who has told me he reads this blog, he says that his favorite Ducks blogger is Lauren Conrad (who had a short and mostly fruitless stint as a celebrity blogger for the Ducks during the '08 playoffs).

Can't say I blame him, but come on.

- - -

The Chris Chelios era in Detroit is officially over, but the old man still wants to play. The 47-year-old Chelios was informed by the Red Wings that they would not re-sign him this summer, but Chelios has indicated he wants to hook on somewhere else. That would preferably be in the Eastern Conference, since the travel is easier. (My grandma hates to fly too.)

I'm not sure what the market looks like for a 47-year-old defenseman who had 0 points in 28 games last year, but I'm curious to find out.

- - -
Stacy's mom has got ...

... to be pretty unhappy right about now.

(Good luck getting that song out of your head, by the way.)

Model/actress Rachel Hunter was supposed to get married to Kings forward Jarret Stoll on Aug. 14, but Stoll out-of-nowhere called it off. According to the Daily Mail in London, Stoll emailed guests that the wedding was cancelled. We presume that this isn't how he broke the news to Hunter.

Also, according to the story:

The couple bought a £2.2 million house [just over $3 million] in Hermosa Beach last year and were hoping to have a child together soon after the wedding.

A friend of the model told The Sun: 'She is absolutely devastated. Everything was in place for their wedding - she had the venue, the designer dress, the guest list.

Yeah, that guest list presumably included names AND email addresses. 

Said the aforementioned friend, 'She has absolutely no idea why Jarret has done this. It sounds like it could be a classic case of cold feet. He is a fair bit younger than her.'

Cold feet? Hockey player? Ice? Get it?

Stoll, incidentally, is 27 (today, coincidentally) and Hunter is a phenomenal-looking 39. Something tells me she'll be okay. She has allegedly sought comfort from ex-husband Rod Stewart, whom she was married to for nine years. (And you never thought the name "Rod Stewart" would appear in a hockey blog. Unless, that is, we're describing the dancing lookalike who ends up on the video board at Ducks games from time to time.)

You'll also recall that Hunter also used to date Sean Avery, who had her in mind among his ex-girlfriends when he made the now-famous "sloppy seconds" remark. Looks like Avery has managed to bounce back himself. Honestly, how does he do it?

- - -

Ducks fandom is apparently spreading into France.

Earlier today I received an email from a friend and former Ducks staffer with a photo attached. Apparently his sister was on her way to a music festival in Paris when she ran across this guy, and she had to snap a photo.

Apparently French dudes with mullets who look like pirates love the Ducks.

Or, at least the Mighty Ducks.

Updated June 19 at 4:34 p.m.

After five hours or so on the road, we're finally back in OC -- or more to the point, back in the basement of Honda Center. I can't speak for the other guys in the group, but I definitely have a combination of two nights in Vegas and five hours in an RV stench emanating from my body. Great time to be in the office.

As long as we're back in Anaheim, might as well focus on some Ducks news. Scott Niedermayer has made a firm decision on whether or not he's coming back to the Ducks.

Okay, you know that's not true.

Scotty told the O.C. Register's Dan Wood that he will let Bob Murray know his intentions before next weekend's NHL Entry Draft. And here were the typically Scotty-like remarks Niedermayer made to Wood:

“It’s not an easy decision."

On retiring...

“I’ve thought about it before, last year and the year before. Maybe now more than last time, I realize I still do enjoy playing hockey, but there are other factors, as well. I’ll let Bob know maybe next week. Obviously, the draft is coming up.”

On maybe playing somewhere else ...

“I haven’t thought a lot about that. First, I need to get to the spot where I’m going to play or I’m not going to play. Am I considering other possibilities? I definitely haven’t thought a lot about it. It’s been good here, and our family is comfortable here.”

So, that doesn't really give us anything more concrete, but it's something. Barely something ... but something.

Meanwhile, Bob Murray commented on both Niedermayer's and Teemu Selanne's decisions. "I’ve talked to both of them, and I’m comfortable with our conversations,” Murray said. “They’re not going to leave me high and dry. We’re all aware the effect a couple of years ago had. I’ll know in plenty of time to do what I have to do.

“I’m comfortable I will have enough time to react. All you can do is have plans in your mind. If they play, you do this. We’ve talked it over, tried to play out every scenario. You can’t start until you have a starting point.”

It's that starting point we'll be waiting on over the next few days.

- - -

Dan Wood was busy yesterday, also talking to Bobby Ryan after the NHL Awards. Bobby called yesterday evening "surreal" and said, “Obviously, I’m in company with some incredible players, some incredible people. (Obviously he was thinking of me during that remark.) He added, "I’m getting a chance to kind of take it all in stride and enjoy it. Just being in the presence of some of the greatest hockey players in the world, getting a chance to kind of hang with those guys and talk about hockey was a lot of fun. The whole experience is something I won’t forget. Hopefully, in my career, I’ll get a chance to do it again.”

I'm trying to set up a phone interview with Bobby (kind of silly since we were just in the same place less than 24 hours ago) and when we get that done, I'll have it posted on the website.

- - -

Austin Knoblauch, who writes the Fabulous Forum blog for the L.A. Times website, had a recent piece in which he was critical of the league moving the NHL Awards from Toronto to Vegas and commented on the dire situation in Phoenix. But the reason I mention it is because he had a nice line about the Ducks. He said of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: I agree with his assertion that the league has a future in areas that haven't seen ice since the last Ice Age. The Ducks can be considered a poster child of NHL sun belt expansion -- they have a Stanley Cup, two finals appearances and a strong fan-base.

- - -


And speaking of that fan-base, reader Ryan sent me an email this morning that read in part:

I am several weeks into a volunteer trip to Nepal teaching English at a Buddhist monastery. I thought I'd also introduce them to a little of my culture as well.

Pretty sure that's the first email from Nepal I've ever gotten.


Updated June 19 at 12:18 p.m.

The drive back from Vegas is never as thrilling as the one to Vegas. The exciting anticipation of the drive there gives way to the dread of looking at five hours of driving where the final destination is the return to your everyday life.

That being said, we've still had plenty of excitement in the early part of this drive. This just in: Apparently the toilet in the women's bathroom at the Taco Bell in Primm isn't flushing. That's a shame.

It's a lot more businesslike on this drive back. No stops for photo ops and the Bobbyhead that sat on the dash on the drive out is now stuffed in our cameraman's backpack. Kind of sad, actually.

A little more than 12 hours ago, we were all at an awards show afterparty at a club in The Palms called Rain that had a fantastic buffet and several bars. Seriously, is there anything better in the world than free drinks? I mean anything?

During the party we ran into the Brian Burke and said our hellos. Apparently, he's now the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Glad to see he landed on his feet. Anyway, after a couple minutes of chatting, he convinced three of us to leave the Ducks and come to Toronto.

Kidding, by the way.

Anyway, the rest of the night was a surreal experience of seeing various NHLers (some famous, some not so much) milling around with cocktails in their hand and pretty girls on their arm. Something tells me the league didn't get this same type of player turnout when this thing was in Toronto.

We continue down the road, destination Anaheim, and it's hard to believe I'll be behind my desk in a few hours. Thank goodness it's jeans day at work. Let's hope it's flip flops day as well.

Updated June 18 at 6:10 p.m.

I’m reporting from the press room for the NHL Awards, set up in one of the conference rooms at The Palms, not far from the Pearl Theater, where the show is being held. It doesn’t have quite the same mystique of actually being in the theatre for the awards. Instead of a bunch of hockey players and their wives dressed in formalwear sitting in a beautiful theatre, it’s a bunch of hockey writers tapping away at their keyboards in a room typically reserved for corporate Power Point presentations.

Not sure how this happened, but I’m in Las Vegas and somehow I’m sitting in front of my laptop in a hotel conference room, watching an awards show on TV even though it’s going on about 500 yards from me. And the most ironic thing about it, I CHOSE TO DO THIS.

Here’s a blow-by-blow account of the night:

4:31 p.m. - The show opens with a monologue from hockey fan and one of my favorite actors, Denis Leary. That leads into a musical performance from the highly in-demand Chaka Khan and Robin Thicke. Unfortunately, I missed this part of the show (long story) so I have to take a fellow writer’s word for it.

4:38 p.m. – Just before they announce the winner of the Calder Trophy, a press release is handed around the press room announcing Steve Mason the winner. Yeah, I know there wasn’t much suspense for this one, but that really took away from it.

4:44 p.m. – Alex Ovechkin wins the Lester B. Pearson Award, presented annually to the "most outstanding player" in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players' Association. Not sure why we have that AND the Hart Trophy, but we do. He congratulates the Penguins on winning the Stanley Cup and then wipes the sweat from his brow.

4:49 p.m. – Pavel Datsyuk is awarded the Selke Award and apologizes for his English before pulling out some notes for his acceptance speech. He starts with “Hello, everybody, which gets a good laugh.” Yeah, the English not so good.

