More on Yzerman, the KHL and the Blackhawks fallout

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
2:03
AM ET
The presence of Kevin Lowe and Wayne Gretzky on Canada's 2010 Olympic staff is going to be a valuable asset to newly anointed executive director Steve Yzerman.

Not just because they assembled the 2002 Olympic champion team and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey championship squad, but, in my mind, just as much because of the failure of Canada's team at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy.

"Absolutely. It's extremely important," Yzerman said on a conference call Saturday. "They can offer so much to us. Every decision that they made -- what worked for them, what didn't work for them, both in winning and losing.

"I thought that was vital to us. You cannot have enough experience."

And believe me, Gretzky's continued involvement wasn't because he was begging to stay in the group. It's very much because Yzerman and Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson both urged him to stay on. So, the title of "advisor to the executive director" is perfect. Gretzky doesn't want to be the face of this Olympic team. But he's more than happy to help out Yzerman and the rest of the staff.

There are indeed lessons Gretzky and Lowe have already begun to share with Yzerman and the rest of the Team Canada brain trust, Ken Holland and Doug Armstrong.

Lowe hinted at one Saturday, when discussing the failures of Torino.

"I think we really saw a shift in the overall world game and the NHL game from 2002 to 2006," said Lowe. "If perhaps we made a mistake, it was in overestimating the ability of players to move the puck and their mobility. I think evidenced by the way the Russians beat us in that [quarterfinal] game with a lot of youthful exuberance and some high-skill level. If we're going to make changes, we're going to focus on Canadian type of players that can play with energy, but also emphasizing the ability to handle the puck, move the puck and great mobility."

He later added: "Really, the overall world game and the NHL game is all about puck possession and puck movement. It's the reason why the Red Wings have had so much success. We have the luxury of having a huge pool of those players now. We can pick players that not only represent Canada in terms of energy, but also have the ability and skill level to compete with the Europeans."

If you're reading between the lines like I am, I think it means you can forget seeing a pure checker like a Kris Draper or Kirk Maltby on the 2010 team. Skill, skill, skill will be the name of the game.

Another interesting dynamic of this management group is that only one of them, Holland, is currently an NHL GM -- the most demanding of all jobs. Yzerman is a vice president with the Wings, Armstrong the vice president of player personnel with the Blues and Lowe the president of the Oilers.

Yzerman, Armstrong and Lowe will have the flexibility in their schedules to do the exact kind of scouting that Team Canada wants. GMs are inundated by their day-to-day chores, a seven-day-a-week, 12-hour-a-day proposition.

In fact, Lowe said Saturday he probably would have turned down the latest Olympic invitation if he were still GM.

My final observation is Yzerman gets it. He was a player on the 2002 Olympic team and felt the pressure of an entire nation desperately urging a 50-year gold medal drought to end. Yzerman wanted that just as badly, and maybe more given that he played that tournament on one good leg.

So, believe me when I say Yzerman was genuine Saturday when he decided to address his hockey-mad country during his opening remarks.

"My message to Canadians: I understand completely what the expectations of this team are," said Yzerman. "I understand what the goal is. Each and every one of us [in the management group] all fully understand the expectations. We understand the passion that all Canadians have. We share in that passion. We're one in the same. Our goals are no different than yours. We understand the gold medal is the expectation. We're prepared for that. ...

"This is going to be a difficult tournament to win, a difficult medal to win, a gold medal," he added. "Our players are going to have to play their best. Our coaching staff, and we're confident we'll assemble a good staff, will be prepared. We will do everything possible to win this tournament. Having said that, I'll reiterate that there are tremendous players out there from all countries around the world who are not intimidated coming into Canada to play. This is a very exciting time. We will do our best to assemble an excellent coaching staff and set of players of which I'm quite confident they will go out and play well and make Canada proud. If luck goes our way, we'll all get the result we want."

What else is there to add? Perfectly said Steve.

And now some notes and quotes from things I've heard over the weekend:

Russia and the KHL
I had a chance to speak again with Igor Larionov, who is in Russia, on Saturday. He said the KHL has convened an emergency board of directors meeting for Tuesday. They want to get more answers regarding Alexei Cherepanov's tragic death.

The most chilling part is Larionov had warned the KHL that something like this might happen unless all the right standards were in place at their arenas. He was concerned because he witnessed firsthand, sitting in the stands at Joe Louis three years ago, the Jiri Fischer incident.

