Feb 142011
 

In the aftermath of the Islanders/Penguins brouhaha on Friday night, the NHL decided to issue suspensions to Eric Godard (10 games), Trevor Gillies (9 games) and Matt Martin (4 games). They also fined the Islanders organization $100,000.

Here’s the video, for reference (via “HockeyFights.com):

Yesterday, Penguins’ owner Mario Lemieux issued this statement.

“Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn’t hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.

“The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.

“We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.

“If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.”

When I first heard of the suspensions the other night, my first thought was along the same lines as Mario’s – that it wasn’t enough.

What the Islanders did in that game weren’t hockey plays; they were plays made with the intent to exact their pound of flesh and injure their opponents.

First, Martin suckerpunched Maxime Talbot (4:43 mark of the video). The two were nowhere near the play and there’s not much argument that Martin meant to do anything but get Talbot. Canucks fans will, unfortunately, remember Todd Bertuzzi’s suckerpunch on Steve Moore, and except for the fact that Talbot was lucky enough to not be seriously injured, this incident looks similar.

Next, Gillies charged and delivered a blindside hit at Eric Tangradi’s head with his elbow (5:40 mark). He proceeded to deliver punches to the already obviously hurt Tangradi. And while Tangradi was being attended to by medical personnel, you see Gillies taunting him from a few feet away. Tangradi hasn’t played since.

While all of this is going on, Michael Haley, who had just finished a fight against Talbot, instead of leaving the ice went straight for goaltender Brent Johnson (6:30 mark). In his first callup this season, this Haley kid sure showed how tough he is.

I dare anyone to accept what Martin, Gillies and Haley did as part of the game.

There are some of you out there who think that Lemieux was out-of-line with his comments. But while Lemieux’s message may be muddied because he has Matt Cooke, generally acknowledged as the league’s dirtiest player, on his payroll, it doesn’t make him wrong. (For the record, remember that I questioned the NHL’s handling of Cooke just last week.)

After all, there isn’t anything wrong with tough, physical hockey. That said, there is everything wrong when players go on the ice for the sole purpose of hurting other players.

When Bertuzzi hit Moore, the NHL suspended him for the rest of the 2003/2004 regular season and the playoffs. They barred him from playing in Europe or participating in the World Cup and World Hockey Championships. They didn’t reinstate him for 17 months.

At the time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “”This is not a part of our game, it has no place in our game, and it will not be tolerated in our game.”

Well, neither were the incidents from Friday. But based on the league’s (lack of) response, they may as well be.

*****

More to my point from last week’s post, what is getting lost in all of this is the fact that the Islanders have won 5 of their last 7 games. They’ve averaged 4.43 goals per game in that span and Michael Grabner has been named the NHL’s 1st Star of the Week. No one is talking about the Islanders’ recent run; rather, the focus has been on their goons.

Jan 232011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

NHL All-Star Game

Photo credit: Puck Daddy

It really is a crapshoot which has undergone more cosmetic change – Heidi Montag’s body or the NHL All-Star Game.

Next Friday, the NHL will again try to create interest for this event by broadcasting a live player draft to determine each team’s roster.

Interestingly, looking back through the years on Hockey-Reference.com, the average NHL All-Star Game has featured roughly 17 Hall of Famers*. By decade:

40s: 18 Hall of Famers per All-Star game
50s: 17 Hall of Famers per game
60s: 19 Hall of Famers per game
70s: 15 Hall of Famers per game
80s: 16 Hall of Famers per game
90s: 20 Hall of Famers per game
2000s**: 13 Hall of Famers per game

Keeping these numbers in mind, who are the Hall of Famers that are playing in the upcoming 58th NHL All-Star Game?

An educated guess suggests:

Jarome Iginla – he’ll end up with well more than 500 goals, and has been a First Team NHL All-Star three times.

Nik Lidstrom – a top-three defenceman in the league’s history, and the best Swedish player of all-time.

Sidney Crosby – youngest NHL captain to win the Stanley Cup will probably be the highest scoring player of his era.

