cheap Ė a reliable defibrillator. Any sellers?
I think since
opening night my heart has stopped about 10 times, and in all honesty, if this
keeps up, I may not make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
like to officially welcome you to a new era. The NHL weíve envisioned and
longed for so long has finally seen the light of day, and I for one couldnít be
happier. In the past few weeks Iíve found myself running, not walking home just
to catch any and every game I can. Up until last week, these were only
meaningless preseason games! Then, the night weíd been waiting for finally
arrived: Opening night, Wednesday, October 5, 2005, the night the NHL finally
returned from the dark doldrums of a year long lockout. And return it did, and
with it an opening night attendance record was shattered. No less than 10 of
the 15 matches on this night were reported as sellouts, with at least half of
the sellouts reporting attendance exceeding the allowed maximum on any given
So what has
prompted this change of heart amongst the same fans who said theyíd never
support this league or its players again? Who is responsible for bringing back
the NHL to excitement levels previously witnessed prior to the first round of
expansion? Can the NHL keep the game interesting and keep the fans coming
back? Will the referees finally get it right, all inconsistencies aside? Early
indications are a resounding yes! All I can say is the NHL may want to consider
making the penalty boxes bigger before long.
there are no more ties I think plays a huge factor. No more will we witness a
game where a team simply ďplays for the tieĒ in fear of losing a valuable point
to a divisional rival. The tie has been effectively eliminated, so if the teams
canít settle matters 4 on 4, after five minutes, a shootout. Weíve already seen
a few shootouts in this young season, and I have to tell you, as much as the
media and the team on the losing end may hate it (Pat Quinn anyone?), the fans
love it. The stopping heart I spoke of? Half of these took place during
shootouts. While itís true the team who loses a shootout still gets a point, at
least there will be a decided winner in any given game. This is huge and at
some point is going to make the difference between a team making the playoffs or
watching on the sidelines. As long as they never ever decide a game of the
Stanley Cup Playoffs with it, Iím fine with the concept.
Two of the
most overlooked rule changes this year, of which there were many, have to be
without a doubt the removal of the red line and the return of tag up offsides.
In the games Iíve seen anyway, the flow of the game we talked about for so many
years as having gone by the wayside, is back. One thing Iím finding is some of
the so called veterans of the game are really finding it hard keeping up with
some of the speedy new skaters in the new NHL.
If you long
for the days when speed and skill won over defensive traps, then you will be
very pleasantly surprised with the new product on the ice. Scoring over the
first 40 games averaged more than six goals per game (almost double the previous
yearís figures). Since the rules are now actually being enforced (for the most
part), there were almost three times as many power plays as there was a year ago
at this time - um, better make that two years ago! The reduction in goalie equipment dimensions Iím sure has played
a big part as well.
If you havenít
already watched a dozen games this season, then what are you waiting for?
The NHL game weíve longed for throughout the past decade has finally returned.
Iíve had so many flashbacks over the past week itís unreal.
predictions? Itís way too early, but Iím really liking Ottawa, Edmonton,
Nashville, Buffalo and Montreal in the early going. Iím told Philadelphia and
Calgary are supposed to turn heads this year as well, but as of yet they havenít
proven it. As for Tampa Bay repeating? After losing their goalie Khabibulin to
Chicago I canít see it happening unless John Grahame has a year of J.S. Giguere
proportions, and definitely not unless the dynamic line of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards
can get back to their Conn Smythe/Art Ross form. So far they havenít done much,
but itís still early. If you believe the online polls, only 4% of people who
answered believe Tampa can repeat, meaning the other 96% think they wonít. Time
will tell. And donít look now, but the New York Rangers are leading their
division. Yes, you read correctly.
If I have a
concern, it would have to be the officiating (what else is new?). What I
like is at the very least the hooking and holding infractions are getting
called, even if it means a five on three in overtime. Far be it from me to put
a monkey wrench in what the NHL is trying to do, but Iíve already observed a
couple of games where the referees either call the game one sided, or
inconsistently as they did in the pre-lockout era. In a recent Ottawa-Montreal
game, a goaltender interference call in the crease was missed and what should
have been a disallowed goal was allowed to stand as the eventual winning goal.
