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Hockey Talkie: Preds Matching Weber Offer Sheet A Pivotal Move

July 25, 2012 Leave a comment

If the Nashville Predators truly had any interest in winning, they had to match Philadelphia’s offer sheet for Shea Weber. No question.

The match was a pivotal move for the club, and one the team itself described as “the most important hockey transaction in franchise history“.

Even after matching the Philadelphia Flyers’ offer sheet of $110 million (hold on, they were gonna pay him how much to play hockey? Wait, Nashville IS paying him that much??) over 14 years (third longest in NHL history; second highest total value), the Nashville Predators still retain plenty of bankroll breathing room – they’re only 24th in league payroll, with nearly $16.5 million in cap space still available. So yeah, they did have to match Philly’s offer for their captain/best player. They NEED him, plus financially, it’s not like they had to move money around to make it work – they straight up could afford it.

If Nashville didn’t match, the Predators likely would have sunk this season, save for Pekka Rinne again playing out of his mind all year, this though without an all-star bolstered blue-line anymore. And you can’t expect a hot goalie to play in front of that kind of mediocrity for long before he also joins the mass exodus in an effort to actually win somewhere.

Additionally take into account the roster exits the Predators do have to address — Radulov back to the KHL, and Jordin Tootoo to Detroit – also subtract Weber, and Smashville’s roster wouldn’t exactly have looked primed to improve on its Conference semi-final appearance last season.

And the message sent to fans and fellow players would have been one to the tune that the Predators really weren’t all that committed to success – that they weren’t willing to do what’s necessary to keep top talent that has proven their ability to help the team win, on the team; that they’re ok with just seeing how far they can go with what they have on hand. That’s not a message anyone can get behind.

If Philadelphia did indeed acquire Weber as hoped, then as Nashville would likely fall, the Flyers would likely rise in return – perhaps even enough to finally get them over the Cup hump. They’ve got scoring, they’ve got goaltending (in Bryzgalov, somewhere, I’m sure of it. The guy just needs to come back to earth), and they have defence too – but Weber could have been the perfect replacement for Chris Pronger, whose future remains in jeopardy after injuries sustained last season. Though he gives up two inches in height and eleven years of NHL experience, Weber’s eleven years younger, faster, heavier, shoots harder (multi-time runner up to Zdeno Chara for league’s hardest shot) has nearly as much experience as Nashville’s captain as Pronger has as Philadelphia’s, and even a little bit of crazy (see: Zetterberg head smash) in him, just like Pronger, and he can score from the concession stand if he has to (much to the chagrin of all Nashville’s healthy scratches). I can’t see that being anything but a smooth swap – and even more potent if Pronger manages to return.

But Nashville did match. And they still have Weber. For a really long time. But 14 years ought to be long enough to find someone he can move the puck to (Alexander Semin, anyone?), and to build a better team around him, and Rinne. And if for some reason it doesn’t work out, they can trade him after a year, as Weber has no NTC built into his deal. Tough salary slack for another team to absorb, but their “out” is there. The match meant the Predators kept a pivotal player, their team leader, around 50 points a year, and it sent the right message to their team and fans. Good move, Nashville.

Schultz Sweepstakes Settled, Hype vs Reality Next

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

He hasn’t even played one NHL game yet, and already Justin Schultz is starting to annoy me.

The Edmonton Oilers agreed to terms with the 22 year old on June 30, ending months of speculation as to which NHL uniform would have his last name stitched on the back of it.

Prior to the media inventing the “Schultz Sweepstakes” schmozzle that began to elevate his billing to an inaccurate Sidney Crosby level (you may remember the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes of 2005), the kid did a lot of things right – he played Junior ‘A’ hockey rather than Major Junior, which qualified him to earn an NCAA scholarship, plus he got drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, before his arrival at the University of Wisconsin in 2009. He’s even from my hometown of West Kelowna, BC, Canada, and played with our local junior hockey team (Westside Warriors of the BCHL) from 2006-09. I’ve never met him, but there are a lot of reasons why I should back the kid.

But here’s where Schultz gets a little squirrely to me. My beef boils down to him seeming like a guy that started to believe his own hype, got a little selfish, and dictated his own future in a game that so many young, hopeful players would do/accept anything in order to play at its top level. And if you sense a tinge of jealousy in that statement on my part, it’s because I’m stocked full on it. I just don’t see how a player who hasn’t competed in a single NHL game could have so many teams falling at his feet to sign with them, especially a defenseman. It’s all just so…. Eric Lindros/Quebec Nordiques-ish.

