There's only one problem

Yes, I know I gushed mightily upon learning that the Los Angeles Kings announced the organization would retire Luc Robitaille's number. I'm sorry, but I just can't do the same for legendary Detroit Red Wing Steve Yzerman.

His sweater and its No. 19 will officially be
retired Jan. 2, 2007, when the Anaheim Ducks meet the Red Wings at the Joe Louis Arena. And on that night, No. 19 will join Detroit legends Terry Sawchuk's No. 1, Ted Lindsay's No. 7, Gordie Howe's No. 9, Alex Delvecchio's No. 10 and Sid Abel's No. 12.

I'm certainly not opposed to having a team retire the number of a captain who brought three Stanley Cups home to the Motor City. The sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer is certainly deserving and, if in attendance that night, I'd cheer and clap as loudly as anyone. There's no doubting, at least from where I sit, that Stevie Y is a Hockey God.

The problem, though, is the ceremony is four years too late. Why didn't he retire after the Red Wings won their last Cup in 2002, going out on top? Remember
Ray Bourque and the Avalanche? He knew when to go.

Instead, we had to watch Yzerman labor through three more seasons (not counting the lockout), take a diminished role with the team all while possibly stunting the growth, maturity and leadership capabilities of such younger Red Wings as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Jiri Hudler and, possibly, Johan Franzen.

Now, if Detroit could convince crotchety dinosaur
Chris Chelios (Did you know that he is Lady Byng's great-great grandfather? Really, he is!) to spend more time in the restaurant business, the Red wings might actually contend in the West this season.


Who's the best young goalie?

When Colin first started attending preschool, we quickly learned just how much these places are like a Petri dish, breeding grounds for all sorts of ugly and easy-to-pass germs. Ten days into his kindergarten year, we've found there's little difference.

And now, as I sit here waiting for my cold medicine to kick in (Colin, thankfully, is sound asleep), here's my list, in classic countdown order, of the five best young (defined as under 25 years old) goalies we'll see in the NHL this season:

No. 5:
Hannu Toivonen, Boston Bruins, 22 years old (5.15.84)
This is his year to make a statement. Must stay healthy. Will surpass Tim Thomas for starting gig early on, maybe before end of training camp.

No. 4:
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, 22 years old (2.29.84)
Conn Smythe-caliber of play this season will send him up the list, maybe even to the top, very quickly. Doesn't get rattled. Nice down-to-earth kid as well.

No. 3:
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins, 21 years old (11.28.84)
I haven't given up on this kid. You shouldn't either. Though he's a bit flaky (Really, what Quebec-born goalie isnt? Must be all the pucks they see playing in the Q.) Maybe this is the year where the maddening inconsistency stops and the brilliance reinforces Penguins' faith.

No. 2:
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers 24 years old 24 (3.2.82)
Hard to argue with Olympic gold, though he did falter in NHL playoffs. I'll pin that on burnout rather than pressure. Olympics are played on a bigger stage, plus he had much better teammates.

No. 1:
Rick Dipietro, New York Islanders, 24 years old (9.19.81)
Can you imagine if he had a sound defense playing in front of him? And stable ownership? Confident, not cocky. Can handle the puck. Only Ward poses a serious challenge over this season.



Leave the Seven Stars alone

I'm glad to read that the University of North Dakota has decided to fight the NCAA's ridiculously politically-correct ruling, dating to 2002, that the school's Fighting Sioux logo is "hostile and abusive" toward Native Americans.

The NCAA has said that North Dakota could neither participate in nor play host to any games at the Ralph Englestad Arena if the team continues to sport its logo, shown above. With the Fighting Sioux one of the nation's top-level hockey programs, this is a real concern to North Dakota fans.

I believe that we should atone for our past sins, perhaps in the form of better educational opportunities and health care programs for Native Americans. Perhaps if I were a Native American, the picture would be crystal clear, but I'm having a hard time seeing how this logo, which to me shows a strong character with a hint of a warm smile, can be demeaning.

It seems that the NCAA could direct its time, effort and money toward such bigger issues as decreasing drug and alcohol usage, increasing the graduation rate of student-athletes, and creating a revenue-sharing formula from wealthy Division I schools that provides more funding for Division II and III institutions.


Talking about masks ...

... why don't you check out these designs. Some are cool. Some are scary. And some are simply out of this world.