4:55 p.m. – Steve Sullivan of the Predators wins the Masterton Trophy, given to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” Sullivan missed almost two full years following a back injury suffered in February 2007. Thankfully one of the finalists, Chris Chelios, didn’t win it. Not sure the “sportsmanship” description fits him after the way he handled the post-series handshake against the Ducks in 2007.

4:58 – Ben Roethlisberger is showed on camera in front of a full Mellon Arena, shot during the playoffs, congratulating all of the winners. Okay. Giant head on that Ben Roethlisberger. I’m also amazed that the word “Roethlisberger” isn’t flagged by Microsoft Word as a possible spelling error. For the record, both “Pavel” and Datsyuk” are. That shows how much more popular the NFL is than the NHL.

5:00 – Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez win the Jennings Trophy given to the “goaltender(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against.” J.S. Giguere was actually the runner-up for this award in 2008. How long ago does that seem right now? Thomas finishes the first half of the speech, thanking his wife of kids, and just before giving way to Fernandez, he says, “Want me to thank your wife, Manny?” Gets a good laugh.

5:04 – Pavel Datsyuk wins the Lady Byng for the fourth straight year, which is given to “the player judged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Datsyuk uncomfortably gets up in front of the podium again and says through his thick accent, “I’m a little more confident this time.”

5:08 p.m. – This thing is zooming by. If only the Oscars went this fast.

5:10 p.m. – Presenter Glenn Anderson makes a joke that he wasn’t sure this was the NHL Awards. “I thought we were down the street at the Russian Awards,” he cracks, commenting on the presence of winners Datsyuk and Ovechkin. The joke bombs.

5:11 p.m. – Oilers winger Ethan Moreau wins the King Clancy Trophy given to the player who … ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

5:12 p.m. – Sorry, dozed off there for a little bit. How long was I out?

5:14 p.m. – Jeremy Roenick stumbles over his words presenting the inaugural Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav award. He stops and says, “Let me start that over” and then says, “Many of you know I’m usually pretty good behind a mic.” If you say so.

5:15 p.m. – Roberto Luongo wins the Fan Fav award and as soon as he steps to the podium, he gets booed. Oh wait, they were saying “Luuuuu.” Luongo joins Nick Lidstrom among the vaunted group of NHL players you’re surprised doesn’t have an accent.

5:16 p.m. – There is a quick announcement that Rick Nash of the Blue Jackets wins the NHL Foundation Award for his charity work, but he’s overseas and not there to accept. Think he’s overseas doing charity work? Neither do I.

5:17 p.m. – Roenick is actually serving as a host of this thing, and he’s doing a nice job, despite his unfortunate choice of sparkling black shirt under black suit. He introduces another musical number by saying, “One of my favorites – Chaka Khan.” Sure she is, Jeremy. I want to know at what point in the planning for this thing did a league executive stand up and say, “You know what this show needs? Chaka Khan.”

5:24 p.m. – Actor William Fichtner, of “Prison Break” and a long list of movies, is everywhere when it comes to hockey, including some Ducks games. He presents the Vezina Trophy with Tony Esposito.

5:26 p.m. – Tim Thomas takes the Vezina Trophy and seems a little broken up during his speech, saying “it’s humbling to be mentioned in the same sentence” as the other guys who have won it. “I was always worried more about just making a roster than getting the Vezina.” Nicely put. I happen to like Tim Thomas. Steve Mason, by the way, finished second in the running for the award. No Ducks got a vote, dammit.

5:29 p.m. – Kevin Smith delivers a taped message to the people attending the show, saying he regrets he can’t be there because he’s on the east coast filming a movie called “A Couple of Dicks.” Oh good lord. He says he’d like to deliver a message in his style, so he starts with “You filthy…” before he’s cut off by a grey screen that says, “The NHL Deems This Content Inappropriate.” A good bit.

5:31 p.m. – The video montage for the Jack Adams Award (coach of the year) shows nominee Todd McLellan of the Sharks with a sound bite from a game in which the announcer says, “Todd McLellan’s debut as an NHL coach…” The announcer? Johnny Ahlers of the Ducks.

5:32 p.m. – Claude Julien of the Bruins wins the Adams over Andy Murray of the Blues. Somehow Dan Bylsma of the Pens gets only two third-place votes. I’m thinking this thing needs to be voted on after the playoffs. On that same note, no votes for Randy Carlyle.

5:36 – Mark Messier, one of the slickest-looking bald men in sports history gives the Mark Messier Leadership Award to Jarome Iginla of the Flames. Well-deserved for one of the coolest dudes in the NHL, even though he did get pummeled by Boom Boom Beauchemin in ‘06. He says, “God willing, soon it will be our turn to hoist the greatest prize in sports for our city.” Nah, probably not.

5:38 – Just before commercial, there is a promo for the NHL 2K10 video game, which has Alex Ovechkin on its cover. He gets on the screen and says, “NHL 2K10 is a party. That’s why I’m on the cover.” Okay.

5:42 – Former NHLer Brian Leetch and Kevin Connolly of the greatest show in the world, “Entourage,” present the Norris Trophy given to the league’s best defenseman. Surprisingly enough, it goes to Zdeno Chara, breaking Nicklas Lidstrom’s streak of, oh, about  24 in a row. Lidstrom is shown in the crowd looking amused during Chara's speech, and Mike Green is also shown on camera wearing a tux and an awful haircut. I believe he's the only guy in the audience going that formal. Unfortunately, his hair had other ideas. Chara finishes his speech by saying, “I was never supposed to make it past juniors. I was cut by every team” and lets the young players out there know to never give up hope. I like it. Scott Niedermayer, incidentally, finishes 10th in the voting with (fittingly) 27 points. Maybe he'll win it next year. You hear that, Scotty? Next year.

5:47 p.m. – Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin are brought up to the stage as winners of the Art Ross Trophy (top scorer) and Maurice Richard Trophy (top goal scorer). Malkin nervously says something like, “Pardon my English or two” and struggles through his speech. Ovechkin steps up for his turn and jokes, “You think your English is better than Pavel Datsyuk’s English?” Datsyuk is shown in the crowd and doesn’t look all that amused.

5:50 p.m. – Bettman steps up to the podium and does not get booed. Nice. He presents the Lifetime Achievement Award to Jean Beliveau, who won 10 Stanley Cups as a player with the Canadiens and seven more as an executive in Montreal. Good God. Heidi Androl of Kings Vision and NHL.com is shown in the audience among the crowd standing and clapping. Still hot. Saw her earlier on the red carpet and I’m just now getting over it.  

5:51 p.m. – Man there are a lot of awards in this thing. I haven’t seen this many awards handed out since my Little League baseball team gave trophies to every player.

6:01 p.m. – Only at the NHL Awards could the league’s MVP trophy be presented by a former winner, Sergei Fedorov, and … Michael Buble? I actually walked over to the show with Sergei, reminding him that we met briefly when he was a Duck. I asked him if he’s playing in Russia next season, as has been widely reported, and he said he had no idea where that came from. “But I’ve enjoyed reading those stories,” he said.

6:02 p.m. – Fedorov says, “And the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy is …” and Buble says, “Please say me, please say me.” But no, it’s Ovechkin! He gives some love to fellow nominees Datsyuk and “Geno” (Malkin), both fellow Russians. And he says how much he loves playing in Washington. Ryan Getzlaf, incidentally, finished 15th in the voting with one third-place vote and one fourth-place vote. 

6:04 p.m. – Buble walks off the stage down some steps with a mic in his hand, looking into the camera and signing off on this year’s show. He then goes through the crowd shaking hands as the credits roll. Inexplicably, hardly anyone leaves their seats right away. Don’t they know there is a casino and bars right outside?

I certainly do. I’m out of here.

Updated June 18 at 2:44 p.m.

Not a lot to report from Vegas this afternoon, unless you find lounging by the pool eating turkey wraps and drinking margaritas interesting. (I know I do.)

We did find it humorous that Evgeni Malkin was sunbathing poolside while wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins hat. Just seemed odd. But talk about team pride.

I've got a couple of O.C. Register items I want to pass on. Dan Wood reports that the Ducks are very close to re-signing Todd Marchant, which is very good news for Ducks fans. Word is that Marchant very much wants to stay in Anaheim (possibly for even past when his career ends) and he's willing to take a little less than he made the past few seasons to do that.

Wood also has an interesting take on the ridiculous Chris Pronger trade rumor that is so poignant I wish I wrote it myself.

Okay, off to the NHL Awards Red Carpet and then the actual show, which I will report on later today. Watch the Red Carpet Show live starting in about 10 minutes by clicking here.

Updated June 18 at 10:47 a.m.

I'm still recovering from quite an eventful night last night at the Palms that began with a steak dinner and ended with McDonald's around 3 a.m. If only drinking gave me the urge to exercise rather than eat junk food, I think my body would look a whole lot differently. 