Chronologically speaking, the first thing that bothers me is his seemingly cavalier approach to his college career. His play spoke for itself, winning him seven NCAA awards and two finalist nominations for player of the year while enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, so clearly he earned all the on-ice accolades he collected while there. But after playing out three of (presumably) four years of his eligibility/scholarship, Schultz withdrew from school, and walked away from another free year of education, and likely whatever degree he was working towards.

That move pretty well nullified his rationale of not playing Major Junior hockey in the first place (assuming he had the option as a teenager), and pursuing the college route that every hockey parent hopes their hockey playing child with NHL aspirations will choose instead.

On a personal note, as someone who played college hockey, earned a degree, and is still paying off student loans six years after completion, this move grinds me a little extra. I mean, he couldn’t have waited one more season, graduated, and jumped to the NHL the following season? There’s always the possibility of injury, a down year, or some other stock-dropping scenario to that option, I suppose. And also, when your paycheck is going to start including millions of dollars every year, securing a strong education for the purposes of landing a good paying job to secure your future in a struggling economy probably isn’t a high priority anymore.

Secondly, as an afore mentioned player who would have killed to play in the NHL myself, Schultz turning his nose at the team that drafted him rubs me the wrong way too. Granted, the Ducks sat on him long enough without pulling the trigger that he had the right as per the CBA to entertain offers from the 26 teams that expressed interest (just who were the four teams that didn’t even try, by the way?), so it’s not like Schultz technically did anything wrong here – it’s just that I never had any NHL team interested in me and would have taken anything passed my way (I’m not the only one), especially from the team that claimed me first; whereas Justin Schultz has size and a ton of talent that rightfully garnered him a plethora of interest from nearly every team in the world’s best hockey league once he became an option. The notion of rejecting an NHL team absolutely boggles my mind. If roles were reversed, I’d like to think I would have chosen loyalty and stuck with Anaheim, personally. I was never good enough to find myself sitting in the position he was though, and maybe if the freedom of options that were plunked in his lap were given to me, I very well may have gotten selfish with my future residence too — especially if I had received a persuasive phone call from Wayne Gretzky to try and seal the deal.

Without knowing him personally, I doubt Schultz desired the attention his situation drew, but it certainly was enough to generate an amount of widespread interest that I assume produced a better offer than Anaheim was tabling to him. Good on the kid for getting the amount of money and location that he wanted, not many players get to do that.

Whether you agree with what he did or not, the deal’s done, and the onus now is on Schultz alone to deliver on his own hype. I don’t see it being easy for him – he’s used to playing less than 50 games a year in the NCAA against lower (than the NHL’s) caliber, compared to the NHL’s 82. The NCAA has produced its share of future NHL talent though (Toews, Parise, Miller, Thomas, Keith, Heatley, Kesler, St. Louis, Kessel, etc), so don’t look too far down your nose at the talent pool he most recently developed in. Also, he’ll be no stranger to the travel rigors of playing all over the continent, so that will work in his favor. But beyond that, I don’t have any other bones to throw him.

As we’ve been doing since this all started, all we can do until October when Schultz lines up for his first faceoff as an Oiler is continue to speculate as to whether he will turn out to be the star that some believe he will be, the bust that others predict, or just an average player in the league. Playing alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Nail Yakupov can’t hurt his chances of success – but we’ll see how reality plays out soon enough.

And truthfully, although this little situation does annoy me, I am pulling for the hometown kid to live up to his billing.

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Cam Paddock Content To Continue Hockey Career Abroad

July 4, 2012 Leave a comment

[Originally published in the Kelowna Daily Courier newspaper on Friday, June 22/2012]

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After tough season, Paddock sets sights on Europe

FRIDAY, 22 JUNE 2012 02:00 DAVE CUNNING

Had things played out a little differently this past season, a former Kelowna Rocket could have had his name on the Stanley Cup this year.

Unfortunately for Cam Paddock, things didn’t quite work out that way.

Paddock, who played five seasons with the Rockets from 1999 to 2004 and won a Memorial Cup with them, signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings on Sept. 26, 2011.

Two years prior, he had appeared in 16 games with the St. Louis Blues, until being sent back to the AHL. This past season, it seemed Paddock had been given his second chance in the NHL.

Looks can be deceiving though, and the deal turned out to be too good to be true – L.A. released him two days later, and reassigned him to their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs.

“They basically offered me the contract and cut me at the same time,” said Paddock. “I came back to Vancouver and mulled the offer over at home before I signed it.

“I jumped in my car and drove 52 hours out to Manchester the next day.”

