Dany Heatley Could Take All Summer

News from the Edmonton Journal's Dan Barne's, is that despite Edmonton and Ottawa's interested in resolving the Dany Heatley situation as soon as possible, that there seems to be no close solution in sight.

Heatley is enjoying his relaxing atmosphere at his Kelowna beach home after he and his agent J.P Barry have given explicit instructions to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, to find at least two more teams with trade offers before he makes any kind of decision. From the sounds of it, Heatley is prepared to hold out all summer if it takes that long.

Murray has been in contact with two other teams interested in the superstar left winger. San Jose and Minnesota have both contacted Murray in the past and it is believed these two teams have made inquiries; although no offers officially tabled.

All this tells Oiler fans is that we should expect not to see Dany Heatley in an Oilers uniform, unless September comes and goes and no suitable trade is offered from any other team in the NHl besides the Oilers.


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Waiting For Leftovers Part II

In our second installment of a continued series on trades vs free agency, the Edmonton Oilers and their options; we take a closer look at the Calgary Flames.

As we know from past experience, trading players within your division is rare. Trading from Calgary to Edmonton and visa versa is probably even more rare, but let's pretend for a minute that it's possible, which we know it is. Who would you be interested in from the Flames?

Having made one of the biggest splashes in the days leading up to free agency, the Calgary Flames took one of the biggest free agent names off the market in Jay Bouwmeester. Inking him to a 6 yr, $6.68 million dollar deal per year added an incredible amount of depth to their blueline. With players like Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regher already helping form a formiddable defensive core, Bouwmeester makes the Flames defense -- well, scary good.

That said, what does it cost the Flames in terms of goal scoring? They lose Mike Cammaleri, who scores 39 goals and signs on with Montreal. Immediately that hurts. What's worse is that they have no money to replace him with. Calgary sits just $3.1 million from the cap and have at forward only Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Daymond Langkow with any proven offensive experience over more that one year.
Perhaps the Sutter brothers will be happy to try and win games 2-1 or 1-0, but should they want to add at least one more experienced offensive forward, it may require moving someone out. Darryl Sutter's gone on record saying his plan is to keep the big three on defense. So who goes?

Daymond Langkow
-- At 33, it looks as though Langkow's best years are behind him. His offensive production has slowly declined in each of his last three seasons. In fact, it can be argued that his one 70 plus point season was a direct result of being paired with Iginla for almost the entire year. Langow is a center and doesn't bring much more than Horcoff would to the Oilers, just a slightly lower cap hit. Calgary wouldn't make this trade one for one and with Gagner and Horcoff as number 1 or 2 in whichever order you prefer, Langkow makes little sense.

Rene Bourque
- is young and looks like he's going to be a fine young LW. The Oilers need a first line LW, but Bourque is not that guy. He's yet to prove anything offensively with the exception of what looked to be breakout year last year until it was derailed by injury. At a cap hit of $1.3 and UFA status at the end of this coming season, Bourque would probably be a short term fit for the Oilers even if they chose to take a leap of faith. Bourque needs to prove far more than one 40 point season, before he solves any of the Oilers problems.

David Moss
-- had his best season last year and at a $1.3 million cap hit over the next three seasons is a good contract that will easily show it's worth to the Flames. The Oilers might like to have someone like Moss on the team, but the Flames won't even consider making that trade. Let's move on.

Curtis Glencross
-- Oiler fans know Curtis Glencross. He's a sore subject for a lot of fans as a player who once again slipped through the cracks, could have been a great player for the Oilers, but moved to the Flames once it looked like Edmonton was preoccupied with bigger fish. Glencross was on an amazing pace when he played the final 26 games of the season with Edmonton and we all knew in his next season, duplicating that would be impossible. With that in mind, his $1.2 cap hit is a bargain. See David Moss if you want to know what Calgary thinks of trading Curtis away.

The same can be said for Craig Conroy...we don't even need to discuss him.

Cory Sarich
-- is the odd man out in terms of defense in Calgary. He's an excellent player but he's also a $3.6 million dollar cap hit. If there is one player on the roster that would give Calgary a little wiggle room, it's Sarich. The Oilers however, are not in the market for a defensive player like him and he solves very few problems including the Oilers own need to clear up a little cap space.


