Seven in the morning

Trade deadlines, the NFL combine and a trip down the rabbit hole

The Globe and Mail

NFL draft prospect Cam Newton looks to throw a pass during a football workout Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, in San Diego. Newton collected college football's Davey O'Brien award for top quarterback on Monday. (AP Photo/Chris Park) (Chris Park)

I wonder what it'd be like to get traded? Maybe that's part of the fascinaton when it comes to NHL trade deadline day, or Christmas in February, as Stephen Brunt calls it. There you are trundling along in your out-of-the-playoffs life, wondering if it's time to start rebuilding and boom your agent calls to say such-and-such team thinks you are the key to getting over the hump and they're going to trade some prospects -- some of their FUTURE - for what you can bring them NOW. That'd be kind of cool; that would make a guy's day, probably. So here's to you Thomas Vokoun and Dustin Penner and Jean-Michael Liles; here's hoping you get that text message saying: pack your bags, you're urgently needed in the the present.

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1. A Canadian tradition:

There is no doubt that the hype around the trade deadline is over-the-top. The thing is it's become like the Super Bowl -- the hype is part of the show. Brunt tries -- with some success -- to explain trade deadline day to us: Other sports are followed passionately here and around the planet. Other games inspire an obsessive interest in even the most trivial details. And talk about sport has always had almost as much entertainment value as the games themselves. Still, there is really no point of comparison, not in North America, not anywhere beyond that, not in football or basketball or baseball or soccer. Whether committed hockey fans are in fact more committed than their confrères who follow other sports, or whether they've been conditioned by TSN and others to respond like Pavlov's dogs is an open question: what isn't is the fact that deadline day works to a degree that the NHL brain trust could never have imagined, that it is still growing, and that even as networks and newspapers and websites and radio stations jump on board, there is no objective evidence that the point of overkill is even close to being reached....And a year from now, it will be bigger, with more bells, more whistles, at a time of years when the hockey season used to be mired in the pre-stretch-drive doldrums. You will be watching, or listening, or surfing. You cannot help yourself. It's February. It's Monday. It's the perfect escape, the perfect vacation, or at least the perfect excuse to unleash the imagination.

2. One year after Sidney's golden goal:

There is a certain sadness that Crosby, a year after scoring arguably the most important goal in Canadian hockey history, remains sidelined with a concussion. But there is something else at work too. As the awareness of concussions as a real and significant health issue increases, there is the potential that Crosby's injury will resonate as loudly through the sport as his Olympic goal. Roy MacGregor's column today about the way Crosby's injury is being perceived among elite young hockey players suggests how: Edite Ozols is also a trained psychologist. Her university research was in neuropsychology. Before she went to work in the school system, she worked directly with patients who had suffered head trauma, often severe, and usually in motor-vehicle accidents. She has noticed something of late. Her son and his teammates had been looking forward, keenly, to the introduction of body-checking next year. Anyone who has ever coached at the minor-league levels knows of this phenomenon: the almost visceral excitement that comes over a team about to move into more competitive, more NHL-style hockey. It is also the time when so many youngsters, especially those down the growth curve, decide to bail on the game when, in a seeming instant, it jumps from no contact to full body contact. Crosby, she says, is a living god to these youngsters, whether they play in Mississauga or Moncton or Maple Ridge. "These are all boys who live and dream hockey 24 hours a day, and he is their hero. "They all were looking forward to checking next year. They wanted it. But now they're all afraid of hits to the head. And it's all because of Sidney Crosby."

3. New York Knicks -- Doing it with defense:

The excitement that accompanied the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks was justified for a lot of reasons, but the sober-minded were quick to throw a note of caution on the whole thing, pointing out that elite teams usually play pretty good defense, and the Knicks, with Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony in the fold, couldn't possibly be a good defensive team. But they were last night as they won against LeBron James and the Miami Heat in Miami, no less: Mike D'Antoni's Knicks actually won this game on stops. They allowed Miami 52 points in the last three quarters, 35 in the second half. "Most of defense is just effort," [Chauncey]Billups said, "and being willing to do it." D'Antoni's previous teams in Phoenix and New York never had the know-how or desire, but these Knicks just might be different. As Billups was stealing the ball from James and Chris Bosh in the final minutes, and following up his wild runner in the lane with a long and lethal three launched from the sands of South Beach, Pat Riley wore that grim, I've-seen-this-movie-before look in the stands. Riley's Heat lost three consecutive sudden-death playoff games to the Knicks on their home floor from 1998-2000, and ol' Riles surely expected Allan Houston to suddenly appear and get another lucky bounce, or Clarence Weatherspoon to emerge from the scrum to take an ill-fated shot. Instead he saw his blue-chip recruit, James, take the ball and face up Anthony with Miami down one. Riley saw LeBron make his move to the left, and saw Melo move his feet laterally in a way Melo is never supposed to move his feet on the defensive side of the ball. "I just wanted to stay in front of him," Anthony said. So stay in front of James he did. Anthony bothered LeBron just enough, taking the steam out of his drive and allowing Stoudemire the time and opportunity to rush in from the weak side. "It's something we'd been talking about the whole game," Anthony said. Funny, but Stoudemire and Anthony are seen as two of the more defensively-challenged stars in the league, now playing for the sport's most defensively-challenged coach. And yet Stoudemire and Anthony were plotting this stand for two hours, hoping James or Dwyane Wade would fall into their trap. "Right now we're just a bunch of good individuals," D'Antoni had said before the game. The Knicks would be notarized as an honest-to-god team on this sequence. James floated the ball over the extended arms of Anthony, and Stoudemire batted it out of the sky

4. NFL Combine -- Newton hurts his stock:

As over-hyped fodder for obsessives, trade deadline day may only be matched by the NFL's scouting combine. It wrapped up yesterday with quarterback testing, where Cam Newton of Auburn proved he can run, but left doubts about his ability to throw: [Newton] was all smoothness and smiles in his ridiculously well-attended Saturday press conference, but then proceeded to struggle mightily throwing the ball on Sunday, completing barely 50 percent of his passes despite being defensed by nothing more than air. On the upside, he did turn in a blazing 40 time of 4.58 -- which is moving it down the line pretty good for a guy who goes 6-foot-5, 248 pounds -- and turned in an impressive broad jump of 10 feet, 6 inches.