Nevertheless, it was a fun night that included several Ducks staffers, people representing Ducks sponsors and even a couple of Ducks players -- Chris Pronger and George Parros. Parros was wearing a cast on his right hand after having surgery a week or so ago. All I could think was how much a punch from him would hurt now. Actually, it would probably hurt him too. Pronger, meanwhile, definitely has the mingling thing down pat, as he was going from table to table saying hello, shaking hands, making jokes and generally towering over people. We even got a visit in our private dining room from Gary Bettman, who gave a nice quick talk to the group and appeared genuinely impressed by the Ducks gathering.

After dinner I managed to dump a few bucks at the blackjack and craps tables, proving that not everything on this trip is going my way.

Bettman is hardly the only NHL guy I've seen in the past 24 hours. Last night I saw Alex Ovechkin and his boys waiting for a table. He playfully bugged one of the hostesses about the wait, and she dismissed him as if he wasn't the reigning league MVP. This morning I got into the elevator to find Pavel Datsyuk (who is up for the Hart Trophy tonight) already in there, and I thought of a few things I could have said to him:

- "Good luck tonight."
- "Hey Pavel, you're gonna get it."
- "Congrats on almost beating the Penguins."
- "Thanks for not showing up in the Ducks series."

Instead, I said nothing.

Actually, that's not true. When he said in a thick Russian accent, "You going to the lobby?" I said, "No, the pool." Pretty meaningful exchange for the both of us, I think.

Then later at the pool, one of our female Ducks staffers pointed at a guy on a lounge chair and said, "Is that Sidney Crosby?"

It was not. It was actually Evgeni Malkin. Close.

I've had some feedback from emailers on who the Bobbyhead actually looks like. Suggestions have included Paul Kariya, Jeremy Roenick, Mario Lemieux and even Scarlett Johansson (not so sure about that one). One thing we can agree on -- not Bobby.

More later.

Updated June 17 at 5:50 p.m.

We've arrived at The Palms, where all the activities will be taking place over the next two days, including tomorrow night's NHL Awards. 

You know you're in Vegas for the NHL Awards when you get off the elevator and there is Jarome Iginla, and the only thing you can think to do is give him a half-nod and coolly say, "What's up, bud." Real impressive, Brady.

Some of the rooms in the tower where a lot of us are staying have beautiful views of the Strip. Mine? I'm overlooking some storage facilities, a few warehouses a couple of condo developments and what looks to be a place where school buses are kept. Well, you can't have everything.

Incidentally, I just learned that I did not win the HockeyBarn.com Hockey Writer of the Year award. No surprise, it went to Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy. Here is the video to prove it.

I'll drown my sorrows at the cocktail hour and dinner I'm heading out to right now, where Chris Pronger and George Parros will be in attendance, in addition to some NHL people, like The Commish. For the sake of keeping my job, this will be the last blog post of the day. Back for more in the morning, where I'm sure to have news of a much more meaningful interaction with Mr. Iginla.

Updated June 17 at 4:12 p.m.

Just arrived on the Strip after what felt like a shockingly short drive. In retrospect, five hours in an RV with multiple stops for food and photo ops is pretty damn good.

One of those photo ops included a sooner-than-normal exit off the highway onto Las Vegas Boulevard so we could get this shot of the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign.

As I write this, we're rolling down the Strip and it occurred to me that a giant RV painted in Ducks colors probably doesn't get a second look in these parts. Vegas on a Wednesday feels kind of weird, but I'm sure we'll adjust.

Frenchie is trying to give a commentary on our arrival for the video, but unfortunately his play-by-play doesn't have the thrill you might expect. Not sure that will survive the cutting room.

As we roll down the Strip -- Mandalay, MGM Grand, the water show at Bellagio, Caesar's, a giant truck next to us covered by an ad with three nude women shielded only by a single stripe that reads "Hot Babes Direct to You." God, I love this town.

We'll arrive at The Palms in minutes.

More later.

Updated June 17 at 3:36 p.m.

The stop in Baker that nearly every traveler driving from SoCal to Vegas (and back) makes, produced a few couple of photo ops. We got the Bobbyhead posing in front of the so-called World's Largest Thermometer -- which read 92 degrees, but it felt at least 40 degrees hotter. We got Bobby standing in the hand of the giant Big Boy statue in front of that diner.

(I'm still trying to figure out who the doll actually looks like, since it definitely ain't Bobby. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.) 

Just before taking off, Frenchie and Gabe went inside for a bathroom break. When they came back, Frenchie announced, "This trip just got a whole lot better." I expected to see him holding something like a stray $500 chip from Caesar's Palace. Instead, he had a box containing a Big Boy bobblehead, which we promptly posed for a photo next to our Bobby.

(Note to Ducks accounting department: If you see a $10 charge from Big Boy on Kent French's expense report, you might want to red flag it.)

Anyway, here are some photos below:

Updated June 17 at 2:29 p.m.

I was all set to write about how boring the drive was going until Kent and our camera guy, Gabe, decided to pull off the side of the road and take some exterior shots of the RV rolling down the highway.

But instead of doing it at a rest stop, they decided to stage the shot RIGHT ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD with cars whizzing past us as Gabe ran up ahead of us in 100-degree heat to get the shot as we rolled by (that's him on the right). You can see the reflection of the Bobby bobblehead perched on the dash.

The poor guy had to trudge through the dirt in the heat to catch up to us, since Frenchie didn't do a good job slowing down as we passed his camera shot. Gabe then took some shots of the Bobby bobblehead, perched on the asphalt gazing into the desert. Somehow he's going to make that look artsy in the editing room.

Oddly enough, as Gabe was shooting, I found a full can of Bud Light lying in the dirt, which boiled at about 800 degrees as I picked it up. It's like when you see one shoe on the side of the road and think, How in the heck did that get there? I resisted the urge to take it with us. There will be plenty of beer at the end of this road.

Between pulling off and getting back on the highway barely in front of a charging semi truck, I'd say we nearly died, oh, no less than 38 times. I had to decide which of Frenchie's F-bombs leaned toward the "Oh, this is inconvenient" variety or more toward, "I think we're gonna die."

"Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake is blaring from the radio, conjuring memories of a then-hot Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a car in the video. Ah, memories.

We're just about three hours into this drive, delayed by a stop at Baja Fresh where Gabe and I inexplicably ate standing up in the moving RV, leaning over the "kitchen" counter. Not sure why we did that. Maybe because we can.

Just passed Zzyzx Road, also the title of the lowest-grossing movie of all time (look it up). More later as we get closer to Baker, Calif., and that giant thermometer. Dare to dream.

Updated June 17 at 11:31 a.m.

Kind of a last-minute decision (very last-minute), but I'm on my way with three Ducks staffers -- local celebrity Kent French, a Ducks cameraman and a Ducks PR man -- to Vegas to attend the NHL Awards tomorrow night.

We're traveling in the Ducks RV, which offers a little more room than the Ducks Honda Pilot we took on the caravan to San Jose. We have a sink, fridge, bathroom (which apparently has never been used and is holding our luggage) and plenty of leg room. Frenchie is driving the RV (for the first time in his life) and before we even got out of the Honda Center parking lot, bags came spilling out of the bathroom (we thought the door was closed). Off to a heck of a start. I'm guessing we get there in approximately 14 hours at this rate.

Bobby Ryan, who will be at the event as a Calder Trophy nominee, is not traveling with us, by the way. Apparently, he'll meet us there. But he's sort of with us in a way. A fan named Casey had promised to give me a Bobby Ryan Iowa Chops bobblehead, since she had accidentally ordered two from Ebay. She delivered it in person this morning and caught me just before we left in the RV. It looks absolutely nothing like Bobby, but we've decided it's a nice mascot for the trip.

I'll be posting updates throughout the trip, so stay tuned for that.

Vegas, baby. Vegas.

Updated June 15 at 3:03 p.m.

The Ducks held their annual Select-a-Seat yesterday, cramming what is normally a two- or three-day event into one Sunday. Ducks executives Tim Ryan and Bob Murray gave essentially the same speech to each of the 16 groups that came through the arena every half hour, and here was the gist of it. Or, at least, here was what I heard during one of the 16 speeches:

From Tim Ryan:

- Each of the seats in Honda Center are in the process of being re-padded and re-upholstered, with the Club level already finished, the 200 level likely finished by the beginning of next season and the 400 level probably in midseason. Best of all, cupholders are being added to each seat.

From Bob Murray:

- Jonas Hiller and J.S. Giguere are still considered 1A and 1B as Ducks goaltenders. And about Giguere, he said, "Jiggy had a rough year with everything going on around him. I know he's going to bounce back, no matter what happens."

- The Ducks are in much better shape as far as impending free agents than they were before the trade deadline, especially with young defensemen like Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski (whom he hopes to re-sign).

- Scott Niedermayer promised he would let Murray know his decision about next season before Murray leaves for the draft, which is on Sunday the 21st.

- "I told Teemu to call me before he left for Finland for the summer," Murray said, then smiled and added, "and he actually did." Murray said he and Teemu talked about their golf games, "and we didn't talk about business until the end. He said he'd call me again next Sunday."