"I told the league almost a year ago that was a serious issue," Larionov told ESPN.com. "But, at this point, all we can do is sit down Tuesday and see what we can do. We want to find out the real reason behind all this. We need to take some measures. We'll get more information on Tuesday and we'll see what happens."

Of note, I was told this weekend that two of the exhibition games in Europe earlier this month involving two of the four NHL teams sent over there were in jeopardy at one point because NHL and NHLPA advance teams went into those rinks and found they did not have working defibrillators readily available. Not until those arenas got working defibrillators were the games allowed to go on. The KHL can learn from the NHL's standard in this area.

This week's NHL GMs meeting
The league's 30 GMs meet Thursday in Chicago. Of the many agenda items, two things stand out for me:

1. GMs will discuss testing at NHL combines and whether it can be any more thorough in the wake of Cherepanov's death. Cherepanov got a clean bill of health at the NHL combines two years ago, even though he reportedly may have had a heart condition. But, on the other hand, the NHL combine testing did discover a heart condition with former prospect David Carle last spring, potentially saving his life. The overall question the GMs have to ponder is what kind of testing should teams perform, and how thorough can it be?

2. Blues GM Larry Pleau will submit a rule change idea regarding delayed penalties, and it's something that has generated support from other GMs. The idea is to only whistle after the penalized team actually clears the puck out of their defensive zone. So, instead of possession, they would have to totally get the puck out. That could create more offensive chances for the team that's about to go on the power play with extra attacker out. Also, if the puck is in the offensive zone and the offensive team gets called for a penalty, then the team in the defensive zone, if they have the puck, can carry the puck up and shoot it into the zone; but, this time, the goalie stopping it behind the net won't stop play. His team will need to clear the puck out of the zone.

"It's something I brought up a couple of years ago, but didn't have a chance to do much with it," Pleau told ESPN.com. "We came out of the lockout with changes aimed at having more flow and more offense and excitement. So, I feel we should look at this idea.

"How many times do you see pressure after a penalty is called and the defensive team touches it and the whistle is blown. Instead, let's bring on the sixth attacker, which fans love, and let the play continue until the puck is cleared."

Paul Stastny talks
If you ask me, the Colorado Avalanche are playing with fire with potential restricted free agent Paul Stastny. Contract talks have stalled ever since the Avs offered just north of $5 million a year on a five-year deal. Given Anze Kopitar's seven-year, $47.6 million extension ($6.8 million average) last week, it seems obvious where Colorado needs to go next. Entering this weekend, Stastny (22 years old) had 155 points in 152 career NHL games; Kopitar (21) 141 in 158 games.

They should make sure to get him signed. Stastny, like Thomas Vanek in 2007, is definitely a candidate for an offer sheet in July.

Olympics beyond 2010
An issue that's beginning to surface more and more is NHL and NHLPA have contrasting views on future Olympic participation. They are on a collision course. Most owners want 2010 to be the last, for a number of reasons (travel, player fatigue, shutting league down, etc.); but NHLPA is finding out through its fall tour that the majority of its players want to stay involved past 2010. This is an issue that will need to be resolved in the next round of collective bargaining.

"In my contact with players thus far on the fall tour and in the summer meetings, they appear to overwhelmingly support continued participation in the Olympics after Vancouver," NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly told ESPN.com.

More on Blackhawks fallout
One rumor making the rounds in the Windy City in the aftermath of Denis Savard's firing as coach this week is that GM Dale Tallon is next on the chopping block (I hope not, he's one of the good guys in this game) and that senior advisor Scotty Bowman would take over.

"Absolutely no chance," Bowman told ESPN.com on Saturday. "I made it clear before I went there that I would only take a job with Chicago if it was in a similar role as Detroit, as a senior advisor. I'm here to help Dale, I'm here to help my son. I have no interest in changing my lifestyle. I scout games here in Tampa and I enjoy that."

Bowman took the job in Chicago in large part to be able to work with Hawks assistant GM Stan Bowman, his son, in particular since Stan has battled cancer over the last few years and is currently in remission. Our best wishes to Stan in that battle.

Latest on Rolston
The initial diagnosis on Devils star Brian Rolston is a high-ankle sprain, although the reality is that they'll need to wait for swelling to go down to get a better look at it.

"He's got an ankle sprain and we won't know for a few days to see just how bad it is," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told ESPN.com Saturday.

There's an offense that can't afford to lose a player of Rolston's stature for too long.

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