The View From The Booth...Free Agency

Hello again, hockey fans, and welcome to another edition of "The View From The Booth."

June is gone and now it's July and that means there is a lot of news that came from the first day of NHL free agency, which is also one of my favorite days of the year. You get a clear view of what teams are thinking and what direction they plan on going for the coming season. I will have much more on that topic a little later.

First off, I would like to say congratulations to a good friend of mine, 19 Action News Sports Director Tony Zarella. Tony was named the 2009-2010 Ellery Award winner for his television coverage of Monsters hockey.

There are three different Ellery Awards given out each year for radio coverage, newspaper coverage and television coverage. I also must say congratulations to another friend of mine, Bob Kaser, who is the Grand Rapids Griffins radio play-by-play announcer. Bob is a real pro and a great man in general and the award is well deserved. He does a great job in his role and does it with a true passion for his team and his job.

But let me get back to Tony Zarrella. Tony loves hockey and it shows in his coverage of our team. He's always quick to show our highlights and I see him at several of our practices and games. He even did color commentary on one of our TV games this past season with me. He goes the extra mile to show highlights and do stories and features on our team. Tony's the first person I met outside of our team last September when I started with the Monsters and I'm proud to say he's my friend.

Tony has also helped me pick up some summer shifts filling in doing the nightly sports at his station. Tony's love for the game of hockey and the Monsters is genuine, sincere and honest. He's from Boston, a great hockey city, and prior to coming to Cleveland, he worked in Denver, oddly enough, covering the Monsters parent club, the Colorado Avalanche. Way to go, Tony! Keep up the great work! We appreciate all your hard work!

Now for an update on a new, exciting feature that is coming soon to our website. It will be called our "Summer Interview Series." It will feature some of our players, and I will catch up with them to see what they thought of last season, what they are doing in the offseason, and what their expectations are for the Monsters and themselves this coming season.

The first three players that will be featured are Matt Ford, Travis Gawryletz and Patrick Bordeleau. We will feature two-part interviews with each player and we will update a new part of the interview series each week. Look for that to begin sometime after the 4th of July holiday.

Something else I wanted to touch on in this week's column is the NHL awards that were handed out in Las Vegas. It was great to see the Avalanche represented with former Monsters head coach Joe Sacco and last year's first round pick, third overall in the NHL Entry Draft, Matt Duchene, a part of the festivities.

Duchene was nominated for the Calder Trophy, given to the top rookie in the NHL. He didn't win the award, but the fact that he was nominated was awesome. From everything I've heard about him, this kid is the real deal in every sense, from his game on the ice and the way he carries himself off the ice. It's great to hear things like that about a young rising star in our sport, especially when he’s with our parent club.

As for former Monsters head coach Joe Sacco, what a job he did with the Avalanche this past season, his first as an NHL head coach. He did an incredible job with a very young team. From the midway point of the season he was my choice for the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL's top coach.

Sacco was a finalist for the award that eventually went to Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett, who, like Sacco, did an incredible job with a young team. I think Tippett got the award in the end because he started about a week before the season started in Phoenix and he led the Coyotes to a 100-point season.

Hopefully Sacco and his up-and-coming team, which is stocked with several former Monsters players, can have another strong showing in the ultra-tough Western Conference.

Earlier this week the Avalanche made a trade for a big, strong, rugged forward, Daniel Winnik, who was acquired for a fourth round draft pick in 2012. Winnik has been a valuable penalty killer for the Coyotes during his time there. He also helped the Coyotes reach the playoffs where they lost in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings.

Since the trade deadline in March, the Avalanche have acquired three players from the Coyotes with Winnik, Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter all heading from the desert to the rockies to join the Colorado organization. All three players are young and very promising players with a lot of upside.
Now on to NHL free agency, which started at noon on Thursday, July 1. Personally, I love this day. I spent the afternoon watching the NHL Network. It's also interesting to watch intently because of how July 1st  affects the AHL so much. 

And speaking of the AHL, a name that AHL fans will recognize, Viktor Stalberg, is no longer a part of the Toronto Maple Leafs/Marlies organizations. He was traded to the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Another familiar name to AHL fans that was traded is former Abbotsford Heat forward Jason Jaffray, who was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks organization. The Syracuse Crunch is now the Ducks’ top farm team.

The first of the big moves that was made on July 1st was the Ottawa Senators signing veteran defenseman and power-play specialist Sergei Gonchar to a three-year deal. That instantly changes the dynamic of the Senators power play because Gonchar is such a great power play quarterback and will be missed in the Steel City.

The Penguins then signed young stud defenseman Paul Martin away from the New Jersey Devils. The Vancouver Canucks also made a big free agent signing by inking former Nashville Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis to a multi-year deal.

The Chicago Blackhawks also let go of rugged forward Andrew Ladd, trading him to the Atlanta Thrashers. That makes seven players that are already gone from the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks roster since they won the Cup last month, as Chicago was hit hard by the salary cap with big money deals to players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith.

Another edition of "The View From The Booth" will come your way next week along with the debut of our Monsters "Summer Interview Series" with part one of my recent interview with Matt Ford.

Those will be available in video/audio form on our website.


Ben Holden

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