Buccigross: Have an ice summer


Well, we are getting there.

Slowly but surely, we are approaching the news conference where the NHL will announce once again that it's open for business. Sometime between Flag Day (June 14) and Barry Melrose's birthday (July 15) we will get that news conference we've been waiting for. It will take some more time. This is an extremely complicated affair with details piled upon details. This is the time both sides have to be on their toes more than ever. This is when Bob Goodenow and the band of smart player agents will quietly look for any loopholes they can find to outsmart the NHL's lawyers.

What follows will be one of the more exciting summers in hockey history.

At the big news conference, the two sides will attempt to explain the complicated CBA. We will also hear what new rules will be implemented. There will be a shootout next year and the tag-up offside rule will likely return. Slightly smaller goaltending gear might be recommended, but can manufacturers make those changes in time? It might be too soon to manufacture hundreds of larger nets, but that is clearly gaining momentum. Other subtle changes will also be announced.

That being said, we still have a great game. We need more speed and more regular-season goals, but I've watched just about every game the last few years and I'm always entertained.

After the CBA and rule changes are discussed, the issue of the draft will be announced. The draft lottery should be held right away. Maybe at the news conference! Not quite, but maybe a few days later for the media to plan their TV coverage and get press credentials.

TSN in Canada will have a live draft lottery show talking in depth about the new CBA and discussions on the new rule changes. We will also know who Sidney Crosby will play for during that show. It might be the highest-rated show in Canadian television history.

Then a week after that, the draft. It will be held in New York and consist of Crosby and a few others holding up the sweaters of their new teams. That seems like a quick turnaround, but teams should be ready for the draft. They've had lots of time to prepare. Yes, teams don't know where they will pick, but after scouting and rating the top prospects, it won't take long to formulate a draft board.

Then, the free agent frenzy commences. This is going to be wild. Cell phones will be blowing up all over the continent, as teams with flexibility could have a field day. Teams could become instant contenders or certainly could drastically improve themselves if they wisely sign free agents. Maybe Paul Kariya wants to play for Mario Lemieux for a year and he and Alexei Kovalev will sign in Pittsburgh. Maybe the Bruins will sign Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsanov and trade them with Andrew Raycroft for Sidney Crosby. Maybe Joe Sakic will retire. Maybe Brian Leetch will be a Ranger again. Will Mark Messier finish his career in Edmonton? Will Stevie Y play one more year? How can the Bruins not sign Scott Niedermayer with their penchant for great defenseman and so much cap room? (There is the first "cap room" reference in hockey writing history. Yes!) So many questions, so much warm weather hockey news. This is going to be a great summer.

Congrats to Cam

And on the eighth day of June, No. 8 shall be voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Hall's selection committee announced Wednesday that Cameron Michael Neely and Valeri Kharlamov were voted for induction.

An overview:

Neely turned 40 on June 6, so this is the ultimate birthday present as he begins life's back nine. I wrote this in 2002, and it works well here:

"Ladies, gentleman, esteemed NHL colleagues, Hall of Fame selection committee, all you sucker MCs, Greg Polis, commissioner Bettman, the Ice Girls who shovel the snow during timeouts at Dallas Stars home games, my beloved otter Ken, and all immediate family members of Penguins defenseman Dick Tarnstrom.

"It is with gratitude and humility that I have been given the opportunity to speak before you on what I feel is a grave injustice in the hockey world: The omission of Cameron Michael Neely from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"Neely's career lasted 726 games, more than enough to define a player. It's more games played than Sid Abel (612) and just a few less than former Bruin Bill Quackenbush (744). In those 726 games, Neely had the numbers in relation to his games played – 395 goals, 299 assists and 694 points. As a Bruin alone, his numbers are staggering – 524 games, 344 goals, 246 assists, 590 points and a plus-140.

"The Bruins had a couple of very good teams in that time, but certainly never a great one. During the 1993-94 season, Neely scored his 50th goal in his 44th game. Only Wayne Gretzky reached 50 goals in a season quicker. From the start of the 1989-90 season through the 1993-94 season, Neely scored 176 goals in 216 games.

