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Monday, January 8, 2007
The pros and cons of fighting in the NHL

By John Buccigross
ESPN.com

Should fighting be banned in the NHL? I wanted to get your attention and that sentence usually does the trick.

For the basis of this discussion, I'm using Ross Bernstein's book, "The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL." It's available at some bookstores and everywhere on the Web.

For the casual hockey fan, it is an excellent textbook on the who, what and why of NHL fighting. For the hard-core hockey fan who has a basic understanding and opinion on all aspects of the game, it is a book filled with excellent stories from the players themselves. I don't think the book will change your opinion on fighting, but, like any book, it will stretch your brain and initiate further thought.

In my mind, the stars of the book are Marty McSorley and Tony Twist.

I've never met McSorley, who is currently a rookie San Jose Sharks television analyst. I have spent some time with Twist, who did a few "NHL 2Night" shows with me after he retired from the NHL in 2000. After our first show together, we went out with the entire "NHL 2Night" crew at a quasi-"dive" establishment that was definitely not Ruby Tuesday.

That night, I saw Tony do a shot through his nose -- a good starting point in describing one's experience with Tony Twist. Twister wore a white T-shirt and jeans. He looked like a refrigerator, a tattooed refrigerator who was funny, engaging and an endless storyteller. Twister spoke an octave higher than you would expect and at a pace that resembles Martin St. Louis' legs. I enjoyed Tony's capsules in Bernstein's book more than anything. Tony should write a book.

SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week, we present an NHL photo and I provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and the next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.

LAST WEEK:
"Once again, Sidney Crosby loses his head." (Getty Image)

Your submissions:
"Wow! That smells great! Is that Right Guard or Speed Stick?"
-- Carmelo Cruz, Buffalo, N.Y.

"The Kid continues to amaze NHL fans, with tonight's final score, Headless Crosby 5, Devils 3."
-- Brendan Campbell, Waltham, Mass.

Crosby, as great as he is at finding passing lanes, cannot find where to tickle Cam Janssen.
-- Mike Castagno, Little Silver, N.J.

"It's OK! It's OK! Sid wanted me to show him how John Cena applies the "front-face lock."
-- Harold Eldridge, San Leandro, Calif.

"Ladies and gentlemen ... your Sleepy Hollow Penguins!"
-- Reepak Gugga, Los Angeles

"Bada-Bing Crosby."
-- Craig L. Roberts

THIS WEEK:
Father-Son Day in Tampa Bay was another smashing success. (AP Photo)

I knew a few things that night as I shoved countless mozzarella sticks into my piehole:

• Tony was 6-foot-1 and around 235 pounds. I am 6-foot-3 and close to 200 pounds. That would seem like a fair fight. Rest assured, Twist could kill me in 12 seconds. He was the bodyguard, I was the prima donna;

• The chance of someone starting any trouble with me was about the same as me ever abstaining from fried cheese;

• If someone did try to start something, Twist, even though we had met just hours before, would have had my sinewy back. Because we were on the same team.

That is the closest television host/NHL right wing analogy I can construct in trying to determine what someone like Twist meant to someone like Chris Pronger or any of his St. Louis Blues teammates during the late '90s. That is why some women not named Katie Holmes prefer to be around large, brave men. That is why boxers have bodyguards named "Tank." They feel safe.

In those cases, violence sometimes still occurs, primarily because of the presence of "bodyguards."

As readers of this space know, I love NHL fights. They are usually exciting, honorable and consensual. Probert vs. Tomi; Peat vs. Stock; Neely vs. Tocchet; Boogaard vs. Chuck Norris. Fights can add entertainment value, change a game and have fans talking for days, especially when someone like Jarome Iginla drops the gloves.

Still, I find it difficult to comprehend that people come to NHL games for fights. That is an awfully expensive night out for something that isn't guaranteed to happen, and, if it does happen, it may be short and unmemorable. There are plenty of ultimate-fighting highlights on television today. I understand hockey is the final frontier for sanctioned bare-knuckle fighting, but UFC matches are close enough. I guess the question is, how many fans would not watch or attend a game if the possibility of a fight was greatly reduced?

Ross' book certainly is a pro-fighting tome. That stance is set on the cover, which advertises a forward written by McSorley and Twist. All the arguments for maintaining fights in the NHL are well-crafted in the book.