Don't expect Calgary to discuss any trades with the Oilers. While Calgary is in a minor pickle in terms of cap space their is nothing here the Oilers need that immediately improves the team in it's troubled areas. I suppose that's a good thing, because as we mentioned at the start, a trade between Calgary and Edmonton is unlikely at best anyways.

When we come back... we look at the Chicago Blackhawks.


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Waiting for Leftovers Part 1

With the more time that passes and little done from the Edmonton Oilers in terms of free agency, it seems more and more realistic that perhaps Steve Tambellini has decided to take a wait and see approach and scour like a dog at the dinner table for the leftovers from other teams.

Perhaps this isn't a bad strategy and it makes a lot of sense if we consider comments made by Tambellini in past interviews. I'm paraphrasing here of course, but his words were something to the effect, "we have to make more changes than just our coaches by examining what we have on this team." The Oilers GM has also made reference to the fact that grabbing players from free agency isn't easy when you have a full roster and little cap space.

With that said, it has become quite clear that other teams around the NHL have not taken the Tambellini approach. Teams like Calgary, Chicago, Philly, Boston (not so much because they signed anyone, but because their players are hitting contract years) all knew how close to the cap their respective teams were; but chose to make splashes regardless. They now have decisions to make.

So what happens to these teams? Well, they either bury salary in the minors and have to contend with the juggling of one-way vs two-way contracts, or they decide as a management group, which players are expendable and can be moved to other destinations.

This is where the Edmonton Oilers fit in.

No, this is not to say that Tambellini is waiting to pick up the leftovers that no other teams want. In fact, it's the opposite as a lot of teams will be forced to move players they wish they could keep, but struggle to fit into the cap.

Over the next week or so, we're going to examine all of those teams that the Oilers might want to keep their eyes on. We'll go alphabetically with the teams closest to the cap starting with the Boston Bruins.

* All cap numbers courtesy of Cap Central at Hockeybuzz.com.


In retrospect, Boston has done little wrong. Perhaps signing Michael Ryder last year may cost them a bit, but this year, they've only really signed players at discount prices since July 1st. That doesn't mean that they don't have hard decisions infront of them thanks to the status of some of the expired contracts on the team -- namely Phil Kessel.

According to cap central over at hockeybuzz, the Bruins are over the cap by $112,000. Signing Phil Kessel, which Peter Chiarelli GM of the Bruins said he wants to do, means an additional $5 million or so to the cap for Boston. Sure, Chiarelli doesn't deny that he's shopped Kessel, but if a trade can't be completed someone from the Bruins has to go.

Boston has an excess at the forward position and with some high ticket price tags. Savard, Kessel, Bergeron, Krejci, Ryder, Sturm and Kobasew all hold roster spots on the team and make an excess of $3 million per season with the exception of Kobasew at $2.3.

The question becomes, if they keep Kessel, do they package or dump two mid-level contracts or one high priced item to make room for the $5 million Kessel is likely asking. Let's examine some of their options.

David Krejci is young (23), just exploding as an offensive weapon (22g - 51a - 73 pts) and a steal at $3.75 if he continues to be a 70 plus point player. Boston won't move him, at least not in the place of Kessel's $5 million.

Michael Ryder is going to be a tough sell at $4 million so don't expect many takers. He's likely the Oilers version of a Dustin Penner. I'm almost certain, Edmonton wants to stay away from two of those style contracts.

Marco Sturm is a veteran at 31 and while a consistent 25 plus goal getter, likely not the first line LW answer the Oilers are looking for. His contract seems somewhat reasonable, and might fit in as well if not a tad better than Dustin Penner, so if other options don't exist for the Oilers... maybe. Boston can't solve cap problems trading a Penner for a Sturm, so it doesn't make a lot of sense. I'd rather keep Penner because of what he brings on the powerplay.

Chuck Kobasew makes for a nice 2nd line RW, but that's not really an area lacking for the Oilers. I suppose it can be argued the Oilers are as weak there as anywhere else outside of Ales Hemsky, but to me O'Sullivan or Cogliano deserve a shot their first. The Oilers must agree having let Kotalik go via free agency.

That leaves us with three viable options. Savard, Bergeron and pehaps Kessel, should Boston find themselves wanting to dump the $5 million or so in one clear shot. Any of these three options would solve the Bruins problems for the most part.

