WELCOME (BACK) TO THE

NATIONAL GOON LEAGUE!

 

Back in the days when Super Nintendo & Sega Genesis were as popular as Playstation and Xbox are today, there was a game EA Sports did very well with called ďMutant League HockeyĒ, which was a take from NHL Ď94 (or was it í95?), with no rules and anything goes Ė essentially if you had even one player still alive at the end of it, you win.  Fortunately, it was just a video game, not reality.  How comforting is it, then, not even 12 years later, we find hockey becoming as dangerous, if not more, than football?  Itís downright scary if you stop and think about it.

Several years ago when I first started writing this column, one of my very first articles was about the decline in respect amongst players, officials, etc, and itís only gotten worse Ė so much I fear at some point weíre going to lose a very prominent player not just to serious injury, but weíll lose them, period Ė give it time, and Iím afraid somebodyís going to get killed out there.

Why has this happened?  Besides the lack of respect from some of the younger players in the game, besides the NHLís inability to police the games properly, why do we continue to allow some of these goons to skate with their respective teams, and as Iíll talk about later, why do we allow them the chance to play for hockeyís most coveted prize?

Rather than dwell on who will win what this season (weíll have lots of time to comment on that as the season progresses, and if you really wanted an expert opinion you wouldnít come here looking for it), Iím going to preview the upcoming NHL season with my look at 5 players who should be given their unconditional release and early retirement opportunities effective immediately.  No questions asked, no opportunity to negotiate, no conditioning stints in any minor league of any type Ė letís just say goodbye to these people.  I know what Iím about to say will cause some controversy and may very well hurt some feelings, but please understand this: Iím in no way shape or form saying anything about these playersí characters or what type of person they are off the ice in their own private lives Ė Iím merely pointing the finger at 5 players who have at some point or in many cases, still are, playing the game too far on the edge, to the point where thereís no turning back.  Quite frankly, there is no room in the NHL, or any league for that matter, for the type of behavior all of these players have exhibited at one time or another, and as far as Iím concerned, saying goodbye to them will be no huge loss, except maybe to the pocketbooks of their teamís respective owners.  And before I get inundated with e-mails, I know hockey is a sport where you need to keep your head up, and I know hockey should be physical Ė but there is a right way and a wrong way, and all of these players have rubbed me the wrong way in the last year or so.

FIVE PLAYERS THE NHL CAN LIVE WITHOUT...

1.      Todd Bertuzzi Ė Heís just signed another lucrative deal with the defending Stanley Cup Champions from Anaheim, and just his presence alone, in my humble opinion, will all but guarantee they wonít repeat.  I have nothing against this guy as a person Ė sure, he showed plenty of remorse after the Steve Moore incident (although it took him some time), he served his suspension like a gentleman (not like he had much choice), and to his credit, has held his head high ever since in an attempt to move forward.  The fact of the matter is this: Steve Moore is still not back on skates and probably never will be.  Bertuzzi, for what I feel are obvious reasons (even though heíll vehemently deny it), just hasnít been the same player ever since, and still plays his game with the same edge that got him in trouble in the first place.  Too many times at the wrong time he has taken needless penalties which have ended up costing his team (anybody remember the Olympics?).  In all honesty, when heís not out with an injury, the guy just looks lost out there.  In an attempt to try and rekindle some of the magic he had with Vancouver leading up to ďthe incidentĒ, he showed up at training camp this year lighter and in better shape than heís been in years.  In my humble opinion, though, heís still a thug.  Letís send Todd to an early retirement and say thanks for coming out.