Again, as an NHL fan, I have no problem with fighting. NHL hockey is primarily what I watch at home and what I watch at work while preparing for "SportsCenter" or ESPNEWS on Thursday Nights from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET when we talk lots of hockey. As I've stated here before, low television ratings don't affect my NHL fan self-esteem. I don't care if the NHL never adds another fan. If they just replaced us with a new passionate fan when we die, I'd be fine. The popularity of the NHL has no bearing on my love for the sport. I'm certain the fan base's intimacy is a healthy percentage of my attraction. Case in point: As the NFL has become more popular over the last 20 years, I've liked it less.

With that in mind, if the NHL paid me a large consulting fee to be a part of an NHL think tank, where ideas are thrown around in an attempt to enhance the game and, perhaps, grow it, I would construct the following arguments on fighting, complete with devil's advocate responses (D.A.).

1. The presence of possible fighting deters cheap hits and dangerous stick play.

Devil's Advocate: Mandate full-facial protection, like the NFL. Eye injuries would virtually disappear and dental premiums would probably plummet; or severely penalize stick and head infractions to the point that players can't afford to purposely cross the line. The price would be huge.

2. We need enforcers to protect the stars. Injuries would increase for the most talented players if they were open season for contact all game, every game.

D.A.: When Tom Brady or Marvin Harrison or Shaun Alexander is "jacked up," NFL players don't fight. Even on an illegal hit, players rarely react with fighting. Sometimes there is pushing and shoving, but the 15-yard penalty is bad enough. If the NHL had five- or 10-minute penalties on hits from behind, or 10-minute penalties on intent to injure, those plays would probably decrease. Shouldn't all NHL players be open to receive legal hits?

Quarterbacks are protected, but that's because they are often defenseless in the act of the forward pass, as are punters and kickers while kicking. Their minds are on something else. A runner or receiver or returner knows the deal. All hockey players need to keep their heads up and be prepared to get hit.

3. What about people like Ryan Hollweg of the Rangers or Cam Janssen of the Devils, who run around slamming into people yet neither has scored a point this season? What if one of them tears Sidney Crosby's ACL on one of those torpedo hits? Would a decrease in fighting increase the chances of that happening?

D.A.: That's possible, but if that happens this season, what would happen? Players would fight, and then someone would try to take out Brian Gionta or Patrik Elias or maybe Martin Brodeur. Is that a better alternative? And just because the NHL banned fighting, that doesn't mean there still wouldn't be fights. Baseball and basketball still have fights. Someone can still jump Hollweg and pound at his face, the crowd will be fired up, the player will be ejected and Hollweg will get a 10-minute intent to injure penalty. Then, he'll probably get suspended for 10-15 games. But if Hollweg or Janssen chooses to play a physical game with legal hits, why should he or someone else have to fight? Take out hitting if you're going to do that.

As long as they keep their elbow pads and shoulder pads away from the opponent's head, why can't they bodycheck whomever they want? Maybe we would have a more exciting game with more hitting. Imagine if NFL players had to fight after a good hit. There would be fewer big hits. Of course, hockey is different because play isn't over after a big hit. It usually continues, building a player rage. The end of a football play has a natural drop-off. It's what makes the sport a tough watch in person and a better watch on TV. We get plenty of replays.

Bob Probert, left, and Tony Twist.
Nothing intimidated players more than when Bob Probert, left, was waiting for a fight on the ice.

4. People come to NHL games for the chance to see a fight.

It is a tension that other sports just don't have. It's the gut of the game. It keeps people honest and helps separate the rugged from the weasels. Hockey is the most honest sport that way. Other sports have players talk and strut and dance, but, among those, who are tough and who are poseurs? In the NHL, we know who is or isn't the real deal. My guess is Terrell Owens is not Jarome Iginla, a star who fights. Joey Porter of the Steelers would probably back it up with his fists.

D.A.: If fighting were banned, how many fans would stop watching? More people watch the Olympics and the Stanley Cup playoffs than the regular season. The Olympics have no fighting and the Stanley Cup playoffs have virtually none. If anything, fighting keeps hockey as an extreme sport. Extreme sports, while entertaining, do not garner mass appeal. Ultimate Fighting is a growing sport that will probably flatten. The NHL is probably still viewed as an extreme sport by much of North America. That's cool for the hard-core fan, but it may scare off the casual fan. Mom doesn't want Sparky to see Derek Boogaard break Todd Fedoruk's orbital bone or see Nick Kypreos sleeping in a pool of his own blood. That is part of the game for the hard-core fan, but "extreme" to most of the sporting world. They will take their kids to see professional wrestling -- while it's exciting and well-produced, it's still staged.

