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Hockey Notes

A stop in wonder land before season begins

By Kevin Paul Dupont
October 2, 2011

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Some of the things that I wonder about, make me go, "Hmmmm," and otherwise occupy the empty, echo-filled practice rinks of my mind here on the eve of another NHL season:

  • The Players Association office sure is quiet. The collective bargaining agreement expires in less than a year. Brendan Shanahan is doing more for the game as league disciplinarian/safety engineer than anyone has done for it since the invention of the Zamboni, helmets, and forward pass. And we hear nary a peep from Donald Fehr's corner office up there in Toronto. I doubt it, but could it possibly mean that Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman are quietly figuring out how to hit the "refresh" button on the current CBA? A third lockout would not be a charm.

  • Sidney Crosby is inching closer to playing again for the Penguins. Ditto for David Perron in St. Louis, although he's not nearly as close to an action date as Sid the Kid. Matt Lombardi looks good to go in Toronto, which in part led to the AHL demotion of ex-Bruins prospect Jumbo Joe Colborne. Of those three, none is as vital to his team as Crosby is to the Penguins. Although, even with the superstar pivot out for half of last season (41 games) with his concussion, Pittsburgh still collected 106 points. Combined, Perron and Lombardi played only 12 games last season because of their KOs.

  • Ray Whitney's name keeps bubbling up as a potential pickup for the Bruins. Not the first time the crafty winger's name has been linked to the Black and Gold. He is making $3 million in Phoenix and is on track to be an unrestricted free agent next July 1. Whitney, 39, collected 57 points last season with the Desert Dogs, the same number Patrice Bergeron put up as Boston's No. 3 scorer. If there proves to be a Mark Recchi void in the attack, Whitney likely would be a prime target. The Bruins already have room against the cap, and given that Marc Savard's $4 million hit will go off the books this week, Whitney would be an easy financial fit. Might be far less complicated for general manager Peter Chiarelli to pull the trigger early rather than get boxed in come the March trading deadline when the Coyotes would have a handful of Cup-hopeful bidders to extort.

  • The Bruins had viable reasons to like Zach Hamill when they took him eighth overall in the 2007 draft. First of all, he was the top scorer in the WHL with 93 points. But four-plus years later, his September training camp was underwhelming yet again, leaving the 23-year-old center in Providence for a fourth AHL season. Truth is, he is younger than most players who leave college after four years. But he hasn't filled out physically and his game has gone flatter than an IHOP short stack. Hard on the eyes right now, especially given the NHL accomplishments of some later picks in '07: Logan Couture (9), Brandon Sutter (11), Kevin Shattenkirk (14), Max Pacioretty (22), Perron (26), not to mention P.K. Subban (43).

  • Kevin Dallman spent three years with the Providence Wanna-B's before being dealt to St. Louis in 2005-06. Showed promise, but just couldn't get over the AHL/NHL hump. Now he's in his fourth year with Astana Barys, in Kazakhstan, where he has perennially been among the KHL's top three scoring blue liners. Dallman's wife, Stacy, has teamed with Genevieve Elkins, wife of ex-Ohio State standout Corey Elkins (now playing in Pardubice, Czech Republic, after time with the Manchester Monarchs), to form the Lokomotiv Wives Fund, collecting donations for widows of players killed in the horrific plane crash last month in Yaroslavl, Russia. As of last week, the fund (found easily on Facebook) had taken in some $11,000.

  • Like Cam Fowler last year with Anaheim, Adam Larsson appears to be going straight from the draft into heavy NHL duty. Larsson, selected fourth overall in June by the Devils, logged nearly 25 minutes of ice time in a Thursday tuneup and was all but guaranteed a roster spot the next day by new coach Peter DeBoer. Larsson is only 18 but played varsity hockey the last two years with Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League. It's conceivable he'll log first-unit power-play minutes, based on how the preseason rolled out. Larsson was the first defenseman selected in this year's draft, followed by Dougie Hamilton to Boston at No. 9. Headed into weekend play, DeBoer said it was a "real possibility" that the 6-foot-2-inch Larsson could see 25 minutes in some games right off the bat. Fowler was taken 12th in June 2010 by the Ducks and finished with 40 points in 76 games.