- Murray and Francois Beauchemin had a long talk after the season ended and Murray feels he "has earned the right" to explore free agency. Murray hopes Beauchemin might offer the Ducks a hometown discount, "but I don't know."

- While he feels the Ducks have three of the best forwards in hockey (Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan) up front, getting more secondary scoring is a huge priority this summer. That lack of secondary scoring was the single-biggest reason he could see for the Ducks' loss to Detroit. Murray even cited the trade of Andy McDonald in the middle of 2007-08 as a major blow to that effort. "We need someone to play with Teemu, if he plays next season," Murray said. "And we somehow need to make a move to get that."

- Some fan asked about the possibility of the Ducks getting Dany Heatley (who has asked for a trade out of Ottawa) and he said that wasn't possible financially. Another fan asked about possibly signing impending free agent Marian Hossa and Murray also said there was no way. "Good," yelled out one fan, which got a laugh.

- The Ducks are currently looking for a new home for their AHL affiliate, but the chances are remote they will find one by next season. That means the Ducks minor leaguers might have to be spread out around as many as four teams. Having just one affiliate by next summer is more realistic.

- Francois Allaire had indicated some time ago, when Brian Burke was still here, that he wouldn't come back to Anaheim once his contract expired, since it was too far for him to travel constantly. The Ducks are looking at a handful of other goalie coaches and will meet with a few at the draft.

- Todd Marchant has been offered a contract and Murray expects to hear back sometime in the next week or so.

- The Chris-Pronger-to-the-Kings trade rumor was complete bunk.

- - -
Well, the Red Wings couldn't quite find a way to remain classy in defeat, as evidenced by the sour grapes relating to the postgame handshake following the Penguins' victory in Game 7. The Wings were waiting for the Pens to wrap up the celebration of their shocking victory to take part in the traditional handshake, and a number of them decided they waited long enough. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom, alternate captain Kris Draper and about half the team finally gave up and headed to the locker room. The other half of the team patiently stayed on the ice and shook hands with the Pens, including coach Mike Babcock and goalie Chris Osgood.

A ticked-off Draper told the Associated Press, "Nick was waiting and waiting, and Crosby didn't come over to shake his hand. That's ridiculous, especially as their captain, and make sure you write that I said that."

Okay, bud.

Crosby, in addition to celebrating with his teammates, was delayed by several live TV interviews, and had this reaction to Draper's comments. "I had no intentions of trying to skip guys and not shake their hands," he said. "I think that was a pretty unreasonable comment. The guys I shook their hands with, they realized I made the attempt. If I could shake half their team's hands, I'm sure the other half wasn't too far behind. I don't know what happened there."

He later added, "I have no regrets. I've been on both sides of it, and it's not fun being on the losing end. But it doesn't change anything. You still shake hands no matter what."

And, "I just won the Stanley Cup, and I think I have the right to celebrate with my teammates. On their side of things, I understand if they don't want to wait around."

Gee, Wings, really sorry that Sid and the rest of the Penguins couldn't take time out from celebrating their first Stanley Cup -- and an improbable one at that -- to get over and shake your hands sooner. Way to ruin a good moment with your bitterness. And let's not forget that Chris Chelios headed to the locker room rather than shaking the Ducks' hands after the conference final in '07.

I believe being a classy organization means being classy in defeat as well as victory. Yet another reason to be glad the Penguins took that Cup.

Speaking of that, maybe the Pens should be writing a thank-you note with an Anaheim address on the envelope. Said Babcock about the Final, "I thought we looked out of gas pretty much all series. I thought we competed and I thought we tried, but I never thought we got to the level we'd have liked to."

I'd like to think our team had a little something to do with that.


Updated June 13 at 12:48 p.m.


That's what I and a few co-worker friends yelled almost simultaneously as we rose from our chairs in a sports bar near our office and absent-mindedly stepped closer to the large TV to get a closer look. The shock of the last-second shot on goal, followed by Marc-Andre Fleury's desperation diving save, followed by the realization that the Pittsburgh Penguins had somehow beaten the hated Detroit Red Wings was almost too much to bear. And it was even more surreal that we were soon feverishly high-fiving each other with looks of astonishment on our faces, celebrating madly for a team that isn't even our own.

An instant later, the Penguins rushed from their positions on the ice and off the bench to mob Fleury, forming a celebratory cluster that looked strikingly familiar to something we all witnessed in person two years ago. And NBC's shot of a dejected Marian Hossa, sitting on the bench and gazing out at his former teammates celebrating a championship -- his plan to leave them to chase a Cup having gone up in smoke -- was absolutely priceless.

And as the Penguins continued to mob each other and each took turns skating the Cup on the Joe Louis Arena ice, I kept thinking how lucky we were that our team won that thing at home. Watching that celebration on TV, seeing the joy on those boys' faces, thinking of just how much it meant to their fans, you know what I kept thinking? Man, I want another one of those.

I quietly said that very thing to one of my friends standing right next to me, the guy who has a picture in his office of him and his brother (also a Ducks staffer)  with two-month-old beards and huge grins on their faces, holding the Cup over their heads on the night of June 6, 2007. He slowly nodded his head while still staring at the TV. "Oh yeah," he said. "Me too."

I was up a little early this morning and I sat up in bed and flipped on the TV. Just by coincidence, I noticed my DVR had recorded an NHL Network replay of Game 5, Ducks vs. Senators. I fast-forwarded to the very end of the game, an ending I've watched probably a hundred times. Chris Pronger skates out of the corner with the puck as the last few seconds tick down, NBC announcer Doc Emrick yells "the Anaheim Ducks are Stanley Cup champions!" and Getzlaf and Perry jump on Giguere. Streamers fall from the sky, the crowd goes ballistic, the music from "Rocky" blares from the rafters and the players all jump on one another -- a scene that looked exactly like the one last night, just with different uniforms. I fast-forwarded even more to when Scott  Niedermayer takes the Cup and hands it to his brother, who hands it to Pronger, who hands it to Teemu Selanne and on down the line. I skipped ahead a little more to when Pierre Maguire is attempting to interview Selanne on the ice, but Selanne is crying and hugging his wife and can hardly speak. Finally, he overcomes the emotion to get the words out.

"What an unbelievable feeling," he says.

Let's just say it got a little dusty in the room.

Only three months till training camp.

Updated June 12 at 3:57 p.m.

Try as I might, I just can't see it happening tonight.

I can't see the Pittsburgh Penguins pulling out a Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena, a place they haven't even come close to winning in during this series.

But oh, would I love for it to happen. And not just because I like the Red Wings about as much as I like stomach flu. Honestly, is there anyone outside of the die-hard Detroit fans that actually want the Wings to win this thing?

I'm also pulling for the Pens because I get some thrill out of the possibility that Girl's-Name Hossa could have his little strategy of signing with the Wings to win a Cup blow up in his face. And by the team he jilted, no less.

Speaking of that, I'm loving this photo. Who would have thought that the fact that two large men are inexplicably wearing boas around their necks would be the second-funniest thing about it?

But do the Penguins have enough to make it happen tonight? Maybe Marc-Andre Fleury can overcome his road woes and ride the confidence from his game-saving antics in Game 6. Maybe Sidney Crosby can bust out with a big game, after scoring only a goal and three points in this series. Maybe the Pens can finally stopped looking intimidated by The Joe.

And maybe coach (and former Duck) Dan Bylsma's burrito eating will actually pay off.

Let me explain. Bylsma has a tradition at home of eating a pregame burrito from a restaurant near Mellon Arena called Qdoba. When he eats said burrito before games, the Penguins are apparently 21-1. And just before leaving for Detroit yesterday, Bylsma stopped by the restaurant and had them pack a burrito on ice for him to pack on the trip.

So Bylsma is eating an Ancho Chile Pork BBQ Burrito, made with a mix of hot and mild salsa plus cheese, that is a day old and has traveled almost 300 miles. Something tells me the Detroit power play won't be Bylsma's biggest concern as he stands behind the bench tonight.

Longtime Ducks fans will remember that Bylsma has been through a Game 7 before, when his Ducks lost to New Jersey in the '03 Final. He reflected on that yesterday when he said, "That's the agony and the beautiful thing of sport, that we play a game and we play it for some great reasons -- to win a Cup, to win a trophy, to be the best. When you don't get it, it's painful. And when you get it, it's glorious, and you get a lot of good pictures. You take the bad ones if you don't win and you put them in a basement in a box somewhere. And we're looking for one we can hang on the wall."

But no matter who wins this thing -- and no matter how Disco Dan's digestive tract behaves -- this should be a special one tonight. Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final is unlike anything in sports. And overtime (heck, three overtimes) would make it even better. There's only one problem, and I get this same sensation when the confetti falls from the sky at the Super Bowl or the last present is opened on Christmas day. After this one is over, no more hockey for four months. And all we have to lean on for the rest of the summer are the signings, the will-he-come-back-or-won't-he chatter, the trades and the rumors of such trades (though those are kind of fun, aren't they?).

So, let's savor this one tonight. And let's hope some new blood gets their hands on that Cup.

