Changes and Reversals to Form
LONDON--I'll never forget being in Fussen, Germany at the 1992 world junior championships when, in the middle of the night, tournament organizers took down the hammer-and-sickle flag of the Soviet Union.
Overnight, that team became the new representative of the Commonwealth of Independent States. They put up the IIHF flag and stopped playing the old Soviet anthem, and it was like being part of history, albeit through a sporting perspective.
Well, let's just say today was the day Wimbledon stopped being a lovely garden party in the middle of a quiet, leafy residential neighborhood.
Security changes have been creeping in for years, of course, but this morning the All-England Club offered something new, something along the lines of an armed camp, something along the lines of what we've come to expect from, say, the Olympics.
As black police helicopters hovered ominously overhead for the first time in anyone's memory, all entrances were blocked off by large concrete vehicular barriers. Fans queued up behind enormous wire fences, although some of those had been installed since the beginning of the tournament. Police and sniffer dogs were everywhere, and cars passing along Church Rd. weren't permitted to even pause momentarily before being waved on. One female fan had an apparently lethal-looking hair clip confiscated.
"Whatever it takes in this day and age. . .is necessary," said tennis star Venus Williams.
Once inside the gates, it was pretty much the same as it has always been, the strawberries still plentiful and the floral arrangements still gorgeous, yet the tone and atmosphere was slightly changed. The uncovering of linked terrorist plots in London and Glasgow over the past few days, of course, necessitated all the security changes.
Yet the sense of something lost was palpable.
A million miles away, or so it seemed, NHL teams were spending their brains out on unrestricted free agents, and one was left to wonder what that lockout was all about.
In fact, it seemed like the NHL had gone back in time 10 years. The old big spenders - Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, Colorado, St. Louis and Toronto - were all laying down the dollars at the feet of appealing players.
Some made smart moves, but it was hard to escape the feeling that, as has usually been the case in years past, at least half of those free agents signed on Sunday will turn out to be wildly overpaid. The Rangers, to name one team, can't possibly get $85 million worth of hockey value out of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. One suspects the same will be the case with Scott Hannan in Denver and Cory Sarich in Calgary, but we'll see.
And how about Paul Kariya getting $6 million a season from the Blues, a team that has always spent beyond the logic of its marketplace and drew flies last year? Kariya has bounced back well from injuries but has never won a thing, yet here he is earning about 15 per cent more than the game's top goaltender, Martin Brodeur.
Colorado made its expected splash, but while Ryan Smyth is a better player than Jason Blake, is he $11 million better over the next five years?
Overall, with the most powerful teams accumulating payrolls of $50 million and the smaller market teams held in the $34 million range while clubs like Buffalo surrendered their stars, one was left with the distinct impression that after a brief pause while they adjusted to the new business realities of the post-lockout world, the big market teams are back in charge.
The climate, it's fair to say, has changed drastically since those heady days of August, 2005 when the Edmonton Oilers were using the new system to bring in big name players like Chris Pronger and Mike Peca. Signing Michal Nylander today as has been widely speculated would at least address the issue of optics for Kevin Lowe's squad, a team just 12 months removed from a berth in the Stanley Cup final.
So what happens next?
Today, one should think, could be blowback day, when those teams injured yesterday may attempt to address their newfound needs.
Top of that list would be New Jersey, which lost its No. 1 centre, Gomez, and it's No. 1 blueline points producer, Brian Rafalski, on the same day.
The Islanders, meanwhile, lost 25 per cent of their lineup in Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth, Richard Zednik, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti, and its reasonable to suggest the signing of Jon Sim alone isn't going to make up the shortfall. GM Garth Snow has money to spend, and the beneficiaries may be the next tier of players like Bill Guerin, Mike Peca and Todd Bertuzzi. As well, expect the old Bryan McCabe-to-Long-Island rumours to start afresh, particularly with both Poti and suspended Sean Hill having been deleted from the Islander blueline. Sheldon Souray, Tom Preissing or Brad Stuart could fit, as well.
Then there's Buffalo, which lost co-captains Drury and Daniel Briere. The Sabres have terrific organizational depth, but its hard not to feel their chance to win it all went by the boards in the past two Eastern Conference finals. A healthy Tim Connolly for a full season will address some of the points lost, but GM Darcy Regier is going to have to be as resourceful as ever to keep the Sabres on top. The Sabres might even lose one of their better farmhands, Mike Ryan, to free agency this week unless Regier can wrap him up.
For the Nashville Predators, finally, at least the worst may be over. The Preds have now lost Kariya, Tomas Vokoun, Kimmo Timmonen and Scott Hartnell, as well as promising minor league defenceman Sheldon Brookbank. The Predators, like the Oilers, looked to be newly competitive in the market coming out of the lockout, but ownership uncertainty has resulted in a gutting of the roster.
The paralyzed Preds won't be doing anything to fix those problems today.
Otherwise, Day 2 of NHL free agent frenzy could be nearly as interesting as Day 1.