SANDIS OZOLINSH SIGNED CONTRACT TO FINISH CAREER IN KHL WITH DINAMO RIGA
OZOLINSH REPRESENTED LATVIA IN 2 OLYMPICS AND 2 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
- The big news Tuesday, at least in Republika Latvijas, was the return of former San Jose Sharks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh to the professional team where his career began in 1990. Dinamo Riga, now a part of the Kontinental Hockey League
(KHL), signed the 37 year old Ozolinsh after a 1 year absence from hockey.
In an open letter
on the team's website Ozolinsh noted that the best and most productive years of his career may be behind him, but that he can use his experience to help Dinamo Riga become a better team. "I'm sure that we will be able to fulfill your hopes. I don't know if there will be miracles but my heart will be on the ice," he said in the letter as translated by the IIHF
The 7-time NHL Allstar and former Norris Trophy Finalist won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996. He registered 167 goals and 564 points in 875 games played for 6 different teams over his 16-year NHL career. Ozolinsh represented Latvia in two Olympic competitions and two World Championships.
He was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the second round (30th overall) in 1991, where he played two seasons before being part of the blockbuster trade that acquired Owen Nolan in 1995. The Sharks signed "Ozone" for a return engagement in November 2008 to add defensive depth. He finished with 3 goals and 13 assists in 38 games played, and added a measure of stability on the back end before then head coach Ron Wilson relegated him to reserve duty. He came into the season in tremendous physical condition after straightening out off-ice problems, but skating was an issue.
With the return of Ozolinsh to Riga the Bay Area loses the most popular athlete in Latvia, but it does retain another. 6-foot-11 Latvian Andris Biedrins is a center/forward for the Golden State Warriors, and he was occasionally spotted in the stands at HP Pavilion. Another member of the 2006 Latvian Olympic Hockey Team, center Maris Ziedins, played less than an hour away from San Jose for the ECHL Stockton Thunder in 2005-06.
- Sandis Ozolinsh returns to the San Jose Sharks
- November 2008 Sharkspage video.
- The "other" news Tuesday was that free agent Swedish goaltender Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson decided to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs posted video highlights of the press conference online
"Jonas is considered by many to be the best goaltender not playing in the NHL today. He has a unique combination of size and agility and we’re excited to add a player with his potential to our roster." - Brian Burke
"He's not coming in trying to unseat a guy who has been here a long time, has a long-term contract and has had a lot of success. That being said, we were very frank with Jonas that we feel Vesa is going to have a big-time, bounce-back year now that he's healthy. Don't think you're going to walk in here and knock this kid out of the net. You're going to have to do something to do that." - Brian Burke
"I want to thank Brian Burke and his staff for giving me the opportunity to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is truly an honor and privilege and I feel very fortunate to wear the Blue and White sweater. Toronto is a great city, with tremendous fan support, and I am very excited about the future." - Jonas Gustavsson
He will reportedly make an entry-level maximum $810,000, with a possible $90K in bonuses according to TFP
. Gustavsson's agent Joe Resnick told ESPN's Pierre LeBrun
that "This wasn't a one-year decision. This was for years three and four. We were looking at the long term, that was a major factor in the decision."
Gustavsson was profiled here
He will play behind starting goaltender Vesa Toskala, ostensibly the team's #1, but Gustavsson is expected to push him for playing time and be a legitimate option if he falters. On the official Leafs website, Mike Ulmer noted
that calls from Borje Salming and Mats Sundin on the tradition and history of Toronto helped land the Swedish goaltender. Playing with one of the top goaltending coaches, newly hired Francois Allaire, and playing in the top hockey market on the planet may have played a little bit of a factor as well.
Colorado opted out of the Monster sweepstakes signing solid free agent goaltender Craig Anderson to backup a streaky Peter Budaj. San Jose had a pair of non-monster options for a backup to Evgeni Nabokov in Brian Boucher and Thomas Greiss. The Sharks have been grooming athletic German goaltender Thomas Greiss for a year and a half as the #1 in Worcester. Passing on Brian Boucher, who signed a 2-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, could signal that the organization feels the time is right for Greiss.
Left out in the cold are the Dallas Stars, and many are not happy with either Gustavsson or Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Dallas Morning News beat writer Mike Heika lead with Swedish goalie's snub stings Dallas Stars
. Heika, one of the most respected writers covering the NHL, gauges the fan reaction in Dallas and it may signal turbulent times ahead.
Brandon Worley of SBN's Defending Big D
writes that the short and long term future in goal for Dallas remains in question. Marty Turco will be in a contract year, and there have been recent issues with his large workload and problems with goaltending coach Andy Moog.
"Turco has been a horse for this team and has consistently been one of the top ten goalies in the NHL. He's proven that last two seasons (06-07, 07-08) that he is able to be dominant in the playoffs," Worley noted. "While the Stars won't be adverse to re-signing him next summer, the chances are good that Turco feels he is worth more than the team is willing to spend. Faced with the departure of a franchise goaltender, what direction can the team go?"
Mark Stepneski of Andrews Starspage
looks at the free agent goaltenders available to back up Marty Turco. Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki and Curtis Sanford are listed as a few of the best remaining options.