For me, this weekend's turn of events sums up the gist of the NFL Scouting Combine experience. It's part-football, part-psychological testing and pretty much a full-fledged dog-and-pony show. [Ryan]Mallett clearly helped himself on Sunday, showing accuracy, superb arm strength and great touch on the ball. Newton, on the other hand, just threw the brakes on the notion of him taking an express trip to the top of the draft, spraying the ball around Lucas Oil Stadium like Brady Quinn on a windy day in Cleveland.

5. Major league contract, minor league address:

Some big names and big salaries are playing in the AHL this season, which can creat some strange dynamics, such as Mike Commodore outfitting his team's weight room to his specifications: This season, thanks to a little-known loophole in the league's labor deal and a growing pileup of phenomenally bad contracts, the AHL has seen something new: an influx of millionaires making as much as double the NHL's average salary.

Sheldon Souray, a former Edmonton Oilers defenseman who was once married to a Baywatch model, is patrolling the blue line for the Hershey Bears for $5.5 million. He was loaned to Hershey in the pre-season when Edmonton asked him not to report for training camp and no team picked him up off waivers.

Former New York Rangers defenseman Wade Redden, a two-time All-Star, is taking eight hour bus rides as a member of the Connecticut Whale. At a salary of $6.5 million, he earns the AHL's minimum salary of $37,500 in just over one period of play.

Defenseman Mike Commodore, who won a Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, was sent down to the Springfield Falcons in January after the Blue Jackets failed to find a team willing to trade for him. Despite making $3.75 million, he's living in a hotel in downtown Springfield and doesn't have a car. "Honestly, I don't know where I'd go," he says.

6. The buzz on the Hockeybuzz:

This is a bit echo-chamberish (a blog linking to a story about about a hockey rumour site on trade deadline day) but just as interesting as this story about Hockeybuzz.com and its proprietor -- a mysterious figure known only as Eklund -- is that SI.com thought it signifificant enough to do a story about it. Interesting perspective on sports coverage in digital times and on hockey coverage in the US : Believe it or not, "Eklund" started out not as a single person, but an umbrella pseudonym (in honor of former Flyers forward Pelle Eklund) for a Philly-area band named Grey Eye Glances -- an indie rock troupe whose other main passion was hockey. Several members occasionally hung out with players, and some purportedly had previous working ties to the NHL.

Around the time of the NHL's lost season in 2004-05, the group became frustrated at the dearth of news surrounding the state of negotiations between the league and players, and thought, "Why not start our own website to fill the void with what we know might be going on?"

Thus, "Eklund's Hockey Rumors" began in 2005. Thanks to a largely snoozing U.S. mainstream media that sent most of its hockey reporters to cover bowling or high school basketball during the lockout, the site quickly became a hit with fans starved for something, anything hockey news-related. It didn't seem to matter that not much of anything was accurate. People just seemed to use Hockeybuzz.com to project their hopes for the NHL's return, or to confirm their suspicions that the end was nigh.

Traffic has only grown like a redwood since. Sites likes Kuklaskorner currently pull in a respectable 19,000 unique visitors per day on average during the season, Hockeybuzz.com usually averages into the low six-figures -- and the numbers skyrocket during the couple of weeks preceding the trade deadline.

According to figures from Google Analytics obtained by SI.com, on Feb. 22, Hockeybuzz.com had 350,295 unique visitors and 1,172,220 page views. From Jan. 24 to Feb. 23, the site generated 7,067,017 unique visits and 22,997,841 page views. Eklund is so hot that plans have just been finalized for him to cut an album with Flyers game-night singer Lauren Hart, a project tentatively titled "Eklund and Hart."

7. Remembering Duke Snider:

A nice tribute here from Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star on the passing of the former Brooklyn Dodgers star and long-time Montreal Expos broadcaster. Griffin started his career in baseball working for the Expos, knew Snider well and liked him a lot: Duke one day patted me on the shoulder and gave me responsibilty for a special project. It seems there was a former Brooklyn Dodgers' fanatic named Israel Shapiro who had become for one reason or another, a street person. Israel had a sister on Long Island, but lived on the street. He had wild grey hair that stuck out in long greasy shocks, with about 12 of his original teeth in his head. He wore sneakers with holes and no socks. His only companion was a shopping bag from a book store that was weighed down by that year's current Green and Red Books and by an Expos' press guide that I gave him on every first trip to New York of the year.

Like clockwork, every time the team bus would pull up to the Grand Hyatt, Israel would be on the sidewalk peering through the glass door looking for the Duke of Flatbush. Hotel security was at a loss. He knew the schedule. He was crazy but he wasn't dumb. When the Duke would saunter elegantly down the steps of the bus with briefcase in hand, he would always, always stop and call Israel by name and chat with him for a couple of minutes until he calmed down. To me that tells a lot about the man.



























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