OK – now before
Montreal Canadiens and casual hockey fans out there bombard me with insults and
hate mail – listen up.
You all need to
be clear on something – I feel just as bad about Max Pacioretty’s back, neck and
head injury as the next person. But, come on people. Hockey is a dangerous
sport. Players know what they’re getting themselves into when they sign up.
The faint of heart need not apply.
Just in case
you haven’t seen the hit, YouTube it. As Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins was
racing with Pacioretty for the puck, he angled him into the boards, and next
thing you knew they were calling for the stretcher. Pacioretty went head first
into one of those metal stanchions that hold the glass in place at the end of
the bench, resulting in a broken vertebra and a concussion. In all seriousness,
though, it could have been way worse. Chara – as big and tall as he is – is not
that kind of player. He angled him and gave him a legal check into the shoulder
pads. If this play happened a foot further down the ice, no problem. Chara
would maybe at worst get an interference penalty, and Pacioretty wouldn’t be
resting comfortably in hospital. In all fairness, what was he supposed to do,
let Pacioretty win the foot race, breakaway with the puck and score? There’s a
reason they’re called “defensemen”, folks.
kills me how, with all the debate this year over head shots and with all the
what to do about how do we make the game safer, how just because this game was
in Montreal, all of a sudden everybody who’s anybody has an opinion. The hit
has made headlines from coast to coast, and has incensed even those who barely
follow hockey, citing events like this as the reason why. Big name sponsors are
threatening to pull out if the NHL doesn’t do something. Give me a break! For
those die hard viewers like myself, these sorts of plays, as unfortunate their
outcomes, are part of the game. News flash – hockey is played on skates that
are razor sharp, on ice which is hard as a rock, surrounded by wooden boards and
panes of Plexiglas that don’t move when hit. To keep those panes in place,
metal stanchions are needed. Therein lies the problem. No matter how you
position the glass and their various intersections, it’s inevitable. People are
going to get hurt. Some have suggested change the landscape of the NHL arena
and put extra padding in the most vulnerable locations. OK, so instead of a
broken neck, you end up with a real big headache – is that better? Come on
- during last year's Olympics there was a Luge athlete who lost his life on the
only game on ice faster than hockey. Tragic for sure, but you don't hear
the International Olympic Committee looking to change anything.
as critical as I’ve been towards NHL officiating, as much as people are crying
for the league to do something, the fact of the matter is they are doing
something. In case anybody missed it, the NHL this season instituted a new
blindside head shots rule. While not perfect (rule changes never are at first),
it’s designed to allow the official to use his better judgment on what
constitutes a direct head shot and a five minute major. The beauty of the rule,
to me, is you can ask 10 people their take on it, and you’re bound to get 10
different responses. Just like any other rule change, an adjustment period is
there are still those calling for action, right down to His Honorable, Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Two major sponsors, Air Canada and Via Rail,
both sent letters to the NHL threatening to end their arrangement if something
didn’t happen. The irony here is both companies are based in Montreal. While
Commissioner Gary Bettman was quick witted enough to tell them both nonchalantly
to mind their own collective bargaining businesses, he’s also not stupid. This
week during the annual General Managers’ meetings, a five step plan was
unveiled; with a promise the league will do everything within its power to lower
the impact head shots and ugly plays like this have on its players. Heavier
fines and stiffer penalties/suspensions are part of the plan. It remains to be
seen how it all plays out. I’ll be interested to see the outcry, however, if
and when a prominent player gets a stiff suspension for a questionable play
(especially if this happens during the playoffs). You can’t have your cake and
eat it too folks.
not just a mere coincidence this all is going down on the anniversary of the
Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, is it? As much as I want to let bygones be
bygones, the fact of the matter is Bertuzzi still is afforded the privilege of
playing in the NHL even after what he did. To this day, Moore cannot so much as
bend over and tie a shoelace without being reminded of it. So, if the NHL
didn’t banish Todd, do you really expect them to suspend a potential Norris
Trophy finalist for a defensive play gone wrong? If you want, next time you’re
on YouTube, do a search for hockey hits, and you’ll very easily ascertain this
sort of thing is not new to hockey. Hockey is a dangerous sport. You can bet
the NHL and various other leagues will do their part to make sure nobody gets
killed out there, but serious injuries will happen, and they will be dealt with
on a case by case basis. Perhaps not how we’d like, but we’re going to have to
live with it and let the professionals do their jobs. Sadly, it’s probably
going to take a fatality before anything really changes, and even then, what do
you change in a sport every bit as dangerous today as it was 100 years ago?
TO HOT DOG OR NOT TO HOT DOG
something which has been brewing inside me since before Christmas. It’s another
of those ongoing debates where if you put a panel of 10 people together, all of
them will have a different take.
I’m just not paying enough attention, or maybe it’s just I’m an overly sensitive
die hard Edmonton Oilers fan (there I said it), but it seems to me we’ve taken a
complete 180 degree turn when it comes to shootouts.
dreadful lockout of 2004-05, the shootout was brought in to give every game a
definitive winner, make the game more competitive, make the end of season races
more exciting, and most importantly, give something back to the fans. I’ve been
fortunate enough to have seen enough games live to be able to appreciate the
atmosphere during one of these shootouts. It’s fantastic. Let a player become
the star of the show, especially a player from the home side and pandemonium
sets in, in a good way.