"Neely showed courage and love of the game as he battled his serious injuries. He showed perseverance in dealing with the death of his parents. He didn't dive, take cheap shots or flop. He was the kind of player who could have played in any era. Mothers and fathers named sons after him and he was Terry O'Reilly to a new generation of Bruins fans. He gave his heart, soul, hip, quad and knee to the Bruins, until every bit of hockey life was sucked out of him

"Norman Augustine said: 'Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.' Cam Neely and his teams won most nights he played in the NHL. His motivation and talent were a big reason why. Some players were great and not really remembered. And some players are remembered, but not really great. For a generation of hockey fan and player, whether NHL or squirt, Neely was the blueprint – tough, courageous, persistent, talented and popular. A blue-collar star. The people's champ."

Well, Neely is in, and for the first day in a long time, I heard hockey news and smiled. Yet, in a way, I'm sad. I've written my annual "Cam should be in the Hall" column since 2001. It, along with the annual NHL preview, is always one of the highlights of my column season. It brings me back to those great days of smaller rinks, slap-shot-down-the-wing goals, more hitting, mullets and more freedom. But it is a great thing for a great player. And quite frankly, it's perfect timing. Perhaps, as Neely enters the Hall this November, it will be an induction ceremony that ushers in a new game on the ice. A precursor of an awesome comeback season for the NHL. It's going to be pretty cool for Neely, being the only NHL player who gets inducted in November. He'll garner all of the attention for his last great hockey moment. The e-mails came pouring into my inbox as the news hit ESPN.com, once again showing the power of the man even in retirement. Driver 8, take a break.

As for Kharlamov, he won gold at two Olympics and eight World Championships. The smallish, talented Russian was named best forward at the 1976 Worlds and selected to three World Championship all-star teams. He played for 11 Soviet national champions over his career and was unveiled to NHL fans at the 1972 Summit Series. He had speed, agility and could score. For kids growing up in the Soviet Union, Kharlamov was a god-like figure who was emulated and revered nationwide. Tragically, on Aug. 27, 1981, Kharlamov and his wife were killed in a car accident. Kharlamov was 33. This was the perfect Russian player to begin a wave of Russian inductees.


Your column about Cam Neely made me think about Peter Forsberg's chances of making it into the Hall of Fame. His chances of getting in get smaller and smaller with every passing day that there is a lockout. But if one were to assume that he would play two more seasons in the NHL, averaging 25 goals and 50 assists, his career totals would be right around 275 goals and 625 assists with a Hart Trophy thrown in there as well. Your thoughts?

If Peter Forsberg retired today to become a professional hair stylist, he would be Hockey Hall of Fame worthy. His NHL and International career is more than Hall of Fame worthy. MVP, rookie of the year, scoring champion, Olympic hero, and International Man of Mystery.

God, I miss Barry Melrose and his pimp suits.
Jeff L. Berry
Hays, Kan.

Barry has loaned his pimp suits to the Johnny Dangerously exhibit at the Smithsonian and loaned his mullet to John Rocker.

I don't want to defend Bettman, but only four teams have been awarded franchises since he became commissioner. They are Minnesota, Columbus, Atlanta and Nashville. Two of those franchises, Columbus and Minnesota, seem to have great fan bases, Nashville just made the playoffs so this year should have seen an improvement in attendance and Atlanta has the best young talent in the league.

That's right, Bob. Gary Bettman has overseen the allotment of four expansion franchises since he was hired as commissioner. Minnesota is an A-plus franchise. The hockey heart of the U.S. beats strongest in Minnesota. The state has the best U.S. fans, the best rink and the franchise has sold out every game it has played. The Wild played to 102.4 percent capacity last season! Their public relations department is by far the most creative and passionate in the NHL. The Wild have made the NHL better. Columbus is a vibrant city with a booming population that is young and has money. The rink the Blue Jackets built with its adjoining practice facility is right there with Minnesota. They play the music too loud in Columbus, which is so unnecessary because the fans are so loud and into the game. Columbus averaged 17,774 fans a game, outdrawing 19 teams, including three Canadian teams (Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary), Boston and New Jersey. The Blue Jackets will be a strong NHL franchise for the next 100 years. Atlanta also has a great rink and young talent that will win a Stanley Cup before 2010. The Upper Deck hangs over the lower deck like the old-school rinks did, and the games televise well because of the camera sight lines. The Thrashers averaged 13,476 a game last season. Nashville is the only city and rink I have not visited of these four, so I have no feel for either. The Predators are improving and the honky tonk was hoppin' in the playoffs last year. Leaving Connecticut was a mistake. Connecticut has good AHL franchises, growing NCAA programs, excellent prep school programs and passionate youth hockey organizations. Connecticut should unquestionably have an NHL franchise: the Connecticut Stripers. The striper is an awesome fish – it's sleek and sexy. I see blue and silver uniforms, a 15,000-seat waterfront arena along the Connecticut River in Hartford, live music in between periods from national acts who come through Hartford on tour, a huge fish tank in the main lobby with 40-inch stripers, public skating on the arena ice for 100 lucky fans after afternoon games, and oh so much more. Why haven't I been hired as a team president yet? But back to expansion under Bettman: The choice of expansion cities arguably has been Bettman's finest achievement as commissioner.

