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Monday, March 5, 2007
Erik Johnson is special, not self-centered

By John Buccigross
ESPN.com

San Diego State University professor Jean Twenge recently told David Crary of The Associated Press, "We need to stop endlessly repeating, 'You're special,' and having children repeat that back. Kids are self-centered enough already."

Twenge and her four psychologist linemates examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide, students who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.

The brain doctors surmised that today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than my generation. The psychologists said they're concerned the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.

Twenge also wrote a book titled, "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before." She says narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.

ESPN provides an ideal opportunity to canvas a small sample size of recent college graduates and compare notes with Twenge. The company is strewn with entry-level production assistants, who are a diverse group fresh out of college and starting the long march toward "401K-ville." Not all of them are good at what they do; but this is true of all professions, even doctors and dentists, and that fact has always scared the living Bochenski out of me. Still, I find the ESPN young 'uns to be respectful and pleasant.

But are young hockey players narcissistic? Is Martin St. Louis more narcissistic than Pit Martin? Is Jonathan Toews more narcissistic than Stan Jonathan?

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:
Pen Pals. (Getty Images)

Your submissions:
Rink Announcer: "Now, introducing the The Punxsutawney Penguins!"
Sidney: "Hey Evgeni, looks like spring is coming early."

-- Drew Wallen (St. Paul, Minn., Home of the Boogaard Monster)

"Breaking Bubble Hockey News: The blue team is in big trouble now that the red team has acquired Evgeni and Sid."
-- Kevin (Moon Twp., Pa.)

Photo courtesy of Zdeno Chara.
-- Jason Silva (Sagamore Beach, Ma.)

"Malkin -- 71; Crosby -- 87; 7+1+8+7=23. Go ahead tell yourself it's just a number."
-- Mike Lau (Bronx, N.Y.)

"Welcome to Heaven. You'll be playing on the Crosby/Malkin line."
-- Chris Flynn (Boston)

God's view of heaven on earth.
-- Justin Cirillo (Orlando, Fla.)

THIS WEEK:
Mark Messier walking in Glen Sather's office. (Getty Images)

Which brings me to Erik Johnson ...

St. Louis selected Johnson, an 18-year-old freshman defenseman at Minnesota, with the first overall draft pick in the 2006 draft. He is part of the first generation of American hockey players who grew up watching the NHL mostly on ESPN. That includes the two-time Emmy-nominated "NHL 2Night," which was cancelled in 2004. Since then, American hockey-playing boys and girls have been without a nightly national NHL highlight show. This wrong must be righted!

Erik is part of the U.S. college generation Twenge apparently finds more narcissistic than previous generations, which produced Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin and Chuck Woolery. American hockey players are viewed by some as spoiled individualists. Yes, self-centered. This sweeping sociological assumption is heightened around the World Junior Championships, held every year around the season of "giving." It has caused unnecessary, bad feelings between the States and Canada the past few years.

I would say the "teamwork" issue has more to do with better coaching in Canada, where the talent is deeper and patriotism is cuddlier than it is in the United States. Hockey is No. 1 in Canada and part of the country's fabric. That unity is something American hockey should emulate, starting more at the mite level -- the demand that everyone plays and thinks as a team. This can happen with strong personalities like Herb Brooks, Jack Parker and Shawn Walsh. But lately, I believe we have seen more teamwork in the States, which is why more American-born players like Johnson are getting drafted in the first round.

Johnson is confident and assertive. To play NHL hockey, you better be, especially if you're a young defenseman deciding to play pro hockey next fall (it sounds like that is his intention right now). This season, Johnson has three goals and 17 assists in 34 games. All of his goals have come on the power play. He leads the Golden Gophers in shots and blocked shots as they begin the WCHA playoffs this weekend. Earlier in the season, Minnesota was my pick to win the national championship. Last season, my midseason pick was Wisconsin. The prediction turned out right. You see, the kids come to me for advice like this, and as always, it's for the kids.

