Wild signs Sykora
The quickest “tryout” in NHL history came to an end this morning when the Wild signed winger Petr Sykora to a one-year contract for $1.6 million.Now, it's not that I love the Wild or anything, but... they have Marty Havlat, and for years and years I've thought that the universe would implode if the two of them ever played on the same team and... they're going to. They just seemed like the only 2 Czech players who weren't best of friends with each other!
“I’m shocked,” Sykora said sarcastically. “I guess my practice yesterday made them sign me.”
(And some of you know how they're linked in... other ways. :P)
Seriously, the timing couldn't be better since I was going to be pretty miserable about this off-season/season otherwise. Or maybe just bitter, heartbroken, betrayed, disgusted, etc. etc. I have a team I can watch without wanting to throw up. (I'm not even exaggerating about this, I woke up this morning and turned on the TV and the press conference with Heatley was on and I saw his face, and him holding up the Sharks jersey with his name and number on it, then my tummy felt funny and I retched. He literally makes me want to throw up.)
Wednesday's game with fightgravity was fun! We went to Palomino before the game and they had a happy hour with half-price appetizers and some $4 drinks. I had an awesome cranberry mojito that I actually finished half of. That's a lot for me! The game itself was kind of depressing until the 9th inning. I totally thought that Renteria was going to repeat his home run against the Rockies to take the lead, just like he did in the previous series, but it was not to be.
We had lots of fun watching other things, though. Like talking about how much the Rockies outfielders hate each other. On every other team, when there's some kind of break in the action (like when everyone gathers to counsel the pitcher), the outfielders run to each other and start chatting. The Rockies outfielders just stare ahead of them, hands on their hips in stony silence. After a particularly long break the right fielder ran over to the center fielder to hang out, but the guy barely acknowledged his presence so he ran away.
Archiving various Havlat and Sykora articles:
Good morning everyone. Here is today’s Petr Sykora arrives article.
I’ll be back around 11:15ish to give you play-by-play from today’s scrimmage.
As you can read in the Sykora story, I talked to a bunch of people the last few days about what went wrong with Sykora down the stretch last season. He had 23 goals (14 on the power play, which was second in the league at the time) through 60 games or so, and then inexplicably looked like a different Petr Sykora.
That’s because it was a different Sykora. Talking to some media in Pittsburgh and a few friends of Sykora’s, he separated his shoulder in early March last season. But he kept playing through it and the Penguins never told anyone because of everybody’s favorite injury policy. Sykora’s game is all about his shot, and all of a sudden, he could barely hold a stick and when he took shots, there was just no mustard.
Finally, he was sat for much of the playoffs. That was everybody’s last memory of him, which explains why he couldn’t find a job this summer.
He says he feels the best he’s felt in a long time now, and we’ll see soon if he is the same consistent scorer he’s always been. He’s only 32, so it’s hard to believe that a guy just instantly loses his game in March and April after having it the first five months of last season.
Sykora was brought in to Pittsburgh two seasons ago to play with Sidney Crosby. But they never meshed and Sykora was moved onto Evgeni Malkin’s line. The two developed quite the chemistry. The writer I talked to in Pittsburgh said that Sykora was an incredible influence on Malkin and that the players loved Sykora in the locker room.
By the way, here is video of Sykora’s double-overtime winner against the Wild in Game 1 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals as a friendly reminder.
“Actually that could have been one of the worst hockey games I ever played. I don’t think I touched the puck the whole game and all of a sudden I went 2-on-1 in the overtime. … It’s one of those games where nothing goes well for you and all of a sudden you become a hero.
“Over the years, I played in this building quite a bit. I always like to come to this building because of the fans. It’s a great hockey arena here. It was one of the big things that made me decide to come here – the arena, the people, the fans and new era, new team, new coach and I think this team will play offensive hockey.”
Lastly, coach Todd Richards was funny yesterday talking about the exhibition game. He said he probably got a little too fired up in his pregame speech, almost like it was a regular-season game. He said that’s the one thing he could take back — his speech, that apparently was sprinkled with a few words that can’t appear in the newspaper or even on a blog. :)
I knew that Petr was injured even though they never said it. You can always tell. And of course everyone loves Petr. He's like a puppy!
Wild Signs Sykora
Posted on September 17th, 2009 – 11:46 AM
By Michael Russo
The quickest “tryout” in NHL history came to an end this morning when the Wild signed winger Petr Sykora to a one-year contract for $1.6 million.
“I’m shocked,” Sykora said sarcastically. “I guess my practice yesterday made them sign me.”
Basically, and this is where sometimes you wish you could write everything you knew for some time, but in these type of things, there are all sorts of immigration hurdles that have to be done. So Sykora was on a “pro tryout” until I’s could be dotted and T’s could be crossed when it comes to a work visa. So that’s why I had to be very clear a few days ago that Sykora WAS NOT signed.
But Sykora didn’t give up tax-free dough in Russia for a lot more money just to fly to the U.S. for a tryout. After rejecting a couple contracts last week and it looking doubtful that he’d come, he realized he was just 32, wanted to continue to play in the NHL and if he ever wants to play in Russia, those type of contracts would be there for him.