Any way you look at it, though, the work being done on today's goalie masks, which show they've come a long way since Montreal Maroons goalie Clint Benedict, at left, first donned one, makes them true pieces of art. Enjoy!

Don McClelland Designs, where you'll see masks for Boston's Tim Thomas and Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen, when he played for the Chicago Wolves.

EYECANDYAIR, where you'll see some truly remarkable work, including another of Tim Thomas' mask, by airbrush artist Steve Nash. Sources tell me that Nash is working on Thomas' mask for the 2006-07 season.

Image Airbrush, which, in addition to goalie masks, designed a 9/11 memorial catchers mask for then Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Chad Kreuter.

Miska Designs, which has designed masks in the past for Eddie Belfour, Manny Fernandez and Steve Shields.

Myers Mask Design, where you'll see masks for Washington's Olaf Kolzig and Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson, when he played for the Buffalo Sabres.

If you have any artistic talent at all, print this sheet and you can design your own mask.

If you're really adventurous, enter EYECANDYAIR's contest. If your design is picked (I submitted a Florida beach motif), you'll win your very own custom-painted goalie mask. Good luck.

And in the interest of full disclosure, no, I'm not getting any money, artwork or masks (unless I win the contest, of course) for promoting these sites. In fact, you'll now find these links in the sidebar.


One final thought ...

... before I retire for the night so I can watch a repeat of FX Networks' hit show "Rescue Me" and its caustic, but hockey-loving, star Denis Leary:

It's my guess that old-school catchers masks will fade away into obscurity as more of the new generation of baseball catchers opt for the goalie-style masks, shown at right.

Here's to hoping, too, that the baseball masks become just as creative as those worn by goalies. Though I consider myself somewhat of a baseball purist (I don't mind the DH rule, especially when it's Boston's Big Papi), adding more color and personality certainly won't hurt the game.

Addendum: Tonight's episode of "Rescue Me," actually a repeat of Tuesday's show, had Bruins great and former Lightning owner Phil Esposito in a guest-starring speaking role as a fire chief. Patriots coach Bill Belichick also had a cameo speaking role.

Addendum No. 2: So, does Tommy Gavin die in the fire?

Bruce Garrioch is good for one thing

And that's getting me to look at the Web site of the Ottawa Sun (which, according to whispers pulsing through tropical hockey circles, will continue to employ sports journalism's infamous rumor monger) and finding these Canadian national treasures.

This is getting ugly

How upset is Tampa Bay Lightning management over forward Evgeny Artyukhin's decision earlier this month to sign with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Russian Super League? Read on.

Artyukhin, one of the Bolts' few remaining brutes now that playoff dipstick Chris Dingman is back home in Edmonton stocking shelves at the Maple Grocery on 107 Avenue NW, rejected Tampa Bay's offers of one-year for $600,000 or two years for $1.2 million, opting to instead return to his motherland.

Upon learning that Artyukhin, somewhat lovingly referred to as
"R2" by the Bolts' faithful, was leaving the heat and humidity of Florida's gulf coast, Lightning GM Jay Feaster, normally a reserved guy, was so incensed (how incensed was he, you ask?) that he told the St. Petersburg Times (Florida's, not Russia's, best newspaper) that the unrespectful player's decision "spits right in our face."

Not a pretty picture, eh?

Yesterday, in an exclusive question-and-answer session with Lightning season-ticket holders (we've stepped up from single-game purchases, meaning we'll see you at the Lightning's home opener Patrice), the subject of Artyukhin's departure rose its ugly, saliva-dripping head.

Coach John Tortorella, not one to mince words (remember when he threw goalie John Grahame under the bus following a 5-2 loss to Ottawa in Game 4 of last year's playoffs?), was up to his old tricks again.

"As far as I'm concerned," the Beantown native said, "Arty can rot in Russia."

Almost tellingly, and maybe something that Artyukhin's misguided agent Mark Gandler should pay attention to, a roar of laughter quickly rolled through the X0 Club at the St. Pete Times Forum.


On wheat with Swiss cheese

Some assorted, but nonetheless hockey-related, thoughts while I polish off an early morning ham sandwich:

~ Now that Steve Yzerman has retired and Brendan Shanahan is playing for the Rangers, it's a pretty easy guess, in my estimation, who will be the Red Wings' next captain -- either Chris Chelios or Nicklas Lidstrom. I also heard, through highly-placed sources deep within the Motor City Pigeons' marketing hierarchy, that the team will produce a Dominik Hasek bobblehead -- it makes one split save and goes on the shelf for six to eight weeks.