Evgeni Malkin – might not score the points he would as a first-line centre on another team, but he’s well positioned to have a Messier-in-Edmonton type run behind Crosby. That’s pretty good.

Steven Stamkos – yea it’s early, but he’s got that shot, and looks like a permanent Maurice Richard scoring threat.

Alex Ovechkin – history will show whether this is the season he sacrificed personal success for team glory, or whether it was the beginning of slight decline after a dominant early start to his career.

Eric Staal – seems like a stretch for now, except he’s already won a Cup and, barring injury, might play 1400 NHL games before he’s done. If he does the points will be there to help his consideration.

Zdeno Chara – borderline, but he’s a four-time post-season All-Star and a Norris Trophy winner.

Henrik Lundqvist – Goalies are tough to predict, but quietly 400+ career wins seems within reach, and his goals-against average and career save percentage are as good, if not better, than Roberto Luongo’s.

That’s nine Hall-of-Famers. No NHL All-Star Game has had less than 10 (2007, 2009).

Which means there are probably a few more Hall-of-Famers playing January 30th than anyone currently realizes.

* = Numbers have been rounded, and guesses have been applied to recent NHL All-Star Games that feature players that are either still active or yet-to-be-inducted in the Hall of Fame.

** = Recent players considered Hall of Famers for the purposes of research: The aforementioned nine, along with Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Thornton, Mike Modano, Teemu Selanne, Mark Recchi, Martin Brodeur, Chris Pronger, Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Mats Sundin, Scott Niedermayre, Igor Larionov, Mike Richter, Ed Belfour, Joe Niewendyk, Joe Sakic, Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Dominik Hasek.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • According to research, the greatest collection of hockey players for an NHL All-Star Game was 1996 (24 Hall of Famers): Ray Bourque, Martin Brodeur, Ron Francis, Dominik Hasek, Jaromir Jagr, Brian Leetch, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Cam Neely, Brendan Shanahan, Scott Stevens, Mats Sundin, Teemu Selanne, Denis Savard, Joe Sakic, Al MacInnis, Nik Lidstrom, Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner, Sergei Fedorov, Paul Coffey, Chris Chelios, Ed Belfour.
  • The NHL can try and ban hits-to-the-head however they’d like, but change will only happen when a generation of players have been raised playing with new rules and the bullying culture of hockey is marginalized even more than it is now.
  • Really wish someone would suggest that, while players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, they’re also wearing suits of armour under their jerseys. Elbow pads and shoulder pads have never been harder.
  • There’s lots of cynicism and laughter about Peter Forsberg’s last ditch effort to play in the NHL. The fact remains that Forsberg’s hockey IQ and experience could be a huge benefit to the Avalanche. His injury issues over the last decade have almost been entirely related to a unique foot injury that made it impossible for him to skate comfortably.
  • Is Terry Murray in danger? With only two wins in their past 10 games, the Los Angeles Kings’ season is slowly slipping away.
  • If Evgeni Nabokov does end up in Detroit, what happens to Chris Osgood when he returns from his groin injury? It seems like his playing days may be over. (Editor’s note: Nabokov was, of course, claimed off waivers by the Islanders yesterday, but apparently won’t report to them.)
  • The talk was that Jacques Lemaire stepped aside from coaching the New Jersey Devils after last season because he was burnt out and tired of the NHL grind. But with each successive game, it’s becoming clear he is still one of the best coaching minds in the game. It makes you wonder where New Jersey would have been if he’d coached the team all year.
Dec 192010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Oilers Octane Cheerleaders

Photo credit: oilers.nhl.com

I never knew Santa was a hockey fan.

And yet, when I sat on his lap at the mall this week, and asked him who he thought had been naughty and nice this year, he was quick to hand me the following list.

Surprisingly, I agree with everything he wrote.

Naughty – That Charles Wang continues to own and operate the New York Islanders franchise like it’s the Cleveland Indians from the film “Major League”. It’s a travesty a team with this kind of history, in the biggest media market in North America, seems doomed.