What follows is my e-mail exchange Johnson. I love his confidence and optimism. His ability to express himself is also impressive. When I was 18, I was nerdy and clueless. Part of me would like to see Johnson stay in college for four years, so he can volunteer, study abroad for a semester, learn another language and study the subtle differences between Nickelback and Hinder. That's what I would do if I had the opportunity to go back.

Let's face it -- we go to college mostly to prepare for a good job so we can live in a safe neighborhood, drive a safe car and tell our kids how special they are. Johnson has a job waiting for him, a job that will potentially pay him a million bucks this fall. Isn't that special?

He is anxious to get to work.

Question from Bucci: Describe your upbringing. What did your parents do? What was your house like? What was your neighborhood like?

Answer from Johnson: I was raised in a very good family. Both my parents instilled in me an honest work ethic and to do things that were right. Both of them, and my sister, have supported me through everything, and I would not be where I am today without them. My dad, Bruce, was an extremely hard worker and eventually became the president of a large lumber distribution company. My mom, Peggy, did the best job I think any mother could ever do, and kept the house running and my dad, sister and I in order. We moved to a great neighborhood just before my freshman year of high school. It was just overlooking a lake and on the outskirts of a park reserve. It was a great place to grow up.

[You were born in Minnesota on March 21, 1988. I suppose you are aware of that. On that same day in 1988, Kiss played a concert in Salt Lake City; Anthrax was the opening act. I suppose that's not why your name is spelled with a "k," but that's the story I would go with when you talk to the media.]

Q: Who was your favorite NHL team growing up? Do you still root for them?

A: Growing up, I loved the Vancouver Canucks. I desperately wanted them to win the '94 finals against the Rangers and was so upset when they lost in Game 7. I was a huge Pavel Bure fan. I don't root for anything Canadian anymore, except the Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau.

[Justin Morneau was born in British Columbia. Last season, he hit .321 with 34 home runs and 130 RBIs. He narrowly beat out Derek Jeter for the American League MVP award. Joe Mauer should have won MVP. You were 6 years old during the 1994 Stanley Cup finals. I don't remember anything from when I was 6, except that I loved Apple Jacks.]

Marissa Miller
Marissa Miller is Bucci's dream PlayStation partner.

Q: Who are your "go-to" bands in your iPod?

A: I like to mix it up a lot. I usually go right across the board. I like everything, from Kenny Chesney to Nelly to Limp Bizkit. I like all music.

[I just threw up! Two of those artists I can handle, but ... thanks, dude!]

Q: What is your height and weight right now as you sit in your dorm room?

A: As I sit here on my beautiful futon, I stand 6-foot-4 and weigh about 223 pounds. Working out does wonders Bucci. You should try it some time! :)

[Sparky, if we walk into Marisa Miller's apartment right now in our bathing suits, she's playing PlayStation with me and you're heading to 7-Eleven to buy us chips and Slurpees. I put the "preacher" in "preacher curls."]

Q: Will you be playing in the NHL next season?

A: Let me first start off by saying that I think it was a great choice to come to Minnesota this year. It was a great steppingstone. But next year, I really think I need to make the jump in competition in order to keep developing the way I want to. I think here at Minnesota, I could have been used more effectively in the system, so that has been frustrating. But, overall, it has been a fun time and I have really enjoyed my time here and I desperately want to win a national title. Next year will be decided after the season, though.

[Sounds like a St. Louis real estate agent is going to get a nice commission within a few months.]

Q: Have you stopped going to class?

A: Many times, I have been really close to stopping, but no, I am there pretty regularly. My classes are somewhat interesting, and it gives me something to do other than hockey. After hockey is over, it will be tough.

[Wow! Honesty! How rare. I like these nonpackaged answers. Hopefully, IMG won't get a hold of you. This not-going-to-class thing in college happens a lot in every sport. If a student-athlete knows he or she is not going to return to school the following year, they usually stop going to class. I'm not one to cast stones. If I was in the same situation, I would do the same thing. Hang out in my dorm room, go to the cafeteria and enjoy college life.]

Q: Will you fight in the NHL?

