January, 10, 2006

The "new" NHL hasn't been great to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Dave Andreychuk mess is the latest bump the team has encountered.

Clearly, the Andreychuk situation was handled poorly by the club. Last week, according to multiple sources, the team contacted the other 29 clubs by fax seeking possible trade offers for its 42-year-old captain. Of course, the fax was leaked to the media. (In the NHL, it's beyond naive to think that you can send a fax to 29 teams and expect things to remain confidential.)

After last Thursday's game in Buffalo, Andreychuk went to club GM Jay Feaster to get an explanation. Feaster told Andreychuk that he was not shopping him. The fax would certainly indicate otherwise.

On Tuesday, Feaster released a written statement saying that the club had placed Andreychuk on waivers. It's very likely that Andreychuk will clear waivers. When he does, the club says, he will not be required to report to the team's AHL affiliate. That means that Andreychuk will get the remainder of his $800,000 salary.

Andreychuk has been a father-like figure in Tampa since arriving in 2001. At that time, the Bolts were a young team struggling to find its way. Andreychuk was a mentor for the club's youngsters and he helped establish a work ethic and identity for the franchise.

I witnessed Andreychuk's influence firsthand after a 6-2 loss to the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 26, 2002. I'd gone down the visiting locker room to speak with veteran defenseman Grant Ledyard. As I began to chat with Ledyard, an irritated Andreychuk stood up and began to address his team. He told them that their play was unacceptable. I looked at Ledyard, wondering if I should leave. He nodded no. So I sat quietly and listened. Andreychuk continued by telling the team that he expected each player to stay by his locker and answer each question from the media. He talked about how the players must be accountable for their play.

As a member of the media, it was a unique situation. Usually, we only hear about such meetings. In this case, St. Pete Times writer Damian Cristodero and I found ourselves in the middle of one. For me, it was a lucky break: A case of being in the right place at the right time. And it really gave me a good idea about what a veteran leader can bring to a team.

Andreychuk was a huge reason the club found its way. He was a huge reason why youngsters such as Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards developed into such outstanding players. And he was a huge reason why the Bolts eventually won the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Now, it appears, the game -- the "new" game, played at a faster pace -- had finally caught up to the old goal-scorer. Perhaps it was time for the Bolts to say goodbye to Andreychuk. But they could have done so in a much more respectful way. In Tampa, Andreychuk had earned it.

The NBC advantage
NBC will televise its first NHL games this Saturday. And the network has been doing its part to promote its coverage. On Sunday afternoon, for example, during its sports updates, NBC ran NHL scores as part of its bottom-of-the-screen scroll. And they even featured a few highlights of Jaromir Jagr as a promo for their upcoming Olympic coverage. That never would have happened before it received the rights.

The commitment from NBC is good news for hockey fans, who want to see their sport gain a higher level of visibility.

On Saturday, NBC will broadcast their studio show from a special set near the ice at Rockefeller Center. That's a good idea. Host Bill Clement and analyst Ray Ferraro -- good guys and former ESPN hockey analysts -- will be joined by special guest Mark Messier. That should make for some interesting conversation.

In another benefit of the new deal between the league and NBC, the network has every reason to give hockey a full shift during its Olympic coverage. In years past, when the NHL games were on ABC, it had less reason to promote the sport. It will be interesting to see how much of the hockey coverage makes it to the network. For the most part, the Olympic hockey coverage will be seen on MSNBC.

Kudos to ...
ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi and producer Lisa Fenn for their fine work on a Travis Roy feature that ran on SportsCenter on Sunday night. The sensitive piece was handled beautifully by all involved. This piece is must-see stuff for anyone with a heart. And Rinaldi and Fenn certainly deserve serious consideration for a Sports Emmy. Nice job.