Monday, February 15, 2010

The Impact of an Olympic Break

The NHL is closed for business for 10 days, while several of the league's finest head off to Vancouver to don sweaters for their home country instead.

With the tightness of the standings and so many teams vying for that final playoff spot, you'd think the break would suck the wind out every team's sails.

"We can’t do anything now until the 24th," says Calgary Flames' coach Brent Sutter. He admits all his coaching staff can do is start planning the next days of practice before the first game off the break: March 3 versus Minnesota, which also happens to be the trade deadline.

The Flames sit one point above Dallas and Detroit in eighth spot in the Western Conference. They can also feel the breath of Anaheim, St. Louis, and Minnesota not far behind.

"Obviously, it’s got to be a strong push for the last 20 games. We need to play well. But it’s not like we haven’t been playing well. The last six games or so, we’ve actually played some pretty good hockey. We just weren’t scoring goals."

So if the timing is good for a break, it doesn't matter to Sutter.

"It is what it is. Everyone’s known when the winter break was going to be for quite some time now. No players can practice. Is it a good time? It’s not like some teams are doing it and some aren’t. Everyone is on the same grounds with it."

Many of the league's players that won't be in Vancouver will use this opportunity for some rare family time.

What is Eric Nystrom going to do during the break?

"Just a little vacation and relaxation, nothing too crazy."

If the players have trouble getting their legs back after the 10 days are up, Nystrom says the Flames, in particular, have plenty of motivation.

"You just look at the standings. One win is not going to get us out of the position we’re in. You need to string a lot of wins together. That’s not going to change over the break."

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust Head to the NY Rangers

It's an ugly business and you don't need to look further than how this trade was confirmed. During the Sunday circus with the Phaneuf trade, it was all but confirmed that Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust were headed to the Rangers. Then, as everyone waited in anticipation for the announcement during the morning skates, we all saw that Jokinen and Prust took to the ice. Meaning: they were going to be in Monday night's lineup against the Flyers -- and they were. So when we noticed a scowling VP of Hockey Admin and CFO Michael Holditch followed by a couple other of the teams top brass moving quickly to the back room of the Flames locker room, it was a sign something was up. Although, seeing Holditch go to the back room post-game is not an unusual site in many circumstances.

Upon writers and audio media clicking their mouses to file the last of their stories, and TV getting ready for their standups, someone spotted Jokinen and Prust heading upstairs to the front offices. We the media lay in wait. Posting bodies at all possible entrance points, we scrambled to the back pass gate in the nick of time to catch the two players as they nearly successfully snuck out the back door.

Brandon Prust:

“This is the ugly part, you could say.

“It was tough finding out. My phone was going off the hook last night. Just waiting to hear a confirmation, pacing around for hours. You come out here and you have to get focused for an opportunity to get two points. We’re professionals and you have to go about business in a certain way. This is definitely a different way, but it’s done now.

“It’s always tough getting traded, but at the same time, it’s a bit of a complement to have another team interested in your services. That’s what you do when teams struggle. You mix things up and I was involved.”

Olli Jokinen

“It was a long day. After hearing everything yesterday and last night, I’m surprised. It was a big day yesterday with Dion (Phaneuf) getting traded. I wasn’t expecting to get moved.

“It’s tough. This business is about winning. We have one win and lost 13 – 14 games. You’ve got to play hard every time you go on the ice, no matter what kind of distractions you have. You play for that sweater, that logo on the front of you as long as they tell you you’re part of the team. I just got the news I’m not part of the team anymore.

“Eleven months ago when I got traded here I was very excited. I moved my family over here. I was hoping I would be here for the rest of my career. It’s a cruel business. It comes with the salary. It’s definitely a slap in the face to get traded.

“Going back to the eastern conference and play for an original six team – I get a chance to play with one of the better players in the league right now – Gaborik. I know the coach very well.

“We understand. The toughest part is to move the family again with kids involved. It’s not just me. There’s other people involved, too.

“This is what we do for a living. We make good money. This is the sacrifice we have to do.

“I just heard the news five minutes ago. I’m just going to go home and pack. It’s always sad, you make great friends over here. That’s the tough part, saying goodbyes to everyone. It’s tough to get traded. In the first three or four years of my career, I got traded three times. I was able to stay on one team for seven plus years. Now it’s the third trade in the last three years. Hopefully, it’s the last.”

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