He’s given up, when you consider taxes, substantially more than half the money to play for the Wild this season.
I should have put up another YouTube clip this morning — Sykora calling his shot in Game 5 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals to my pal Pierre McGuire. Here is the clip.
I know Russo said he was 100% sure that the Wild were going to sign Petr, but I don't take anything for granted! I wonder if Petr will take the Petrling fishing. :P
Sykora takes to new team right away
He was a player without a job in the offseason, but the Wild welcomes his experience and offensive talents.
By MICHAEL RUSSO, Star Tribune
Last update: September 17, 2009 - 12:05 PM
Despite a four-hour drive to Prague, a flight to Amsterdam and a cross-Atlantic journey on Tuesday, Petr Sykora practiced with the Wild on Wednesday afternoon.
Yes, there were signs of jet lag, but Sykora, one of the NHL's most consistent goal scorers for a decade, filled the back of the net and was so vocal you would have sworn he'd been hanging with his new teammates for years.
"I never had a problem ... being friendly with the boys," said Sykora, 32, a 300-goal scorer who has potted 20 or more goals for 10 consecutive seasons. "I've been like that through my whole career. Whenever I get to practice, when I know I should have scored a goal, I let myself know.
"I like to smile. When other guys make a good pass or score a nice goal, I like to clap on the boards and have some fun out there."
It was a humbling summer for Sykora, who couldn't find a job despite scoring 25 goals last season with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The problem was he was scratched for much of the postseason.
"Obviously last year's playoffs didn't help, but I felt it was one of the best seasons I actually played," said Sykora, who's won two Stanley Cups and played in five Stanley Cup Finals. "I had 10 winning goals last year, which is the best I ever had."
Instants from signing a lucrative contract in Russia, Sykora settled on a "tryout" with the Wild after rejecting a few contract offers last week. The reality is 20-goal scorers don't grow on trees, so Sykora, after a few immigration hurdles, should be a genuine Wild player soon.
Sykora has been skating the past three weeks with HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Elite League. He thought he was going to play a game Tuesday until speaking with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, whom he knows from his days playing for Anaheim and Pittsburgh.
"I was going to the airport, and instead of going east, I changed gates and I was coming west," joked Sykora. "New era here, new GM, new coach, I think new style, too. I think we're going to see quite a bit of offense, speed, a lot of nice goals. I think the fans can be excited."
Sykora refuses to make excuses for last season. But after scoring 23 goals -- 14 on the power play -- through February, Sykora inexplicably fell off the map.
The truth is he was playing with a Grade II shoulder separation, something he never told the media and the Penguins wouldn't acknowledge because of their injury policy.
Sykora continued to play despite being severely handicapped. At times, he could barely hold his stick. Finally, coach Dan Bylsma removed him from the lineup. He played only seven playoff games before breaking his foot in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
When healthy, there's no doubting Sykora's ability to score. Wild fans may sadly remember Sykora, then with Anaheim, scoring the double-overtime winner in Game 1 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals. But he's got one of the sport's most lethal one-timers, too.
"He's a guy that can find that soft spot in the zone, and this guy's got as good a release point as anybody in the league," veteran Andrew Brunette said. "He's dangerous any time in that open slot and he's got a little room."
Sykora said Wednesday this is the healthiest he's been in a long time. Put him with a playmaker, perhaps Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and it could be special.
"I'm not going to go out and score 25 goals. I need the players who will give me the puck," Sykora said. "When I went through the lineup, there's a few guys here who can feed the puck. I think without those players, goal scorers can't get chances.
"My game is pretty simple. I like to shoot the puck, and I would like to be on the power play. I shoot the puck on power play [107 career power-play goals]."
That's what coach Todd Richards likes to hear.
"So many times you watch guys come down the ice and they're always looking for that pretty play, and it's nice to have those passers," Richards said. "But you also have to have the guys that are willing to shoot the puck."
I like how Petr starts out by declaring that he's a big slut.
There's a lot to like about Wild's Havlat, on and off the ice
The big free-agent acquisition likes to connect with fans and teammates.
By MICHAEL RUSSO, Star Tribune
Last update: September 16, 2009 - 8:49 AM
There's something too good to be true about Martin Havlat -- the biggest free-agent acquisition in Wild history.
On the ice, he's a special player, a flashy, fast difference-maker who can score goals in imaginative ways.
"We put together a highlight video for training camp, and there are a couple of Martin Havlat goals on there that are just incredible," Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "He's a natural goal scorer and playmaker. The way he can lean on defenders down low or win a 1-on-1 battle on the wall or just outskill you is just dynamic."
Off the ice, he's special there, too.
In Ottawa, he was heavily involved in the Ronald McDonald House and used to show up unannounced at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario to play video games with kids.
In Chicago, he often held up exiting players after games so he could get out of his car and take a photo with a shivering fan.
In an age of fake player Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, Havlat -- the real Martin Havlat -- engages his social-network fans with open dialogue on Twitter, and he plans to launch a Facebook fan page in a few weeks.
