If you follow the NHL in Canada and wish to attend a game, you know it'll cost you plenty, and that's only if you're fortunate enough to purchase a ticket at the box office or from a scalper. There simply aren't many tickets available. If you get your hands on one or two, however, you're probably appreciative.
In Florida, the Panthers are literally giving tickets away. For free.
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I discovered this quite by accident the other day when I was travelling in Florida for some spring-training baseball coverage. As I checked into a hotel, the chap at the front desk asked me if I'd like tickets to the Panthers' game against the Ottawa Senators.
"How much?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said. "The Panthers have asked us to give tickets away. You can have as many as you'd like. Here, take four. Take eight."
Well, I didn't need that many, but I wouldn't want to break a long-time reporters' tradition by turning down a freebie, so I scarfed up a ticket and turned up at the arena in Sunrise, Fla., to watch the Sens and Panthers, only to find the place at least half-empty.
And, not satisfied enough with my free seat in the upper deck, I moved my way down to the fourth row, centre ice, where I sat comfortably for the second and third periods and where I witnessed season-ticket holders not watching the game but gabbing, reading books, surfing through the internet on their handhelds and discussing ways of unloading their future tickets.
I kid you not.
And most of them left well before the end of the game, won 4-2 by Ottawa.
I've covered sports since I was a teenager 30 years ago. I attended countless games before I started covering sports.
I have never seen as much apathy at a game anywhere as I did at the Panthers' game. It was downright pathetic.
I know thousands of Canadians who would consider sacrificing their first-born for free hockey tickets.
Floridians don't deserve hockey.
•It was precisely 18 years ago—March 29, 1989 — when a right winger with the Soviet national team became the first USSR Ice Hockey Federation player to be permitted to play in the NHL.
Sergei Priakin signed with the Calgary Flames and made his NHL debut two days later.
• Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins will quite likely garner the trophy as the NHL's most-valuable player, although a strong case can be made for the second consecutive selection of the San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton.
Personally, I don't think any player has had a more positive impact on a team's ascent than goaltender Roberto Luongo has had on the Vancouver Canucks.
A darkhorse for the honor, however, has emerged in Minnesota. Marian Gaborik is being credited widely for the Wild's emergence as a serious Stanley Cup contender. The Wild got hot in early January and haven't cooled. The catalyst to their upward mobility in the standings was the Jan. 6 return to the lineup of Gaborik. The team's fortunes since then show a direct correlation to his return, as it reeled off a 24-6-5 run.
• In Colorado, where the Avalanche have suffered through a disappointing season, plans are being made to discard goalie Jose Theodore, once the pride and joy of the Montreal Canadiens.
Theodore has been mostly wretched this season and the Avalanche plan to buy out the final season of his contract.
Colorado captain Joe Sakic, by the way, has been his usual productive self despite his team's woes, and, as the regular season nears its end, he has a reasonable chance to record his sixth 100-point season and first since 2000-01.
• There's a good profile of Vinny Lecavalier at www.nhl.com, revealing details about a trade request the superstar made early in the 2001-02 season.
Lecavalier, who entered Thursday night with an NHL-leading 49 goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning, was questioned publicly back then by his irascible coach, John Tortorella, prompting the stylish forward to ask ex-general manager Rick Dudley to deal him.
Dudley nearly nearly accepted an offer of Radek Bonk and Sami Salo from the Ottawa Senators for Lecavalier, but club owner Bill Davidson intervened and wouldn't approve the departure of Lecavalier without assurance from Dudley that the team would be visibly better without him. Dudley didn't wish to provide that guarantee. Good thing for Lightning fans.
"I never looked at it as fighting," Tortorella said. "I looked at it as trying to find the common ground where I was trying to define accountability and he was trying to define accountability. We had a disagreement there. We worked through that. I think he has turned into a man now and understands the road he needs to go down."
Jay Feaster put an end to the public squabbling between Lecavalier and Tororella when he replaced Dudley in February of 2002.
"The first thing I did was met with Vinny and told him that I wanted John to coach this team and I told John that Vinny wasn’t going anywhere,"Feaster said. "We didn’t need our two more high-profile people airing out their dirty laundry in public."
• The Edmonton Oilers, who are bad and desperate, will be active in free agency and on the trade market this off-season, of course, and will increase their payroll from $40-million to $43-million.
Adding an offensive defenceman, such as Mathieu Schneider, is their top priority. Schneider is enjoying a good season with the Detroit Red Wings and is eligible for free agency in the off-season.
Other defencemen on the Oilers' radar screen are Tom Preising and Brad Stuart. They also have their sights set on forwards Ray Whitney, Scott Gomez and Daniel Briere, although the latter likely will jump to the Philadelphia Flyers or re-sign with the Buffalo Sabres.