Nobody had ever seen anything like Sean Avery's stick-in-the-face antics against Brodeur. Most people thought it was unsportsmanlike behavior, not in keeping with the integrity of the sport of hockey. The NHL acted swiftly to clarify the rules, aka the "Sean Avery Rule" to make sure this never happens again without an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of 2 minutes.
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Although the local tradition of tossing an octopus on the ice during the Playoffs started in 1952, Al Sobotka, the Red Wings rink manager, Zamboni driver, and chief cephalopod wrangler, has been twirling dead, boiled, octopi tossed on the ice by fans since 1991. Heck, the Wings even honored Al by naming their purple-tentacled Playoff Mascot after him. This tradition is well known and has been tolerated for years without objection by the NHL. Last year, the NHL even posted a beautiful hi-res image of Al twirling an octopus on the front page of the NHL website as a featured Frozen Moment snapshot.
But, suddenly - in this season of Playoff rule changes, tossing octopi - and having a much beloved local hockey rink celebrity pick it up off the ice to encourage the hometown fans to cheer for their team - is bad for the sport. And if Al does it he doesn't get a 2-minute penalty. This major disruption to the integrity of the sport is valued at a fine of $10,000.
Generally, the fish market keeps octopi on ice, and if tossed, they land back on ice. Al picks the tossee off the Hockeytown ice with his hands. One wonders if this action by the NHL was their idea of doing something about the no-touch icing rule?
And what's the rush? Al has been doing this for 17 years and the League has said nothing and openly accepted the practice (A perfect example of the legal defense of laches). The Wings have gone into the Playoffs for 17 straight years...uh oh! Could that coincidence really be a conspiracy in the home office to break the Wings octopus stranglehold of getting into the Playoffs year after year? Do NHL executives really believe if they stop Al and the fans from having fun that suddenly parity will reign and the Wings will no longer be successful?
What is particularly disturbing about all this is the level of trivia the NHL executive offices have suddenly decided to get involved with. These movers and shakers can't seem to muster any urgency to stop hits to the heads of the players (human beings,by the way), but they can quickly lay down the law if a dead, boiled octopus does a header on the ice in Hockeytown and gets a rousing send-off. One of the key signs of trouble with an organization is micro-managing. And micromanage this nonsense is what the NHL did. The edict issued did not ban Sabotka, specifically, from picking up the creature - but all Zamboni drivers.
Apart from specifying acceptable ice conditions, does the League really regulate Zamboni drivers? And Al isn't just a Zamboni driver. He is the rink manager and in charge of the ice. How can the League micro-manage his role that he is paid to do by his employer - the Red Wings? And one hardly doubts he would participate in any action - for 17 years - that would jeopardize either the condition of the ice or his job. One wonders if the NHL will issue an edict that Al can no longer put on his famous barbeque events at the rink for the team. Surely his cooking skills give them an advantage over the rest of the league.
And the edict also states that it will now be the job of the Linesmen to remove tossed biologicals. Wonder if the NHLOA CBA covers that? I'll bet if they had voted it would have been unanimous to have Al, err... "the Zamboni driver" pick up the pitched sea creatures.
But there are loopholes in the new Al Sobotka Rule. Here are,coincidentally, 8 suggestions for the fans to still have fun within the confines of the NHL edict:
1. The prohibition is against twirling the items tossed on the ice by fans. That means that Al can still twirl octopi from other sources that are already at the rink. Under those conditions as written, Al could still twirl a cephalopod after the National Anthem to fire up the crowd. But, one wonders if such subordination would be met with yet another clarification of the new "rule."
2. The NHL is actively promoting 'celebrities' to get involved with hockey. The Wings could invite local celebrities to do a ceremonial octopi twirl before every home Playoff Game.
3. It is a big deal to get selected to ride around on the Zamboni with Al. Give the happy rider an octopus to twirl as they wave to the crowd.
4. Though certainly not a tradition in hockey - and I'm not a big fan of "cheerleaders" or "ice dancers" and all the liability that presents owners (witness NYRangers Title XII lawsuit), for the Playoffs I might make an exception. That is, as long as all our dancers have a routine that has them twirling octopi while they dance - kind of like that ribbon dancing stuff at the Olympics.
5. Instead of handing out those "rally towels," hand out life-like, plastic octopi (not the cute fuzzy purple Al) to all the fans to twirl in place of the towels. It would be unique to the Wings.
6. Continually run a video in the overhead jumbotron of Al twirling an octopus at times when the home team needs cheering on or after the Wings score a goal. Make sure to play this clicp after a real octopi is thrown on the ice so fans can see how it used to be done before the Linesmen were mandated to perform the odious chore.
7. Get local corporate sponsors to set up a matching fund so that everytime Al twirls an octopus and the Wings get fined a donation of $10,000 will be given to Detroit Childrens Hospital, the Wings charity.
8. Give all the fans a bobble-head doll effigy of Gary Bettman when they come to the Playoffs. When those are tossed on the ice, sit back and enjoy the image of the Linesmen scraping them up with a shovel and throwing them in the trash.
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