Author Archives | Michael Hoffman

McNabb feels ‘young’, wants extended contract

At the age of 33, Donovan McNabb arrived at the Washington Redskins camp and told reporters he feels young, saying he has plenty of football left in him. If the veteran quarterback is right, that would be a very good thing for the Redskins.

One has to go back to 2000 to when Brad Johnson was the field general to find the last time the Redskins had such consistency at their quarterback position. When the clinically brain-dead Jeff George took over for Johnson in 2000, the wheels would be set in motion for ten years of near futility at the position.

Tony Banks, Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews join George on the list of the many names we badly want to forget as starting quarterbacks for this historically proud franchise. Certainly no one will be telling our grandkids about the fine job Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell or Jason Campbell did in D.C. either. 

That said, it makes re-signing McNabb, who has one year left on his 12-year, $115 million contract he signed in 2002 with the Eagles, a bit of a priority. We have seen the desert and we don’t want to go back!

The Redskins can bounce back in a short time with a guy like Mike Shanahan at the helm and McNabb may believe that.

The ‘Skins organization says they are working hard at getting a contract done prior to Week One which is the weekend of Sept. 12th and what is really heartening to Redskins fans is the fact he wants to be here.

In a recent interview, McNabb told NBC:

 “I want to be a Redskin. Just like I was an Eagle for years, I want to be a Redskin. I want to finish my career here. There’s a lot of exciting things that are ahead of us here, there’s a lot of talent here, and I think good things can happen here in Washington.”

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NHL and NFL contributor to Sports Climax. 

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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Blackhawks ‘fire’ Niemi, sign Turco

After posting a 26-7-4 record and 2.25 GAA in the regular season then taking home Lord Stanley in hockey’s second season, goalie Antii Niemi has been ‘fired’ by the Chicago Blackhawks and in the same swoop replaced by the aging Marty Turco.

Niemi crime?

Demanding and receiving 3rd party confirmation that he should be paid more money than his $800,000 contract called for was enough to make Chicago look the over way. “2.75 million dollars? We thank you for your services with the team.  Mr. Turco, please come right in! We have your 1.3 million waiting for you.”  

Has a Stanley Cup Champion ever had such a dramatic makeover going into the next year as the Chicago Blackhawks are having this year, and if so, what does that say about the current salary cap? Heading into that Niemi arbitration hearing, the Blackhawks had already lost Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, Brett Sopel, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, John Madden and Adam Burris to free agency or trades. Walking away from Niemi makes 8 players off last year’s winning roster.  

That still wasn’t enough number crunching for the Blackhawks, and while most GM’s of Stanley Cup winners need only point out their most recent work, some questions do need to be raised for Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman.  

You certainly have to pay for greatness, and the Blackhawks made a real commitment to two of the brightest stars in the league, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who both will make $6.3 million this year.

Surprisingly though, neither Toews nor Kane are Chicago’s highest paid player, and that may be why the team found themselves in the situation they are in.  When you think of elite NHL defenders, the name Brian Campbell probably doesn’t make the list. Sure he’s a nice player, but eight years and $56.8 million? That averages out to $7.1 million a year, when Campbell at best deserves maybe half that.

$ 7.1 million is Zdeno Chara money, it’s more than Nicklas Lindstrom is making, Campbell deserves to be making Brad Stuart money, ($3.75 million a year) but it’s fair to say at his current salary, he might be the one player that prevents the Blackhawks from repeating this year, no matter how well he plays.

And sure, most teams have at least one deal that sticks out like a sore thumb. Tim Thomas is getting $5 million this year from the Boston Bruins not to play, and for a guy who never scored more than 22 goals in a year, Shawn Horcoff far away in Edmonton is somehow making $6.5 million this year.

In the case of Boston though, Thomas’s contract hasn’t killed them, and to be fair, neither did Campbell’s. Heck the Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup with him, you can’t do much better than that! But when you combine that deal with the other bad deal that the Blackhawks had in place with goaltender Christobal Huet making $5.75 million a year, it becomes clear that the Blackhawks needed to revise the script even after their winning year.

In that sense, signing the still very talented Marty Turco to a one year $1.3 million deal is actually a step in the right direction.   

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NHL contributor to Sports Climax. 

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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Injured war vets Warriors hockey team

Photo: Defense Department

Working in the News Department of a news/talk radio station, I have a special opportunity to talk to some amazing people in all walks of life. Usually these interviews are not connected to hockey, but recently I was able to interview retired Sergeant Joe Bowser, an NHL Ambassador for Disabled Hockey and Member of Warrior Ice Hockey.