5. What if someone dies in a fight?

These men are getting bigger and stronger. These aren't the days of 5-foot-10, 190-pound players, or even 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. This is 6-foot-7, 270 pounds of bare-knuckle fighting on a rock-hard surface. Even Ultimate Fighters have a padded surface. People die from hitting their heads on natural and artificial ice every year. It's why USA Hockey coaches now have to wear helmets in practice. What do we do if someone dies?

We all know it would be on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, "Today" and all the rest for weeks, just like the Todd Bertuzzi incident. Hypothetical tragedy aside, we know this isn't fair in terms of equal time, and perhaps we should not even concern ourselves with this scenario. These same shows have never shown a second of Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby doing something extraordinary. But a fighting death will define the sport to a greater degree than the Bertuzzi moment did, way more than if someone fell headfirst into the boards and died.

In some people's minds, a player death from a fight would have a more negative dynamic simply because they'll know fighting was technically allowed in the game. It's one thing if fighting was against the rules; then, it could be better described as an accident by two out-of-control athletes. But, until fighting is banned, hockey will appear to be an extreme sport, and people generally, though not always, avoid activities that they deem "extreme." Some dissuade their children from such activities even if they partake in them. This all would be bad, something that could fill us with guilt if we saw it coming and didn't take measures to diminish the chances of a hockey mom and dad losing a child.

D.A.: Let me get back to you on that one.

Here is Ross Bernstein's take on fighting as we exchanged e-mails this past week.

Question from Bucci: What is "the code"?

Answer from Bernstein: The genesis for writing the book actually came about following two pretty highly publicized code-violation incidents in the past few years: the "McSorley Incident" and the "Bertuzzi Incident." In both cases, I heard about how these two players had "broken the code," which was even more egregious than the acts themselves. Well, I have written more than 30 sports books and thought I knew a lot about hockey. I was even a walk-on at the University of Minnesota, yet I had never heard of the code before. So, I dug in and started researching and interviewing. What I found was utterly fascinating. So, I spent the next two years interviewing more than 100 players, coaches and media personalities. Their insight and memories help weave the story of why fighting is allowed in professional hockey and how "the code" allows the players to police themselves out on the ice. In a nutshell, "the code" is all about respect, accountability, honor and courage.

What I found was "the code" is actually a living, breathing entity amongst the players and governs how, when, why, where and with whom fights can take place out on the ice. It is the reason pro hockey players don't wear face masks, because, at this level, everybody has to be accountable for their actions. If a player chooses to carry his stick high, run a guy from behind, play dirty, talk smack, take liberties with the other team's star player or do something disrespectful -- then he is going to be confronted and must be responsible for his actions.

At that time, according to "the code," he must "show up" and take his medicine, or risk having the situation escalate and involve additional players. These are the unwritten rules of engagement and they are all covered in "the code."

You see, hockey is, and always has been, a sport steeped in a culture of violence. Players have learned, however, to navigate through its mazes and labyrinths of physical contact by adhering to an honor code of conduct known simply as "the code." While it has been around since the early days of the game's inception more than 100 years ago, it remains a very taboo subject shrouded in secrecy. Many players are simply unwilling to talk about it publicly. Everything from bench-clearing brawls to when and how you can challenge a guy to a fight to settling old scores is all covered within the confines of "the code."

Darcy Tucker
Fighting is still part of the NHL, but, as of late, players like Darcy Tucker have made scoring a more prominent asset.
Q: What would happen if the NHL banned fighting?

A: It would not be good. Believe it or not, fighting serves a purpose in the game and actually deters 99 percent of would-be acts of disrespect and dirty play. Fighting has no place at the youth levels, but in the professional ranks, the game polices itself. The specter of seeing a hulking figure such as 6-foot-7, 275-pound Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard sitting at the end of the bench makes guys think twice about what they do out on the ice. Plus, fighting sells tickets. Like it or not, it is a part of the game.

Q: The World Junior Championship and the Olympics are two of the most popular events in the world and there is no fighting allowed. Do you think the NHL would be less popular or more popular if it banned fighting?

