In a week, you will choke down wings, drink lots of beer, and scream at your television sets. In a week, you will throw your Wii controllers aside, and watch small animals grow from the faces of your hockey heroes and heels. In a week, the season travails will wash away to a giant magnifying glass and pressure-cooker called the NHL Playoffs.
Our blood will boil, our eyes will be glued to the set, our favorite websites, or the radios…all to capture why we watch hockey in the first place. Competition. We will crown that winner of this fierce competition Stanley Cup champions. This is what separates the men from the boys. They will look harder and more intense than you ever saw them before. The NHL Hockey Playoffs makes warriors. The NHL Hockey Playoffs is war. And that war is what we are here to see.
But before we start beating the battle drums, and sounding the horn, I’d like to take a moment for another feature of the 2006-2007 hockey season. The not so pretty. The not so intrepid, nor elegant, nor striking. The almost contradictions to the reality of hockey that seem to have pervaded this sport.
What, you ask? Let me give you two examples: last years hockey stalwarts, Edmonton and Carolina. Not only did they crash and burn, but really in a very specific and important way. Edmonton has been Bad News Bears from Pronger asking out in the offseason to Ryan Smyth being traded at deadline.
What’s next for Lowe, ripping out fans hearts and slapping on A-1 steak sauce?
And Carolina , becomes the typical poster boy for blown opportunity and expectations. Peter Laviolette’s magic touch turned to lead as champs became chumps in the 2006-2007 season.
On this very website, we read big words from an older man. Jeremy Roenick talked a big game, but in Phoenix , that big game past him by. Maybe he had a better view of the current state of his career from that Vancouver restaurant. Coincidently, in Phoenix , the clear fact that a great player does not make necessarily a great coach was also crystal clear. Wayne Gretzky didn’t even have to be an assistant nor AHL head coach. All across the land of pundits and hockey talking heads, there were a lot of airy words on “he’ll share his wisdom” and “his greatness will rub off on them”. Instead, his team struggled and stands as a sobering reminder that there are no guarantees to giving the hockey great the keys to the team. Hopefully a cool head will prevail and The Great One will only be watching hockey on his 100 foot Plasma TV. Yotes would certainly be better for it.
In New York City, as the NY Rangers slid, the master of timing and great public statements himself, Mark Messier, made talk of being GM. Hopefully Chuck Dolan watches Phoenix and actually asks Messier to put down the Kool-Aid and to take an office job first. Great players do not always a great coach or GM make. And the free pass that these men get, Gretzky and Messier as prime examples, when they do something stupid or simply struggle, by the hockey news world, pundits and bloggers, is one of the not so pretty elements to this season. Accountability and responsibility still are number one when they played, and also still whether they are speaking to the press or coaching a team. The free passes need to stop.
Hey, was there an All-Star game? Oh, yes there was. It was mid-week on VS, in one of the worst planning, and subsequently, embarrassing issues for the NHL this season. The 2007 NHL All-Star game was a 76% drop in ratings from last year on ABC. Why? Well, because Versus is cable and barely anyone tunes in. Or the fact the channel has 20 million less viewers than ESPN. Or maybe fans get annoyed with the giant score graphic that stretches across the entire top of the screen. Either way, VS must be happy, because they just committed their network option to do year #3 for the 2007-2008 season. So strap yourself in and stifle a yawn as Bill Clements opens his maw and begins yapping. Luckily 2008-2009 is a NHL option.
For those who care: Yashin 2: Electric Boogooloo just came out in Detroit . Pavel Datsyuk signed a US $46.9-million, seven-year contract extension just last Friday. That’s a 6.7 million cap hit per year. And it’s good to see overpayment alive and well in the NHL these days. After all, we all want the NHL 2004-2005 lockout to stand for…well, not a whole lot. Detroit words to offset this mighty cost is from the very economical and great, Stevie Yzerman, who said:
“If he leaves this summer ... we're going to probably spend more money on a player that we don't like as much as Pavel. You really have to be certain and really know your player.”
Understandable that they’d like the devil they know instead of the devil they don’t. Except for except for one thing: The fact were going to spend more than 6.7 million on someone in the first place seems a bit convoluted and very much why prices players get are inflating very quickly where potential and demand set the ticket price even higher. Detroit seems to always compete and be in the mix, but how does this team hold onto goalie Dominik Hasek, who will demand a higher pay than this season’s discount? That’s right, savvy Detroit fans know the truth. They won’t. They will play hockey goalie carousel once again. And the steady pace of Detroit making the playoffs but not getting a cup will continue due to this very habit where cost commitments dictate other positional restraints.
