AROUND THE RINK
By Scott Burnside, ESPN.com
"That's every good team's nightmare -- injuries."
Teemu Selanne's recent comment to reporters rings true as midseason injuries are the bane of every NHL team's existence, especially those with designs on the playoffs or more. And 2007 has brought more than its fair share of potentially crippling, potentially trade-inducing injuries across the NHL. Here's a rundown on the worst of the lot and what the fallout might be.
Chris Pronger (broken foot), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (groin strain): Ducks GM Brian Burke has already added much-traveled defender Ric Jackman to help counter the loss of Pronger and Francois Beauchemin (lacerated spleen) along the blue line, but Giguere's injury is more worrisome. Giguere isn't even practicing, leaving the workload to Ilya Bryzgalov, who's had his own injury problems, and untested rookie Michael Wall. This is a team that could very well be a Cup champion, but not without a healthy Giguere (who was having a splendid season) or a reasonable facsimile. There would be more than a bit of irony at play if Burke was forced to deal for depth when he's been hounded for more than a year about dealing either Giguere or Bryzgalov.
Jarome Iginla (MCL sprain): The Calgary Flames' top skater was just hitting his stride and making people think MVP thoughts when he came up lame. It's not known how long he'll be out, and with the Flames not particularly deep offensively to begin with, GM Darryl Sutter will be watching Iginla's progress closely as time ticks down to the Feb. 27 trade deadline. Of course, the division-leading Flames have won four in a row and are averaging almost five goals a game over that stretch, so maybe Sutter's answers are right in front of him.
John-Michael Liles (broken left foot): The Colorado Avalanche continue to hang around the Western Conference playoff race, but the loss of their best defender for at least a month is a big blow. Already missing Jordan Leopold, who has played just five games this season, and Patrice Brisebois, GM Francois Giguere will be in a quandary. Give up some youth for defensive help and set back the rebuilding process or forge ahead and likely miss the playoffs?
Mike Modano (hip/groin): The face of the Dallas Stars is still a couple of weeks from continuing his assault on the U.S. hockey record books and that's bad news for the Stars, who have lost five of six and have scored just eight times in the four losses. Already stung by the long-term loss of captain Brenden Morrow (surgery to repair torn tendons in his wrist), GM Doug Armstrong will be on the lookout for offensive help in the coming weeks.
Toronto Maple Leafs (team-wide): Late this week, the injury-plagued Leafs were missing seven skaters. GM John Ferguson is under pressure to make a move, but he's got precious little with which to bait his hook. Watch for the Leafs to struggle to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt and for rumors to percolate about the movement of potential free agent Darcy Tucker.
Caroline Hurricanes (virtually the entire blue-line corps): Like the Leafs, the Hurricanes have been staggered by multiple injuries, but in this case, it's almost solely along the blue line. Unlike the Leafs, the Hurricanes actually did something about it, trading heart-and-soul forward Kevyn Adams to Phoenix for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. Look for Carolina to try to ride out the injury bug on the back end and maybe add another scoring forward as it did a season ago, when it brought in Doug Weight and Mark Recchi.
NHL AD-ING IT UP
We are all about giving praise when praise is due, and that includes the NHL's improved ad campaign.
And after last season's Art of War ad campaign, which seemed more like a men's cologne ad gone bad, this season's television campaign featuring stars Joe Thornton, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Alexander Ovechkin are must-sees by comparison. And we're not the only ones who think so.
According to the NHL, the commercials are being lauded in both traditional and nontraditional forums. The ads have been getting significant air time on NBC, which begins its half-season foray into the puck world this weekend, especially during its slate of college football bowl games over the holidays. The ads are also seen with regularity on cable carrier Versus, local feeds and on Canadian broadcasts.
More interesting is to see the interest in the ads in a nontraditional medium like YouTube, where the ads have been doing bang-up business. According to NHL creative director Kathy Drew, the new Ovechkin spot, featuring Capitals owner Ted Leonsis trying to help Ovechkin get a bag of chips out of a vending machine, recorded 36,000 hits after its recent release on YouTube. The outtakes of the filming, also available online, drew 35,000. Other spots, like Thornton's struggle to butter toast (been there, done that), has registered 128,000 hits and the Richards-Lecavalier video game competition drew 80,000. Beyond that, many of the viewers were taking the commercials and sending them to other Internet users (presumably their friends), Drew said.
Considering that last month's featured match between Ovechkin's Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins drew a national audience of 155,000 on Versus, these ad numbers are impressive. Teams have been calling Drew and asking to get involved, so expect more of the humorous takes, and a separate, more serious playoff campaign, before the end of the season.
Whether the Internet exposure will ultimately get the NHL where it wants to go -- into the consciousness of non-hockey fans -- will be difficult to measure in the short term. Still, the league is comfortable with the results thus far.
"There's no Neilsen ratings for YouTube," Drew said.