~ Who the hell is H. Larue Renfroe and how did he get his hands on the AHL's
Providence Bruins? Sorry, dude, but that's as much of a hockey name as Rosco P. Coltrane. What makes Renfroe so special? I mean, why can't he just join a fantasy league like most of us.

~ It's not that I truly dislike it, but the Buffalo Sabres'
new logo certainly does resemble one bad-ass slug. Why didn't the team brass, with its infinite wisdom, just update the original blue, white and gold sweaters? That would certainly please some longtime Sabres fans.

~ Zdenek Blatny, (pronounced ZEHD-nihk, BLAHT-nee) who signed a standard AHL contract with the Springfield Falcons earlier this week, has one of my favorite last names. To me,
Blatny is wonderfully multi-dimensional, and not just as a cuss word. Not following me? Try these on for size: As in, "Ow!!! I think I just pulled my right Blatny." How about "Man, take a look at the size of that Blatny. We're gonna need some help here." Or you could try this dish for dinner tonight: Pan-seared filet of farm-raised and hand-rubbed Blatny, over a bed of organic sun-dried tomato linguine, swimming in a light garlic, almond and white wine sauce. See what I mean? The possibilities are endless.

~ Isn't it a bit of poetic justice that David Frost, the scumbag agent-turned-coach, is facing some very serious accusations? Though we must presume his innocence until any conviction on the sexual manipulation and assault charges, there's something about this guy that gives me the heebie-jeebies. Time will only tell whether Frost can be mentioned in the same sentence as convicted pedophile Graham James.


Crosby's just a kid

A story moved across the newswire a night ago that Ray Shero, the Penguins' new general manager, and Michel Therrien, Pittsburgh's coach, were weighing whether Sidney Crosby, at left, could trade up and wear the captain's "C" on the chest of his No. 87 sweater.

Before the Penguins' braintrust makes its decision, I have one simple, and quite possibly overlooked, question. Even though he said he'd accept the captaincy if offered, don't you think Crosby has had enough responsibility placed on his shoulders?

The team ownership, even in its transitional stage, knows he's responsible for every sellout at the antiquated Igloo. Reebok has invested millions, and its growing hockey empire, in his servitude as the RBK Hockey poster boy. Hell, even half of Canada, not just picturesque Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, claims to be related to him.

C'mon, the Kid is just 17 days past his 19th birthday. At that age, he should be more worried about finding time to play fetch with his dog, Buster, than waiting for another unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty every time he bitches -- rightfully so, too -- about yet another non-call.

Not that Shero or Therrien would give a rat's ass to what I think, but Crosby will do just fine wearing an "A" for the next couple of years. Give him time to show the refs and the league's players that he's not a whiner. Even more, give him time to learn how to lead, and not just by example.

Crosby, with the good Lord's and Hockey Gods' blessings, will be around for years. We should all sit back and enjoy it. Just let him play.


Patrice gets his payday

Though I would have been more than ecstatic had Boston's Patrice Bergeron, through some stroke of general managerial brilliance on Jay Feaster's part signed with Tampa Bay instead (even if it meant dealing away Vinny Lecavalier or Marty St. Louis), I can't help but smile knowing that he'll be with the Bruins for the next five years.

I've been fortunate enough to watch Patrice grow up, so to speak, over the past few years within the Bruins organization. From getting my first signed Bruins puck from him (note the rookie number 56, not today's 37, in the picture above) while leaving a FleetCenter practice on Sept. 25, 2003, with Martin Lapointe to watching him play in the 2004-05 AHL All-Star Classic in Manchester, N.H., to seeing a buddy-buddy relationship (Don't believe me? Click here and here.) begin to develop with my young son, Colin, it's been a fun ride.

On one of our last trips to a Bruins practice last season, I made a point to tell Patrice as well as a couple other Bruins, Brad Boyes and Andrew Alberts, that the next time we'd see them would be in Florida. And, if they were so inclined and had the time, they'd be more than welcome to a quiet, home-cooked meal whenever they were in town to play the Bolts. And despite Patrice's well-earned millions ($23.75 million, to be exact), that offer still stands.