Marc Savard has proven himself to be a point a game player. Known more as a passer than a shooter, he tends to mesh well with many styles and if the coaches here can convince Hemsky and Penner to shoot more, Savard will do well in Edmonton. The catch is that Savard has a no trade clause and one year left on his current contract. Two things that don't bode well for the Oilers.

Patrice Bergeron is more a scorer than Savard but the big question mark is his abiility to stay healthy having missed sizeable portions of the past couple seasons with concussion problems. He didn't seem like the same Bergeron when he returned last year and at $4.75 million over 2 more years, may be considered a risk. He's also a smaller forward and Tambellini wasn't looking for someone who lacked grit. Is he willing to exchange that grit for pure skill?

My Pick If Boston is Our Trade Partner?

Phil Kessel...


Despite the latest from Peter Chiarelli, we know Kessel is available as trade bait. An RFA, removing Kessel from the Bruins need to sign him almost completely solves Boston of its cap problems without making more than that one change. He's got unbelievable skill and speed (which the Oilers like), the potential to pot you 30 goals a year as a winger or a center and is a cornerstone to build a team around on what will have to be a long term contract to keep him.

He gives Edmonton coaches the opporuntity to move Horcoff to 2nd line center or play Kessel on the wing on the first line. In fact, that may be a better fit for him as his face-off percentages are not terrific for a centre and that is an area Horcoff does well. On the wing, he would give the Oilers a legitimate threat night in and out on the first line.


Obtaining Kessel may involve moving a Gilbert or a Grebeshov and a couple draft picks along side taking more salary in return, seeing as Boston can't take much salary, but I can live with that knowing the excess we have on the blueline on the fact that Kessel is young and peice of the long term puzzle for the Oilers. Should we need to, and Boston be in a big enough bind, perhaps a Smid, Cogliano and a couple prospects or draft picks would do the trick.

As mentioned before, he's not the greatest face-off guy, but that can be over exaggerated and his skills can improve there. He's coming off of shoulder surgery, but well ahead of schedule and much like his cancer treatments, something he can put behind him and have a great career.

He does require a negotiation as he is an RFA, but this is someone the Oilers should be willilng to invest in.

Next up... Calgary


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Why the Oilers Need Manny Malhotra

When Steve Tambellini says that it's not a simple task to move in new players when you have a current overload of contracts and salary to take anything on, I agree...to a point.

The Oilers have spent the first two weeks of free agency filling their goaltending (check), clearing a couple contracts in Brodziak, and Sestito (check) and going after Dany Heatley (can't check that one off yet). But since, have been extremely quiet this summer to the dismay of many Oiler fans.

Sure they made an attempt to land Chris Neil from Ottowa, so we know they were willing and able to take on another contract, but what would Chris Neil have brought us?


Hang on, I'm sure there's more...



He doesn't score, he can't win face-offs, he takes in-opportune penalties and he's not good for much more than stirring up trouble. In a way that can be seen as a positive, but I don't think Chris Neil was even close to the answer the Edmonton Oilers are looking for.

So what do the Oilers need? In my opinion, one player who doesn't affect the Heatley soap opera at all. One player who comes in at a relatively cheap cap hit and should the Oilers somehow land Heatley, not force them to struggle to come in under the cap. A player with size, grit (see Chris Neil) and the ability add to the team in areas this team really needs.

Who is this one player?

Manny Malhotra - Center Born May 18 1980 -- Mississauga, ONT Height 6.02 -- Weight 210 --

I've been keen on Malhotra since I saw the video above and others like it. And for the price Malhotra will likely fetch, a move like this makes a lot of sense for the Oilers.

At best guess, Malhotra's going rate will be a $2.5 cap hit on a 3 yr deal. Very respectable for a face-off specialist (58.0% in faceoffs last year) who plays smart two-way hockey, but has put up a consistent 9-11 goals every year on a poor hockey team talent wise in Columbus (when I say poor, I see a lot of similarities between Columbus and Edmonton).

Malhotra consistently chimes in with about 30 pts a season -- something the Oilers could use help with, but more importantly he fills a vacant 3rd line center role left by the departed Kyle Brodziak and to this date unsigned Gilbert Brule and unproven Marc Pouliot. Malhotra knows his place in the depth chart, but can step up if needed and he's a well respected voice in the lockerroom.