Heck, over an hour-long lunch last week in which he answered questions about his first Wild training camp, which starts today, Havlat spotted the reporter's glass empty. Between bites of salmon, Havlat picked up the bottle of water and poured.
"I'm just me being me," said the 28-year-old Havlat, who has bought a suite at Xcel Energy Center to donate on a nightly basis. "Hockey has allowed me to do a lot of things, and I love doing my charities. I try to give kids help the only little way I can. And the fans, they're one of the most important things around hockey. They pay a lot of money to watch you, so you try to give them everything back with the way you play and treat them."
A 'better team' with Havlat
Rick Dudley, the Atlanta Thrashers associate general manager, knows Havlat better than most from his days as Ottawa's GM and Chicago's assistant GM. "I'm a big Marty Havlat fan. I like him as a player, but I love him as a person," Dudley said. "He's just a class act. There aren't too many better people."
Dudley was instrumental in Havlat's acquisition in Chicago. Three years ago, Havlat was a restricted free agent and a year from unrestricted free agency. He told Ottawa he wanted to sign a one-year deal so he could test free agency the following summer.
Dale Tallon, then the Blackhawks GM, wanted to trade for Havlat and sign him to a three-year, $18 million deal, so Dudley and Tallon drove to late Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz's house to convince him the investment was worth it.
"Bill Wirtz looked at me and said, 'What do you think?'" Dudley said. "I said, 'I'm not going to talk to you about the money. It's a lot of money. But I can tell you this: If we have Marty Havlat on our team, we're a better team by quite a bit tomorrow than we are today.'
"And I can tell you, the Minnesota Wild are a much better team having Marty than they were on [June 30]. Big shot, great speed, incredible skills. There's not a lot missing there. If he's not the shooter, he can find somebody with a pass. He's a pretty complete player, and he's got a lot more bite than people would imagine.
"The question has never been whether he was a good player or not. It's only, 'Could he stay healthy?'"
Injuries 'are behind me'
Last season, after three consecutive years of injuries that included four shoulder dislocations and three operations, Havlat played a career-high 81 games, scoring a career-high 48 assists and 77 points to lead the Blackhawks. He then scored a team-high 15 points in the playoffs, including a flurry of clutch goals, such as his overtime winner 12 seconds into Game 1 vs. Calgary for the Blackhawks' first playoff victory in seven years.
"It was very important, for the team and for myself too, just to know everything's fine and that I can show everybody that I'm healthy and the shoulder injuries are behind me," Havlat said. "I felt great all last season, and once I realized that I didn't have any problems, that there was no pain, I just played hockey."
Havlat desperately wanted to remain a Blackhawk, but when it didn't work out, his agent, Allan Walsh, called Fletcher moments after free agency began July 1.
"Before July 1, when we started talking about what if, the what-ifs had Minnesota at the very top of the list," Walsh said. "Any player in the league who came into Minnesota saw the full house, the crazy fans. You saw a community that loves its hockey. It was valuable for Marty to be in a place where hockey was on everybody's mind.
"But Marty also looked at what Chuck had done in Anaheim and Pittsburgh and really believed in Chuck and [owner] Craig Leipold's vision for the future."
Added Havlat, "I had other options, but for the first time, I could choose, and this was my choice."
Havlat signed a cap-friendly six-year, $30 million deal ($5 million a year -- $2.5 million less than Marian Gaborik is getting with the Rangers) in exchange for a no-movement clause.
"Coming off the last deal [$6 million annually] gave him the financial flexibility," Walsh said. "There are guys who have to go sign in markets where they know they're not going to a winning team ... but they're going to the team that's going to pay them the most money because it's their turn.
"Marty wasn't in that position. He wanted to be in Minnesota."
Happy to play any role
Though he had a career-best season last year, Havlat did so while playing on a shutdown line with Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd. This year, he will get first-line minutes and responsibilities for one of the rare times in his career.
"He's willing to do anything for you if it means the team's got a better chance of winning," Dudley said. "You don't look at [Bolland and Ladd] as of yet as top-tier offensive players, so if Marty's playing with somebody like [Mikko] Koivu, could he conceivably get much more goals and points and be a true star? No question."
Havlat, who has signed a purchase agreement for a downtown Minneapolis condo, said he will accept whatever role or linemates that coach Todd Richards offers him. He also wants Wild fans to know that he's not here to replace Gaborik.
"He had great years here, and he's a tremendous player," Havlat said. "But I think I'm a different player than him. I play a different style of hockey than him."
Asked in what ways, Havlat smiled and said with a wink: "I'll leave it up to everyone else to see. I think everybody who watches hockey, they know if I'm the same or not.
"I'll just say this: It's not about one guy. We need everybody to be successful. I'm here to help. I play the game for one reason -- to not have an empty feeling in April, to battle for the Stanley Cup -- and we need everybody for that."
I wonder if Marty will do fun things with his Facebook page, or if it'll just be a place for him to cross-post his tweets. I'm glad that they're both somewhere with a lot of hockey coverage and that their (inevitable) rolling around on the ice together will be well-documented.