Granted, he might get a nicer condo in Boston and a pricier (It better be safer, too; think Volvo's XC90, buddy) set of wheels, I doubt he'll let the money go to his head. It's more about the game than the money. That's why Patrice is Colin's favorite player and role model.

Good job, Patrice. I know you'll earn every penny.

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Kings show nice touch

Though a cynic might see the move as a bid to ensure a sellout, the Los Angeles Kings deserve kudos for honoring Luc Robitaille by retiring his jersey No. 20 on Jan. 20, 2007, when the Phoenix Coyotes and Wayne Gretzky are in town for a Western Conference throwdown.

Robitaille, the highest scoring left wing in NHL history, will join Kings greats No. 30 Rogie Vachon, my second favorite goalie; the ever-grumpy, but hugely talented No. 16 Marcel Dionne (feel free to check out one of my signed Dionne pucks); No. 18 Dave Taylor; and the aforementioned No. 99 as the only Los Angeles players to have their jersey numbers retired.

Looking back, I suppose I should have picked up, for less than $60, one of those cool purple-and-gold Vintage-brand Kings jerseys, complete with Robitaille's name and number, that I saw at a store near John's Pass Fishing Village in Madeira Beach a couple Sundays ago. Then again, I'm pretty sure they'll still be available. Being in Florida and all, I'd be surprised if more than 10 people in Pinellas County alone could tell me who he is. I'll let you know, on the jersey, that is.

Now that Lucky Luc has become part-owner and team president of the USHL's Omaha Lancers, there's even a chance, provided I can get one of those jerseys, that I'd mail it to the team in hopes of getting it signed.

Addendum: After successfully dodging a pretty nasty thunderstorm that dropped nearly an inch of rain in less than an hour, I made my way to Madeira Beach on Tuesday afternoon and picked up my Robitaille jersey. My total, including tax, was $64.19. Not bad, eh, considering the original price was $150?

Addendum No. 2: Guess what? Luc signed the jersey. The guy is a class act.


Finally, something to read

Some random thoughts on The Hockey News' 2006-07 Yearbook while ignoring the Yankees-Red Sox game, reshaping the "steal-my-lunch-money" brim (read, to any urban-based Hound Central 2.0 followers, as flat) on my new Montgomery Biscuits batting practice cap and digging on Lisa's homemade hot-and-sour soup.

~ While Alexei Kovalev certainly looks like he spent one day too long in P-Town or Miami's South Beach, get a load of Julianna, at left, in the Warrior hockey ad on the inside cover. She could hold my, uh, Sher-Wood anytime.

~ The Insider Picks on Page 4 are mostly dead-nut perfect, save for two changes. There is no way in hell that Florida, and not Tampa Bay, makes the Eastern Conference playoffs. Out West, it's my belief that Edmontonians, especially now that we know Mrs. Chris Pronger couldn't stand life in Canada's heartland, should savor the Oilers' failed Stanley Cup run last year. Now that Vancouver finally has a goalie, one perhaps that the Lightning should have dealt for, the Canucks are far too deep to not make some noise.

~ The picture of Sidney Crosby on Page 5, shot during a commercial, looks more like The Next One's dash to a team bus, escaping the hordes of money-grubbing scumbucket dealers who will someday learn that it's better, and smarter, to collect than sell. Collecting autographs was a lot more fun before eBay was born, wasn't it?

~ The step-by-step guide to scoring like Alexander Ovechkin on Page 7 is a real hoot. I've even practiced it a couple times, but had to stop after rolling over our cat, Bella, and, in the ensuing mayhem, breaking, but failing to light, a living room lamp.

~ Here's hoping that all of my game-worn jersey cards of Joey Thornton will produce enough genetic material to create a Hart Trophy-winning hockey god once cloning becomes legal. THN presents its case on Page 10.

~ For collectors who like to get sigs on magazines (yeah, I'm talking about you Eddie, Postal Mark and Paul from Hartford), there are great full-page pictures of Francophobe, and notorious toughy, Sean Avery (Page 33), Henrik Lundqvist (Page 40), Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf (Page 46) and Sid the Kid (Page 56) to quench your quirky thirsts.

~ And, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Carolina's Mike Commodore violating North Carolina's open-container law on Page 210? Given the alcohol-fueled death of Steve Chiasson in 1999 (toxicology reports showed his blood-alcohol content was 0.27 percent, more than three times the state's legal limit of 0.08 percent), THN's photo editors showed incredibly poor judgment.