A: I certainly am not going to be a player where all I am looking for is to fight just to fight. But when it comes to fighting or standing up for a teammate or sending a message to an opposing team, then that is something I would fight for.

[My suggestion? Go after Martin Biron.]

Q: What do you do best on the ice?

A: I think skating is probably my biggest gift given my size, and I think that will help me out in the new NHL. Also, I think I see the ice really well and make a great first pass. And shooting the puck is something I pride myself on. One thing that goes unnoticed a lot that I think I do really well is my stick position, having my stick in the right area to deflect passes and shots. That really pays dividends to my physical game, because if I have good stick position, it is a lot easier to finish my man. I really think I need to work on all these skills and fine-tune them so I can continue to get better and be a threat at the next level.

Land Rover
Land Rover. Future car of Erik Johnson.

[Sounds like Chris Pronger without the gap in his teeth.]

Q: What do you and your teammates need to do to win the national championship?

A: We need to play a full 60 minutes and have no letdowns. That has kind of been our problem this year. We have given up a lead too many times and it just kills us when we do that. We need to be gritty, tough and get pucks and bodies to the net. We are a very skilled team, but we need to constantly have that junk yard-dog mentality.

[Minnesota is 26-8-3. The Gophers split their two-game series vs. Michigan Tech over the weekend.]

Q: I watched Prince's "Purple Rain" 47 times during my freshman year of college. What movie have you watched the most?

A: Did you ever go to class, Bucci? Man. I can honestly say I don't think I have watched a movie more than twice here at the U. I think the movie I have watched the most, though, is "Blow" with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. Great flick.

[No comment on the class attendance. I had a problem going to any class that began before noon.]

Q: What number do you want to wear in the NHL?

A: I usually change my number every year, unless I am on the same team for consecutive years. But I think I want to wear either 6 or 44 in the NHL.

[Please go with 44. I don't like 6. No. 44 is cool and it will look good on you.]

Q: Have you ever gone skinny-dipping?

A: It is almost a rule in Minnesota that you haven't lived if you haven't gone skinny-dipping. So, yes, I have. You want to go sometime, Bucci?

[My schedule's full, dude. Ask Kyle Okposo or Shjon Podein.]

Q: Have you ever ridden a horse?

A: Yeah, every year my family goes on a trip together and we always go horseback riding. It is a lot of fun. One time, we saw a pack of bears on a river trail. We got out of there pretty fast.

[I've never ridden a horse, but I have ridden a bear.]

Q: What strength exercise would you recommend to young hockey players who read this column?

A: Squats, 100 percent, all the way. Leg strength is so crucial. When I went to the national team in Michigan, it was something that helped me out so much. It improved my skating so much. It is such an important part of the game, in my opinion.

[Abs in, back straight, shoulders back, head straight ahead, stay on your heels. The squat is indeed the finest exercise a man or woman or bear can do.]

Q: What are you going to do this summer?

Ferris Bueller
Quick! Which one looks like Bucci?!

A: This summer is going to be solely about getting better. I am getting a four- or five-day-a-week workout program set up with my strength coach at Minnesota. Doing the skating treadmill down at the U and working on my game. I know this summer is huge for me, if I want to make the impact I want to make next year. Also, I might go to L.A. with my advisors, Dee Rizzo and Pat Brisson, with guys like Jack Johnson and Jonathan Toews, who they also represent. I am really looking forward to the summer.

[Pat Brisson! By this time next year, you'll be giving me Sidney Crosby-Tiger Woods answers. I'll enjoy this while I can.]

Q: How many Supreme Court Justices are there?

A: I am almost 100 percent sure that there are nine.

[You Googled that, you fraud!]

Q: When I was your age, I caught a foul ball at a Major League Baseball game. Have you ever caught one?

A: I caught one about two years ago. I was at the Twins game and I was sitting in the upper deck above first base. Shannon Stewart was up to bat and he smacked one in our general direction. It landed about 30 feet from me, hit a railing and directed right over into my hands. It was really cool. I was surprised I caught it because my buddies were pushing me, trying to get it, and the ball had a ton of spin on it.