He's yet to be a proven playoff guy, getting nothing last year and of course playing only for Columbus in last few years means he hasn't had many opportunitie; but I'm more of the opinion that the Oilers need to worry more about getting themselves to the playoffs than worrying about what happens when they get there.

And then there is this. http://ca.askmen.com/fine_living/wine_dine_archive_200/229_wine_dine.html

Grabbing Jason Strudwick was a good move by the Oilers and one of their few signings this summer. Tell me the above story doesn't bode well for the youngsters on this team and remind you of something a Jason Strudwick might do to bring them into the fold or keep them loose with a lot of pressure on them to exceed expecations this coming season.

and he can fight...

The downside?

Malhotra wanted to stay in Columbus. An article written in the bleacher report back in May quoted Malhotra when he said he's deeply enriched in the community of Ohio and in charitable organizations. "This has become home to me and my family," Malhotra said last month after the Blue Jackets closed out their season.

That said, this article was back in May when it was noted Scott Howson wanted to hang on to his 3rd line center and get him under a long term contract. He's had more than 2 months to do so and to date, nothing has been settled between the two sides.

This says to me, if I'm Steve Tambellini, that for a medium term contract at fair dollars, Malhotra can be had. A community like Edmonton, full of opportunities to give back on a team where Manny's skill set can be utilized might make the Oilers attractive.

If the Oilers are to do this, it should be soon. The longer it waits, the more Malhotra is likely to take a hometown discount in Columbus. I would hate this to be another missed opportunity.

But then again, to this point we have no idea if Tambellini has even inquired about the center.


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Kotalik Signs with the Rangers

While the Oilers wait on Dany Heatley, another player has seemingly slipped through the cracks. Ales Kotalik has signed on with the New York Rangers for 3 yrs at $3 million per season.
The Edmonton Oilers had offered Kotalik a contract extension, but no where near the $3 million he was asking right out of the gate and with at least two other teams interested (the New York Rangers obviously one of those teams.), Edmonton fans can say goodbye to a winger who put on a strong season ending performance since coming from Buffalo.

For many Oiler fans, this is just another example of history repeating itself as another relatively inexpensive contract has left town while Edmonton attempted to land a bigger fish. Last year it was Glencross while they went after Hossa. The year before it was Sykora as they went after, --well almost anyone who would be interested in Edmonton and now it's Kotalik in attempts to woo Dany Heatley out of Ottawa. What bothers me, is that the Oilers seem to have wasted a 2nd round draft pick to add Kotalik and seemingly spent no real effort to keep him. Would they not have been better off keeping the 2nd round pick?

Some might argue that at $3 million, Kotalik is being overpaid by New York as seems to be a tendancy by the Rangers; however others might argue that Kotalik will bring special skills to the team as a powerplay, shootout and hard shot specialist.

In either case, Edmonton waits. They say goodbye to a decent player in Kotalik and as of yet, the Oilers have nothing to replace him with.


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Clerical Errors a Bit Bigger Than Getting Caught Photocopying Your Butt

With the news now that Kris Versteeg has been signed by the Chicago Blackhawks to a contract worth more than $9 million over 3 seasons and a full year prior to his original entry level contract coming to an end, one has to wonder what's been going on in NHL offices around the league.

This is the third similar instance in almost as many days. Just recently, the Blackhawks were forced to re-sign Cam Barker (D), who was likely not in the immediate plans contract wise. Not to be outdone, the Philadelphia Flyers inked Chris Pronger to a seven year extension, not realizing that every single one of those years count as a cap hit to the Flyers teams should Pronger leave prior to the conclusion of the seventh year. Of course Edmonton Oiler fans are not unfamiliar to such controversy, with the current status of Dany Heatley, who is... well is Dany Heatley.
All in all, one has to wonder how team presidents, GM's and those in charge of professional multi-billion dollar NHL franchises are interviewing candidates for positions of such importance. It's not like the secretary got caught photocopying his butt and sending out the copies in a memo around the office for a good laugh. These are mistakes that are literally handcuffing each respective team during the summer and possibly for years to come.

I just picture an interview in the Flyers head office as they try to fill the capologist position on the team.

Paul Holmgren: "Glad you could make it in, how did you hear about this position opening?"

Excited Candidate: "Your team website has this job listed as open, so I figured I'd give it a shot."

