Wednesday, February 22, 2006
I'm torn on NHL-Olympics relationship
By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com
First Period -- Junior sample
Part of me says the NHL's participation at the Olympics has been played out, that shutting down the season for two weeks is an overall negative for the industry. The players cease to be NHL players when the Olympics begin, and the residual benefits are negligible.
The other part of me says that, by Sunday, my views will change. The emotions increase this week as the tournament moves into single elimination. It's a brand of hockey unlike any other in the world, combining the nature of the tournament and the level of players involved. All that being said, I would prefer the Olympic hockey teams be comprised of world junior players. The NHL would benefit more if the Games introduce, on a global scale, the next wave of NHL talent. The mystery factor of "Who is this guy?" would be better for all.
Second Period -- Ben there, done that
SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week, we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.
"Hey, it's the Easter Bunny! You're early!"
Hey guys, I'll wait for you right here to come back from Italy.
-- Brendan Berents, Richmond, Va.
Hey Derian, it's OK, I found my teeth!
-- Joe Walsh, Aldan, Pa.
We what?? We won? Holy crap! WE WON!
-- Cody Hollen, Sahuarita, Ariz.
Hooray, nap time is over! Now we can have a snack!
-- Greg, New Fairfield, Conn.
What do you mean diving is in the Summer Olympics?
-- Mike, Ardmore, Pa.
Hey look! I'm Lindsey Jacobellis!
-- Tracy Grant Columbia, Mo.
In honor of Jack Nicholson in The Shining ... "Heeeeere's, Johnny!"
Some excerpts from the column I wrote in August on Ben Smith and USA Hockey cutting Cammi Granato from the U.S. women's hockey team:
Ben Smith, head coach of the U.S. women's national team, cut the face of women's hockey from the team last week in cold and merciless fashion.
Chris Bailey, who played with Granato on the gold medal team in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, said, "The two biggest mistakes USA Hockey has ever made is not having a post-Olympic tour in 1998 and cutting Cammi Granato."
The most treasured women's hockey player in U.S. history, the face of U.S. women's hockey, is allowed to be treated this way? What a pathetic example of leadership and what a dangerous way to treat the program.
I went to see the U.S. women's team play Canada in Burlington, Vt., last winter and watched the team practice in Lake Placid in March. Was Granato among the top 10 forwards on the team? Yes, and it wasn't even close. When she is on the ice, you know something smart and creative is going to happen.
Smith and [USA Hockey executive director David] Ogrean can never undo it. They can never undo such a classless, undignified decision. There isn't enough damage control possible to undo this one. They will perhaps retire her number, give her a day and send out a nice press release, but it won't be enough.
Smith should be fired, and Granato should be reinstated. Ogrean should go back to USA Football, and [Mike] Eruzione should be brought in for some much-needed heart and soul.
Let's be clear. Even if the U.S. won gold in Italy, I would stand by those comments. And I won't even suggest that the U.S. would have won gold had Granato been on the team, but they certainly would have had a better chance. Leadership, presence and shootout experience are all too valuable. U.S. goalie Chanda Gunn said it best once: "I didn't want to be like Cammi Granato. I wanted to be Cammi Granato." That's how highly teammates regarded Granato. Of course, the decision to cut her in such a cold and classless fashion was a decision made by men.
When Smith leaves, who will replace him? If there was ever a time for USA Hockey to change the tone of its program, the time is now. I would never go as far as to say men should only coach men and women should only coach women. An obvious candidate is Mark Johnson, who scored arguably the biggest goals for Team USA in 1980 and is currently coaching the Wisconsin women's team. And if there is a woman out there who is qualified, she should be hired. If there isn't, she should be trained. How does "Coach Granato" sound?
Third Period -- Water World
This year will go down as the winter that wasn't for a majority of backyard rink owners in the United States (at least, in the Northeast). I have yet to step on my rink. Warm temperatures have reigned in the Northeast and, except for a couple of twirls by a 40-pound 6-year-old, the rink has stood as a quiet, economic disaster.