I’m referring to the whole debate over whether or not players should “hot dog”
in the shootout, or try special moves, dekes, anything to score the crucial goal
and gain the crucial bonus point. Rewind back to December, a game between the
Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Swedish sensation and Oilers prospect
Linus Omark was playing his first ever NHL game. Here’s another YouTube
assignment – look up his name and you’re bound to come across several of his
shootout plays from the Swedish Elite League. Some of his moves will make your
head spin. Lo and behold, this game was tied after regulation. Overtime solved
nothing. Tied shootout, Tampa exhausts their 3rd shooter, no goal.
The stage was set for Omark. What happened next had to be seen to be believed.
Omark skated down the ice, did a spin-o-rama at the blue line, handcuffed the
Tampa netminder (who hasn’t been the same since) and scored short side for the
win. The entire Tampa team led by Martin St. Louis was incensed, sparking yet
another national debate on whether or not players should try special moves in
Did I miss something here? Isn’t this the whole point behind the shootout, stir
up some excitement?!
complaining on November 26, 2005 after Marek Malik ended the dental surgery
during what is still to this date the longest NHL shootout ever (30 shooters),
with a thru the legs deke nonetheless?
complaining when Jussi Jokinen went a perfect 9 for 9 in his first 10 attempts
in the 2005-06 season, still an NHL record to this day?
Canada was complaining when Jonathan Toews went a perfect 3 for 3 in the World
Junior Semi-Final in 2007 to secure a Gold Medal matchup?
And better yet,
who was complaining when Sidney Crosby scored a spectacular shootout goal
against Buffalo in the 2008 NHL Winter Classic outdoor game?
you who – nobody!
however, seems every time somebody tries something new, there’s a problem. It
seemed relatively OK, though, for Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovsky to try a similar
move against these same Tampa Bay Lightning. And it was definitely OK for
Martin St Louis to score on a spin-o-rama play against Montreal, adding insult
to injury. How soon we forget.
to be on the other end when you watch something like that. You battle hard it's
tough to take. I don't know if disrespectful is the right word, but it caught us
off guard and now we have to answer questions about it. He's a young kid,
whatever he did, it worked. Do we need that? I don't know. It's kind of a slap
in the face a little bit. Maybe it's a little too much. We battle hard tonight,
17-1 in the third, and to get beat in the shootout and to get beat with
something like that it's tough to take. He did it, it worked. Some guys find a
way to create these questions and the attention." This was St. Louis’ take on
the Omark goal. When asked if Omark was his teammate how he would handle the
situation, take him aside and have a conversation? "I'd probably have a little
conversation. Sometimes less is more."
Are you kidding me?
Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach (via Lightning Strikes): "You know what? That's
the type of stuff I won't comment on but I know the players will remember."
"That's my game. I do stuff like that. So why should I stop on this level?"
Edmonton Oilers Forward and fellow team mate: "That is just the epitome of Linus
Omark. The guy just has a lot of swagger. A guy like that who plays that kind
of creative style, why not? It worked out well for us, and all joking aside, it
was a huge goal, and that move he pulled when he got the shot off for the (Tom)
Gilbert goal, I've seen that 100 times and that's his bread and butter. Everyone
else here was surprised and I was telling everyone in the room, you're all
first-timers, I've been seeing this all year." (prior to this Omark and O’Marra
were playing together in the AHL).
Edmonton Oilers Head Coach: "The shootout is there for a reason, and if anybody
has a problem with that, then take the shootout out of the game. It's that
simple. I've had some wins in shootouts and I've had some extraordinary losses
because of the shootout so I can stand up here and [expletive] and complain
about the shootout as much as anybody quite honestly, it's in the game for a
reason and if you don't want to accept the way the puck crosses the goal line or
how a guy comes in, then deal with it.”
appreciate my opponent’s disappointment but I don't really care. They're
completely capable of doing anything they want. They have some highly talented
people on the other side there. They chose not to do that, that's fine. Is
there an advantage to that? Probably. If he gets in another one I'm sure the
goalie is going to think what's this little bugger going to do next? I think
that's an advantage. We're a young team trying to find our way here. We're
trying to be credible. We're trying to gain respect. We're trying to get
wins. We're trying to do things that our fans will embrace and appreciate for a
long time. So I'm going to defend anything our team does to try to win a hockey
Phoenix Coyotes Forward, via Twitter: "Just watched Linus Omark’s shootout goal..... Just bought a
Linus Omark jersey on NHL.com.... but with spelt his last name GOD on the
back." Later on, another tweet: "Would I have gotten mad at Omark? No I would
have gotten off our bench and joined in the celebration."
So why is there the
double standard, Mr. St. Louis? Since when has it become customary for the game
to become boring again? Just like the game of hockey is a dangerous sport, it’s
also measured in wins and losses – as they used to say – can’t take the heat,
get out of the kitchen. In other words, get over it. The penalty shot, which
is essentially what the shootout is, an abundance of penalty shots, is supposed
to be the most exciting play in hockey. Let’s not lose sight of this fact.
Here’s a thought for the entire Tampa Bay team: instead of complaining about
opposing players who make you look bad, why not work on your defensive game?
You’re going to need it. As of this writing, of the eight teams holding down a
playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Lightning is the only one with a
goal differential in the minus.
sure what I accomplished from this rant, given St. Louis must have been over
this months ago, but I feel much better now with that off my chest.
believe we’re already talking about playoff hockey, but here we are. Stay tuned
in the coming weeks as I’ll pick who to watch and who should win it all, which
will probably amount to nothing by the time they hang up the skates on another
season, but picking and predicting is half the fun! And don’t forget, once we
kick into high playoff gear, I blog every night until the Cup is won.
More Puckin' Around...