- - -

By the way, drop everything and see "The Hangover." Just phenomenal.

Updated June 12 at 1:56 p.m.

For the record, the rumors flying around that the Ducks have traded Chris Pronger to the Kings for young defenseman Jack Johnson and L.A.'s first round pick (fifth overall) in this year's draft are completely and utterly false. And that fact that some websites (which I won't mention) are already reporting it as a done deal is laughable. And not just because teams aren't even allowed to make trades until the Stanley Cup Final is over.

Again, just a rumor. Ignore it.

Updated June 11 at 3:26 p.m.

Yeah, it sucks, but it's not the end of the world.

Yesterday's announcement that longtime goalie consultant Francois Allaire is heading to Toronto after 13 years with the Ducks was a blow to the franchise, no question about it. After all, Allaire is widely considered the best goaltending coach in the world, a master of the butterfly technique who has molded netminders from Patrick Roy to J.S. Giguere to Jonas Hiller. Ever notice that Giguere and Hiller's biggest saves are from anticipating where the puck was going to go, rather than making an acrobatic move to stop it? That's Allaire's influence.

Undoubtedly, Giguere and Hiller wouldn't have had the impact on the Ducks that they have had without Allaire's mentoring, and that's a testament to his impact as a teacher. But that's also precisely why his exit shouldn't be seen as doomsday in Anaheim, as many fans have portrayed it (I'm looking at you, message boarders). The skills that Giguere and Hiller have developed under Allaire's watchful eye aren't going anywhere. Granted, it was nice to have Allaire honing those skills, but the distance between Anaheim and his home in Montreal only allowed him to do so on a part-time basis. In fact, that distance is one of the reasons Allaire elected to leave Anaheim for Toronto in the first place.

Allaire has two teenage children, and had indicated for some time he was open to opportunities in the east to cut down on his travel and time away from family. He sought and was granted permission from the Ducks to pursue other opportunities, and when Brian Burke came calling in Toronto, Allaire made the move.

"With teenagers, I felt I had to be a little bit closer to my family," Allaire said. "I'm really excited to get another chance in the NHL to prove myself and hopefully win a Stanley Cup with the Leafs."

Yeah, that's not going to happen, but it is a nice sentiment.

And there was this quote from Burke in a prepared statement: "I would like to thank the Anaheim organization for making François available to us.”

Okay, that one stung a little bit.

But we wish Francois -- one of the true nice guys in the organization -- the best of luck. With a stable of goalies that includes Vesa Toskala and Justin Pogge, he's going to need it.

So where does this leave the Ducks? Sure, Allaire will be missed, but just like with Burke's exit last November, we mourn the loss, we appreciate all that he has brought to this organization, but we move on.

- - -

Not long after the Dallas Stars fired head coach Dave Tippett, new GM Joe Nieuwendyk tapped Marc Crawford to be their head coach. Crawford has had a nice run as an NHL head man, but Ducks fans might remember him most recently as the guy leading a crappy Kings team for two seasons before being let go last summer. Actually, it was exactly a year ago yesterday he was deemed not good enough for the Kings. The 48-year-old spent last season as an analyst for Hockey Night in Canada.

"When you watch the game from on high for a year it really is a unique perspective, and for me it was very refreshing, [but] for me I'm very anxious to get behind the bench where the emotion is a little bit more fueled," Crawford said. It's especially fueled for him personally when he sees a potential too many men on the ice penalty by the opposing team.

Meanwhile, Tippett took the firing in stride, telling a Dallas writer, "It's just what you sign up for as a coach, and I don't think you can ever let it get to you. In this business, you have to focus on the job at hand and do it to the best of your ability. Then, if you are moved on, you have to see that as an opportunity. When one door closes, another one opens.''

Those doors could be in places like Minnesota, New Jersey or Calgary, all of which have head coaching vacancies right now. I'm sure they wouldn't mind taking a look at a guy who is one of only seven coaches to register back-to-back 50-win seasons and took the Stars to the conference final last year. Oddly enough, that second 50-win season (in 2006-07) left the Stars just third in the Pacific Division, behind the Ducks and San Jose Sharks. The Ducks would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year.

See, any opportunity to slip that in I jump on.

- - -

Well, Ducks fans, (oops) you did it again. Your online campaigning has paid off. I'm proud to announce that I've been selected as one of the three Writer of the Year finalists in the HockeyBarn.com 2009 Hockey New Media Awards competition. The other two nominees are Mike Halford & Jason Brough from the Kurten Blog in Western Canada and Greg Wyshynski (who deserves to win) from the Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo! Sports.

The winners will be announced from Las Vegas on June 17 by Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson. The Writer of the Year winner will receive a ticket to attend the 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony with Glenn Anderson on November 9, 2009. Unfortunately, they're choosing the winners, so you can't vote this time.

The funniest part is that HockeyBarn.com has a photo collage on their home page that hypes the competition. And for some reason I'm front and center, a picture of me holding the Cup over my head on the night of June 6, 2007. Not sure where they got that photo. (Oh wait, Google Images.)

The congratulatory email I got from them yesterday included this: Nominations from peers, readers, and fans were carefully considered in the selection process. (So thank your friends, family, and following because in certain instances they demonstrated overwhelming support for your work!)

Yeah, I think they're talking about me. So, thank you to all of you faithful readers. And my sister. 

Updated June 10 at 12:40 p.m.

Well, now that the Stanley Cup Final is over, our focus can turn to next season. Yeah, I know that we're only two games into this thing, but let's face it -- the Detroit Red Wings are your 2009 Stanley Cup champions.
- Idiot blogger on June 1 after Detroit took a 2-0 lead over the Penguins

Okay, I was wrong. Heck, we were all wrong. Not even Pittsburgh fans could have honestly believed at the time that we'd be going to a Game 7 in this thing. But that's what we're facing after the Pens gutted out a 2-1 victory last night in their last game at Mellon Arena this year.

And the Red Wings played the first half of that game as if even they preferred this Final to go the distance. They sleepwalked (sleptwalked?) through the first half of Game 6, at one point being outshot by the Pens 21-8. That's shocking for a team that routinely comes across the blue line firing at the net, and had been outshot in this postseason about as often as Nick Lidstrom says something poignant.

But predictably, the Wings turned it on in the late going, getting a goal from Kris Draper to cut a 2-0 Penguins lead in half. And all signs pointed to Detroit getting another one to tie it up, but a combination of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Rob Scuderi made sure that wouldn't happen.

Fleury made probably the biggest save of his life on a Dan Cleary breakaway with less than two minutes remaining. (If only the Ducks could have done the same to Cleary in the closing minutes of Game 7 in their series.) Then with less than 20 seconds left in the game and the Detroit net empty, Fleury was dramatically out of position on a scramble in front of the net, and Scuderi somehow managed to thwart Johan Franzen with first a kick save and then a skate save before Fleury smothered the puck. Earlier in the period, Scuderi did a nice job of poking the puck away when Lidstrom was poised to pounce on it with the Pittsburgh net wide open.

So Fleury had some help, but he was mostly brilliant just three days after being putrid in Game 5, allowing five goals on just 21 shots in a 5-0 loss that he was pulled from in the third period. It was just another example of how Fleury has been very good at home, but less-than-stellar on the road.

And I was happy for him until I read recently that Fleury's nickname among his teammates is ... wait for it ... "Flower." For example, this quote from Sidney Crosby about that breakaway save: "Myself, like a lot of guys, we expected Flower to stop it the way he was playing tonight."

Yes, "Flower," as in something that gets blown to smithereens when a puck is fired at it. I know that "fleur" is French for "flower" in French, but that doesn't make it okay. Somebody gave me that nickname, I think I'd give it back.

You know what the french word "giguere" means in English? It means "jig." And you don't hear the Ducks ...

Okay, bad example.

German is the most common language spoken in Switzerland, and you don't see "Hiller" translated from German into English as ...

Okay, another bad example. But for different reasons.

Anyway, now "Flower" and the rest of the Penguins will see if they can do it again in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena, where the Wings are 11-1 in these playoffs. Their only loss there? Oh yeah, a triple-overtime defeat to the Anaheim Ducks. (Just for the sake of nostalgia, here's how that one happened again.) And forget about the flimsy theory that the Ducks would look slightly better if Detroit wins Game 7 and a second straight Cup. I'm pulling hard for these Pens.

Flower? Really?

One of the reasons we're even going to a Game 7 is the fact that one of Detroit's go-to guys hasn't done a damn thing in this series. Marian Hossa, the guy who spurned the Pens last offseason for what he felt was a better chance to win a Cup in Detroit, certainly hasn't decided to actually help that cause. Hossa has scored exactly as many points as you've had in the last seven games and had only one more shot than you last night. During the second intermission on the NBC telecast, studio analyst Mike Milbury was asked what Mike Babcock might be telling his players in the locker room. Milbury, acting as if he was Babs addressing Hossa, looked dead into the camera and said, "
You wanted a Stanley Cup? Why don't you prove it to your teammates? Don't let everybody else carry the mail."