- Toronto vs. Dallas: For Gustavsson, Never a Hard Choice
- Jeff Z. Klein.
Contract money was not a factor. Gustavsson is eliglible only for an entry-level deal, so no bidding war was involved, and that means the only considerations were where he fit in with the team and the city he was moving to. It helped, of course, that Toronto is practically Stockholm West in attitude, atmosphere and hockey pedigree — and that two of the most beloved Leafs of the last 35 years are Börje Salming and Mats Sundin.
That’s why Gustavsson nixed San Jose fairly early in the bidding process; it didn’t feel to him like that much of a hockey locale (Ontarian Brian Campbell felt the same way after he was dealt there from Buffalo and got out after only four months). And Gustavsson found Colorado in complete organizational disarray, having just fired the entire management and coaching staffs. That left the Stars and Maple Leafs, and when Gustavsson’s Dallas suitors trotted him out to a Texas Rangers baseball game and had him throw the first pitch, that probably sealed it. Ten to one he went back to his hotel room for a Web search of airfares, Stockholm-to-Pearson Airport.
Klein also takes issue with some of the criticism surrounding Nieuwendyk, but the problems are deeper than either the pursuit of Gustavsson or Tom Hicks' financial situation. Regarding San Jose being nixed early in the bidding process, Gustavsson himself and his agent said as late as last week the Sharks were still on the table. Either you take them at their word or you don't. His agent Joe Resnick told David Pollak of the Mercury News yesterday
that it was a gut decision to go to Toronto.
About San Jose not being much of a hockey locale, the 10th largest metropolitan area of the U.S. is fairly spread out. You have to travel 5 minutes from downtown to get to the largest hockey facility on the West Coast at Sharks Ice
in San Jose. The Sharks play to near capacity in San Jose, Stockton has lead the ECHL in attendance for 4 years less than an hour away. Hockey video games, fantasy hockey, message boards, team websites and blogs all started in the Bay Area.
San Jose might be the most non-traditional of the "non-traditional" markets in the NHL, but the hockey is there if you know where to find it. No comment on Brian Campbell.
- Burke also directly refuted one of the negatives I placed on playing in Toronto, the heavy media pressure players face. "Some of the other teams involved in all these free agents, that is one of the negatives (media pressure players face) that other teams threw at Toronto. The media, the negativity, the scrutiny. I told him, I don't feel that way," Burke said. "When our team struggles, they give it more to the coach and the GM more than they give it to the players. I think the goaltenders here last year escaped real serious beatings no matter how poorly we played. I said to Jonas, I don't feel that goaltenders are picked on here at all, I don't think our players are picked on in Toronto. I think when things go wrongly they throw bricks at the coach and the GM, which is perfect. Keep it that way."
Playing for GM Brian Burke or Ron Wilson would be a selling point for any NHL player, and under them you would know exactly where you stand. The NHL is looking into Ron Wilson for tampering
after he made comments regarding the Sedin twins on a Toronto radio program, but hopefully it results in nothing more than a warning or a slap on the wrist. Honestly, it should not even go that far. The league needs Wilson and Burke front and center as much as possible.
That being said, it is hard not to acknowledge the whithering criticism from the Toronto media and fans Toskala endured until they had time to see what he could bring to the table. Head coach Ron Wilson went from a small group of reporters covering him in San Jose, to an entertaining but confrontational relationship with the Toronto media horde that began before the start of the season. The spotlight the Leafs are under can be tremendously beneficial, or it can be the Sword of Damocles hanging over a struggling player.
Bringing in Francois Beauchemin, Garnet Exelby and Mike Komisarek to bolster the blueline in Toronto will also have a significant impact on Toskala and Gustavsson. Toskala, the more patient of the two, will benefit more from the crease clearing and the reduction of rebound opportunities. Highlights of Gustavsson from the Swedish league show a near endless succession of tremendously acrobatic saves on breakaways and 2-on-1 opportunities. Maple Leaf fans hope he does not have to mine that experience too often in Toronto.
- Another Burke rumor came on the Globe and Mail's NHL podcast from Eric Duhatschek (auto spellcheck keeps changing it to Eic Duatschek). Duhatschek said that he had heard from one general manager that Burke wanted to make a run at free agent winger Travis Moen. Moen registered 7 goals and 9 assists in 82 games played for the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks last season. Moen won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007 with Burke as the general manager.
San Jose has room for Moen on the third line, possibly with Jonathan Cheechoo and speedy center Torrey Mitchell, but salary cap issues may be a hinderance and will almost assuredly necessitate a trade before the start of the regular season.
SHARKS FORWARD CLAUDE LEMIEUX RETIRED AFTER 21 NHL SEASONS
- Toronto's Globe and Mail broke news of the retirement of San Jose Sharks forward Claude Lemieux: Lemieux calls it quits, again
. Lemieux registered only 1 assist in 18 games last season in a comeback tour that included stops with the ALIH China Sharks, the AHL Worcester Sharks and the NHL San Jose Sharks.