After a strong showing at L.A.’s training camp, and a contract offer from them, Paddock felt he was lined up for a season ripe with opportunity with the Kings’ affiliate.

However, Paddock’s hope slowly dwindled. After scoring two goals, three assists for five points with 44 penalty minutes and a minus-10 rating in 39 games, Paddock seemed to be a fixture on the team’s fourth line.

“I thought that I had a really good training camp,” said Paddock, 29. “I was told certain things by L.A., got sent to Manchester and then had their coach looking at me like I was playing with the wrong-handed stick.

“I assumed I was going to be the same third-line centre that I had been the past four years that I’d played in the league, but it didn’t work out that way. The coaches were feeding me the ‘work hard and you’ll get your opportunity’ rhetoric you get told when you’re a 21-year-old starting out in pro hockey, and playing me on the fourth line. I haven’t done that in five years. It was discouraging. I already know how to work hard, and what kind of player I am.”

“On some teams, you can do no wrong in the eyes of the coach. On other teams, it seems you can do no right,” continued Paddock. “It was the latter in Manchester for me. That’s just how it goes sometimes. It was a weird year.”

Playing with the Monarchs did, however, offer him the chance to play with Dwight King (his older brother D.J. played with Paddock in Kelowna), Slava Voynov, Jordan Nolan and Andrei Loktionov – all whom were recalled by L.A. and were contributors to the Kings’ Stanley Cup victory.

“They were all very good players with a ton of NHL ability,” Paddock said. “Dwight’s a really good guy and probably an even better hockey player. Loktionov and Voynov are both super-skilled. Slava’s nickname was Slava-bomb because his slapshot is about as hard as they come. Jordan is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever seen in the AHL. I was happy to see them all get a chance to go up there, and do as well as they did.”

As good as they are, though, none of them are household names on the Kings’ roster. In fact, one could make the case that other Monarchs could have done as good of a job as those call-ups had they got the call instead.

“Sometimes it comes down to whether you had a good week, or if a certain person saw you play a good game somewhere,” Paddock said. “Those guys are their young draft picks that they are developing. They deserve it, they work hard.

“But as far as them getting a chance instead of me, it’s a pretty fine line when you get down to it. In a lot of cases, it’s youth and size more than anything, I’d say.”

Perhaps if Darryl Sutter, who replaced Terry Murray as L.A.’s head coach back in December, had seen Paddock in training camp, things might have worked out differently.

“I thought about that when he got the job,” said Paddock. “I don’t know if it would have really made a difference, but the Sutter brothers are from Western Canada, and I know Darryl had seen me play when he was with Calgary and I was with St. Louis. I’d like to think that maybe it would have helped me out. But in saying that, he had only come to L.A. in a coaching role rather than a managerial one.

“The best-case scenario for me with Sutter would have been him putting a bug in someone’s ear about me when I was down the depth chart in Manchester and not playing. I’m sure he had enough to worry about in L.A. and wouldn’t have been too concerned.

“It definitely worked out good for Colin Fraser, though, who played for Brent Sutter in Red Deer. When Darryl got there, he knew exactly what kind of player he was and he trusted him. Colin is a good player – I played against him all over and I respect him -Â but to be candid, I think he’s six of one and I’m half a dozen of the other.”

On Jan. 26th, Kings president Dean Lombardi released a statement saying Paddock’s contract had been terminated – freeing him to return to play in Germany’s DEL.

In 13 games with the Augsburger Panther, Paddock recorded three goals, five assists for eight points, plus 20 PIMs and a plus-five rating.

“For my career, I had to make a move,” Paddock said. “Going back to Europe became the best option for me. It sucks to say, but as far as the NHL goes, with as disappointing as the year was this year, I’m done with it.

“To have the experience I had in Manchester, you realize the team really has nothing invested in you. I’m happy I got my 16 NHL games in, but now I’m looking forward to playing more years in Europe. It’s a cool lifestyle, it’s a different culture and there’s opportunity to climb the ranks over there instead.

“I really liked Augsburger’s coach. He was a very honest guy that told me exactly what I was there to do and didn’t make any promises he didn’t keep. I got along with him well. I really liked the fans, and we had a good group of guys on the team. It will be a lot of fun going back to that, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Before signing his next overseas contract, Paddock will have to wait until the NHL’s CBA is worked out – the result of which will determine whether an import spot will be available for him, rather than a North American orphan looking for a European team. It’ll give him more time to ponder his future.

“If I could play for another five or six years, I’d be happy,” Paddock said. “But it has to make sense. I feel really good, I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, and I still really like playing and being around the guys. Playing the game’s still fun for me, and that’s the main thing.”

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