And one more thing: You have a girl's name. 

As ESPN.com columnist Pierre Lebrun so eloquently put it: 
Ah, yes, Mr. Hossa. Figure he'll be sleeping pretty well the next few nights leading up to Friday? Who can forget his decision 11 months ago to dump the Penguins for a hotter date. Now the jilted ex-girlfriend is coming to the prom with a chance to ruin his night.

Because of that and more, I'm heartily looking forward to Game 7. And I'm so glad the NHL and NBA found a way to not make it the same night as the NBA Finals, which they didn't manage to figure out last night.

That Game 7 promises to be in front of a full house at The Joe, just like all of the other games in this postseason. Er, maybe not. The sign the little girl is holding up makes this photo the epitome of irony.
- - -
With the NHL Entry Draft coming up on June 26-27, NHL.com examines the top three draft classes of all time. And it gives big love to the 2003 class, which netted the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf (19th overall) and Corey Perry (28th). Of the 30 players taken in that first round, 29 have played in the NHL, nine of which have been All-Stars (including our two dudes). Also nabbed in that draft were guys like Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Thomas Vanek, Zack Parise, Shea Weber and a bunch of others. Taken first overall in that draft?

That's right, it was Flower.

- - -

Bruce Dowbiggin of the Toronto Globe & Mail writes about one of the most frustrating aspects of the game for hockey writers. No, not the fact that most press boxes rarely have anything better than popcorn. The fact that NHL injuries are treated like matters of national security, and are rarely disclosed as anything beyond "lower body" or "upper body." Dowbiggin bemoans the fact that the extent of Nick Lidstrom's injury that kept him out of the last two games of the Western Conference Final was never revealed. But he did some digging and came up with this:

Actually, Lidstrom had a damaged testicle from being pitch-forked by Chicago's Patrick Sharp in Game 3 of the Western final. He needed all the time between the cheap shot and Game One of the final to rehab the injury.

Yeesh. When it comes to NHL injury reports, be careful what you wish for. Some are better left vague. Pretty ballsy to suggest otherwise.

Updated June 8 at 3:34 p.m.

Things I learned on this past weekend's trip to Vegas:

- The drive between Vegas and Orange County is a breeze if you leave at the right time. If you factor in the time you spend before and after a flight (driving to the airport, getting their early, waiting for a cab, etc.) I think you can make a case that it takes the exact amount of time to fly as it does to drive.

- The only good thing about the private top-optional pools in Vegas is the fact that it's usually easy to find lounge chairs. The top-optional part is highly overrated. Nine times out of 10, the women not wearing their tops are not the women you want to see topless. I believe rock bottom came late Saturday afternoon, when we spotted a middle-aged woman without her top on, eating a greasy piece of pizza. Really, you couldn't put your top on to eat?

- The outdoor bar at Carnaval Court (next door to O'Shea's) is an absolute must during the afternoon. I've been three or four times and it never disappoints. Just trust me on this.

- Saturday night in Vegas is always tamer than Friday night in Vegas (this one I already knew going in). Combine the fact that you probably went hard Friday night with the fact that you probably sat in the sun drinking all Saturday afternoon, and you get that inevitable fizzle sometime late Saturday evening. Or, at least you do when you're my age.

- When your buddy sends you pictures from the weekend that you don't remember posing for, not a good thing.

- When you bet a horse to "show" and it wins, it really doesn't pay that much, even if it went off at 11 to 1. I bet $10 on Summer Bird only because it was the 4 horse and that's my buddy's favorite number. We high-fived feverishly when he sprinted away from the pack down the stretch and won. Then the buzzkill came when I realized my $10 netted a whopping $13.50.

- The pools at the Flamingo are surprisingly good, considering that hotel was opened by Bugsy Siegel in like 1945. When I first heard my friends had booked a room there, I thought they were kidding. But it was a surprisingly good spot.

- That being said, breakfast at the cafe at the Flamingo? Not good. I'm still regretting the smoked salmon benedict. I think that was made in 1945 too.

- Vegas has a weird smell. The entire city. I never really realized it until this past weekend. I can't exactly describe the smell, but my buddy coined the phrase "VBAF," which is an acronym for Vegas Back Alley Funk.

- Stay away from the pool at Caesar's Palace when there is construction going on next door, as was the case this weekend. There was so much debris floating in that thing, you were taking your life into your hands if you dared take a dip in it. I felt something bump my leg when I was dipping my feet in there, and looked down to see a Dorito's bag. Unfortunately, empty.

- When you're playing blackjack and you reach into your pocket for cash to make a double-down bet because you're out of chips, it never turns out good.

- When you have a cocktail with dinner at 1:30 a.m. at the only restaurant that's still open in your chosen hotel/casino, it's also never good. Especially when it's blue.

- Finally opening the thick curtains in your room in the morning and letting the sun in is always a jarring experience.

- Avoid looking in the mirror when you get in or out of the shower on Sunday morning. You won't like what you see.

- - -

Okay, on to some actual Ducks-related material. The well-kept secret that Todd Marchant was playing hurt for the last couple months of the season is finally out after he revealed Friday that he will have surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. After he took a puck to the foot in a game on March 22, Marchant could be seen limping around the locker room throughout the rest of the regular season and playoffs, sometimes wearing a protective boot and missing the occasional practice. But nothing was reported on the injury until now, especially since Marchant didn't show any effects from it in games. (I certainly wasn't about to write anything.)

But Marchant said Friday he will have a screw inserted in the foot this week and expects to take 4 to 6 weeks to recover. Whether he's recovering for another season with the Ducks or another team remains to be seen, since Marchant is officially a free agent on July 1. Here's hoping Anaheim can bring him back, but just like a lot of other things this summer, that might depend on what happens with 8 and 27. The Ducks would love to get Marchant signed before the July 1 date, when he would officially be on the open market.

“I would be foolish to say if I got to July 1, I wouldn’t listen to other teams," Marchant told the O.C. Register. "I would think that with my performance in the regular season the playoffs that there would be other teams interested. That being said, we have until July 1 to get this done.”

Meanwhile, the Ducks ensured that another possible free agent won't get away from them, when they resigned Mike Brown for two years today. That's a very good thing for the Ducks and their fans, who fell in love with Brown's aggressive and feisty style almost immediately after he was brought in via a trade with Vancouver on Feb. 4.

Hard to believe that Brown is just 23 just by the looks of him and also because of the fact he's married. The Ducks have to have some of the "oldest" mid-20s guys in the league. One's married, one's balding and one's going gray. Jeepers.

- - -

The fact that the Phoenix Coyotes are involved in bankruptcy proceedings and four different bidders are making a run to buy the team has made the NHL constituion and bylaws public record. Here's a section of Bylaw 17.4:

And I always thought only players or coaches got fined for complaining about officials. I would like to know why the limit on fines for "employees of Member Clubs" is $10,000 and for players it's only $1,000. Last I checked, the players make a little more money than I do.

Guess I better hold back from now on when I perceive calls going against the Ducks, or weekends in Vegas could be few and far between.

Updated June 6 at 11:33 a.m.

To commemorate a very special anniversary for Ducks fans and for me personally, I'm re-posting this piece that originally ran June 6, 2008:

As anniversaries go, this one will always be a little bittersweet for me.

Two years ago on this day, my mom passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. One of my reasons for moving down here and taking this job in 2005 was to be closer to her and my dad in her final months. And I know she would have loved to see what I experienced in this building on the night of June 6, 2007.

So you can imagine that when I watched Chris Pronger carrying the puck from behind the net with the seconds ticking down to zero, Ryan Getzlaf shaking his gloves off his hands like an excited little boy and jumping into J.S. Giguere's arms, the crowd noise reaching a level like none I'd ever heard before, fireworks popping, black and orange confetti falling from the sky and the victory song from "Rocky" coming on ... well, you can imagine it was a little emotional for me.

And my father -- the guy who grew up on the East Coast rooting for Gump Worsley, Rocket Richard and the New York Rangers, who played hockey through high school, who went to some of the first Mighty Ducks games in 1993 and remembers thinking the Pond was too pretty for a hockey arena -- was here that night. He was part of that roaring crowd, he saw the fireworks, picked confetti out of his hair (and still has some of it under glass at home), saw the Stanley Cup being passed around by the players on his favorite team -- his son's team. When all of it finally died down that night and he was heading out of the arena, I called him on his cell phone. He answered it with one word:


For a nice reminder of that night and all that led up to it, take a look at this. I'm trying to see if there is a way that I can have this video looping on my office TV for the rest of my life.

Updated June 5 at 8:49 a.m.

I don't have a lot of time since I take off for Vegas in a few minutes, but some quick thoughts:

- Apparently the Pittsburgh Penguins have decided to make an actual series of this thing. Their convincing 4-2 victory last night in Game 4 (a game I admittedly saw absolutely none of) sends this thing back to Detroit tied at two games apiece. And frankly, that's a very very good thing.