Holmgren: "Ok. Odd. We'll ummm we'll have to look into that. But I guess you're here so, can you tell me a bit about your experience?"

Candidate: "Sure. I work hard, I love the Flyers and I really like numbers."

Holmgren:"You're good with numbers hey? That's helpful in todays league. What part do you like best?"

Candidate: "I love the fact that you can use numbers to solve crimes."

Holmgren: "I'm sorry?"

Candidate:" Haven't you seen that guy from Harold and Kumar? He's amazing!"

Holmgren: "Ok... what did you say you're name was again?"

Candidate:"Daniel Carcillo"

Are you kidding me? Are we really to expect that there is more going into hiring these positions at the Blackhawks and Flyers league offices? How can clearly defined rules and regulations like not mailing out qualifying offers by July 1st, when you're not even supposed to send qualifying offers in the mail or misinterpreting the age guidelines connected to a contract extension for Chris Pronger who will clearly be 35 when his new contract kicks in be so badly mistaken? These mistakes have literally handcuffed these organizations for years and for what? Because someone simply didn't think enough to clarify the rules.

What really gets me is the Chicago situation that was reported on TSN just days ago:

the National Hockey League Players Association has filed a grievance over the Chicago Blackhawks mishandling of a number of its qualifying offers and intends to argue the players affected by the mishap, who remain unsigned, should be ruled unrestricted free agents.

Ok, so you go out and make a splash on Marian Hossa. Forget for a second, that Partick Kane, Jonathan Toewes, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and others are up for contract extensions in the next two years. Now you're up and coming stars like Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg have to be signed a full year early at more than $3 million plus per year?

The question now becomes, who do you give away for almost nothing at the end of next season if you're Chicago?

As Oiler fans, we can feel secure that Tambellini didn't misinterpret the rules, but that doesn't mean the Dany Heatley watch hasn't become frustrating. First Ottawa didn't know the deadline on the $4 million bonus. Then they claim not to have known that Heatley hadn't given them permission to negotiate with Edmonton. In short, not the Oilers fault.

That said, the longer this situation drags itself out, the more the Edmonton Oilers start to look just plain silly. It gives the fans the impression that they were satisfied to stand pat with the roster as is, since there has been no indication, none what so ever, that the Oilers have any plans to leave this soap opera and use a different avenue to improve this roster without Dany Heatley. As fans, we know without doubt, that clearly this roster needs improvement.

The NHL has become a more complicated place to negotiate deals and fit in players. No movement clauses, salary caps, longer term contracts and entry level vs mid level vs veteran status players. This is no longer the time to be hiring friends and former players as team managers who have literally no experience in these situations and can bacldy hurt a teams ability to move forward with one simple clerical error.

It'll be a sad day if the Oilers, who have enough trouble attracting players, end up losing some thanks to our loyalty to the "the boys on the bus". It's yet to happen from what I can tell, but I can only hope Tambellini doesn't follow that path. I'm not going to lie, that the Dany Heatley saga has me a bit concerned.


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Dany Heatley to San Jose?

The Dany Heatley saga continues with little to update... until today. Word out of both Ottawa and San Jose from people we know as legitimate sources are saying the San Jose has started poking around the Dany Heatley situation.

Nothing has been offered and no serious talks have taken place, but San Jose GM Doug Wilson has been inquiring as to what it would take to grab Dany Heatley knowing the likelihood is Heatley would immediately waive his no trade clause to go to California. The what it would take portion, in reality is more like, "how little it would take".

San Jose didn't have a lot of interest outside of a few questions, but now that they see signs pointing to a handcuffed Bryan Murray in Ottawa, they've began to weigh their options. Dany Heatley taking this much time to decide on Edmonton, Kovalev going to Ottawa and the Senators now being over the cap, tell Wilson that it might not take much of anything to pry Heatley from the Senators.

How San Jose would do this is still a question mark as they are not far from the cap themselves, but a Cheechoo, Clowe or Marleau might be considered.

For Edmonton fans still hoping to see Heatley an Oiler, this may not be the best news of the day. Sure it's only mild discussion and no offer from San Jose exists, but it makes it a lot harder for the Oilers to obtain him should more teams be in the hunt.


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The Heatley Bone's Connected to the Kovalev...