[That's cool. Mine was hit by a player named Marvel Wynn, who once played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I gave it to the girl sitting next to me, Cheryl Wilson. It didn't help.]

Q: Are you aware that the longer you wait to get married, the better-looking your wife will be?

A: I have heard that before, but I don't think I believe it.

[Believe it.]

Q: Tell me something you've never told anyone else -- a secret, a fear, a goal, a strange or interesting thing that's happened to you.

A: I want to win the Stanley Cup, but I have told people that a lot since I was 5. But I have a goal and I want to win the Norris Trophy.

[The agents have gotten a hold of you since we started e-mailing, haven't they? They saw the skinny-dipping question, didn't they? I was expecting a better answer, E. If you told me you wanted to win a Vezina, I would have been more impressed.]

Q: What car are you going to get when you sign your first pro contract?

A: I really want to get a Range, but my mom tells me they have electrical problems. I am not a really flashy guy, so I might get something like a new Tahoe or a Lincoln Aviator, some kind of SUV.

[Mom is a Range Rover expert? Weird. Get a Lincoln MKX. Like you, it also ends in a "K." Alloy exterior and Greystone interior. It suits you. It's nice to hear a young person indirectly quote R.E.M. lead singer and poet Michael Stipe from the song, "I Believe." In fact, I see a lot of you and your philosophy in that song, which is one of my top-three all-time favorite R.E.M. songs. You have heard of R.E.M., haven't you? Here are some sample lyrics from "I Believe." Download the song, listen to it while you squat this summer and then play it in your 2007 Lincoln MXK next fall on your way to the Blues' home opener.

Michael Stipe
"IIIIIIIIIIIII believe ..."
"When I was young and full of grace
and spirited -- a rattlesnake.
When I was young and fever fell
My spirit, I will not tell
You're on your honor not to tell

I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract
Explain the change, the difference between
What you want and what you need, there's the key,
Your adventure for today, what do you do
Between the horns of the day?

I believe my shirt is wearing thin
And change is what I believe in

When I was young and give and take
And foolish said my fool awake
When I was young and fever fell
My spirit, I will not tell
You're on your honor, on your honor

Trust in your calling, make sure your calling's true
Think of others, the others think of you
Silly rule golden words make, practice, practice makes perfect,
Perfect is a fault, and fault lines change

I believe my humor's wearing thin
And change is what I believe in

-- "I Believe" by R.E.M.

Q: Have you watched any Blues games this year?

A: Yeah, when I drive home, I will watch them on the NHL package. They have been a really fun team to watch as of late and I am really excited about the future of that organization.

[Do you know the St. Louis arch is hollow? You can ride a small little transporter up to the top. It's not worth the discomfort for you, since you are 6-foot-4, 6-foot-6 with the afro. Of course, I did it in August when it was 104 degrees.]

Q: Did you watch "NHL 2Night" growing up and what did you think of the show and the host?

A: Absolutely. It was my favorite show. I would have to beg my dad to let me stay up and watch the dynamite tandem of some guy named John Buccigross and the legendary Barry Melrose. Hahaha! J/k, Bucci! But no, I really enjoyed the show and I wish ESPN would start covering hockey again instead of World's Strongest Man and bowling and pool.

[Pool or a pond? A pond would be good for you. "J/k" stands for just kidding, apparently? You kids today with your abbreviations. So cute. Oh, and you forgot the poker coverage.]

Q: What do you get when you go to Denny's?

A: I think I have been to Denny's once and I don't remember what I got. I am more of an organic food guy. I was raised vegetarian until I was about 8.

[Are you being raised as a carnivore now? You know, if the cavemen didn't start eating protein, via meat, our brains would still be the size of a walnut. I went to Denny's last weekend after Jackson's mite game at the University of Connecticut. I had the Grand Slam Slugger and he had the Jr. Grand Slam. Jack is being raised a saturated fat-ian. You've been to Denny's once? I bet I've been to Denny's, and I'm serious, about 300-500 times in my life. And I'm still alive to talk about it.]