- Sitting near courtside at a Laker playoff game (a Finals game, no less) is a surreal experience, to say the least. You spend half your time watching the game and the other half swiveling your head looking for celebrities. Throughout the night, the people who walked right in front of us or were within shouting distance included Jack (of course), Denzel Washington, Leo Dicaprio, Tobey Maguire, "E" from Entourage, Kanye West, Andy Garcia, Maria Shriver, David Cox-Arquette (I know, not his real name), Penny Marshall, NBA guys like Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Stephon Marbury, Ron Artest and Jalen Rose and probably a dozen others I'm forgetting. Just mind-blowing.

- Thank you to all the folks who voted for me in that Online Hockey Writer Awards competition I mentioned yesterday. Little did you know, but your submissions have also been forwarded to my email addresses, so I'm seeing all the kind words. So, while I was at the Laker game, I was getting occasional emails complimenting me. Not a bad night.

- Tomorrow is a very special anniversary for Ducks fans and for me personally. So, if you don't mind, tomorrow I'm going to be re-running a piece I ran a year ago to commemorate it.    

Updated June 4 at 2:43 p.m.

I won't be able to watch much of Wings-Pens Game 4 tonight (5 p.m. Pacific) because I'm being forced to sit in very good seats at Staples Center for Game 1 of the NBA Finals (6 p.m. Pacific). Then tomorrow morning I'm headed to Vegas for the weekend.

So, for at least the next couple of days, I'm able to pretend I'm big time. Pretend being the key word. 

In the meantime, things are heating up between the Wings and Pens in this series in a number of ways. The Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo reports on Benkovitz Seafoods in the Strip District of Pittsburgh hanging octopi from chains and having Pens fans shoot them into nets. Plans to hit octopi with sticks pinata-style was apparently thwarted for fear of retribution from PETA. I'm actually not kidding.

And in the grand tradition of rival cities' newspapers doing battle, the Detroit Free Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have each created Flash animation games on their websites that take shots at opposing players. On the Free Press site, it's the Don't Touch Sidney game, in which you can poke Sidney Crosby in various places on his body and immediately get called for a penalty by an overly Sid-sympathetic referee. It took me two tries before I was tempted to see what happened when you aimed it at his crotch. Alas, nothing did.

And in honor of Marian Hossa abandoning Pittsburgh for Detroit, the Gazette has something called the Two-Face Takedown, which gives you 20 seconds to punch Hossa in the face as many times as possible. It's interesting that after a couple of punches, Hossa falls to the ground. Just like a true Red Wing.

As far as Game 4 goes, Pavel Datsyuk, who hasn't played in this series with a foot injury, has been practicing and remains a game-time deci ...


... sorry, I nodded off for a bit there. How long was I out?

Speaking of that, I got some good response on my question yesterday about who you were rooting for in this series, if you actually care at all. Here were the results:

Detroit             9.1%
Pittsburgh      68.2%
I Don't Care   22.7%

That's right, "I Don't Care" beat the Red Wings. There goes the theory that Ducks fans root for the Wings so we can say our team lost to the champs. And our team was the only one to give them a series.

I also asked people to give their reason(s) why they were rooting either way and got some good ones, with many people saying they want the Pens because of Chris Kunitz or their anyone-but-the-Wings mentality. A sampling:

- Pens are whiney bi---es. Wings are sissy Euros.  Why vote in a lose-lose situation?

- The two pansiest teams in the league are playing for the second time in two years. Who gives a flying crap? Detroit players are like robots. They go out and score goals and attract penalties and show no emotion or heart whatsoever. Just hand them the freaking Cup already so we can try again for it next year. 

- 1) Kunitz
  2) Which is actually #1: Frickin HATE the Wings;
  3) There is no way Hossa can be rewarded for being such a ninny.

- The Cup started? I thought they were just showing re-runs from last year.

- 1) Because I absolutely loathe the Wings and their "we don't like the city enough to actually live there but we'll still call ourself hard core fans while soaking up SoCal lifestyle" Wings fans and 2) I would love to see Crosby, Ovechkin and the other Penguins win a cup and 3) I want to see the look on Marian Hossa's face when Pittsburg wins the cup and he's on the other side of the ice watching the team he abandoned to go searching for a Cup with Detroit hoisting it.

- Our boys were >< this close to going all the way. In fact, every time Versus posted Osgood's playoff record (14-4) I yelled "and who gave him the three losses!" My dog still hasn't come back in the house...

Not sure about the dog reference, or whether that has anything to do with hockey, but good stuff nonetheless. You can see all the responses by clicking here. A little warning: Aside from a spell check and a Microsoft Word search for the F-word, I didn't do much editing on these. I thought it was better if they were printed in their original form. Either that, or I was too lazy to comb through them. My guess is the latter.
- - -
I know it's been awhile, but our video guys did another tremendous job putting together video retrospectives (including some behind-the-scenes stuff) of each of the seven games in the Ducks-Detroit series. Check it out here, starting with Game 1.

Watch the bench reaction when Marchant scores the OT game-winner in Game 2 and just try not to get chills.

- - -
As the Colorado Avalanche continue to completely dismantle their front office and try to put it back together, former Duck Joe Sacco (which I always thought would be a great name for an Italian movie character) was named their new head coach. Yesterday the Avs fired head coach Tony Granato and five other guys:assistant coaches Jacues Cloutier and Dave Barr, goaltending coach Jeff Hackett, assistant to the general manager (a job title that makes me think of Dwight Schrute) Michel Goulet and video coordinator P.J. DeLuca. Even the video coordinator got canned? What the hell did he do wrong?

Sacco, by the way, was the coach of the Avs' AHL franchise, the Lake Erie Monsters, which ranks up there with the Albany River Rats, Rockford IceHogs and the ... um ... Iowa Chops among the great team names in "the A."
- - -
Ducks fans, let's see if whatever you did to vote three Ducks into the All-Star Game as starters will translate to something that benefits me directly. The Hockeybarn blog is holding Online Hockey Writer Awards in which fans can submit nominees online. I'm not telling you who you should nominate, but I will give you the link to the nomination form
- - -

Look who may be getting another chance in the NHL. Former Ottawa goalie Ray Emery is reportedly in negotiations with the Flyers after spending the past season with Mytishchi Atlanta in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. You may recall that the last we heard from Emery, he was throwing punches at his team's trainer, who had the audacity to ask Emery to put a hat on after he was pulled midway through a game. And of course, he was in Russia in the first place because the Sens decided they'd had enough of his shenanigans and no other team seemed to want to claim him.

But now Philly is interested. It just goes to show, it doesn't matter if you constantly fight with teammates, throw occasional tantrums, wear an image of a convicted rapist on your mask and show up late for practices. If you can stop pucks, there's always a place for you in this league.

I love this game.

Updated June 3 at 1:03 p.m.

The Red Wings’ march to their second straight Cup was slightly delayed last night when the Penguins pulled off a 4-2 victory in Game 3 at Mellon Arena. That ensures that the Wings will have at least one more home game to be played again in front of scads of empty seats in the lower bowl.

Pittsburgh was able to expose the one weakness the Wings have shown in these playoffs – their penalty kill. (It was once thought that their most glaring weakness was the guy in front of the net, but Chris Osgood has been very solid this entire postseason.) The Pens scored two on the power play last night from defensemen Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar, with Gonchar’s strike breaking a 2-2 tie in the third period that led to the Pittsburgh victory.

It was the 18th power play goal in 63 chances given up by the Wings, a 71.4% success rate that ranks them a shocking 14th out of the 16 playoff teams. You’ll recall that the Ducks had a power play goal in each of the seven games against the Wings in the second round.  

Pittsburgh even had power play time last night when they didn’t deserve it. They spent about 20 seconds with an extra man on the ice late in the first period, and somehow none of the four officials on the ice noticed it. The deserved too-many-men penalty would have given the Red Wings a big power play opportunity with the score tied 2-2. "I think we got a good break on that," Penguins forward Maxime Talbot said. "With six guys we cycled the puck a little bit. It was great."

I’ll bet it was.

Even without that edge, the Pens came out from the opening faceoff with the aggression of a team in a major do-or-die situation (which they were) in front of their home fans. And Chris Kunitz (remember him?) brought back memories of the 2007 Ducks Cup run by hitting everything in sight. He had 11 hits in the game (five in each of the first two stanzas) and had only two fewer hits than the entire Red Wings team going into the second intermission.

And by the way, the Wings still are playing without their best player (or at least he was in the regular season), Pavel Datsyuk, who has been out with a foot injury since Game 2 of the conference final.

Causing more national outrage than the missed too-many-men call was the nauseating decision by Versus immediately after Game 3 (the first game they've aired in the Final). Instead of going right to their "Hockey Central" postgame show, they instead aired a rerun of the awful "Sports Soup" show and went to "Hockey Central" after it mercifully ended. Real hockey fans went scrambling for NHL Network for its postgame coverage. Nice move, guys.