In another game between Edmonton-Los Angeles, perhaps itís just me, but for
Edmonton it was a parade to the box, with the odd even-upper to Los Angeles
thrown in for good measure. Then, the very next game for Edmonton, not to
single out Rob Schick, but he missed Johan Hedberg playing the puck in the new
zone where goalies arenít allowed to play the puck, another cross check which
was a borderline boarding infraction, and at least 5-10 hooking/holding calls.
Zero tolerance my foot. Thankfully, these have (so far) been one off
situations, but it really got me thinking just how long the crackdown on the
rules will continue. The NHL says they are committed to making it happen long
term, and I hope they do. Then again, to quote a colleague of mine, the NHL is
the Coolest Game On Earth, and it only got that way because they are
consistent. Consistent at being inconsistent. Nowadays, unorthodox might be a
better way to put it.
NOTES & TIDBITS
really see the effect the NHL lockout has had on many players, as the amount of
groin and knee injuries are at an all time high to start the season. As
expected, the players who played last season, be it in the AHL, overseas or
otherwise, are benefiting not only from the new rules but from an extra year of
conditioning. At least one player (whose name I wonít mention out of respect)
was suspended by his team because he apparently showed up to training camp out
of shape. You think maybe the fact there was no season had anything to do with
it? To this day the offending team has yet to give a logical explanation for
this. I wonít mention their name either.
groin injuries, the Atlanta Thrashers of late are reeling over not one, but two
goalies out of their lineup. I find it funny how so much can change in less
than a week. They went from beating Washington 8-1 on the first Saturday of the
season, to being shut out 2-0 by Montreal the night after the Habs suffered
their first loss of the season, and from there they were embarrassed 9-1 in
their own building by Toronto of all teams. With all due respect to Ilya
Kovalchuk, perhaps his fat new contract has been more of a distraction than
anything, because they certainly donít have it together right now, and they
definitely donít have the goaltending theyíre going to need.
A word of the
wise to Sean Avery: itís about time you kept your mouth shut before we end up
with another Todd Bertuzzi incident on our hands. I find it funny how Don
Cherry was put on a seven second delay for his remarks on national television
about visors and French Canadians, yet Avery gets away with a slap on the wrist
for his own related disrespectful comments. But now he allegedly made ďsome
commentsĒ towards Georges Laraque of the Edmonton Oilers during a recent game at
the Staples Center. As of this writing itís been reported Avery labeled Laraque
a ďmonkeyĒ, an allegation he denies. Hey Sean, this is exactly the type of
negative vibes the NHL is trying to get rid of, remember, or do you care? Oh
yeah, thatís right, you donít. One thing you have to admit though, at least
heís producing on the ice, for the time being anyway. I get the feeling there
will be more developments to this story going forward, so stay tuned. My only
hope is nobody gets hurt before this blows over. Just mark December 23 on your
calendars, this is when the Kings and Oilers will hook up again. Watch
your back Sean, because I see a target on it, and Craig MacTavish will have last
the Los Angeles Kings are unanimous when it comes to the whole visor issue. The
NHLPA recently invited every player to take part in an online poll in which one
either is for or against making the wearing of a visor mandatory. What they
didnít say however, is whether the comments they got were from the actual
players, or from Avery posing as all of his team mates. Regardless, the debate
continues, and I for one will bet my right eye Torontoís Mats Sundin will be all
for it when he fills out his survey.