"Many people will think the main highlights of my career will be the Stanley Cups, the Conn Smythe Trophy and Canada Cup, but to me and my family, coming back and playing in my first game in San Jose (last season) will be remembered as one the great highlights of my career."
"I want to thank the Arizona Sun Dogs for letting me train with them, the China Sharks for the opportunity to play there and the Worcester Sharks organization for helping making this dream possible. I cannot say enough to thank Doug Wilson, my Sharks teammates and the entire San Jose organization for giving me the opportunity to bring this dream to fruition. In my heart, I will forever be a San Jose Shark."
The Sharks made him work his way throughout the organization, but he earned his spot on the roster despite numerous objections and guffaws at the time from the national hockey press. During a string of injuries that sidelined as many as 9 roster players, Lemieux helped the team in a 4th line depth role before eventually succumbing to a jaw injury himself. He was not able to deliver enough in an offensive or agitating capacity.
One of the highlights of his encore NHL season may be an awkward fight
with journeyman Edmonton defenseman Theo Peckham. It may not have been the best display of fisticuffs, but it energized the team and made for a more entertaining game. A highlight off of the ice, Lemieux became an American citizen
The Sharks have a habit of absorbing character veterans into the organization after their playing days, see Mike Ricci and Bryan Marchment. There is an assistant coaching vacancy in San Jose after Minnesota-born Todd Richards departed
to become the head coach of the Wild. There was a no comment from the Sharks on possible candidates for the position. Lemieux was a former president of the Phoenix Roadrunners, which later became the Sharks ECHL affiliate and closed after last season. There is also no new news on a possible San Jose ECHL affiliate for 2009-10.
- Avalanche's Sakic to retire from the NHL on Thursday
- Adrian Dater for the Denver Post.
The news that Avalanche fans had hoped never to hear is nevertheless official: Joe Sakic has decided to retire from the Avalanche. The Denver Post has confirmed that the Avalanche captain will retire Thursday at a 1 p.m. news conference at the Inverness Hotel.
After a 20-season career that is sure to land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Sakic had mulled a 21st. Instead, he'll walk away as the Avalanche's all-time leading scorer with 625 goals and 1,641 points in 1,378 games — all with the same franchise.
"He'll go down as one of the best to ever play the game," Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky said.
- No Hockey on ESPN Listings
- The Ice Block.
Bowling, check. Hockey, no.
- The Sharks received the Dick Dillman Award as the top media relations staff in the Western Conference. It is their 3rd straight award, and 4th in the last 5 seasons. Director of Media Relations Scott Emmert, Media Relations Manager Tom Holy of bobblehead fame, Ryan Stenn and VP of Communications Ken Arnold head a staff that works hard to provide access and information to the local, national and international media. Many of the media relations assistants in San Jose, including one fellow Mountain View high graduate, are just as dedicated and helpful as those at the top.
"It's a pleasure to be recognized by the PHWA for our efforts but most of
the thanks must go to our team executives, coaches and players," Scott Emmert said of receiving the award. "If they are not so gracious with their time towards the media, we would not be able to do our jobs successfully."
The Washington Capitals earned another Dick Dillman award as the top media relations staff in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals have also earned three straight awards. "This is a special honor and something in which we take a great deal of pride," Capitals Director of Media Relations Nate Ewell told the official website
. "It is a pleasure to work with the membership of the PHWA and the rest of the media every day. Their coverage is instrumental to the success of this great game, and we are happy to do whatever we can to help make that possible. We owe thanks to the leadership of our owners, George McPhee and Bruce Boudreau, as well as charismatic and cooperative players like Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Brooks Laich, just to name three."
The award is given annually to honor late Minnesota Wild media relations representative Dick Dillman.
- The Sharks have cycled off many of the local radio shows in the summer news cycle, but the Dudes on Hockey podcast with Mike Peattie and Doug Santana has been solid of late. Recent guests include ESPN's E.J. Hradek, TSN's Scott Burnside, San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy, and the television voice of the San Jose Sharks in Randy Hahn. The latest episode
takes a look at the Free Agency deadline.
Sharks left wing Ryane Clowe joined Ralph Barbieri and Tim Roye on KNBR 680AM
after signing a 4-year contract. When asked what it took to set up in front of an NHL crease, Clowe said it was not always his mission to score from in close. He also wanted to be a "bad goalie", screening the opposing goaltender while at the same time letting the puck reach the net. "It was something coach Todd McLellan ingrained in us," Clowe told Barbieri.
[Update] The experiment comes to official end with Claude Lemieux’s retirement — and thoughts on playoff exit
- Working the Corners.
[Update2] Dallas Stars acquire G Alex Auld
- USA Today.
The Dallas Stars have acquired goaltender Alex Auld from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2010 NHL draft.
That pick was previously acquired from the San Jose Sharks.
The 6-foot-4, 223-pound goalie has played in 183 NHL games in his career with Vancouver, Florida, Phoenix, Boston and Ottawa. He has a 74-75-25 career mark with six shutouts, a .905 save percentage and a 2.76 goals-against average.
[Update3] Lemieux’s ‘adventure’ comes to an end
- Ross McKeon for Yahoo Sports.