A: Arguably the best case for the anti-fighting lobby is the Olympics, and deservedly so. After all, they are 99.9 percent altercation-free and extremely successful in the TV ratings department, a pretty good indicator of success. Take the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City for instance. Team USA made a riveting run to beat the hated Russians in the semis only to wind up losing to rival Canada in the gold-medal game. The Herb Brooks-led Americans were attempting to become the first gold-medal winners since Brooks' fabled "Miracle on Ice" team of 1980. They came up short, but the interest was there on the home front.

What is even more amazing about this story though, is that not one player from Team USA dropped his gloves during the entire tournament. There was tons of excitement, drama and action, all hallmarks of great games, yet not one fight. The players knew that if they fought, they would receive a game misconduct plus a one-game suspension. The stakes were simply too high.

Opponents look at movies such as "Slap Shot," which satirized hockey's culture of goonery, and they want to clean up their game. They will all agree that it has come a long way since those raucous days of the 1970s, but it's not yet where they want it to be. Opponents want to create a new culture of hockey, one that they can feel proud to take their families to on a Saturday night.

Q: If someone died in a fight, would the NHL ban fighting?

A: This is the $64,000 question. My book chronicles nearly every major lawsuit that has come about in pro hockey over the last century, and I am sure there is a plan for just this worst-case scenario, but I don't have a clue as to what it would be. Frankly, I am shocked that nobody is dead yet, I really am. I mean these guys nowadays are huge. Gigantic. And they have cement blocks for fists. They are trained by professional boxers, too, on how to inflict the most pain and damage. Every year, tragically, a few boxers die in the ring due to fatal head trauma, and I would have to believe that it would be inevitable in pro hockey someday. I pray not, but fear the worst. Bare-knuckle brawling has been around since the dawn of man and is pretty barbaric, but the players know what they are getting into at this level and they fully understand and accept the risks.

Q: From your research, who is the best fighter of all time and why?

A: I spoke to more than 100 people for the book, most of them past and present enforcers, and one name kept coming up over and over as the most feared and respected fighter of all time: Bob Probert. Tony Twist and Joey Kocur are right there with them, but Probie gets the nod in my eyes. Probie had it down to a science, complete with his Velcro, rip-away jerseys and shoulder pads. He didn't want anybody grabbing onto him, and this is why players nowadays have to wear a "fight strap" to keep their jerseys on.

His strategy was to let the guy get in a few early punches and gain a little confidence. He would tire them out, then he would come back strong and just pulverize them. He was relentless. If you ever beat him, you were going to have a rematch either right then and there, or the next game. He had a memory like an elephant and never forgot who got the better of him. There are great stories in the book about how guys laid awake at night in pools of sweat knowing that they were going to have to play Detroit that next evening, knowing Probie was going to be waiting there for them. That is intimidation at its finest.

Q: What would you like to add? The floor is yours.

A: The stories in the book are worth the price of admission, so much fun. My favorite was a doozy that Dave Hanson told in which he wound up going at it with none other than the great Bobby Hull. Dave, of course, was one of the famous fighting "Hanson Brothers" from the classic movie "Slap Shot."

"The most memorable fight I ever got into over my career would have to be the one with Bobby Hull, probably the biggest star in the game at the time," Hanson recalled. "I was with Birmingham and we were playing Winnipeg. I was trying to establish myself as a player in the league and make an impact, so I was playing pretty physical. Well, I am out there skating around and I run into Bobby, which was like running into a brick s--- house. He just bowled me over. So, when the next opportunity came later on in the game, I gave it back to him pretty good. Bobby took offense and dropped his gloves, so I followed suit.

"We were just going at it with lefts and rights, and then, all of a sudden, he just stopped. You could have heard a pin drop in there at that moment. So, I looked up at the crowd and it was like everybody was just frozen. I looked back at Bobby and I am thinking to myself, 'Something doesn't quite look right here.' Sure enough, I looked down at my hand and I'll be damned if his wig wasn't caught in my knuckles. I had somehow caught it and ripped it right off of his head. It was unbelievable.

"They tossed me in the box and threw the book at me. I got two minutes for elbowing, five minutes for fighting and 10 minutes for pulling hair. Well, Bobby skated off and came back out with a helmet after that. Later on, I wound up in the faceoff circle with him and said, 'Mr. Hull, I am really sorry.' Bobby just looked at me, smiled and said in his deep, raspy voice, 'Ah, don't worry about it kid, I needed a new one anyhow.' Bobby and I later became good friends, but to this day, we have never spoken of that night."

For more info on Ross' book, you can check out his Web site at www.bernsteinbooks.com.

