Monday, October 31, 2011

Parched? The Watered-Down NHL Will Quench Almost Any Thirst

Remember back in the late 80s when players like Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Hull, and Yzerman were racking up points; and Brendan Shanahan was racking up fights and PIMs? My how things have changed. Lemieux, having made his millions after freely roaming the ice for years protected by the likes of Troy Loney, Grant Jennings and Jay Caufield is now an owner. One that is more content bashing tough guys instead of respecting them. Shanahan, who first made his mark in the league because of his fists, is now dishing out suspensions at a torrid pace, as the league's head disciplinarian.

The late 80s gave us a multidimensional game, full of both individual displays of scoring feats and enforcers who were actually allowed to enforce the game in the moment. Was the correlation a simple coincidence? Or did opposing players know that if they touched Wayne, Marty was coming for them? Or if Steve was touched, Bob wasn't going to be far behind? Don't even look at Brett cross-eyed... the Twister was watching your every move.

Yeah, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The NHL was expanded from 21 to 30 teams between 90-91 and 00-01. So most would say that the talent pool has thinned out. Others might say that during the same time, and even more since 00-01, NHL teams have expanded their scouting reach ten-fold. These days, we have players coming from countries you never heard of in the early 90s.

What else has changed? When scoring dropped off in 03-04, with the likes of Martin St. Louis leading the league in scoring, the NHL thought it was necessary to "tinker" with the rules during the lockout. All that "clutching and grabbing" was slowing the game down... you remember? What better way to spend all that time than to "improve" the game by tossing in a few more rules that were designed to increase power plays and scoring. And an increase in scoring, of course, meant an increase in fans. Fans love goals, nothing more! At the same time, the NHL thought it would be wise to curb fighting a bit, (e.g. instigators in the final five minutes of a game brought suspensions for the player and coach). Excessive fighting was thought to be a hindrance from the casual fan making that leap onto the frozen ponds of hockey.

Guess what? It worked! As the clutching grabbing slowed, the speed of the game increased... and so did scoring. Thankfully for the NHL, instead of that anti-charismatic St. Louis, the superstar pool filled with marketable stars like Ovechkin and Crosby. Phew! [And now stop for a second and picture the league without those two guys... where would the NHL be?]

With the exception of Sid sidelined with a bruised prune, all is looking up, right? You would think. But some don't. Let me ask a few questions and then answer them to sound smart...

For a game that's on the up and up, where's that big television contract? Instead of being highlighted in primetime on ESPN, the NHL can only muster a television contract with an "Outdoor Sports Channel" which, let's face it, is best known for deer hunting, fishing, and monster trucks. The game has improved, surely the NHL should be back on ESPN; yes?

What about the whole "hits to the head" issue? Has the NHL made any "headway" on this front as of yet? Has Shanahan's increase in suspensions deterred head shots? Is it just me or does anyone else feel some of these head shots are borderline and simply can't be deterred? Has anybody else raced around a rink at blazing speeds and accidentally run into someone? It's going to happen. A faster game = more scoring. And a faster game = more violent, uncontrollable collisions.

How about the role of the enforcer which so many Hall of Fame players benefited from and so many fans grew to respect and endear? They’ve all but been phased out. Who needs them in this fast-paced, high-scoring, “safe” game? Unlike when "Shanny" was a young buck, who’d immediately have your back should an “Ulf Samuelson” stick a knee out on you, these days, he'll dissect the play from his executive leather chair and discipline you a few days later.

So you best pull up on that hit Alex Ovechkin. No more being a bull on the ice... a tamed pony will do. Should somebody stick a knee out on Mike Green, we'll get em on the power play, right Boudreau (he said it, not me)? That'll deter em next time. By the way, how's that "tough guy" Jay Beagle doing these days? Nice job hanging him out to dry Bruce.

It's working, right?

And how are those rivalries going that we all loved so much, which made so many non-hockey fans tune in because they knew they were going to see an emotional, physical game? The Battle of Alberta; long gone. The Wings/Avs rivalry; not since Shanahan was tackling Patrick Roy at center ice. The Isles vs Pens? The NHL nixed that 15 minutes after that "travesty" (according to Mario) of a game ended. Indeed, a look into the stands at all those paying fans displayed faces of shock and horror. Many were running to get away from it. [It's getting pretty thick in here, isn't it?]

Let's face it folks, for many of us, the NHL isn't worth watching until the 82 regular season games have ended and the playoffs have started. Sure, there's barely any fighting in the playoffs. But when teams face off up to seven times in a series, there's some animosity (assuming the whistles are tucked away), the passion and hitting pick up, and much like Olympic hockey, teams are playing for something meaningful. Rivalries are the Caps vs Pens these days. Two teams which "get up" to play one another. There's no real animosity between the teams. How can a team have animosity toward another in today's NHL? The mere thought of animosity yields a pre-game phone call from the league.

Not that I anticipate a phone call will be needed this year, but I can imagine Shanny's first call.... "Uh, hey Claude. Things got rough between your team and the Habs last game. There were two fights and one of them came off a draw, meaning it was premeditated by our standards. Lucic threw a big hit on Moen and gave him the evil eye as they were doing to the bench. It was a travesty. And I don't want to see it happen again tonight. Please consider keeping Thornton out of the lineup. I'm calling Claude now to tell him to keep that monster Hal Gill out as well."

Hey, you might like all of this; and to each their own. If you enjoy a faster game that is full of specialists, (e.g. shootout, faceoff, penalty kill) has less hitting, more agitating and diving, and less fighting, this is the game for you.

To me, and I certainly know there are other, let's say, "traditionalists" out there, this game has become watered down... one dimensional. What was once a wonderful, passion-filled game which was played out on the ice is now a game that is as much controlled off the ice by a set of minds that thinks more rules equals better hockey.