This past weekend, I thought I had my shot. Temperatures plummeted to single digits Saturday night, rose to the 20s Sunday and fell back down to the teens Sunday night. That was only enough for an 11-year-old and 6-year-old to skate for about 20 minutes. Now, March approaches and the sun is getting higher and higher in the sky. Traditionally, the first week of March is when the backyard skating rink season ends in New England. And so for the second time in the short six-year history of the backyard rink, there appears there will be no skating. No 7 a.m. skates. No midday skates when the neighborhood is seemingly at its quietest. No midnight skates under Orion's belt.
Normally, skating outside during a crisp, calm winter's day or night is the greatest joy a skater can have. In any skating situation, I can't tie my skates fast enough. That has never changed. But the anticipation of skating outdoors, especially on one's own land, is even greater. It is in these moments that I cannot wait for the day for when someone invents the laceless skate. Slip them on and go.
The Mother of All Mailbags
|You Can Quote Me
"I know Ben has a good heart, and I firmly believe the decisions were made with the best interests of an evolving program and evolving sport in mind, and in the sole interest of putting a team that would give us the best chance for success in Torino."
-- USA Hockey executive director David Ogrean, before the Olympics, on women's coach Ben Smith cutting Cammi Granato
Wow, I just got done watching the first period of the USA vs. Latvia game. I have to say, what a great period of hockey I just saw. It is now 2-1 USA, and we just got 16 shots in one period! I have to say, where I am, St. Paul, Minn., that sometimes does not happen in a whole game with the Wild. I will preface myself in saying that I love what the NHL has done post-lockout era, but there is more improvements to be made. My suggestion is OLYMPIC SIZE SHEET OF ICE. In Minnesota, there are many arenas where even I played in high school and college, and I have found that those sheets of ice improve the flow, speed, increase scoring and overall excitement. Now, I have to ask, Why not the NHL?
From the State of Hockey, Minnesota
I've written here more than once that I am a small-ice guy. If the rules are called correctly, and the stick is used only as it should, the smaller ice is better. The stick should only be used for puck handling, passing, shooting, etc. In other words, it should always be on the ice. Everything else is a penalty. The bigger ice has fewer collisions. I think the game is better on the NHL-sized rinks with the potential for more collisions, more turnovers, more scoring chances and more passion.
For most of the '80s, when you talked about the best offensive players outside of Gretzky and Mario, you had Savard and Hawerchuk near the top of that list. Since Dale played his best years in Winnipeg, he didn't get the attention others did. Savard was as good a puck handler as anyone, and put up some huge numbers in the high-flying '80s that Middleton never got close to. Same goes for Hawerchuk, who, for a couple years, was the third-best forward after Wayne and Mario. Shanahan, meanwhile, has proven one of the most effective power forwards post-Howe over the course of his career. I'd put him right there with Messier and Neely, and possibly ahead of Neely due to longevity and being able to score in the "dead-puck" era of the late '90s and present time. I'm not a big fan of the HOF for people who had short careers, unless they were absolutely dominant in that time. You can't say that for Nifty, as much as he was very good.
Rick Middleton did not have a short career. He played 1,005 NHL games. Denis Savard, elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997, played in 191 more. Middleton had a 50-goal season in 1981-82, Savard never had one. Savard had three 40-goal seasons, Middleton had five, Savard had seven 30-goal seasons, Middleton had eight. Both played equally well in the postseason. Savard was a center, and also made those around him productive. I think he and Middleton are very close, but I'll give Savard the nod by a hair, although the Western Conference was clearly a much better conference for offensive players in the '80s. It benefited a lot of Western Conference players, like Dale Hawerchuk. No way was Hawerchuk the third-best forward behind Wayne and Mario. Shanahan is a Hall of Famer, but is not in Messier or Neely's ballpark. Well, maybe the ballpark, but not the batters' box. Messier was, well, Messier, and Neely was a little better than Shanahan in everything he did. Neely's massive playoff numbers go such a long way, as well. Look at them.