2.      Chris Pronger Ė Mr. ďI canít make a decision about where I want to play without consulting my wife firstĒ.  First of all, I admire a man who consults with his family before making a decision Ė but thereís a limit.  I mean, when you play for the type of dollars weíre talking about, and when you help a team get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and then immediately ask to be traded due to personal reasons, and donít explain them Ė of course people are going to blame the spouse/family.  OK, so now he got his Stanley Cup Ring, great, but how all of a sudden does this give him the authority to chime in on whether or not he feels the NHL will work in Europe?  ďHow are you going to run the draft?  Are you going to take a Canadian kid and ship him off to Europe?Ē  Um, excuse me?  Arenít we already doing the exact same thing by getting guys like Ovechkin and Malkin to play in North America?  Hey Chris, news flash, if you donít like the lifestyle and responsibility playing in a pro sports league brings, then donít play.  Furthermore, has anybody bothered to tell this guy the team was able to win without him?  Take Pronger out of the Ducks lineup, so what?  Take Niedermayer out, and perhaps they would have been in big trouble.  I lost a lot of respect for this guy during the playoffs (poor Dean McAmmond, he just canít avoid the headshots, can he?), and lately it seems every time he opens his mouth I just want somebody to ram him against the boards and give him a dose of his own medicine.  Great defenseman or not, put up or shut up, or at the very least, make up your mind as to where you stand on the whole matter.  Check out his comments when facing the media over in London during the event, hours after being named the new Ducks captain: ďItís an honour for us to be over here and try and market the game to a new group of fans who hopefully will become diehard NHL fansĒ.  Well, evidently they can all read a newspaper or use the internet, because I could have sworn those were boos raining down onto the ice during the two games the Ducks and L.A. Kings played at the O2 Arena.

3.      Derek Boogaard Ė The Minnesota Wild enforcer who runs his own hockey camp during the summer Ė but not just any hockey camp Ė he teaches kids how to fight.  Now Iím not one to deny a kid a right to be able to defend himself, but I just canít help but think learning this type of thing on the ice where a game is played is not the right place or time.  OK, so hockey is a physical game, but the enforcer as we know it is dying a slow painful death Ė at least if the NHL has its way.  Do we really want our kids learning how to fight while playing a contact sport?  The game can be violent enough, do we really need this?  Now if this was run by a former wrestler or a boxer, I could understand Ė not to mention if Boogaard actually practices what he preaches Ė but for a guy who plays with such an edge where opposing players can get hurt and then to literally laugh it off in the media when questioned about it, showing virtually no remorse for his actions whatsoever Ė do we really need to be setting this kind of example to the younger players, the future players of our game?  We already have the WWE and UFC, letís stick with it.  Iím not trying to sound like one of these opponents to fighting and good old time hockey, I just want this type of no regards for the star player on the other team attitude to go away.  As those who uphold ďthe codeĒ will tell you, thereís a time and a place to fight.

4.      Sean Avery Ė You might like having him on your team, but you hate playing against him.  I know his job is to try and get under the other teamís skin, but this guy can actually play the game and play it well, as shown (at times) by his performance with the Rangers last year Ė if he could only keep his mouth shut long enough he might actually become the player Tie Domi was at the end of his career.  Coming from me, thatís saying a lot!  I have to say, I was very happy to see the Rangers take him down a peg or two during his arbitration hearing over the summer Ė hereís hoping it was humbling enough to help him take his game to the next level.  If not, then Iím sure thereís a team in the ECHL he can play for.

5.      Steve Downie Ė The very reason I was inspired to write this article in the first place.  Itís one thing to play hard and physical in an attempt to make the opening day roster, but itís another thing entirely to be stupid about it.  Now, if this player didnít already have a history and bad rap in junior hockey, I might be willing to let it slide, but I think it was Gary Bettman of all people who said it best Ė playing in the NHL is a privilege.  When you leap off both skates to put a head shot in the corner boards on a 34 year old classy veteran of the game, in an exhibition game no less, to me this is just unacceptable.  Sickening is the only word I can use to describe it.  And if the referees donít watch it, will Brian McGrattan or somebody else from the Ottawa Senators tarnish their career with shades of Bertuzzi?  Given Steveís history, is the NHL playing with fire allowing this guy into the greatest hockey league in the world?  What if next time it ends up being Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin instead of Dean McAmmond (who is probably still not sure what week it is)?  The fans pay their money to see the stars Ė what if the stars get badly injured thanks to an unnecessary dumb move?  To his credit, though, he did call McAmmond personally at the hospital and apologize, not to mention he showed a lot of remorse when facing the media about it.  Good on the NHL to come down hard on Downie with 20 games.  I hope this sets an expectation with everybody coming into the league, theyíre serious about keeping the fun and intensity in the game, but not the blatant late hits.  It should also serve to teach Downie a lesson Ė he may have got away with this type of thing in junior, but not in the NHL.