John,

I'm writing to let you know a little more about Sgt. Jason Shade, who you wrote about last week. He's my son and he's also probably the most passionate hockey fan who never wore a pair of skates. His plan was to learn to skate and play hockey when he got to Fort Drum, N.Y., all at age 29 with a bad knee. You will never know what having some little bit of the hockey world in Afghanistan meant to him. Thankfully, he should be on his way home at this moment. Thanks for recognizing him and his comrades.

Tom Shade
Reading, Pa.

"End of the road I'm running
And look back to survey where I'd been
Someday I'll write and ask you
If you could imagine what I'd seen

That's when I knew that I was running out on you
That's what you do when time is running out and running down
That's when I knew where I was
That's when I knew that I was home."

-- "Home" by Barenaked Ladies from the CD "Barenaked Ladies Are Me"


Hey John,

Can you please explain to me why the NHL seems to insist on going into (or returning to) hockey-free markets, trying to create a fan base? The NHL should be doing everything in its power to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh, a city whose fans support the team. If it absolutely can't stay in Pittsburgh, move the team to a place where they are guaranteed fan-base success, rather than to a town where they'll have to give away trucks or free food to attract new fans. This doesn't mean they should definitely move to a Canadian city, although there are at least 3-4 cities that would gladly take them and where the team would thrive in the new economic climate. I'd gladly put a second team in Minnesota or Detroit.

Bucci will never give up his love for hockey ... and cheese.
This league's financial stability is based on its fans, not on TV contracts. They should stop trying to put teams in "markets" and start putting failing franchises into places where the fans will appreciate them.

Brian Patrick, Ph.D.
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC

The NHL doesn't own the Penguins. The Penguins own the Penguins. The Penguins lease is up in Pittsburgh. Kansas City is a good sports town with a brand new building the Penguins can play in rent free and mortgage free. They also have been offered streams of revenue from non-hockey events.

Is Kansas City an ideal hockey market? Of course not. For a gate-driven league, it is a risk. It's a smaller television market than Pittsburgh and ticket prices could be an issue as they are in the "mid-major" cities. But I do believe the people of Kansas City would appreciate them. So would Hartford and so would Oklahoma City. Expansion is where the NHL can make its mark. I believe there is enough hockey talent in the world for two more teams, especially in the salary-cap era. I would put one in Ontario and one in Hartford so I can go to NHL games in my backyard. Selfish? Yes. But these are my rules and I make them up. Kansas City will still be there for any current NHL team that is not happy with its profit margins and ticket sales.

Bucci,

Why is it that "Baldsilly's" deal to buy the Penguins franchise reportedly fell through because he was interested in moving the team to Canada, but now people from the Penguins office are touring Kansas City? Why is moving to Kansas City more acceptable than Ontario?

Monica
Vancouver, BC

I'd like the Penguins to stay in Pittsburgh. My second choice is Hartford so I can watch 41 NHL games within 10 minutes from my house. I'll take ANY team moving to Hartford because, as you know, I love all 30 NHL teams equally. It doesn't matter what team. My third choice: I don't care. Ontario, Winnipeg, Kansas City or Mingo Junction, Ohio. I don't care about the schedule, I don't care about teams moving, I just want to watch hockey.


Bucci,

My personal opinion on the problem with the NHL in America isn't bigger nets, larger offensive zones, or even the crackdown of more penalties. The real problem is most people in the United States can't afford to spend the money to let there kids play hockey unless you have an above-average income; this means that most inner-city and lower-income families' children can't afford to play. To me, it's very disappointing to watch a whole generation of kids who would love the chance to lace 'em up, but can't. I honestly hope, in the next few years, to personally start up a program for lower-income families that would help these kids get out there and not only play, but help save the greatest game ever played.

Sincerely,
Nate
Down & Outin Denver

You are correct, sir. Getting people to play and participate in the game is the best way to inoculate them with hockey fever.

I have two sons playing hockey and dues alone are now close to $3,000 a year. Throw in hockey equipment, which can thankfully sometimes last two years, all of the gas money driving to games and practice, and yes it is a MAJOR sacrifice.