  • No Red Sox. No Celtics. Patriots Nation in a dither after losing to the punching-bag Bills. Sports talk radio here in the Hub of Hockey has never been served such a velvety pass to talk about the game than now. That should be good news for listeners, but something tells me that a black hole of Red Sox manager talk could suck the air out of the airwaves once more.

  • The Pat Burns Arena opened last Sunday in Stanstead, Quebec, on the Stanstead College campus just inches over the Vermont border. Line Burns, widow of the ex-Bruins coach, was there to open the doors, joined by the likes of Jacques Demers, Guy Carbonneau, Patrice Brisebois, and Henri Richard, the Pocket Rocket. Burns died less than a year ago after a long fight with cancer. The cop-turned-coach had a well-practiced growl, but an equally refined laugh, especially around the rink. Here's hoping it's more of the latter spirit that fills the building with his name on it for decades to come.

  • The immensely talented Drew Doughty finally came to terms Thursday night on a deal with the Kings that will bring him $56 million over eight years, a hair better than the $6.8 million-per-year Anze Kopitar ceiling that GM Dean Lombardi hoped not to crack. Maybe Doughty will donate $200,000 per annum to a charity of Kopitar's choice? Good pal Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times points out that the dollars tied up this offseason in Doughty, Mike Richards, and Simon Gagne - totaling $114.6 million - slightly exceed the $113.25 million it cost billionaire Philip Anschutz to purchase the Kings out of bankruptcy in the '90s.

  • Doughty, training of late with the London (Ontario) Knights, is expected to play in the Kings' season opener Friday night in Stockholm vs. the Rangers.

    GO FIGURE
    Dancing into a new arena

    Bryan Berard, No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft, spent his last hockey days in Russia, playing for Chekhov Vityaz in 2008-09 after finishing up his NHL career a year earlier with the Islanders.

    These days, Berard, 34, can be found twirling in Canada, but on figure skates as one of seven ex-NHLers appearing on the TV show "Battle of the Blades," broadcast by the CBC. The seven NHLers, along with Tessa Bonhomme, a member of Canada's 2010 women's gold medal Olympic hockey squad, are teamed with accomplished figure skaters in what is a frozen form of "Dancing with the Stars."

    The other ex-NHLers who have swapped slapshots for sequins: Cale Hulse, Boyd Devereaux, Curtis Leschyshyn, Todd Simpson, Brad May, and Russ Courtnall. For the record, the seven logged a career total of 6,536 penalty minutes, more than a third (2,248) by May, whose dossier also includes one killer playoff goal (May Day!) against the Bruins.

    "To do something outside my comfort zone is good," May said before the show's third season kicked off Sept. 18.

    Berard, the pride of Woonsocket, R.I., is paired with Montreal-born ice dancer Marie-France Dubreuil. She skated in the show's debut season with ex-Canadien Stephane Richer, then took last year off.

    The last we saw of Bonhomme and her Team Maple Leaf sisters, they were enjoying beers and cigars at the Rogers Center in Vancouver, celebrating their win over Team USA in the Olympics.

    ETC.
    Flier on Jagr may pan out Headed into weekend play, Jaromir Jagr had four goals in three preseason games with the Flyers. Back in the NHL after a three-year KHL tour with Omsk Avangard, the 39-year-old winger keeps cautioning everyone not to expect too much. But he still flashes those sublime talents. And he is a horse at 6 feet 2 inches and nearly 250 pounds. If he stays healthy and doesn't tire out, the ex-Penguins superstar could still produce 30 goals and 60-80 points. If so, that will make his $3.3 million among the top bargains of the summer signings. Jagr loves being fed passes by Claude Giroux, whom he calls "a little genius," similar to Mario Lemieux with some of his moves.

    Cranky ankle Ankle woes persist for ex-Thayer/Boston University standout Ryan Whitney, who needed surgery last season and was out for more than half of the Oilers schedule. "No clue," he said when asked if he would be ready for the season opener. Only 28 years old, the 6-foot-4-inch backliner is vital to the Edmonton attack, especially when quarterbacking the power play. Prior to his injury last year, they were 12-16-6, then went 13-29-6 over the final 48.

