Pressure on Flames to win now
That reality means GM Jay Feaster has big decisions to make at some point, and those decisions will largely be made for him by the play of his team on the ice.
More than anything, it means his team must have a solid start to the season. Or else …
“I’m not going to sit around and wait”, Feaster told ESPN.com on Thursday. “There is urgency here. There’s very much a sense of urgency. We kept this group together for a reason this summer. We articulated what that was and articulated to the players. They talked about the need to get off to a good start. We saw what happened last season when you dig yourself a hole. We played like our pants were on fire in the second half last year, and it wasn’t enough. We were all paying lip service to what we needed to do. Now we need to do it.”
My colleague at TSN Darren Dreger reported earlier this week that Rene Bourque’s name was in talks around the league. Bourque is actually not among the 12 UFAs. He has four more years after this season at a $3.33 million cap hit, but the Flames, according to Dreger, were sending out feelers on him.
Feaster would not get into specifics, but it’s clear the phone lines are in use.
“Obviously I’m making phone calls, and people are making phone calls to me,’’ he said. “It’s not something I’m looking to do, I want to win with this group. That’s what I want to do.
“We like the team we have. But we talked repeatedly about it all summer and in camp, the need to get off to a good start.’’
Yzerman for 2014?
Hockey Canada is expected to begin the process of preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics in December. That process will begin with Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson having a chat with 2010 Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman.
You can bet that it’s Yzerman’s job again if he wants it.
The same held true with Wayne Gretzky after he guided Canada to 2002 gold, snapping the country’s 50-year drought, when he was offered the chance to run the 2006 team as well.
This time around it’s only natural for Hockey Canada to likely offer the same chance to Yzerman.
“Steve is obviously the right guy,’’ Gretzky told ESPN.com on Thursday. “He did such a solid job in Vancouver. Remember the microscope that team was under and the pressure they had to deliver.’’
It remains to be seen whether Yzerman will want to do it again.
“I don’t know what Steve’s intentions are,’’ Gretzky said. “It’s a big undertaking. It’s a two-year job with long hours. But if he’s up to the task, he’s obviously the best guy for it.
“And when you’ve gone through it one time, you get so much experience from it. There’s no surprises the second time around.’’
It's not a done deal that the NHL will agree to send its players to Sochi, Russia, but at this point, we’d be shocked if it didn’t. That’s certainly the growing perception behind the scenes.
Sens focused on big picture
The beatdowns have been difficult to digest in Ottawa early this season. The Senators want to be more competitive than what they’ve shown at times.
But there certainly isn’t the same kind of hand-wringing you would normally associate with a franchise that made the playoffs 12 of 13 years before last season. The plan all along this season was to take a step back and rebuild.
“We have to be more competitive and we should be,’’ Sens GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com this week.
However, the big picture remains the same: Rebuilding the base with young players and hoping that those young players take a step in the next six months.
“Both from a financial perspective and from the hockey perspective, we decided that this is going to be a year where we have a lot of new players. We know it’s going to take a little time here,” Murray said. “Some kids will get better, and others will fall by the wayside. They’re not all going to be top-end players. We hope out of this group that a number will end up being good NHL players, but we have to go through this painful process to begin with.’’
The team will get even younger by the time the Feb. 27 trade deadline comes and goes. Veteran blueliner Filip Kuba is almost certainly going to be dealt since he’s an UFA on July 1. Others could also move. The Sens will want to promote youngsters from the AHL and will need to make roster room for them.
“I hate to say this, but if there’s a need on another team for a veteran defenseman, we’ll probably one have available that we’d be willing to talk about,’’ said Murray, who wouldn’t name names, but you can read Kuba into that.
Sergei Gonchar has another year left on his deal at $5.5 million for next season. It’s hard to imagine, at this point, other teams willing to eat that salary, even if they believe he could augment their back end. He also has a no-movement clause, so the veteran Russian would be in full control of his future.
Campbell finds a home
Not since his Buffalo days do I remember Brian Campbell looking so comfortable on the ice as he does right now in Florida.
He entered the weekend leading the Panthers in ice time and was among the league leaders as well. He’s no longer the No. 3 defenseman he was in Chicago. He’s the top dog in Florida, and he’s embraced it.
“It’s just fun right now,’’ Campbell told ESPN.com on Thursday. “It’s fun playing hockey. They have confidence in me. I might make a mistake, but they know I can pick my game up the next shift. It’s just fun coming to the rink right now. A good group of guys here. I enjoy the challenge.’’
He’s been freed from a situation in Chicago where he was never going to please his critics. A No. 3 defenseman can’t make $7.1 million. He would never live that down in the Windy City. Still, he wasn’t going to waive his no-trade clause for just any team. When the call came in late June, it was a familiar face trying to get back with him. Former Hawks GM Dale Tallon, who signed Campbell in Chicago, wanted him in South Florida. Done deal was Campbell’s answer.
“I really don’t know if I would have accepted it unless I knew the circumstances moving forward," Campbell said. “I knew I could trust Dale. He’s a man of his word. He wants to build a team here. We expect to get in the playoffs this year, and he wants to keep building this.’’
Tallon blew up his team last season and completely re-made it this summer. Usually having so many new faces requires a team some time to gel, but the Panthers have somehow accelerated that process and are off to a decent start.
“Probably the best thing for us is that we had about a week and a half after the exhibition season just to practice,” Campbell said. “[Coach] Kevin Dineen went over everything with us. I think everybody got on the same page then and realized where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to do.’’
Campbell has confidence his team can contend for a playoff spot.
“I think if we stay healthy and play our game plan, I feel like we can roll with some pretty good depth.’’
Memo on taunting
In the wake of Aaron Asham’s antics on Oct. 13 after he knocked down Jay Beagle, the NHL sent out a memo warning clubs that any future act of that nature could result in further discipline.
The memo, titled “Obscene or Profane Language or Gesture,’’ reinforces that Rule 75.2 (i) in the NHL rulebook allows for a minor penalty to be assessed to any identifiable player who uses obscene, profane or abusive language or inappropriate gestures directed at any person.
The memo goes on to say that any “abusive gestures,’’ including taunting an opponent after an on-ice altercation, can result in either a penalty on the ice or supplemental discipline from the league office.
So consider the league’s 30 teams on notice.