Q: What's your nickname?

A: Usually along the line of E.J., E, Johns, Johnny and Horse. Either one of them I am fine with. People have called me E ever since I was really young. My dad's buddy Greg started calling me Horse when I was really, really young.

[Erik, why the long face?]

Q: The floor is yours. Say something about anything, but make it good.

A: I hope everyone enjoyed the Q&A as much as I did. Set your goals high and work as hard as you can to achieve them. The harder your work, the luckier you get, and how much you put into something is what you will get out of it. Thanks everyone, and thank you Bucci.

[Erik, you were born to be a hockey player. Now go out there and take it from them.]

John,

I wanted to know what you thought about all the trade-deadline deals made this week. Who do you think made the best move and do you think one team greatly improved their playoff chances? The latter certainly wasn't my beloved Rangers. As you said in your column this week, they are dead. It's time to make some major changes in the organization or we'll continue to be a mediocre team at best. What do you think the Rangers need to alter? How do you feel about the possibility of losing Jagr in order to gain two young, rising stars to help build for the future? Thanks a lot.

Let's Go Rangers?
Andrew Sienkiewicz

Ryan Smyth
Bucci believes the Oilers did not handle the Smyth contract talks well.
In terms of pure deadline deals, Ryan Smyth was clearly the best player who changed teams. He has a shot at 40 goals this season. It's hard to get 40-goal scorers at the deadline. Smyth is also tough, experienced and hungry. He is playing for a Cup and playing for a contract. He is now the Islanders' best player. When you acquire a player like that, it's a great deal. Islander fans, GM Garth Snow gave up a whole bunch of nothing for what is now the best player on your team. Could the package end up as something of value for Edmonton? Maybe. But, as of this second, it is a whole vat of nothingness. And you got Ryan Smyth. Rejoice!

I think this move locks up a playoff spot despite the Islanders' substandard defensive corps. The Islanders are not a great skating team, which, at times, puts a lot of pressure on their defense. That's not very good. Rick DiPietro has to play his best hockey and win some games down the stretch. The Islanders were 9-4 in February and I like their schedule the rest of the way. I think they'll get in. The Oilers? I think they are a piece of doggy wallop for how they handled the Smyth negotiations. Smyth gave his heart and soul to that team. He was productive. He did everything right. When an employee asks for a little bit more, you give it to him, especially when he wasn't asking for anything more than his market value. In fact, with unrestricted free agency coming this summer, Smyth was giving the Oilers a break by signing a deal now. He might get a six- or seven-year offer this summer. I don't blame Smyth one bit for standing his ground. As I write this, he has 67 goals the last two seasons. Iginla? 65. Nash? 50. Naslund? 53. Sundin? 57.

Buffalo's acquisition of Dainius Zubrus was an excellent depth move. He's big and fast and fits right in with Buffalo's scheme. He should help the Sabres secure the No. 1 seed in the East despite all of their injuries.

Jagr? He just turned 35 and is still the Rangers' best player. That is not a good sign. I wouldn't trade him if NHL games were played in a vacuum. The problem is the rest of the team. Just in case it doesn't get any better, Jagr at least gives season-ticket holders have something to watch next season. Now, if the Flyers want to trade one of those young defenseman and Jeff Carter, I'd think about that if I were the Rangers. I bet if the Rangers talked to the Flyers about Jagr, the Flyers would listen. Ed Snider is a competitive owner and the Flyers could get better fast. Plus, Jagr's contract number is manageable since Washington is still paying a portion of this deal. Next season is the last of Jagr's current contract. He will have a lot of incentive to play well and secure another lucrative deal, perhaps his last. All of that adds up to a trade only if it makes sense for the Rangers and the team who would get Jagr. I think a Kings-Rangers trade is an interesting fit. L.A. has some young players and cap room. Imagine Jagr, Frolov and Kopitar on the power play?

John,

Just wait until Ryan Smyth sees how high property taxes are out here on Long Island. Then you'll see some real crying!