These are but five examples, but Iím pretty sure I could give an example from almost every team of players who would do better to hang up the skates.  The recurring theme is the selfish attitude which Iím seeing more and more in my favorite game, and Iíd like to see eliminated once and for all.  Iíve always said the fact the NHL is (for the most part) void of the Michael Vicks, Dennis Rodmans and Barry Bonds of the world is the very reason why hockey has been this unique, yet attractive sport.  Donít think for one second the league hasnít noticed. 

ALONG THE BOARDS

Returning gracefully for another season, in this section Iíll take you, as always, down the hockey paths not often explored except on those radio round tables or during Satellite Hot Stove on Saturday nights on Hockey Night In Canada.

Again, Iím not singling out the five players mentioned above as being bad for the game moving forward, so long as they can actually prove theyíre worthy of playing in the greatest league in the world.  I do believe everybody deserves a second chance, and if these players can learn from their mistakes and be better for it, then great on them.  I mentioned Bertuzzi is in better shape than heís ever been, which should really help his cause of getting his comeback bid on the right track.  Pronger won the Stanley Cup last year, for whatever itís worth.  Boogaard is at the very least involved in his community and obviously wants to see kids interested in the game, and to his own claim, is not intended to be seen the way I see it.  Downie has had a history so far of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and will hopefully learn from the experience of an NHL training camp and use his time in the minors to his advantage (he was assigned to the AHL, who will honor his suspension, but itís a long season).  As for Avery, I mentioned the whole arbitration thing a couple of times now Ė this mixed with some of the hot celebrity girlfriends heís been able to woo over the last few years may make a mature man out of him yet.

There are some tough guys out there who deserve mention for being on the other side of the coin Ė those who do uphold the code and donít step over the line Ė those who will go and pick on people their own size:

Georges Laraque, who now keeps his eye on Sidney Crosby, has many times in the past received a bad rap for being a fighter Ė but I ask those of you who donít like to see him get it on with the heavyweights Ė 1) Has he ever thrown a late punch?  2) Has he ever fought a player who didnít want to go toe to toe with him?  Iíd be personally interested to see how many instigator rule penalties heís taken in his career.

Brian McGrattan, whose job is to take care of business, who only plays when thereís the potential of somebody taking liberties with the Ottawa star players, has put more than a few players in their place (Tie Domi anyone?).  Iím really not sure where he was going with ďHeíll get whatís coming to him next time we play him, thatís for sure,Ē and for his sake I hope he doesnít do anything stupid if and when Downie does actually suit up again for an NHL team.  Up until this, though, some of the scraps heís been in are the stuff legends are made of Ė both in the AHL and NHL.  I know the Senators would like for him to play a more prominent role, especially given where theyíve been and where they want to go, but who do you put in there to replace him?  The team, this year more than ever before, will have targets on their back, and you canít lose your stars on account of a selfish play.

Chris Chelios, the consummate professional who is in better shape at 45 than many players are at 18, is living proof you can live life on the edge but donít ever cross the line.  Heís another one of those players you hate to play against, but would welcome him on your team in a heartbeat.  I figure if Gordie Howe could play into his 60s, why not keep it going as long as you can?