Nice – HBO’s 24/7 Penguins-Capitals series. So it’s aired one episode. So what? It’s the most interesting idea to come from the NHL since the shoot-out, and might be the best TV show ever produced about NHL hockey. It is the antithesis of bland, and would never come from Canada, where everyone wants to be an NHL players’ best pal. Right Pierre Maguire?

Naughty – Vancouver’s downtown bike lanes and City Hall in general. Let’s see. Winters on the West Coast feature roughly 700 days of cold, windy rainstorms and the Lower Mainland’s public transportation system is about as convenient as a gas station that’s only open during an eclipse. So naturally, it makes sense to punish people for driving by turning downtown car lanes into bike lanes. What’s next, passing a law that let’s us all keep chickens in our backyards? Wait a minute…

Nice – Colorado Avalanche hockey. Sure the names are no longer Sakic or Forsberg, but Avs hockey remains up-tempo, high-scoring and fun-to-watch. Pretty much exactly what Bruce Boudreau is trying to stop the Washington Capitals from playing these days.

Naughty – The Edmonton Oiler cheerleaders. Because it’s probably more fun than thinking they’re “nice.”

Nice – That the Steven Stamkos hype has quieted down. Is he an elite shooter? Yes. Is Martin St. Louis a better and more valuable player right now? Yes.

Naughty – That some games are still being decided by goals that result from plays involving a broken one-piece hockey stick.

Nice – The Rangers team Glen Sather’s put together this year.

Naughty – Lou Lamoriello’s fiddling while the Devils continue to burn. He’s either retiring at the end of the year, or choosing to tank the season to score a high draft pick. Either way, it’s not really John Maclean’s fault the team’s this bad.

Nice – The entire Larry Sanders Show has finally come to DVD. Hey now!

Naughty – Natalie Portman in The Black Swan. Go see it, if for no other reason than to watch her exorcize those crappy Star Wars prequels from her body.

Nice – Opposing teams on the Buffalo Sabres. They’ve faced 15 backup goalies so far this year. Their record in these match-ups? 10-3-2.

Naughty – Eugene Melnyk, for not facing up to reality, and seeing the door has closed on this core of Senators.

Nice – Ryan Whitney, who has become the best Edmonton Oilers defenceman since Chris Pronger left town.

Naughty – That “Little Fockers” even exists.

Nice – Ryan Clowe at even strength. Quietly he sits third in the league at 5-on-5 scoring, behind only Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk.

Naughty – Cam Neely, for blaming the Bruins struggles recently on Claude Julien’s defensive-first system. Way to stir up trouble Cam. That being said, it does seem like this has been a bit of a wasted year in Tyler Seguin’s development, doesn’t it?

Nice – That Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro are teaming up for a crime flick called “The Irishman”.

Naughty – Steve Mason, whose play in goal for the Columbus Blue Jackets this year seems to confirm his Calder Trophy season was a fluke.

Nice – Chris Pronger’s foot surgery. It saves the Flyers from some cap issues in the short-term, and in the long-term should ensure Pronger’s rested for a long post-season run.

Naughty – VANOC, not for failing to host a carbon neutral 2010 Olympics, but for blaming this failure on “sponsors and suppliers”.

Nice – Linus Omark, for reminding us that playing hockey, even professional hockey, should involve a little imagination.

Naughty – The alleged “real ending” to Yogi Bear.

Nice – Canadians I guess, according to the Family Guy’s “Road to the North Pole” Christmas special.

Naughty – Sean Avery. Because you can’t call the league’s penalty minute leader “nice”.

Nice – Gotta love that the nickname “Neon Dion” Phaneuf found its way into the mainstream media this week. Sadly, it’s the flashiest thing about him these days.

Naughty – Only learning after the fact that a condition of marriage includes writing personal messages in a seemingly infinite number of Christmas Cards.

Nice – Secretariat. Because it’s the best laugh in Late Night television right now.

Naughty – Wives who cut back on their husbands’ Egg Nog intake to prevent seasonal weight gain. Is nothing sacred?

Happy Holidays!

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