Matt
Hicksville, N.Y.

I hear Diddy is eschewing the Hamptons for Red Deer for that very reason.


Bucci,

I am the pizzeria owner in Buffalo who is raising the $10,000 to pay for Lindy Ruff's fine. We have talked with the Sabres and have agreed we can raise the money through our sales and donate it to charity. It's been pretty cool how this story has been picked up by everybody and to see it on ESPN was something else for us. Anyway, the reason I am writing is to say your thoughts on the Drury hit could not have been put better. Your thoughts are much more eloquent than mine. Mine could not be reprinted. They need to change the equipment these guys use. Go back to some version of the older stuff. The elbow and shoulder pads are like concrete. I laugh when I see my old gear in the basement. If only these fools who run the league would get a clue. Go Sabres. I hope they can get healthy and get it done. If you run into Ted Nolan, tell him he's doing another great job and we miss him in Buffalo. It's almost playoff time. Can you feel it?

Jim Dickey
Pesci's Pizza & Wings
Buffalo, N.Y.

Order a large Tony Soprano Special Pizza from Pesci's Pizza & Wings and tell them Bucci sent you. (716) 635-4400.

John,

When you have time, review the hit Stevens put on Lindros that ended his career in Philly, potentially his career overall. Should Stevens have been suspended? Fined? At least a penalty? I agree with you that if an elbow to the head is a penalty, than any body part used to hit another player in the head is also a penalty.

Still missing "NHL 2Night!"
Joseph T. Roberts

I don't have a problem with the Stevens-on-Lindros hit because it was a head-on it at high speed while Lindros had the puck. Stevens' first order of business is protecting and bracing himself from Lindros, who was at top speed. Lindros had the play in front of him and was staring at the puck like there was a picture of Marisa Miller on it. Yes, Kelly Monaco out, Marisa Miller in.

Hi John,

Eric Lindros
Bucci says the infamous Scott Stevens-Eric Lindros hit was different than the recent Neil-Drury incident.
First, I was at the Ottawa-Buffalo game in Buffalo, cheering for Ottawa (my first ever away-fan experience). It was, by far, the best hockey game that I have attended live. That game had it all, two two-goal comebacks (one by each team), a lot of great hits, a line brawl and a goalie fight. That is what hockey is all about. It was well worth the two-and-half-hour drive and I was still pumped the next day.

Now, you claim that the hit was two seconds after the shot/pass by Drury. Two of the Sports Networks in Canada (including the one partially owned by ESPN) timed the play. The result is that Chris Neil hit Drury 0.5 seconds after Drury let go of the puck. That is less the amount of time it takes for a pitch to leave the pitcher's hand and cross home plate. It is less than the amount of time for a slap shot from the point to reach the net. I don't see how that can be considered late at all. You also seem to blame Neil for making a hit that was 100 percent within the rules. It's one thing to disagree with the rule, but blaming players who make legal hits for it is a little over the top.

You also fail to address the reason why Drury "could have been killed." It wasn't the hit, it was his loose chin strap. If Drury's helmet doesn't come flying off, his head doesn't hit the ice and he doesn't get cut. If players don't want to wear their safety equipment properly, then they shouldn't be surprised when they get hurt. The helmet is probably the most important piece of safety equipment in the NHL, yet many players do not wear their helmets correctly. It is too bad Drury got seriously hurt, but I bet his chin strap will be done up properly the next time he plays.

Darrell Gaudette
Waterloo, Ontario

Drury was basically hit from behind while following through on a shot. He was defenseless.


Hi John,

Wish "NHL2Night" was still around. Quick questions. For years, I always thought the home team wore their white jersey (Red Wings/white) and on the road, wore their dark jersey (Red Wings/red). This year, when watching the Wings games, I notice them wearing red at home and white on the road sometimes. Is their a rhyme or reason to the jersey color anymore? My 5-year-old son keeps asking me when we are watching (his hockey questions are great and he always wants to know if the Wings are playing in Detroit).

Please help!
Paul Alati
Detroit Red Wings fan
Portland, Ore.