As this was originally intended to be a season preview article Ė Iím sure youíre all dying to know where I stand on how I think the season will unfold.  It should come as no surprise I donít expect a whole lot to change, and Iím not really predicting anything the so called experts havenít already.  I think thereís a very good possibility we could witness a similar if not identical final series next spring, even though Iím still not convinced Anaheim can repeat Ė but I always say never count out any team run by Brian Burke.  I think Ottawa looks stronger now than they did going into the playoffs last year Ė if they can keep it up, they look ready to take it right back to where they were in June and actually win this whole thing.  If the Peter Forsberg rumors actually pan out, look out!

Iím not going to do an in depth analysis of what players to watch and why Ė we can all go to NHL.com or watch the sports highlights or read The Hockey News.  As I said already, weíll have lots of time to discuss the ins and outs of the game in the coming weeks and months.

Here are 10 things to watch for:

1.                            I already mentioned I donít think Anaheim will repeat, but Iíve been known to be wrong before.

2.                            Donít expect Buffalo back in the conference finals, but then again Lindy Ruff is still the coach.

3.                            Look for both a much improved Los Angeles team and a new uniformed San Jose to give Anaheim a good run for the division.

4.                            Keep a good eye on Pittsburgh.

5.                            Donít believe the hype on Toronto - again.

6.                            Watch for the Boo-Fest in Edmonton October 23 as Ryan Smyth returns to Rexall Place (not to mention in Montreal when Patrice Brisebois returns to the Bell Centre Ė as a Hab).

7.                            Check out the brand new Prudential Centre in Newark, New Jersey, if you can.  I hear itís a beautiful new building.

8.                             Donít think for one second the Philadelphia Flyers havenít already forgotten about the disaster which was last season, and for fans in Columbus & Nashville, thereís a disaster waiting to happen.

9.                            Look for some determination in Edmonton and Carolina as they look to get back into the postseason.  As for most improved teams Ė look for Washington, Los Angeles, St. Louis & Chicago to all be better (like they could be any worse!).

10.                        Since the two games held in London, England can only be regarded as an overwhelming success, look for more talks to be had about whether or not a European division will work in the NHL Ė or at the very least an NHL Europe.  If Gary Bettman has his way, itís going to happen, but I have a question - How about teams in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax and Las Vegas first?

And finally, for you poolies Ė if youíre looking for some last minute picks Ė check out the following transferred directly from my office pool Ė (the bold player is my pick Ė and Iíve indicated the players who are either injured or sent to the minors with a star *):

PREMIER

   

TOP FLIGHT

   

MIDDLE

 

SUPERSTARS

   

WINGERS

   

MEN

 

Jaromir Jagr

NYR

 

Vyacheslav Kozlov

ATL

 

Pavel Datsyuk

DET

Sidney Crosby

PIT

 

Simon Gagnť

PHI

 

Joe Sakic

COL

Daniel Alfredsson

OTT

 

Daniel Sedin

VAN

 

Eric Staal

CAR

Vincent Lecavalier

TB

 

Alex Tanguay

CAL

 

Evgeni Malkin

PIT

Joe Thornton

SJS

 

Paul Stastny

COL

 

Jason Spezza

OTT

Alexander Ovechkin

WAS

 

Thomas Vanek

BUF

 

Marc Savard

BOS

               

GERITOL

   

SHARP SHOOTIN

   

UNSUNG HEROES

 

OLD TIMERS

   

SNIPERS

   

UNDERRATED

 

Glen Murray

BOS

 

Dany Heatley

OTT

 

Milan Michalek

SJS

Brendan Shanahan

NYR

 

Jarome Iginla

CGY

 

Nathan Horton

FLA

Mike Modano

DAL

 

Ilya Kovalchuk

ATL

 

Martin Erat

NSH

Mats Sundin

TOR

 

Marian Hossa

ATL

 

Derek Roy

BUF

Doug Weight

STL

 

Olli Jokinen

SJS

 

Jason Pominville

BUF

Rod Brind'Amour

CAR

 

Martin St. Louis

TB

 

Scottie Upshall

PHI

               

POWER PLAY

   

OH

   

GO SENS

 

PERFORMERS

   

CANADA

   

GO !!!!!!!!!!