The media has overused the word “hero” so often that its true meaning has been desensitized. How often have we heard that word thrown around to a Hollywood celebrity who goes to Africa for a one day on a charity mission, but in the end, turns out to only stay as long as it takes to get her picture taken. Bowser is not one of “those” people.

After serving his country in Iraq, Bowser lost both his legs and had to use a wheelchair when he returned to Walter Reed, to receive care.  It wasn’t an easy time for him, but Bowser was able to recover and afterwards, he volunteered his time to helping other injured military veterans recover.

As he attempts to help others make their own recovery, Boswer said he believes playing hockey during his rehabilitation process helped him immensely.

Today, he is encouraging other soldiers to turn to the sport to help them recover. Bowser is not only an NHL ambassador for disabled hockey, he is also a member of the Warriors Hockey Team, a hockey team comprised of soldiers from Walter Reed Medical Center who were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The war veteran said by coming back to hockey–he played before he was a soldier–he was able to turn his health around.

“After I got wounded, I spent two and a half years at Walter Reed. I was in a wheelchair for a long period of time and started gaining weight. Once I got out [on the ice] and really playing hard, the pounds, I just started sweating them off.”

As Bowser was able to lose his wheelchair and use prosthetic legs, he credits playing hockey, with getting his lower extremities back into strength and his body back into health.

“Being in a wheelchair for a long period of time causes you to start getting Arthropyosis. I know the doctor says that’s what I was getting because I couldn’t wear my leg for such a long period of time. Just getting that blood pumping through your bones strengths it. So there are a lot of benefits to it.”

More than just healing the pain, Bowser says hockey allowed him, if only temporarily, to forget about the pain.  “With hockey, you get into the game and passing the puck and just skating and you lose the thought of, ‘this is really hurting.”

It’s an experience Bowser wants to share with others, and does, no matter how badly they may be injured. “We’ve got guys who maybe only have a thumb on one hand. We’ll take the glove and maybe tape a stick to their hand. One of the things we say in the military is we’ll adapt and overcome. That’s a whole lot of what we do.” (With Warrior hockey.)

And with the Warrior hockey team needing equipment, all the credit in the world must go to the NHL and the Washington Capitals who donated apparel in support of the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Team. Former NHLers like Grant Fuhr and a host of others also attended Walter Reed to talk to injured veterans.

“It’s awesome! The NHL has been absolutely wonderful. They care about the soldiers,” says Bowser.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NHL contributor to Sports Climax. 

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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NHL Free Agent Updates

The end of June means the start of the NHL free agent period. Here are some of the top stories creating the most buzz around the league.

Kovalchuk to the Kings?

Could this be the final piece in a championship run for L.A.’s “other” team. Even before the whisperings of New Jersey Devils Ilya Kovalchuk to the Kings, I thought Los Angeles might be the team of the future.

Already at 20-years-old you won’t find many defensemen as poised and as smooth as Drew Doughty, and it just seems like the Kings encompass every component of a winning hockey team.

Need physical play? Look no further than Dustin Brown, who with 24 goals last year, is begging to be a threat not only to those in the corner but to goaltenders as well.

Every team needs veteran scorers and leaders which the Kings have in Ryan Smyth and Michal Handzus, who does a great job clogging the lane on defense, but a team also needs someone with youthful energy.

For the type of player who doesn’t know the meaning of stop. Enter 22-year-old Wayne Simmonds, who responded to higher playing time after Ryan Smyth went down, with a streak in which he recorded 8 points in 6 games, scoring 4 goals.   

The Kings also have the type of natural scorer that every team needs in creative center Anze Kopitar, who like Simmonds and Doughty, is under 23. To say the future for hockey is bright in Los Angeles is about as obvious as saying that it’s a pretty decent place to find a plastic surgeon.

And if the rumors are true and Los Angeles is indeed at the front runner of signing Ilya Kovalchuk and there’s speculation the signing could occur as soon as early Thursday.

If the Kings win the Kovy sweepstakes, they will also dress their biggest superstar since Wayne Gretzky took the ice in the late 80’s. Since everyone wants to attach themselves to a winner, especially if you are as obsessed with relevance as the Hollywood set, might we soon be seeing Jack at Kings’ games? 

Does Savard get traded?

Bruins management has already shown their hand and said they are not looking to shore up the team with any free agent signings. Instead the B’s will try to cut salary from the books as they look to dump goaltender Tim Thomas ($5 million annual cap hit) and potentially center Marc Savard. ($4.083).

While most talk has centered on Savard possibly moving on to play in Toronto, a number of other teams badly need depth at the center position including the Washington Capitals.

Don’t be surprised if they aggressively become involved, however, a 7-year, $28.05 million contract might dissuade some teams.