As if 18 year
old Sidney Crosby didnít have enough on his plate already, now he has to yet
again contend with lost jerseys. You may recall his jersey went missing from
his luggage shortly after Team Canada beat Team Russia at the 2005 World Junior
tournament. The perpetrator, who eventually returned the jersey to its rightful
owner, was later identified as an Air Canada employee and was subsequently
fired. Fast forward to this past week, and his game worn Pittsburgh Penguins
jersey from his first NHL game went missing, only to be miraculously recovered
in Pittsburgh by a US Airways employee at the foot of a stairway used to load
luggage onto planes. Apparently the jersey has since been returned and the
incident under investigation. Perhaps going forward Sid the Kid will want to
consider bringing his uniform with him in a carry on bag.
right about now Iím sure Jacques Lemaire is making a mental note to himself Ė
never ever put Alexandre Daigle in a shootout. In case you missed it, Daigle
missed on what has to go down as one of the top three worst penalty shots Iíve
ever seen, or at the very least the worst penalty shot so far in this young
season (and one of them actually happened during the first ever shootout, more
to come). On a lighter note, Daigle has 3 points in 4 games, all of them
assists, and has a plus/minus rating of -1, his lowest since he played in
Philadelphia after the trade from Ottawa. If he keeps up this pace perhaps he
may break even for once.
Minnesota, anybody out there have Marc Chouinard in their hockey pool?
OK, now for
another bad shootout attempt? Jason Allison for Toronto on opening night
tried to deke Dominik Hasek and ran out of ice. Mistake #1. Mistake #2? Not
actually getting a shot on goal. Speaking of shootouts, has Eric Lindros not
learned anything from the 1998 Nagano Olympics? Hasek cannot, I repeat cannot
be beat by a deke. Iíll tell you what, Iíll bet the Leafs wish Owen Nolan was
back in their lineup. In the meantime, coach Bryan Murray and the Ottawa
Senators could be seen laughing all the way back to the locker room, twice.
pretty good case against the shootout if ever I saw one, even though I still
like watching them. As of this writing Vancouver and Edmonton have both played
five games each, both with an identical number of wins and losses. Both have
won 3 and lost 2. However, Edmonton beat Vancouver in a shootout during one of
these games, which means because Vancouver tied after regulation they gain an
extra point in the standings, even though they actually lost the game Ė in a
shootout! The NHL really needs to revisit this point system in the future,
because at some point I can see this coming back to haunt more than a few teams
on the outside looking in for a playoff position. If you win, you win, if you
donít, why should you be rewarded? It seems a moot point to mention this, but
just imagine if the division title was up for grabs and these two teams faced
each other in the last game of the season and go to a shootout. Now the only
way the team winning the shootout wins the division is if both teams are tied in
points going in, otherwise the team winning better hope they have more goals
than the other team and/or theyíve got the edge in the season series between
them. Food for thought, isnít it? Welcome to the new NHL.
on having won his first ever NHL game as a coach: ďScotty Bowmanís record is
pretty safeĒ Sure, one down, only 1244 more to go (not including playoffs).
You have to think if anybody can do it, Wayne would be the one. Now if only he
can do something about Brett Hull.
please explain to me the significance of the NHL mandating white tape on the
butt end of a goalie stick? I just havenít quite figured that one out yet.
Iíve actually seen a goalie get called to their team bench by the referee to
make this happen. The only thing I can think of is it must be an instant replay
thing. Am I right?
Iíve said it
before and Iíll say it again Ė the people on the marketing team over at
Molson Breweries are geniuses. During the lockout I talked previously about how
they ran a TV ad with the caption ďhockey please come backĒ and a bunch of guys
at various locations singing the Culture Club classic ďDo You Really Want To
Hurt MeĒ. With hockey now back, the same guys can be found in the same
surroundings, singing the Irene Cara hit ďWhat A FeelingĒ. Is it just me or is
the fact they chose two songs from the same year a coincidence? Both songs were
massive hits way back in 1983 and take us back to an era in hockey the new NHL
is trying to revisit.
Have I mentioned
how great it is to have the game back? I admit it, as much as I said I wouldnít
miss the game, last year just wasnít the same. Sure, there was minor league
hockey, but for me it just wasnít the same. It feels like some sanity has been
restored to this often challenging world of ours. Enjoy the season everyone,
and keep checking in periodically for all the puck talk you can handle.