For the first time in a long time, the watch on Dany Heatley and where he was going to end up playing hockey had gone from a boil to a slow simmer. Sure the odd mention of his invite to Team Canada's 2010 Olympic tryout spawned some remarks from a few steadfast Oiler fans who want nothing to do with a player who seemingly rejected his chance to play for the Oil.

But now, things are moving again with the recent signing of Alexei Kovalev by Ottawa GM Bryan Murray. Is this a step to replace Heatley on the wing and play with Jason Spezza? Is it a move to fill the holes left should Heatley be forced to sit or play elsewhere? Is the beginning of a move that seems to be sending Heatley to Edmonton or another destination?

Of course the answer is,... we have no idea. No one from any camp has yet to go on record and publically say anything other than "he hasn't said no" or "at this time Dany Heatley is an Ottawa Senator". But that doesn't mean it isn't fun to speculate.

If I'm tempted to read between the lines as many Oiler fans are doing just hoping for stay positive in this messy situation; I logically say to myself, here's what we know. Ottawa spent $5 million per season to bring in Kovalev which puts them over the salary cap by $1.2 million. On the surface this would suggest that salary would be moved, that salary being Dany Heatley.

The question becomes, is it to Edmonton? Signing Kovalev doesn't mean the Oilers odds got any better. In fact, it might mean the opposite.

Bringing in another top 6 forward who can play either wing, allows Ottawa to move Heatley for a lesser return if he simply won't waive to play for the Oilers. If Murray can't get the forward he needs, Kovalev makes a lot of sense. If a team with cap space is only interested in taking on Heatley for spare parts, the deal looks a lot more attractive to Murray who despite his comments that the asking price has gone up thanks to the $4 million dollar bonus, knows he can't get fair value for Mr. Heatley and simply dumping his salary helps him get back to a better cap position and make more moves to fill holes in his line-up.

A team like L.A. who based on Ron Hextall's public comments wasn't interested, might now be if the asking price is a mid level roster and a propsect. The same holds true for a team like San Jose, who feeling that change is necessary might take a chance on a Dany Heatley if all they have to worry about is sending similar salary the other way.

This of course isn't to say that is what's going on in Ottawa. All we know, is that before bringing in Kovalev, Ottawa needed someone to effectively replace Heatley's position. Now perhaps they don't.

Is it still possible Heatley becomes an Oiler anytime this century? Yes -- it always was. Is it anymore likely that Heatley comes to Oil Country now that Kovalev is a Senator? Probably not. At first glance we'd like to say the dominoes would fall in order, that Heatley's value has gone down and that the Oilers stand a better chance for a lower price; but order might have made way for chaos and something from left field we never expected as an option could unfold for all of us just waiting to see what happens.

Or, Heatley stays an Ottawa Senator and we all look silly for getting so excited over nothing but a hockey player who can't seem to make up his mind.

Let the talking begin...


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What Motivates Elite Athletes? And Why We Need To Fix Things by "The Prof"

As I write this today, Lance Armstrong has moved from 10th place to 3rd place in the 2009 Tour de France. News of the day had Armstrong engaged in controversy – noting that he did little to help his teammate Alberto Contador. In fact, some insiders noted that Armstrong’s move a deliberate revolt against Contador. Regardless of what happens on this year’s Tour de France, we know two things about Armstrong. First, he is a modern superman – even his ability to compete on the Tour is amazing. Second, he came back for only one reason -- to try to win his 8th Tour de France. As much as I would like it, Armstrong will never say – “Hey, I came back to help one of my teammates win because they did so much to help me.”

I know I am in the minority, but just once I want Lance to support someone else’s success. Instead, his comment tells more: “I won the Tour seven times and I merit respect.” Obviously, he is correct. He is an elite athlete and his record seven Tour de France titles deserve all sorts of respect. He is absolutely motivated to win; and he is willing to suffer all sorts of physical rigors to win.

Lance Armstrong differs little from other elite athletes. Walter Peyton. Steve Yzerman. They are all highly motivated. They want to win, and they will suffer to do so! As Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemons have shown, some athletes are even willing to take steroids to do so! Long-term physical abuse for short-term physical gain. These athletes, stupid as their actions are, are motivated!