This coming off-season, some players might match or come close to the 6 million mark in free agency. And invariably, someone will pay. Costs are rising, and overpayment is still abound in the NHL.
Speaking of Devil’s…evidently Lou Lamoriello has been hanging with Tony Soprano and the boys at the Bada Bing. Claude Julien took the fall while the team is on it’s way for a franchise record for wins and second best in the conference. Lou's statements, as usual, tell us nothing.
Per Lou: “The way we put ourselves in this organization, you have to look at the big picture. To say that 102 points today isn't an excellent accomplishment, it's extremely positive. But I have to look at a lot of factors."
Lou must be hearkening back to his days as a high school math teacher with that statement. After all, this is the same math that has signed a myriad of failed free agents and hamstrung Sweet Lou to the cap limit these past two years. Perhaps 102 points is in spite of Lou these days. Claude sleeps with the fishes as Lou smokes a stogie at the Pork store. As Mel Brook’s wisely said in The History of the World, Part I…"It’s good to be king". Judgments on Lou’s move might not come till after a Playoff exit or a cup win. But woe to Lou and Company if they have an early exit.
Wang’s Fantasy Island is alive and well this season. With the circus coming to town over last summer, Ted Nolan and Garth Snow have received kudos while having the Islanders competing and coming close to a playoff spot. However, under that surface and Rick DiPietro’s development into an excellent backstopper, lurks some interesting issues and questions. Come closer and we will peer inside Wang’s Wacky World. We will see Simon’s swinging stick on Hollweg. Complaining about non-goals and refereeing. Brendan Witt’s verbal clash with NHL VP, Colin Campbell. Concussion follies from Islander brass over their goalie and lifeline to their future. Yashin’s emergence and subsequent disappearance…with evidently an injury that was not better despite being given a pass by the Islander medical staff, that same staff that also passed DiPietro later this season.
As any Islander fan knows, this season has been lots of ups and down. Yet, after all that drama, the sea parted and the Isles clasped onto the 8th and final spot. Now Nolan faces his former team and his replacement in Buffalo.
But there is also some risky ventures: Ryan Smyth was brought in for two previous 1st round draft picks plus this years. Though rumors are abound and most feel that he will not resign on LI, Smyth has said nothing on the subject. In fact, the Ryan Smyth deal and leaving Canada has opened a nasty door once again with the Canadian Press who seem to enjoy writing about rumor, innuendo and conjecture more than sports news this season.
Isle fans have had to sit through reports of phantom drama thanks to one particular reporter: Ottawa Sun’s columnist, Bruce Garrioch. Over the course of this year, Bruce has reported of arguments and blow-outs that not only did not happen, but actually warped previous stories and hearsay to get the information. This and the fact that he hasn't seemed to meet a cheeseburger he did not like, have made him very vilified hockey pundit. The very savvy and sometimes deep-digging New York press has completely contradicted Bruce, like Newsday’s popular Islander beat writer, Greg Logan.
And as we talk about hockey rumormill, we must finally address Eklund and Hockeybuzz. Eklund seems more vilified and mentioned than Cuban leader Fidel Castro, with about as many people waiting for his subsequent fall. From people taking his poorly blacked-out visage and the piles of conjecture, to Sportsnet car wreck of a trade deadline show, Eklund has taken a large amount of abuse for just about everything this past season. Meanwhile, by his mere presence and Hockeybuzz’s success, he has everything to gain from this vilification.
Myself, as a guy who is not only a Season Ticket holder on this site, but also one of the voices on here and elsewhere for and against him at times, Eklund stands as a supreme cause and effect to the poor ability of the hockey press to find information for fan consumption. Plain and simple. Supply and demand is exactly to whit for Eklund’s success. As hockey pundits blather and careen offtrack daily, at least someone is out there beating the pavement as a fan to give other fans the benefit of information…whether 100% correct or not. Eklund’s steady stream has pervaded every hockey fan who goes to the web or radio, and not everyone might like him or might want him to be something else, everyone still reads and reacts to his information just the same. Eklund and sites like this thrive because of the hockey presses failure to fill fans hunger.
Don’t blame the messenger…blame the space between the words of the message. Hockey coverage is one of the biggest contradictions this year and last. Fans are asking for more than ever, and only very few are supplying it. The fans and ratings might be less, but each are asking for more than whats being given.
So, now we watch the last few games before its high noon in the NHL. The wings are still hot, the beer still cold. And hopefully next year will have a few less contradictions and issues than the last. In the end, hockey fans, players and organizations all want success. But, I will tell you no lies. We all have an uphill battle and some work in that regard. This fan will continue to tell you like it is.