So with the Detroit lead in the series cut to 2-1 with Game 4 in Pittsburgh, the question is whether the Pens turned the tide of this series, or just momentarily delayed the inevitable. Or the real question is, do we even care? No matter who wins this thing, the Stanley Cup champion is still not the Ducks. So let’s get the fans involved in this. I want to know who you're rooting for in the Stanley Cup Final or if you just don't care at all, and I want to know why. Click here to take a quick poll and we'll post some of the best comments (if there are any good ones) in the blog in the coming days. 

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Don't ask me how, but we were able to sneak a camera into the tryout camp the Kings had over the weekend and here is the exclusive footage. This is a big one because the Kings signed two of these players. 

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The Giant Balls Award goes to the New York Rangers, who despite a tough economy and a mediocre 2008-09 season decided to increase ticket prices for next year. Many seats will jump as much as 7 to 9 percent, or as Sports Business Daily points out: a $56 seat in Section 309 of MSG will cost $60 next season, while a $34 seat in Section 410 will jump to $37. That might not sound like much, but for season ticket holders that amounts to around $150 more for the year. Some premium seats are reportedly rising by as much as $25 per game.

In a letter to season seat holders, Rangers GM Glen Sather wrote (or had written for him), "You will see a retooled Rangers team in 2009-10 that will feature a system that emphasizes aggressive forechecking and puck possession."

Yeah, that'll get you pumped up.

Not for nothing, but the Ducks froze tickets prices for 2009-10 and remain 21st in the league in the cost for an average ticket at $43.50. Just mentioning.

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Speaking of letters to fans, you can find on the Kings website the letter that Kings GM Dean Lombardi wrote to the fans to get them pumped up about next season. There was one paragraph that stuck out to me:

There are numerous other benchmarks that measure the game within the game that signify the hope and direction that this group of young players provides. However, the most significant touchstone that inspires my beliefs comes from those signs that are not visible to even the trained eye. I am convinced that all great sports franchises must develop a soul. The soul of a franchise is its identity. It springs from the well inside each athlete learning to bury his ego and direct his energy toward caring about his teammates and the achievement of their common goal. While the salary-cap era has changed the inner dynamics of the team and the building process, I am convinced that this intangible remains the hallmark of great franchises. Once this culture is established, it has the ability to transcend generations and provide a template for what it means “to be a King.” This sentiment is a powerful ally that instills in every player who wears the Kings Crown, a unique brand of excellence that continually cultivates meaningful greatness.

One word comes to mind: Huh?  

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If you've ever wondered what happens to the hats thrown by fans onto the ice in NHL arenas following a hat trick, take a look at this article. The Ducks aren't mentioned in it, and I wish I could tell you we did something more creative than ... um ... throwing them away.

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I always thought my grandmother was crazy because she starts making dinner plans at least a day in advance. But she's got nothing on nutty Red Wings fan Faye Clevenger. Faye has decorated her home in wall-to-wall Red Wings paraphernalia, including (inexplicably) two giant inflatable Penguins out front wearing Wings shirts made of bed sheets. She even has a handprinted sign out in front of her house in which she's marking down each Detroit game in these playoffs.

Faye, commenting on her adoration for the Wings, says, "I can't believe everybody doesn't love them." 

Really? You can't? I can point out a few reasons, if you like.

Updated June 1 at 4:11 p.m.

Well, now that the Stanley Cup Final is over, our focus can turn to next season.

Yeah, I know that we're only two games into this thing, but let's face it -- the Detroit Red Wings are your 2009 Stanley Cup champions. In taking a 2-0 series lead over the weekend, the Wings appear in complete control, just like they have in every series but one during this run to repeat as champs. Teams that win Games 1 and 2 at home have won the Cup 31 of 32 times. The way things are looking, we can make that 32 of 33.

"They're a good team. They've shown that for the last 10, 12 years, whatever it may be," said Penguins winger Chris Kunitz. And he should know. The 2007 Ducks that Kunitz was a vital part of is the only team to beat the Red Wings in the last three NHL postseasons.

The one series Detroit hasn't completely owned this year, a seven-game fight to the finish with the Ducks, produced three of the four losses the Red Wings have taken in this entire playoff run. That's partly why Dan Wood of the O.C. Register has boldly called the Ducks the second-best team in the league this year, despite their inability to make even the conference finals. Even before the Wings-Pens series started, Wood wrote that the Ducks and Capitals (who went seven games with Pittsburgh in the second round) are the true conference runners-up. That's because the Blackhawks only took one game from the Wings in the conference final and Carolina was swept by Pittsburgh. Wood wrote: Not that it makes a whole lot of difference, but the Ducks and Washington can both look forward to next season with legitimate belief that they were the second-best teams in their respective conferences.

So, we've got that going for us -- which is nice. Somehow the Anaheim Ducks have become an even better team while most of its players have been working on their short games.

Meanwhile, a "should he or should he not have been suspended?" controversy is going on in these playoffs, and it doesn't involve a Duck. In the final seconds of Detroit's 3-1 victory in last night's Game 2, a brawl was ignited when Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot stuck his stick in Chris Osgood’s midsection after a save, and Osgood showed he can flop to the ice just as well as his Detroit teammates.

In the ensuing melee, Evgeni Malkin got into it with an extremely reticent Henrik Zetterberg, a fight Zetterberg eventually participated in begrudgingly. Both players' jerseys ended up on the ice with no bodies in them after the tussle. Malkin was slapped with an instigator penalty that under Rule 47.22 of the NHL rulebook, also brings about a one-game suspension. The rules states: A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five minutes or at any time in overtime shall be suspended for one game, pending a review of the incident. The director of hockey operations will review every such incident and may rescind the suspension based on a number of criteria. The criteria for the review shall include, but not be limited to, the score, previous incidents, etc...".

That director of hockey operations, Colin Campbell, quickly (shockingly quickly, actually) rescinded the suspension, saying in a league-issued statement: "None of the criteria in this rule applied in this situation. Suspensions are applied under this rule when a team attempts to send a message in the last five minutes by having a player instigate a fight.  A suspension could also be applied when a player seeks retribution for a prior incident. Neither was the case here and therefore the one game suspension is rescinded."

In other words, the rule is in place so that teams can't send a goon out in the final minutes of a lopsided game with the sole intention of knocking someone's block off. That wasn't the case here, so it was probably the right move to make. But that didn't quell any controversy about Campbell's take-back, as many claimed that if the player in question wasn't a possible Conn Smythe candidate, the suspension would have stood. That's probably true, but what really stands out in this whole thing is that the instigator rule probably needs to be reviewed pretty seriously. When it leaves itself open to this kind of interpretation by what amounts to a one-man jury, it probably needs to be scrapped altogether.

Either way, Malkin will be in there for tomorrow night's Game 3 in Pittsburgh, which by all indications appears to be just another step in Detroit's march to a repeat title. (I just threw up in my mouth.)

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If you're into schmaltzy video montages set to Coldplay songs (and I admit to having an embarrassing soft spot for them), you'll love this pregame intro that CBC put together for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Using the song "The Scientist" and tying into the "we're going back to the start," the piece uses slow-motion reverse video to show a sort of march backwards from this Final to the Wings and Pens meeting of a year ago. Definitely some cool stuff.
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The two-headed GM experiment has ended in Dallas, where Brett Hull and Les Jackson have been reassigned as co-general managers and replaced by former great Joe Nieuwendyk. Hull and Jackson had been doing the job together for the past 1 1/2 seasons, and while it seemingly worked when they came in midseason in 2007-08 and the Stars made the conference final, they missed the playoffs this past year. Part of the reason could have been the early-season struggles and locker room issues the team had with Sean Avery, who was suspended by the league and eventually put on waivers. Hull reportedly was gung-ho about signing Avery last offseason, and they ended up giving him a shocking four-year, $15.5 million deal. Now the Stars are paying half of that for the next three years after losing Avery on re-entry waivers to the New York Rangers.

That was one of the few lasting effects Hull had on the Stars, as he once admitted himself that he wasn't all that involved. Last October he told Terry Frei of ESPN that Jackson was the one doing all the work. Here was what Frei wrote:"Les does all the work, and I get all the credit," Hull said recently with a wry smile.

Same ol' Brett. "It's true!" Hull added. "Les does all the work. He's done it for so long, he's already ingrained on that side of it. I'm a glorified intern, really, trying to learn things as I go. We work it where Les makes all the calls because you can't have two people calling all over the league. We have to have one voice, and we have the same ideas about how we want to build a team, what it takes to win and the people we want in our organization, and that really makes it easy."

Now, neither one of them is making the calls. Hull will now serve as executive vice president and alternate governor, while Jackson will return to his previous role as director of scouting and player development.

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Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager (yes, the Ducks only have one) Bob Murray told the O.C. Register that he's continuing to search for an AHL affiliate. The Ducks parted ways with the Iowa Chops for financial reasons (which I guess means I'm not getting that Bobby Ryan Chops bobblehead in the mail anytime soon).

Murray didn't give details on any possible cities, but said last week, “We’re getting closer to something. We have some options out there. For some reason, we’re a wanted team.”

Well, of course we are. We're the second-best team in the NHL.

May Archive