But it's working for the fence sitters, right? They're hopping over in droves, eh?

Nah. Not me. I'm the guy that once forked over his money to NHL Center Ice without hesitation. These days, I can get the scoring highlights on “Youtube” and the fights on one of the ten different hockey fight websites out there. Truly, why would one pay to watch a fairly one-dimensional game?

By the way, isn't it crazy how there's so many hockey fight websites out there but no websites devoted to historically recording and voting on the best goals or assists? I don't know... maybe it's just me... the phased out traditionalist that isn't thirst for Kool-Aid.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Caps' Fans Want the Flyers to Win Game 7

Game 7 between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers is a big game for more than just the two teams involved. If you're a die hard C-A-P-S fan, this game has your attention, and for good reason.

It's pretty simple. If the Sabres win, they will meet the Capitals in round two. And while Washington is 3-0-1 against the defensive-minded Sabres this year, think twice before putting your Friday paycheck on the red, white, and blue when you make your hockey picks at BetUS this week. Reasons?

The Sabres are hot. Having won 8 of their last 10 games, and taking the #2 seeded Flyers to the brink of defeat, you would be hard pressed to find a hotter team right now.

Ryan Miller is, well, he's pretty darned hot too. And all I need say about the Caps whoas when running up against a hot goaltender is Jaroslav Halak. Halak stymied a then potent Caps' offense. And having transformed into a more balanced team, it won't be nearly as difficult for Miller to get hot and do the same. Miller's first round playoff GAA isn't going to knock your socks off, but the nettie is dialing at a .925 save percentage against a Flyers' offense that led the Eastern Conference is regular season goals. Oh, and ahem, he's shut the Flyers out twice.

Whoever the Caps face in round 2, the mucking, grinding, and screening of their next nemesis netminder will be the key to every game. The Caps have been known to go complacent here and there (dare I mention their record in the last 7 series when up 3 game to 1?). So it will be up the red-faced Bruce Boudreau, and the Caps' version of Stevie Y (Jason Arnott) to keep the "young guns" heads glued on straight. It might help if Nicholas Backstrom showed up too.

For a look at more second round possible, see Katie Carrera's article at the Washington Post today.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

And the Yuppies in Montreal are Gearing Up

Protest time baby... bring your signs. I'm not really sure why or what we're protesting, but let's be heard TONIGHT!

Forget the fact that accidental concussions are leading to most concussions in the game, we want these accidents to stop. And we're bringing our signs to show our displeasure about the accidents that occur in this game of hockey, the game that takes place at breakneck speeds.

As a matter of fact, next step NASCAR! Them there accidents have to go too.

So Bruce Boudreau said if we don't like it don't come. We won't be coming inside Bruce... not until game time starts. We still love the game. So we'll all still be wearing our Canadians' jerseys. We'll even buy hotdogs (wait yuppies don't like meat --- make that tofu dogs) and lemonades. We'll cheer on our yuppie team led by our yuppie coach. Nope, no need for toughness on this team. Teams (like the Bruins) won't try to outmuscle us or anything like that. Nah.

Did anyone see our 1,500 signatures we brought in on our online petition? Never mind that 1,500 signatures is a few hundred short of the petition on passing gas in Montreal taxi cabs (those cabbie drivers know how to organize man), we're bringing signs tonight baby! Eat that!

And just so everyone know, this will be a peaceful protest... with signs. Oh yes, we're crossing our fingers and toes that Damien Cox shows up and dramatizes the whole event.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chara Saved by the National Hypocrisy League

Statement from the NHL's Mike Murphy:

“After a thorough review of the video I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline. This hit resulted from a play that evolved and then happened very quickly -- with both players skating in the same direction and with Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards. I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous."

Eh, Mike, look no further than this picture from the Boston Globe for evidence...

More from Mike Murphy:

“This was a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface. In reviewing this play, I also took into consideration that Chara has not been involved in a supplemental discipline incident during his 13-year NHL career."

Of course not, why would a star player get suspended for, um, something like what you see in the video below... you know, when Chara worked over a few referees to get at, um, Max Pacioretty? A mere month ago Chara was trying to get at Pacioretty. Now the guy is in the hospital with a sever concussion and broken neck.

How's that for history?

Nice job NHL. If this were Trevor Gillies, he's be playing pickup hockey on the local tennis courts right now.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Matt Cooke, Tim Wallace, and Mario Lemieux

Connect the dots and you'll find hypocrisy at the end.

Matt Cooke --- Widely regarded as the dirtiest player in the NHL, "Cookie" was recently suspended for his upteenth cheap hit of his career, this one against Blue Jacket Fedor Tyutin. That came after his knee to knee hit on Capitals' superstar, Alexander Ovechkin. At that time, the Caps had the game in hand mind you. So Cooke's knee was no accident. Oh wait, the referees called it "tripping." For a few more of Cookie's cheapies, including possibly ending Marc Savard's career, you can watch here.

Mario? Where are you? Nothing to say?

Tim Wallace --- Called up to play against the Capitals following Dave Steckel's clearly accidental elbow to the head of Pens' superstar Sidney Crosby. Wallace averages five fights a year. Steckel a whopping one. So what happens when Wallace gets the call to play his first regular season game in two years? You guessed it. He fights Dave Steckel.

Mario? Where are you? Nothing to say?

The Islanders respond to a blind side hit to Blake Comeau that left him concussed (no call on the play by the way) by pounding the Pens on the scoreboard and in the parking lot. Since the NHL protected Talbot, the Isles exacted their own justice.

Mario? Oh there you are! The owner that once called the NHL "a garbage league" has finally arrived. I guess we can all sit and listen attentively now that he is here.