 

Mathieu Schneider *

ANA

 

Daymond Langkow

CGY

 

Mike Fisher

# 12

Sheldon Souray

EDM

 

Brendan Morrow

DAL

 

Antoine Vermette

# 20

Marc-Andre Bergeron

NYI

 

Jamie Langenbrunner

NJD

 

Patrick Eaves

# 44

Matt Carle

SJS

 

Darcy Tucker

TOR

 

Chris Kelly

# 22

Alexei Zhitnik

ATL

 

Dustin Penner

EDM

 

Shean Donovan

#10

Lubomir Visnovsky

LAK

 

Scott Hartnell

PHI

 

Wade Redden

# 6

               

RISKY

   

LOCK & LOAD

   

SOPHOMORE

 

ROOKIES

   

YOUNG GUNS

   

SEASON

 

Nicklas Backstrom

WSH

 

Zach Parise

NJD

 

Jordan Staal

PIT

Jonathan Toews

CHI

 

Chris Higgins

MTL

 

Wojtek Wolski

COL

Bobby Ryan

ANA

 

Ryan Getzlaf

ANA

 

Anze Kopitar

LAK

Benoit Pouliot

MIN

 

Alexander Frolov

LAK

 

Phil Kessel

BOS

Rob Schremp *

EDM

 

Patrice Bergeron

BOS

 

Alexander Radulov

NSH

               
               

COMEBACK OF

   

WILL HE PLAY 82?

   

SOME MAY CALL

 

THE YEAR?

   

INJURY PRONE

   

HIM OVERRATED

 

Brad Richards

TB

 

Marian Gaborik

MIN

 

Keith Tkachuk

STL

Tim Connolly

BUF

 

Ladislav Nagy

LAK

 

Alexei Kovalev

MTL

Jonathan Cheechoo

SJS

 

Erik Cole

CAR

 

Bryan McCabe

TOR

Brian Gionta

NJ

 

Martin Havlat

CHI

 

Miroslav Satan

NYI

Rick Nash

CLB

 

Maxim Afinogenov

BUF

 

Shane Doan

PHX

Patrik Elias

NJD

 

Henrik Zetterberg

DET

 

Bobby Holik

ATL

               

NEW KID ON

   

GO LEAFS

   

PUT UP OR....

 

THE BLOCK

   

GO !!!!!!!!!!!

   

CAREER YEAR?

 

Daniel Briere

PHI

 

Nik Antropov

# 80

 

Marcus Naslund

VAN

Scott Gomez

NYR

 

Matt Stajan

# 14

 

Tuomo Rutuu

CHI

Chris Drury

NYR

 

Alexei Ponikarovsky

# 23

 

Sergei Samsonov

CHI

Paul Kariya

STL

 

Alexander Steen

# 10

 

Todd Bertuzzi

ANA

Ryan Smyth

COL

 

Kyle Wellwood *

# 42

 

Nikolai Zherdev

CLB

Michael Nylander

WSH

 

John Pohl

# 21

 

Sami Kapanen

PHI

               

BEST

   

SITTING ON

   

STAY AT HOME

 

DEFENSE

   

DEFENSE

   

MEN

 

Chris Pronger

ANA

 

Dan Boyle

TBL

 

Andrej Meszaros

OTT

Sergei Zubov

DAL

 

Brian Campbell

BUF

 

Mattias Ohlund

VAN

Sergei Gonchar

PIT

 

Zdeno Chara

BOS

 

Eric Brewer

STL

Tomas Kaberle

TOR

 

Dion Phaneuf

CGY

 

Brad Stuart

LAK

Nicklas Lidstrom

DET

 

Brian Rafalski

DET

 

Scott Hannan

COL

Kimmo Timonen

PHI

 

Jay Bouwmeester

NSH

 

Pavel Kubina

TOR

 

And there you go Ė above all else Ė enjoy the season Ė and donít you forget about me and this website, where weíve got you covered as things happen!

 

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