Although we are in the midst of the Major League Baseball season and have watched perhaps the most exciting CFL game to kick off the season a week ago, still the NHL is grabbing the main headlines in the sports world.
What can we expect in Canada? It is hockey talk year round. Last week, I reported July could be the month of the Russian hockey player. About half of those top end Russians, who hit the free agent market, have found new homes and at press time the biggest may have been Sergei Gonchar since Kovalchuk is still weighing out how much he is worth and teams make last minute offers to the superstar.
The NHL's free agent frenzy is similar to a group of guys setting up a pickup hockey tournament or like a shinny game.
In Calgary's case, the guy making one team picks his old friends, who may not be the best options on the ice. But, he knows exactly what he is going to get, and hopes this shinny session will go better than the last one. Oli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay are both getting a second chance in Cowtown. Maybe those two players and Mat Stajan can all play on a line with Iginla. Then he'll finally have the linemates he has dreamt about since playing for Canada and Crosby was there to get him the puck. The only problem with that is none of those three are top end superstars and they can't all play with Iginla at the same time - that would be too many men. I don't think I need to explain you can't do that - well maybe to some people in Regina - but I think everyone else has got that figured out. I am hoping the Roughriders, do now, too.
Edmonton has moved some depth into Alberta's capital, but nothing yet, besides the signing of the new franchise player, has been worth mentioning. Comparing Edmonton to a shinny team would be like saying there is a new kid who moved to town and is apparently pretty good. The guy making the Oilers' shinny team told him to come out and skate and get to know some people from town. Little does the young guy know he has to "be" the franchise along with another young guy - Jordan Ederle. There is going to be a lot of pressure on Taylor Hall and Eberle to get this team back into contention.
In Vancouver, they have seen how effective some players have been in the previous pickup games over the years and now they want to see if Manny Malhotra and Dan Hamhuis can be the solution for a team who had plenty of positives last season. The way Chicago has been dumping their depth guys should give Vancouver more of a chance to lead the Western Conference, if Luongo can play out of his mind.
Out east, Gonchar was the biggest catch and has jumped on with the Ottawa Senators. He should be able to be the star Wade Redden was there seven years ago. He can instantly make the Senators a better team and give them a legitimate shot at playing in the playoffs. They lose a defensive defenceman in Volchenkov, but some say the best defence is a good offence. Ottawa should hope so because when Gonchar, Spezza and Kovalev are on the ice at the same time there could be a lot of chasing in the defensive end if the Senators don't have the puck.
After trading away Halak, the goalie everyone assume earned the starting role in Montreal, they have done nothing but try to bring goalies in to play with/against Carey Price, however you want to look at it. Curtis Sanford and Alex Auld both signed with the Habs, and they had the rights to Dan Ellis for a brief time as well. No position is more important and there isn't an NHL franchise that has more legendary skates to fill at that position. Neither of the newly signed goalies are proven starters, but Price could be looking over his shoulder again, what else is new. Montreal also handed out $30 million to Tomas Plekanec, who I don't think is worth that much.
Last is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Having a handful of players that no one else really wants makes it difficult to get a fresh start especially when you don't have any draft picks, but if nothing else the Leafs should be in contention for the cockiest team in the league. Chicago had a swagger about them and just look where it got them. The Leafs are praying they are now moving in the right direction. Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg aren't franchise saviours, but hopefully they can bring a bit more grit up front and complement Kessel and whoever the Leafs get for Kaberle on the market. The Leafs are like the shinny team who is trying to piece together enough players to be competitive and in the end it could be a flip of a coin as to whether they are for real.
The last thing to come off the NHL wire is the passing of the ideal tough guy - Bob Probert. Probert had his issues off the ice, but was feared on the ice and well respected by his teammates. Probert was one of the toughest guys and I have a collection of Don Cherry's Rockem' Sockem movies to prove it. His tilts with Domi and Clark were legendary, but not only could the tough guy fight, he could score, too, and wasn't a liability when he was on the ice for the Red Wings and Blackhawks. Probert was 45 years old and died of a suspected heart attack on his boat with his family.