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Rant answers: Classic, shootouts and more

1/4/2011

As you might imagine, the Winter Classic dominated our weekly rants. Again, yet another reminder that the rant blog is for RANTS. If you have hockey questions, check in with me during my weekly chats (Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET). Let's get at it:

GolfingDevil05: The Winter Classic is a great example of why the NHL is different from the other three major team sports in North America. If you try to market this as a matchup of the two best players (as opposed to it being about those players' teams), you end up with a storyline where neither of them scored a point in the game, which means that to the sports fans who know nothing about hockey, the game is a failure. Welcome to hockey: Things don't always go as planned.

For next year's game, why not think outside of the states of Pennsylvania, New York or Massachusetts? I know the press seems to [think] everyone in the country lives there, but in reality, we've got some great teams out in the Western Conference that should be showcased. I think the game that no one seems to be talking about that would be a fantastic match up is L.A. vs. Colorado at Invesco Field in Denver. Two good, rising young teams that look poised to be dominant forces over the next several years meeting head-to-head outdoors seems like a can't miss matchup to anyone who isn't myopically attached to the idea that TV audiences only matter on the East Coast.

My take: Funny you should mention Kings-Avs in Denver because that’s just the matchup I was talking about with colleagues over the weekend in Pittsburgh. Both clubs are young, exciting teams. I spoke with an Avs source who said that while the team is interested in hosting a Winter Classic, there are some factors the Avs want to examine as well. So they're a little hesitant at this point, it would appear to me anyway. The Rangers-Flyers matchup for next year, one which I reported over the weekend, is not the media's idea as you said above, but rather a concept the league is really excited about, according to a source. So don't shoot the messenger here. I'm not even sure the Flyers are that interested at this point, but I know the NHL would love that matchup. As NHL COO John Collins intimated at a news conference last week in Pittsburgh, the Winter Classic is not a democratic process in which all 30 teams will get to host it. The league will focus on big markets and maybe even return to some (i.e. Chicago, Boston) over the next decade.

kap9562: Pierre, YOU ARE A CANADIAN!!!! Since that is the case, why have you not done a rebuttal article against your buddy Scott Burnside who suggested there is no need for the Heritage Classic in Canada! I mean I agree with him that the Winter Classic is important to gain new fans in the U.S.A and I'm not even against only using American teams for it. BUT we could at least have another outdoor game for the nation that Gary Bettman himself called "the engine of the NHL," cant we? Just because Canada is a hockey hotbed does not mean it should be ignored, the mid to late 90's should teach us that when Canada gets hurt by the NHL (Winnipeg and Quebec leaving), it does effect NHL interest in Canada, which was lower than then it is now. GROW THE GAME IN BOTH COUNTRIES NOT JUST ONE! STICK UP FOR YOUR ROOTS MAN!

My take: I am Canadian, but I'm totally in agreement with Burnside on this one. I think the NHL made a critical mistake in handing out a second NHL outdoor game. What makes the Winter Classic so special is that it's once a year, it's unique, that's why sponsors, advertisers and TV folks are drooling over it. Now with two games 50 days apart, well, I think you run a great risk of diluting that product. I shared this sentiment with NHL COO John Collins, and while he agreed there is merit on both sides of the debate, he feels both events will have a way to make themselves special in their own way. Listen, I want fans in my country to enjoy outdoor NHL hockey as well. But my solution would be to have a Canadian team in the Winter Classic every four to five years. NBC may not like it, but the selling point to the TV network in my opinion is that you're preserving the uniqueness of one outdoor game a year by doing so. I'm working the Heritage Classic in Calgary next month, so it may very well be that at the end of the event I will have had a change of heart after witnessing it, but right now I think the league made a bad call in staging two of these. Not the least of which is that I’m worried for the health of NHL ice guru Dan Craig!

fbullock: Happy New Year Mr. LeBrun and the fine folks of the ESPN Rant board,

There are several subjects I would love to tee off on for my first rant of 2011, Jacques Lemaire getting more NJ love, Roloson to TB "Did Stevie Y. get the goalie he wanted or the goalie he didn't want others to get?", the price Mr. Burke is really asking for Versteeg or the fact the Caps officially found a shrink that healed those mental wounds. Instead, I will go with the masses and point out my top 3 rants for the WC. Let’s lock and load and see what falls out of the tree.

1. You have to stop play in the third period. I know we have all been told that the players didn't mind and how much they enjoyed playing outside, but I bet if you took an honest poll, some of those players would probably want to play without helmets, I mean we are talking about a league who said they are concerned about player safety, remember the concussion debate. Players play with passion, fans watch because they love the game and the sport is upheld with Integrity and I feel the NHL brass skipped out on their part of that equation.

2. The game was moved to 8 p.m. and from what I see still grabbed 4.6M viewers in the 18 to 49 range. The NHL should take a hard look at this with the upcoming TV contract, the regular season (Price $), the playoffs (Price $$), the WC ($$$) and the finals ($$$$).

3. WC came close to Mother Nature getting on the scoreboard. Come Feb. 20th the NHL better have a better plan.

My take: First of all, you take it to the bank that the WC is indeed a primary subject in the future TV talks that will take place over the next several months. But let's deal with your first point, which I totally agree with and mentioned in our wrap-up video at Heinz Field. I think the league should have delayed play when the rain came down at its hardest. I know the players told me after the game it wasn’t that bad, but it shouldn’t be up to them to make that assertion. We talked all week long about being prepared for the kind of weather delays you see at baseball games or golf events, and so I think the league could have delayed the game 5-10 minutes during the worst part of the rain shower. Still, it didn't overshadow what was once again a gigantic success as an event.