Because I haven't had time to read the team previews, I'll save that for a future post. Trust me, there's more to write about.


It's a date, I suppose

This will probably come off as nothing more than a case of middle-age whining, but between work and kindergarten schedules, I get very little time to spend with my family. The only time I can count on is like today, a Sunday, the sole weekend day that my employer, Florida's biggest and best newspaper, deems me unnecessary.

Usually, we just hang out, playing catch or soccer in the back yard before throwing dinner on the grill. Once a month, we continue our Summer Beach Tour 2006 to work on our sunburns. And, if the Devils Rays are in the middle of a homestand, like they are today with a game against the Tribe, we'll take in a matinee (Granted, they may stink as a team, but $12 and a AAA card will get you three tickets in the Beach or the 300s, and the parking is free).

Every once in a while, though, there is an event that inspires me to drag my sorry butt out of bed before noon or 1 p.m. (remember, please, that I work until 1:30 to 2 a.m., meaning I usually don't hit the rack until 4 or 5 a.m.), so I can spend some quality time with my wife and son.

This upcoming Saturday will be one of those times. My new hometown team, the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, will hold what they call IceFest 2006. Basically, it's a marketing event designed to sell tickets, either single games (starting at only $19) or season-ticket packages (starting at $199 for 15 games). There's a chance to win prizes, meet some of the players (the team is promising that Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis will be there), buy discounted souvenirs, etc.

One benefit, and I learned this by proofreading a sports page before the presses starting rolling earlier this morning, is that if you buy at least four tickets, not just season tickets, you'll receive an autographed Brad Richards puck. Sounds like a deal, and some quality family time, to me.

P.S.: It seems the Evgeni Malkin, the Great Russian Defector, was not in Wilkes-Barre. Pa., as I had incorrectly guessed. He was spotted in Los Angeles. I guess I owe myself a sweaty, smelly facewash.


Where, oh where, is Evgeni Malkin?

My guess is he's squirreled away, deep in the cavernous and steam-filled bowels of the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza.

If you know where that is, give yourself the game's No. 1 star. If you don't, give yourself a sweaty, smelly facewash.

All I hope is that this matter is settled long before the Penguins leave the cold of Pittsburgh to visit Tampa next February, so I can add a couple of pucks from the latest Russian phenom to my collection.


Starting 'em young

A couple weeks ago, as the Tampa Bay Lightning was holding a tryout and conditioning camp for its prospects and unsigned free agents, Colin and I made the trip over to the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa to watch.

It gave us an opportunity to see some of the Lightning's future, including such players as Stanislav Lascek (47 goals and 135 points for Chicoutimi of the QMJHL last season), Blair Jones (35 goals and 85 points for Moose Jaw of the WHL) and Finnish goaltender Karri Ramo.

I brought along a camera, just in case Colin wanted to take some pictures. Of course, he did. A sampling of his effort that morning is shown above. Not bad for a 5-year-old, if you ask me.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock . . .

Another National Hockey League season is rapidly approaching. I can't wait. I've got plenty of items for the Tampa Bay Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, among others, to sign. Major items include a 2006-07 team helmet as well as adding a few more select signatures to finish a mini Stanley Cup.

One major difference from last year, though, is that all of the hounding will take place in the Tampa Bay area. Now that I'm done shoveling snow, collecting autographs will continue to provide a mental vacation from the daily pressures of helping to produce one of the nation's best newspapers. And, for the record, I plan on being there a long, long time.

Not only will I get four cracks each at the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, including Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward, Washington' Alexander Ovechkin and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk and Kari Lehtonen through this relocation, but I'll also have these key teams and players to hound when they come to town this season:

Saturday, Oct. 7: Patrice Bergeron and the Boston Bruins
Thursday, Oct. 19: Peter Forsberg and the Philadelphia Flyers
Sunday, Oct. 29: Joey Thornton and the San Jose Sharks
Saturday, Dec. 9: Teemu Selanne and the Anaheim Ducks
Tuesday, Feb. 6: Lubomir Visnovsky and the Los Angeles Kings
Tuesday, Feb. 13: Coach Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes
Sunday, Feb. 25: Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins
Tuesday, Feb. 27: Mike Modano and the Dallas Stars

Feel free, too, to check back in mid-September once training camps begin. With any luck, I'll finish off the Lightning items.

As always, thanks for stopping by.