Obviously, most professional athletes are self-motivated. They know what they want to accomplish and why they want to accomplish it. Some athletes are simply so gifted that they will be successful no matter what. Terrell Owens comes to mind immediately – he moves from team to team; and, although he cannot keep a job, he can always can find another job. This year, he is in Buffalo playing for the Bills: although Buffalo is hardly a nesting place for celebrities, it is there Owens will run, and catch, and whine. Owens seems almost disinterested; still, he finds employment because his skills are so outstanding.

Some athletes like basketball’s LeBron James are, on one hand, tremendous physical specimens but, at the same time, are pushed by some inner drive to succeed while other players are not. Even at 24 years of age, James is driven – he works hard and has the strength of character to be successful. He leads by example. You get the feeling that LeBron is one of those players who simply love their sport so much (Michael Jordan is another) that they would be satisfied with just enough income to allow them to play.

Many athletes, even in sports like professional basketball or football where college is almost a must, are rumored to “graduate” without being able to read. Such athletes have little else going for them, and seem to have few academic “gifts.” They are motivated by “what else is there to do?”

Some athletes seem not to be interested in measurable achievements. They want to enjoy themselves. Looking back at the old Oilers, one would name Glenn Anderson as one of those players. He loved playing, really was one of the “boys on the bus,” and seemed unmotivated by money or fame. Of the current Oilers, Dustin Penner seems to be the quickest study, bright enough to offer ironic answers during interviews, and smart enough not to be driven by purely sports goals. (Perhaps there is a correlation between being intelligent and knowing that, in the long run, there is more to life than hockey.)

Obviously, hockey is not the only sport where one can literally see an athlete’s motivation. Tennis might seem an odd example; but, us oldies recall seeing John McEnroe stomp around the court fighting for his life, or Jimmy Connors push and pull his way through matches. (Conners, with less skill than so many others, was the top men's tennis player in the mid-1970s and ranked number one for a record 159 consecutive weeks).

But, as Jimmy Connors once noted, there was no money when he started playing tennis, so he went out to be the best player he could. For him, winning was everything. Money didn’t count, because it couldn’t. The fans didn’t like the sport any less because the athletes were making less money. Speaking of tennis, female tennis player Martina Navratilova holds the record for the most singles titles won by a professional tennis player. She admitted that money was an incentive, but claimed to be in the last generation of tennis players who cared about “the purity of the game.” For her, tennis was about playing and winning.

It would be wrong to deny that some athletes are driven to become rich and think sports will get them there. These athletes are all about the money. But, in today’s over-priced market, even within this group others have a different goal. For example, in last month’s NHL Draft, Montreal Canadiens’ draftee Louis Leblanc will be going to Harvard. He is not alone, because Minnesota Wild fourth round pick Alexander Fallstrom – also Harvard. These young men, I am sure, hope to become professional hockey players in the NHL. But, in the meantime, a free education at perhaps the best university in the world is not a bad deal. For them, the choice is a no-brainer (or, should we say, a “big-brainer?”)

Some, and perhaps Gretzky was one, were pushed to be the best in the world or to beat records. More modest players know their limitations and aim for personal bests. Some athletes play because sports defines who they are. As Tom Cruise said in Jerry McGwire, sports “completes them.” Think of Mark Messier – the consummate leader. Where would he have thrived except for hockey? Anyone who has listened to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger knows that his start as a bodybuilder and success as a Hollywood action hero differ little from his political life. He was successful because, early on, he knew who he was and what he wanted.

So what? What does all this talk mean? In an earlier blog, I encouraged Edmonton fans to attend Edmonton Energy (International Basketball League) games. The competition is great, and the players play for – the owner says - $110 Canadian per game. CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos’ salaries, except for Ricky Ray’s $400,000, are low. In fact, CFL’s salaries are so low that, under the collective bargaining agreement, the league is forbidden from disclosing the salary of any individual player. In the CFL, few can deny that the players play hard: but the CFL’s minimum salary is $39,000. Clearly these players are not motivated by money.

My point is that the system is messed up. When a doctor or teacher or almost any hard working Canadian earns less than 1/100 the salary of a hockey player, something needs to be fixed. When money turns people into whiney brats, something needs to be changed. When players are bartered like pawns by management who fails to consider human emotions, we all suffer. What becomes common soon becomes accepted. In a system where humans (fans and players) are prized less than money, things are just not working well enough.