Ice Hockey in Harlem is one of the best programs in all of sports, not just hockey. What is Ice Hockey in Harlem? It's is a nonprofit community-based organization in New York City that uses the sport of hockey to promote academic achievement, responsibility, teamwork and good character for kids. The objective of the organization is to provide inspiration, encouragement and guidance to children, leading to better life experiences, education and career opportunities. Since 1987, Ice Hockey in Harlem has enriched the lives of more then 1,000 inner-city boys and girls. In February 2004, the New York Rangers announced a scholarship fund providing Ice Hockey In Harlem participants with funding to local private and parochial schools. As a result, five participants received assistance for educational funding. Every NHL team should have programs such as this. Of course, there is only so much NHL teams can do and they all do something. It is a challenge, but worth every cent.

One reason hockey players are considered so down to earth and approachable is because of the example they received from their parents. To be a hockey parent is to be a selfless person who thinks of others (in this case, your children) first. When it is all said and done, I will have spent about $20,000 just in hockey dues for my boys. That doesn't include equipment, gas, and hot chocolate purchases. While the monetary aspect can't fully be realized by children, the sacrifice made by their parent or parents is. Actions speak louder, and last longer, than words. The most important word in the English language: love. The second most important: sacrifice. Hockey, in more cases than any other sport, teaches love and sacrifice. For the record, the third most important word in the English language: cheese.


Hey John,

Why is there no love for Joe Sakic? He moves into the top 10 of all-time scoring this week and I have yet to see one word written about it. I think that is an amazing accomplishment considering he played a large portion of his career in the slowed-down era of the NHL in the mid-'90s until the lockout.

Rich Clift
Denver

Joe Sakic is truly one of a kind. I can assure you he is NOT underappreciated by anyone in the NHL. He has an outside chance of catching Ray Bourque for ninth this season, but my guess is he will come up a little short and get it next season if he chooses to return at age 38. If he does, he will pass Phil Esposito for eighth all time in points. That's probably the highest Sakic can get on the list. Joe will score his 600th career goal this season on Feb. 18 in Vancouver. He'll be the 17th player to score 600 career goals. He will record is 1,000th assist next season. He'll be the 11th player to do that. He plays golf left-handed. He loves the Seattle Mariners and his favorite style of footwear is the flip-flop. My guess is he has a Weber grill the size of a Zamboni on his back patio. In my upcoming book on Keith Jones, "Jonesy, Put Your Head Down and Skate: The Improbable NHL Career of Keith Jones," here is what Keith wrote about Sakic (well, Jonesy said it and I wrote it):

"Joe Sakic is a tremendous leader by example. He does everything right. Off-ice training, practice, and his consistent play during the games. The complete package. Joe wears the 'C' as captain, but he lets other guys share in the leadership role. Some guys monopolize the power in the room. Joe shares the responsibility. It's not about Joe. It's about the team and it's a big reason why the Avalanche have been so successful for so long."

The book should be set to sell in about a month. Keith is giving all of his proceeds from his book to the charity "Alex's Lemonade Stand." You can read about that charity at alexslemonade.org.


Joe Sakic
Through Sunday's action, Joe Sakic has 592 goals and 942 assists over his career.
Hey John,

Mike Comrie for Alexei Kaigorodov. What was your reaction to the trade?

Greg
Phoenix

Past, present and future journalists take note of Greg's e-mail question. Especially, NHL sideline reporters or anyone who interviews NHL players or executives. Greg's question was short and simple, and asked in the proper how, what or why form. His tone was nonconfrontational with no trigger words to possibly make his subject defensive. He did not ask a "yes" or "no" question. Any sideline reporter who asks a question longer than five seconds should be slew-footed to the sticky, dirty skate mat below. It's not about you, it's about the subject. Remember that, Sparky.

I've never met Comrie, but the opinion of those who have been around him is that he is a selfish and pouty player. Those traits can be dealt with on talented teams who have Alpha Dogs like a Messier or Yzerman, but they can be destructive on scrappy teams like the Coyotes, who require an all-out scrappy effort every night. Comrie is making $3 million this season. That comes to about half a million a month. By dealing Comrie, Phoenix saves almost $1.5 million. That alone is a win.

The Coyotes are playing great hockey right now, but I would still keep dealing veterans to get younger players, draft picks and cap space down the road. I know getting into the playoffs is important for ticket drives and bottom lines, but, long term, I would sell high now and reap the benefits later so they can make runs at people like Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.

Still, I'm sure EVERY team looks at last season's Oilers and says: THAT CAN BE US!


Hi John,

My initial take on the whole "Vote for Rory" thing was that it was completely silly, it was bad for the game, and probably started by someone with no hockey knowledge. I can see now that some actual thought was put into this and it that Steve Schmid is a genuine hockey fan, even if he is trying to use the exposure to land a job with the league (can't knock him for that).