Meohfumado: Shootout is an abomination. A game is worth two points in regulation, but then goes to OT and is suddenly worth three points?

You want to keep the shootouts, fine, change the point system.

Three points for a regulation win. Two points for an OT/shootout win, and one point for an OT/shootout loss. Of course, that would make the standings look pretty silly with having to list teams "Wins, OT Wins, Losses, OT losses" ...but that's what you get with a shootout.

My take: Well, my friend, you found a receptive soul with that rant. I'm tired of the shootout. It's a gimmick. And for a long time, I've also pushed for a three-point regulation-time win. It's something that NHL GMs actually broached in February 2004 at their meeting in Henderson, Nev., the same historic meeting that produced many of the post-lockout changes including the removal of the red line for two-line passes, the crackdown on obstruction and yes, the shootout. Keep the faith, though, Red Wings GM Ken Holland has pushed for a revamp of the overtime period, which also calls for three-on-three hockey. That should, in theory, increase the chances of overtime ending with a goal and result in fewer shootouts. The GMs plan to chew on his idea once again at their March meetings. Having said that, Holland may lose in his bid because shootouts are down this season. Through Monday night, there have been 62 shootouts compared with a whopping 95 at the same point last season when the league set the record. GMs may feel an OT format change isn’t needed if it turns out last season's record number of shootouts was an aberration.

BlackhawksFan22: Why oh why did we let Andrew Ladd escape? He had obvious character for a young team on their way to the Cup last year. His leadership is evident by Atlanta naming him their team captain. His loss hurts a little more than others because we could use some of that character about now.

Shame we never found a replacement for Big Buff. The blue line sure could use a big body like him to give Keith/Seabrook a breather. Lord knows Boynton and Hjalmarsson are both lost right now.

My take: I spoke with a Blackhawks observer recently and he said as the Hawks entered the offseason readied for a massive dump of players, the one player he hoped wouldn't move was Ladd. Now we see why. The Hawks really miss his grit and size and now with an increased role in Atlanta, he's showing his hands, too. Imagine that Ladd missed the last two games of the Western Conference finals and the first three games of the Stanley Cup finals and the Hawks didn’t even miss a beat.

Used_Puck_Bag: Venting …

1. Go back to the old division/conferences... I don't care to "grow" the game at the expense of tradition. The divisions are jacked up anyway... Colorado in the Northwest? Maybe if you live in Florida... geez.

2. Bring back the old school sweaters... Philly, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto got it right, so why not other teams? Calgary's is horrid. Edmonton needs to make their third jersey their first. Buffalo... lose the pin stripe. L.A. needs their purple/yellow back so we can make fun of it again.

3. Lose the Thrashers and Panthers, and give K.C. their scouts and Winnipeg their Jets.

4. Goalies... your masks and pads look like Technicolor vomit. Again, consider "old school."

5. Loose a ref... two is too many and they crowd the ice.

6. How many more sticks are going to break at crucial moments before they bring back wooden ones? I wanna see a lumber revival.

7. Less games in the season... hockey in June is too much; 70-72 games a season is just as well.

8. Winter Classics in Canada... Montreal and Toronto with the puck drop by Bob and Doug McKenzie. An HBO TV series will follow Bob and Doug as they prepare for the game.

9. Mullets need to be mandatory for players.

10. Outlaw cheerleaders at games along with techno music. Swedish players will just have to get used to no techno.

11. Bill Clement needs to be front and center again on a national stage... he's the best announcer/host going.

My take: Bob and Doug McKenzie, Strange Brew! Get lost, eh! Great rant by the way. Nothing for me to add. Classic.

District 5ive: I've got one for you.... Jonas Hiller. Has anyone faced more shots than this guy? No. Does anyone have more wins than him? Barely -- only Howard with 20 compared to Hiller's 19. Top 5 in save percentage among starters (tied with Quick at .925). Respectable GAA with 2.54, considering the Duck's D is shaky at best. Basically, what I'm saying is that this guy is forced to stand on his head night in and night out and is the only constant that merits the Ducks fifth in the West. The Ducks game is offense. Defense is an afterthought. Jonas is left to fend for himself, and I think he is doing remarkably well. Definitely a top 10 tender in my book this year if I was building a team. He was the only guy to show up in a Swiss sweater (as expected) in last years Olympic tournament. And probably the best part about everything is his flat black bucket with a gold cage. Please give this guy his props.

My take: Hiller has indeed faced more shots, 1,159, than any goalie in the NHL. Cam Ward and Carey Price are the only other goalies over 1,000 as of Tuesday morning. Of course, the reason Hiller has faced more shots is because the Ducks' blue line has its issues, which was the expectation heading into the season. The Ducks are 30th in the league in shots allowed per game, averaging a whopping 34.6 per game. Hence Hiller's increased workload. And I agree, he's responded with an All-Star season. The Vezina? That's going to be tough competition. Right now, I think Tim Thomas and Ondrej Pavelec are 1-2. After that, I agree Hiller deserves to be in the mix along with Cam Ward, Carey Price, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist. (Can’t put Marc-Andre Fleury in there because he decided to take the first six weeks of the season off.)