Is there any way possible we can get the old blue and white or blue and gold jerseys back for the Sabres, the new white and black jerseys just stink.
Buffalo, N.Y.

George, I made the plea here last year. The Blue and Yellows must be brought back in the style of Modo. Then the Sabres should go to Peter Forsberg and say, "Peter, we want to establish a relationship with you and your rink in Sweden. We'll contribute money to your local rink and local hockey programs and you come play with us next season. With a salary cap in place, the Avalanche's payroll will be too big. We'll put you on a line with Thomas Vanek and Miroslav Satan and you can play with Drury on the power play and relive some of that Avalanche magic you two had in Colorado. Second line: Drury-Paul Kariya-Rem Murray; third line: Jason Allison-Pyatt-Kotalik; fourth line: Briere-Hecht-Afinogenov. Allison can be had cheaply with an incentive-laden contract. Kariya can also be had at a decent price and the small-market atmosphere would be perfect for him.

I really don't like the USA/Canada rivalry.  I love (and have lived in) both countries and wish nothing but the best to all the teams associated with the NHL.  But I want to point out, to you John, that there is a noticeable lack of Canadian recognition in your columns.  I truly believe that you are an adopted Canadian and that you love all teams equally.  But if that's true, there must be another reason why the Canadian teams (and players on those teams) are shorted from your writing.
Kraig Oldfield
Aiken S.C.

If I said it once, I've said it a million times: I love all 193 countries equally. Yes, I counted.

I went to see U2 at the United Center a couple of weeks ago. Amazing. The boards were up. Happy to see them being used for something.

The Edge. Good hockey name.

I read your every word on ESPN. You're my favorite voice in hockey since Gene Hart (yes, I am a Flyers fan). Your combination of passion, knowledge, humor and pop culture is exactly what the sport needs. It has not escaped my notice that you give shoutouts to a number of hockey-loving bands in your columns. Sadly my band, Animal Collective, has never been one of them.
Brian Weitz

What Brian Weitz is to Animal Collective, Barry Melrose is to mayonnaise.

Loved your reordered U2 album.  I actually got to see them for both San Diego shows, which was awesome.  But their opener, "Kings of Leon," wasn't so hot.  Europe has stolen all the good openers – Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and the Killers, among others.  So the question is, who should open for U2 on their trip back across the States in the fall?  Give me your top three bands that could complement the boys from Ireland.
Lee Gerston
San Diego, Calif.

Idlewild, Kaiser Chiefs, The Arcade Fire

Hi John,
I just wanted to write to you about someone I played against in my men's league game up here in Boston last night.  I didn't realize it right away, but he was missing part of his left arm from his elbows down.  Now I play in the second tier of the New England Senior Hockey League, where there are many former D-I players.  This guy could stickhandle around players, make great passes and had a good shot.  He put the butt end of the stick in his armpit and his right hand down on the shaft.  Then on defense he'd just slide the stick up so the butt would be in his right hand and he could poke check pucks away.  While I'm impressed by his talent and ability to do this, it's his heart that impressed me the most.  His love for the game and just being out there was inspiring.  Many people would and have probably given up.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to tell him this, and maybe it's something better left unsaid.  Maybe some of the players and owners should think about that and what this lockout is doing to all of us.
Marc Thiebeult

John Buccigross' e-mail address – for questions, comments or cross-checks – is john.buccigross@espn.com.