Saku Koivu is still very much in demand. But why?

The center position has gotten a lot of attention in this brief pre-free agency period, and for good reason. The last four teams that made the Stanley Cup had elite depth at the center position with not one, but two guys who could play at the highest level. (Chicago: 1C- Kane.  2C- Sharp. Philadelphia: 1C- Briere. 2C- Richards. Pittsburgh: 1C-Crosby. 2C- Malkin. Detroit: 1C- Zetterberg 2C- Datsyuk).

Having one guy who can play but no second line center who can proficiently run an offense is no longer an option for teams that want to win at the highest level. This is a lesson that the Washington Capitals, with the great Nicklas Backstrom, but no one else who could significantly guide the offense at center, learned the hard way.

Because of that fact, even outside of the Savard trade talk, expect a lot of chatter over free agents like Coyotes center Matthew Lombardi, who plays a very complete game, as well as rising New York Rangers center Chris Higgins.

Like Higgins and even Lombardi, 35-year-old free agent Saku Koivu may not be considered a great option as a No. 1 center. Nevertheless with depth at center now a necessity and not a luxury item in the NHL, look at a lot of competition for him as the veteran center showed last season that he still has a little something in the tank with 52 points.

Scarcity of supply versus demand should have something to do with it. When Matt Cullen is your best center free agent option after Koivu, Higgins and Lombardi are eliminated, you know you are looking at a market for centers that isn’t exactly deep.

Finally, teams could also roll the dice and take a stab at Flames center Olli Jokinen, but at only 31, it appears his best years are well behind him.

The best of the rest free agent options.

The deepest position in the free agent market is at defense so we’ll start with that.

Anton Volchenkov, Defenseman, Ottawa Senators- I’ll straight up call you a liar if you tell me your team somehow does not need the man nicknamed the “Russian Bear.” A physical force; a puck moving defenseman and a man who averages 2.4 hits and 2.7 blocks per game. For the ladies enjoying this column, I’m also told he enjoys long walks on the beach and the poetry of Robert Frost.

Teams that may be actively looking for an upgrade at defense:

Buffalo, (if Henrik Tallander or Toni Lydman leave), Carolina, Colorado, Detroit, Edmonton, Long Island, (the Islanders have plenty of cap space,) Minnesota, (if the Wild lose Marek Zidlicky,) Philadlphia, (especially after trading the rights to Dan Hamhuis to Pittsburgh for a 3rd round draft pick) Ottawa, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington, and Vancouver.

Other prized defensive options

Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh– It appears that the Penguins are ready to give Gonchar his walking papers. Gonchar at 36 is still one of the best offensive minded forwards in the league, but unlike many of his offensive minded cohorts, (cough, cough, errr. Mike Green) he doesn’t typically make a lot of mistakes getting back into position or coughing the puck up.

Paul Martin, New Jersey- Martin’s game is no thrills in a good way. He rarely makes a mistake in his own end, and with the puck he may not go down the ice, guns ablaze, but Martin’s controlled style was perfect for the Devils power play. Martin finished the year with two goals and 16 assists on the power play, as his 18 power play points tied for the team lead.

The Highest Sought Free Agent Goaltender

Evgeni Nabokov, Goaltender, San Jose Sharks- Even though it always seems to come apart for him eventually in the playoffs, you can’t deny Nabokov’s considerable talent. You also cannot deny the fact that he is the only who has posted three consecutive 40+ win seasons in the past three years.

Teams that may be in the market for a goaltender

Atlanta, Buffalo, (backup to Ryan Miller) Calgary, Edmonton, Long Island, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, San Jose, (if they decide not to resign Nabokov,) Toronto and Washington.

The next best option after Nabokov

Chris Mason, St. Louis- With the Blues trading for Jaroslav Halak, it appears Mason has a one-way ticket out of the “show me” State. For everyone in search of a starting goaltender, Mason could be a relative bargain as he will likely receive less money than free agents Nabokov and Dallas goaltender Marty Turco, despite posting a solid 2.47 GAA in his two years with the Blues.

Best Bargain

Jay McKee, Defenseman, Pittsburgh Penguins- The perfect 3-5 defenseman on most any team. Jay “The Key” McKee is not the type of player that will ever have a slick New York marketing company touting his rugged individuality, but he is a player who is consistently steady, having only been a minus player in 3 of his 14 seasons in the league. McKee just plays the position and the man he is defending well, nothing more nothing less. McKee also averaged 2.21 blocks a game, having blocked 137 shots in 62 games. Not to shabby for a guy who makes $800,000, a year and next season might command even less.

Re-printed with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NHL contributor to Sports Climax.  

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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