As a professor, these are not the values I want young people to learn – and, my point is that they don’t have to. There are plenty of examples where elite athletes play for motivations other than money – Edmonton’s IBL Energy, Edmonton’s Eskimos, etc. It is now time to ask others to do so. Let us fix things before our young grow up with expectations that no one can fulfill – not even money.


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Why It Really Sucks to Know You Are Trade Bait, and Why Ryan Smyth Doesn’t Cry Anymore by "the Prof"

Sheldon Souray’s picture in the OilersInsider started it. And, recently I have been thinking about what it must feel like to know that your team – and I am thinking the Oilers here – are willing to trade you away. Perhaps for the rest of us, it might be like knowing that your husband or wife (boyfriend or girlfriend) has found another “friend.” Too radical? I don’t think so.

For the typical hockey fan, the game is not life or death – when it comes down to it, it is only a game. Win or lose, we go back to our everyday lives. Watching hockey and rooting for our Oilers is a social activity – we feel connected and have something to talk about with our friends. We are a part of, as the Edmonton Journal notes on its Oilers’ website, “Oil-Country” Hockey. Anything more rabid than this constitutes obsession and is, frankly, psychological illness. We shout; we yell; we cheer; we are disappointed or elated for awhile; we go home and live our lives. Then we do it all again next year. That is the way it is, and we all deep down get it.

But, for the players involved, this is life. In so many ways, it is all they know – do or die. They are absolutely committed – all in. It is more than a game. They think about it all season and they plan for the season by working out continuously in the off-season. Certainly, they get paid well for playing hockey; but, my point is that there is more going on here than money – much more. So many of these young men have few other skills and nowhere else to go. Many have dropped out of high school young to pursue a hockey dream and career. They have nothing else. If they are to be successful, they have to be completely motivated to be hockey players.

During interviews after a trade, the standard line always seems to be: “I realize it is only a business.” What a lie. For those players, it is more than a business. Perhaps Ryan Smyth’s response after leaving the Oilers was the closest I have seen to what the truth really feels like. He cried. He could not believe it.

Perhaps the rumors are true that Smyth’s agent pushed the Oilers and the Oilers felt they “could do without” Smyth. Even more diabolical really – when our beloved Oilers decide to show a committed warrior that they “can do without him.” But, could Smyth do without the Oilers at that moment? Obviously, he didn’t think so. He was part of a community, and suddenly he was estranged from that community. These were his friends and co-workers, and now suddenly they were the hated enemy. Personally, I can only even imagine Smyth’s feeling when I think about the most rotten things that have ever happened to me – being dumped and rejected.

Now, Ryan Smyth has been traded again. Sadly, it is probably easier this time than the first. If so, it is only because Ryan has replaced his heart with his cheque book. Perhaps Ryan has become more business and less hockey teammate. If so, it is too bad. I loved the Ryan Smyth who cried when he was traded to the Islanders. It was that same Ryan Smyth who took a birthday cake to the 90 year old woman in Edmonton who was his great fan. It was the same Smyth who took a beating to stand in front of the goalie fighting for a tip in.

Does that Ryan Smyth still exist? Or has he become too cynical to really give his heart and soul for anything other than money? I don’t blame him if he has. It has to make one skeptical about life to be removed and replaced over and over again. It has to make you become self-protective. It has to make you become solitary. It certainly makes you a better businessman, but a poorer teammate.

So, for whoever leaked the names of Dustin Penner, or Andrew Cogilano, or Ladi Smid, I hope your toilet plugs up and soaks your house. Don’t cry foul when things go bad for you – when the people you have created (like Dany Heatley) turn on you using your own weapons. You have started three kids (and believe me these young players are kids) down a road that cannot be fun.

It is sad really; and, I wonder what I might say to Penner, or Cogilano, or Smid if they were my friends, or my sons. Probably I would tell them – “Listen, it is only a game. It isn’t real life.” But, in my heart I know I would be lying. For any of these players, this is not only real life; it is probably the only real life they have. And, it is a potentially heart-breaking reality for a young man who is only 24 years old.

Perhaps it is no wonder that many of our athletes come to act, in the words of many watching the Dany Heatley fiasco, like “spoiled brats.” Perhaps being a spoiled brat becomes a survival mechanism in a world where the regular friendships of youth increasingly come in second to relationships with money. Really, think about it! We all know in our hearts where replacing people with money will lead.


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