Would I be alone in saying that the uniforms being worn in the Olympics are downright hideous? I guess Nike does not understand that hockey is about talent and toughness, and not about glamour and looking good for the camera (Barry Melrose excluded). I credit Sweden for not allowing their uniforms to be soiled by random horizontal lines and tight fits. I turned on the game this morning, and thought I was watching "Strange Brew."
Most of the e-mail for the uniforms, especially Team USA's, have been negative. I got to tell you, I like them. I like the design on the socks in the shin area. Then again, I worked at and wore Chess King clothing in the late 1980s.
Why is it that Joel Quenneville has put absolutely no effort into the Avs being solid defensively? I thought he was a defensive-minded coach? I heard an interview recently where he said that he wasn't too worried about the poor defense as long as we are scoring goals. Well, the Avs lead the West in goals -- and are in seventh place. He has blamed the goaltending, but the 'D' has repeatedly hung the goalies out to dry. The Avs are a pretender with their lack of defensive zone coverage.
Josh in Denver
Look at the Avalanche's top six forwards. These are not two-way players. Joel Quenneville knows that the Avs are going to have to win high-scoring games. The goaltending has been spotty and the defensive corps OK. This team is not built for the postseason.
Did you happen to read or hear about the article in The Boston Herald last week? The writer goes as far as to say that he's not sure he can ever watch another hockey game because how can he know the players aren't throwing the game.
While I understand his point, his attitude is the same as too many sports writers across the country. All these guys do is write about hockey with the intention of ripping the sport. It is too hard to fix hockey games, a whole team would have to be involved, or at least a good percentage of the players would have to be in on it. I wish the media would write about how the NHL is rebounding nicely from a catastrophic event and has too many promising young players to stop the momentum.
Instead, the only national attention you see is when something negative happens. The big difference between Canada and the U.S.: in Canada, Gretzky is innocent until definitive proof comes out; in the U.S., Gretzky has fixed games and is a gambling addict. I hope for the sake of hockey that his image is not tarnished forever.
OK, I'm off my soap box now; it's time to sit back, relax and enjoy Olympic hockey with a little U.S. women's curling thrown in.
It's a double-edged sword for hockey fans. We would like mainstream journalists to cover the NHL to give it mainstream respect and traction among sports fans. The problem is, when the mainstream media write or talk about the NHL, they sound foolish because they are so ignorant on the nuances and basic understandings of the game. Now NBC, OLN and XM Radio shows all show passion and expertise in their NHL dialogue, but the rest of the landscape is either ignorant or provincial.
I have three questions for you, from cold and chilly Finland.
1. Do you see the Dallas Stars as a potential Stanley Cup contender? What kind of players do you think they need to be serious contenders? I personally think buying Hagman and Niinimaa were big mistakes. Niinimaa brings bad luck and Hobey Baker winner Junior Lessard or preseason sensation Vojtech Polak (both play in Iowa) would have been at least as good as Hagman.
2. How come nobody talks about Brenden Morrow even though he is at the pace for 70 points and 200 penalty minutes? One of the best power forwards in the league right now and a future captain for the Dallas Stars.
3. My handicap (5.4) is worse. I blame my iron clubs for that. Should I change to Callaway clubs? I know that only old people play with Callaway, but I must do something!?
The Stars certainly have Stanley Cup potential. They could use another rugged defenseman. They are a very well-rounded team. They score goals, their defense is good, they have speed, skill, grit, play well at home and on the road.
Brenden Morrow is a solid two-way player. Courageous and tough in the Shane Doan mold. Like Doan, he lacks a great release, which will keep him from being a great goal scorer and elite player. But a player like Morrow is very valuable.
Most golf equipment is high-quality nowadays. It's more about how the club looks to your eye. But nearly every player should play with a forgiving iron. There are some PGA players who play with cavity back, forgiving irons. If you really want to lower your handicap Jussi, maybe the first thing I would do is move to Naples, Fla.
Is it just me, or does Dion Phaneuf look like Buzz Lightyear? Taking notice in Phoenix.
"You are a sad strange little man
and you have my pity. Farewell."
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.