Good day from Chicago, where the Flyers and Blackhawks practiced today in preparation for the start of the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday night. The building's busy now as TV production crews set up the cameras in the nets and set up the cameras in the stands. TV crews are doing hits in the stands and the scoreboard is currently on the ice as arena workers set it up for the big game.
I wrote a Dustin Byfuglien piece for tomorrow's paper. Big feature with a big box of information and nuggets to go with it. My appreciation to Byfuglien's mother, Cheryl, step-dad Dale Smedsmo and agent Ben Hankinson for the great insight for the story and pictures to go with it. Big Buff was good, too.
I talked with assistant coach John Torchetti (I still think the future Atlanta Thrashers coach, I'd say in roughly 15-20 days) about Byfuglien, but unfortunately I already filed the story. He gave me some really good anecdotes about just how calm and smart Big Buff is, especially during video sessions or asking questions about, "OK, now where do you want me on the ice?" He also told me there are times in games Byfuglien will turn around and tell Torchetti, "Calm down," and Torch, who can be a tad intense, will snipe back in his Boston accent, "Don't tell me to calm down ...
Speaking of Torchetti, as I shot the breeze with him this morning for 10 minutes, Torchetti held the door for the media walking in and out of the locker room. It was a very funny scene. He looked like a doorman.
Torchetti thinks I need to lay off Cam Barker. He agreed with my footwork assessment and says he still needs to be coached in terms of positioning, "but he can play for me anyday. I like him. Big body, big shot."
The only real Finals news is Andrew Ladd, who was injured in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, didn't practice for Chicago. Coach Joel Quenneville said he expects Ladd to play in the series, but he didn't specifically say Game 1.
I think this is going to be a great series. The Blackhawks seem to me to be a little uptight, even the normal suave guys like Patrick Kane. These kids are still kids, and I think the Chris Pronger factor is going to be huge for Philly. Everywhere this guy plays, they go far in the playoffs, whether it's Philly, Anaheim or Edmonton. Pronger is so loose and calm right now, I think that stuff is infectious for teammates to see. I think it calms them down.
I'm really tempted to pick Philly to win this thing, but I'll go Chicago in 7. Should be a fun, unbelievably physical series.
I think the Nasty factor will be off the charts.
--Commissioner Gary Bettman held his State of the League address today. Everything's wonderful. Ratings are up, attendance is up, revenues are up, supplemental discipline is perfect.
Here are some of the highlights:
-- I mentioned this on here or Twitter or Facebook or radio or maybe an actual article -- somewhere, just can't remember -- a few weeks ago, but the NHL schedule will be released June 22 -- three weeks earlier than usual.
-- These are preliminary numbers, but the commish stated that revenues are up roughly 4 percent (Canadian dollar strength has a lot to do with this) and if the NHLPA takes the 5 percent escalator built into the collective bargaining agreement, next year's salary cap will increase about $2 million. This year's cap was $56.8 million. And the Wild may need every precious cent because it's committed $45,424,443 (I'm just guessing) to 15 players for next year (barring trades), and that doesn't include the re-signing of restricted free agents Guillaume Latendresse, Josh Harding and maybe James Sheppard.
Clarification on above graph: I wrote this quick and wanted to clarify -- The 5 percent growth factor is built into the system, and not just an NHLPA option. As long as the league revenues are over $2.1 billion, which it is, the 5 percent growth factor is automatically applied unless or until either the NHL or NHLPA proposes a different growth factor (i.e. increase) based on the actual revenue experience and/or projections, in which case the parties will discuss and agree on a new growth factor.
The 5 percent growth was applied to set the cap the past three seasons and not in 2006-07. If there's no agreement between the sides, the growth factor will remain 5 percent.
The NHLPA will be discussing the growth factor further with the Executive Board in June. The cap will be announced jointly with the PA prior to free agency July 1.
-- Bettman announced Pittsburgh vs. Washington at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh will be next year's Winter Classic and that Calgary vs. Montreal will play in Calgary next February in the Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium.
-- He said Washington will get a Winter Classic in the next 2-3 years. The Wild's trying very hard to get a Winter Classic, but as Deputy Commisioner Bill Daly said if you read between the lines when he was in St. Paul to announce the Wild's got next June's draft a few months back, being a marketable team is very important to NBC and the NHL. In other words, give us a product to sell and you can get your Winter Classic. Hockey tradition in Minnesota with pond hockey and cold weather and kids being born with skates on doesn't really get NBC's blood flowing. A good team with star players get the blood flowing. But I know owner Craig Leipold's working hard on this, and he's got a close relationship with Bettman.
-- Bettman was offending by the IIHF's slam of NHL players who skipped the world championships and he demanded a written apology from IIHF President Rene Fasel. You can bet Fasel's praying Bettman holds his breath before he gets that. Bettman made clear that in the next substantive discussions with the NHL Players' Association, allowing NHLers to even participate in the worlds will be a topic.
-- There will be a Hockey Day in America on Feb. 20. As part of USA Hockey's Hockey Weekend Across America, the day-long event will celebrate hockey with a slate of NHL games that are scheduled to include Philly, the Rangers, the Caps, the Sabres, the Wings, the Pens, the Hawks, the Bruins and YOUR Minnesota Wild!
I wanted to talk NHL combine right now because apparently Nick Bjugstad had a sick day up in Toronto (sick, as in very impressive), along with some other Minnesotans, but I was just told they're rebooting wireless at 5 p.m. So I am pressing submit now and maybe I'll blog again tomorrow.
Going to Second City tonight. That should be hoot. I'm coming back to Minnesota in the morning. I'll be on ESPN 1500 some time Saturday afternoon after I land and Sunday morning on Souhan's show. Have an awesome weekend folks and enjoy the Stanley Cup Finals.