    Crime show They lack the right music - in fact, they are without any music - but the NHL.com videos with Sheriff Brendan Shanahan explaining the many suspensions he has handed out of late are appointment web watching. The big ex-winger stares straight into the camera and stoically explains, with video to support his points, why he's sending these guys on vacation. I find myself ever more eager to see the next installment of "CSI: NHL HQs." I've also grown tired of the miscreants later saying, "Gee, five games, that's way more than I think it deserves ....." Blah, blah, blah. One of the game's true assets over the decades has been the honesty of most of its players. Cheap comments only make the cheap acts worse.

    Easy street The Maple Leafs are excited about the training camp turned in by Jake Gardiner, the 21-year-old Minnesotan acquired from Anaheim with Joffrey Lupul when the Leafs shipped Francois Beauchemin to the Ducks. At 6-2, 190, Gardiner looks as if he can be a legit puck-moving defenseman, with good speed and the sense when to jump into plays. The highway that brushes by Air Canada Centre in Toronto is the Gardiner Expressway. Unfair, handing the Leaf media corps such an easy nickname. When the Capitals come to town, they'll have Dennis "BMW" Wideman (Big Money Wides) to counter the Gardiner Expressway.

    Pivotal decision It didn't work before, but the Blackhawks are taking another look at using Patrick Kane at center, possibly between Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette. Once beyond Jonathan Toews, they don't really have a No. 2 pivot.

    "If it works, it works," said Kane, sounding very much like a guy who'd rather hang at right wing.

    Staios is staying Old-timers Owen Nolan (San Jose) and Michael Nylander (Philly) couldn't land contracts with their tryout attempts. But ex-Bruin Steve Staios caught on with the Islanders. Originally drafted by St. Louis, Staios began his NHL career with the Bruins after he was acquired in the Steve Leach deal. He is only 64 games away from reaching the 1,000 plateau.

    Loose pucks

    Belmont Hill's Paul Mara remains in search of work for 2011-12. He split last season between Anaheim and Montreal and suited up for only one game against the Bruins in the playoffs ..... Team owner Pete Karmanos Jr. told a lunch gathering in Raleigh, N.C., Monday that his Hurricanes "really have a strong shot at winning the whole thing." We're not sure of the beverage selections at the luncheon. The Tropical Depressions have missed the playoffs four of the last five years ..... Drew Doughty's eight-year deal in Los Angeles will start with a $6 million payout this season and reach $7.65 million in its final year, 2018-19. His $7 million average annual value will rank third this season among NHL backliners, behind Nashville's Shea Weber ($7.5 million) and Florida's Brian Campbell (7.14 million). Campbell is the only one to have his name on the Cup ..... Nordiques Nation, a hockey-loving bunch of Quebec crazies, say they'll be here in the Hub for the March 3 game against the Islanders. Their mission is to convince the NHL to bring a franchise back to the land of Le Colisee. Upward of 2,000 of them typically come to games, often sporting Nordiques bleu ..... Christopher Bourque, back after a year in Russia and Switzerland (Lugano), again failed to make the Capitals roster. He'll start the year in Hershey, where both the hockey and chocolate no doubt will be less than what he wants ..... Ex-Bruins pivot Jozef Stumpel, who had two tours here in the Hub, is now 39 and playing this season with Moscow Spartak. Stumpy stood a lackluster 0-1-1 and minus-6 in his first six games. And while we're on that side of the hockey planet, old pal Glen Metropolit is in Zug (Switzerland) for a second season, after his 15-38-53 in 47 games last year. The 37-year-old pivot stood 2-7-9 in his first seven games ..... Congrats to Dale Arnold, named NESN's studio host for Bruins games this season. Kathryn Tappen has moved on to the NHL Network. Mike Milbury also will not return to Good-Times-Nothing-But-Good-Times NESN. Most of his work schedule will be devoted to his NBC gigs, rumored to include a web-only show that will have him riding with Thelma and Louise. We hope.

    Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.

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