However, I am against the Rory getting the nod for one simple reason. All-Star appearances matter (albeit unofficially) when players are considered for the Hall of Fame. Check out the awards section under each player.

Ben Gardner
Ottawa

I can respect your position, Ben. However, in this case, he would have been replacing either Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer, who are already Hall of Famers.


John,

What do you think is going to happen to Scott Gomez? Do you think he'll be staying with the Devils or should we being saying goodbye now?

Jaime
Sparta, N.J.

Lou Lamoriello is a magician. He has a new arena opening up in Newark next season. The city of Newark contributed $210 million to the arena, which was initially expected to cost $310 million. The Devils are paying for cost overruns. Lou would like to have a player like Scott Gomez to ensure that he has the best team possible to get ticket sales off to a good start.

That being said, it will be tough for New Jersey to sign Gomez, who will command a five-year contract for about the $5 million he is making this season. The salary cap will go up a little bit after all the television deals are signed and sealed. Higher rights fees are on the way from Canada, while the U.S. will probably stay flat after Versus and NBC re-sign. The Rangers might offer Gomez six years to increase their chances of signing him. Gomez is only 27 and has playoff experience. That's a real good free-agent signing. He is durable, likeable and an excellent playmaker ... and an ex-Devil after this season, if not before. I wouldn't be shocked if Lamoriello traded Gomez before the deadline if he believed he wasn't going to sign him to a new deal.


John,

Since you are so good at analyzing organizational shortcomings, would you please weigh in on the state of the Flyers. Do you see their current situation as similar to St. Louis (rapid fall with little sign of recovery) or Carolina and San Jose (tumbles followed quickly by a return to elite status)?

Thanks,
Ethan
Philadelphia

The Flyers are a tough read. A big key to their future success is what will become of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Are they going to be high-end players? I find it hard to believe that Carter won't be an excellent goal scorer. There is so much to like about Richards. If I were the Flyers GM, I would pray Forsberg is healthy by trade deadline time and get a No. 1 and a 3-4 mobile defensive prospect, if possible. I would not re-sign Kyle Calder. The Flyers will pick within the top 3 of next summer's draft. There appears to be no Crosby or Malkin or Ovechkin at the top of the 2007 pool in Columbus, but there will be good, young, fast players available and the Flyers will get a good one. I wouldn't necessarily trade Simon Gagne, but I would explore it. You never know. You might get a good, young player or two, or a No. 1 on draft day. I hope the Flyers don't spend up to the cap over the summer. I would go young and see what happens. Believe it or not, I think it would be a very exciting time to be in the Flyers' front office.


Bucci,

First time, long time. Wanted to see if you plan on doing a column on Stevie Y's jersey retirement. One of the all-time greats, I was lucky enough to see his final spotlight at The Joe last night. Great ceremony. Anyway, I would be interested to read one of your columns devoted to Yzerman and his career.

Ty Brush

I prefer to look the future at this point. I hope Hockey Canada lets Steve Yzerman pick the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team.


John,

I know you are a big proponent of the shootout, and while I like it as a way to end a regular-season game, I do not think a tournament the caliber of the World Juniors should end their semifinal game that way. On top of that, I also think a player should not be allowed to shoot multiple times, you should be forced to use your depth. I hope the NHL never goes to that playoff OT system. A playoff or elimination tournament game should be won by hard work, not a shootout. What do you think?

Isaac Cymrot

I like the shootout as a last resort. Again, for NHL games, I'd like to see a 10-minute, 4-on-4 overtime in NHL games. I prefer no shootouts in the playoffs or World Juniors or NCAA Championship game. But if you want to do it after three overtimes, I'm OK with that. And you might be able to talk me into a shootout after two overtimes.


John,

Please settle a debate I am having with one of my friends. If you were starting an expansion team and could draft either Anze Kopitar or Alexander Frolov from the Kings, who would you take?

I say Kopitar. He says Frolov.

You say ... ?

Lou Anrico

... Kopitar, by an eyelash.
















Hi John,

Great job with your column. We appreciate it overseas every single week. For your "photo album," I have to send you a picture of my trip to Torino last winter. Canada was to blame on the ice, but we had big fun for the ambiance and the finest hockey games. Here's some hope for the future Olympics!

David
Lugano, Switzerland

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.