As part of the new Reebok uniform unveiling next season, my sources tell me the NHL is going back to white at home and there will be no third jersey.


John,

Any chance Lecavalier wins the MVP this year? He has developed into a force for the Lightning and will finish the season first is goals and top 3 in points. All I hear is Crosby and Brodeur. How can the leading goal scorer not be seriously considered for the MVP? What do you think?

Thanks,
Sean Panico
Tampa, Fla.

Vincent Lecavalier should be in the MVP discussion. He plays a lot and scores a lot. He hasn't been great in shootouts (3-for-11), but it hasn't mattered. As I write this, the Bolts are 10-1 in shootouts. The top 5 MVP candidates in no particular order are probably Lecavalier, Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Sidney Crosby and Nicklas Lidstrom.


John,

The two funniest words you're ever put side by side in this column were: "His Loobness." Please use again in a sentence.

Hakan Loob
We're bringing back Hakan Loob, just because we can!
John Lavelle
Sandwich, Ma.
(P.S.: Where is Peter Puck buried?)

"His Loobness is periodically, symbolically on my back."

My buddy Joshua recently sent me a vintage Hakan Loob sweater from the 1989 Calgary Flames with the Stanley Cup patch on the side. Too sweet. Peter is in a bucket somewhere in northern Minnesota.


John,

If the Isles get into the playoffs, does Coach Nolan have a shot at "Coach of the Year?" If not, who are your top three picks? Maybe "Comeback NHLer of the Decade?"

Thanks,
Augie Pereira
Merrick, N.Y.

Right now? Top three coaches? Ted Nolan, Michel Therrien and Lindy Ruff.


Hello John,

A few weeks back you had a column which asked what was wrong with the NHL? I responded and one of my rants was about the cost of tickets. I just received a letter from the Devils that the 2007-08 season-ticket costs will skyrocket from a discounted price of $70 for the top ticket. I sit in Section 109, almost center ice. In the new Devils arena, my ticket cost will now be $150 per game. That is more than double the current ticket price.

I am a guy who earns a nice living, but I complain today about the cost of two tickets to a Devils game of $140, plus parking of $12. That's now $152 per game. This fall, it will be $300 for two tickets to one game. This is what is wrong with the NHL. Who is going to be able to afford to go to a Devils game? Will they ever fill the building again?

Best regards
John J. Wagner


Yo John,

Just finished listening to Melrose's podcast and I realized what's been missing from hockey since the lockout -- ESPN's National Hockey Night theme music. ESPN either needs to do a TV deal with the NHL, sell the music rights to Versus or play the music in the background whenever it shows hockey highlights on SportsCenter. Also, what do you think the chances are that Pavel Datsyuk is back in Detroit next season?

Nick
East Lansing, Mich.

Considering what he's been asking for and considering his playoff statistics as a Red Wing (42 games, three goals, 12 assists, 15 points), I would think Pavel Datsyuk would not return to Detroit next season. Only a big-time playoff season could keep him in Detroit.


Hey John,

Just curious to what your feelings are about the Philadelphia Flyers for next season? They have about $22 million to $23 million of cap next season, and if you were GM, what would you do to the roster?

Thanks,
Michael Walsh
Philadelphia

Sign Martin Biron to a four-year, $16 million deal. I would reach a consensus on what the ceiling is for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Seeing them every day, they should have a pretty good idea right now. If the Flyers want to win now, I would look to see if any one would give them good players for Carter and Richards. I'm not saying I would give them away, but just dip their toes in the water. I don't see their roster being strong enough to sign a $6-7 million player like Daniel Briere.

If Carter and Richards break out next season, that changes things. I do believe Carter could be a 30-goal scorer next season. Richards is starting to produce of late. If those guys are top-six forwards, and you add Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, then signing a free-agent forward and drafting one with the first- or second-overall pick makes sense. The next two lines can come from Upshall, Fedoruk, Umberger, Kapanen and Co. From there, Sheldon Souray would be a Ryan Howard, 500-foot home run signing for the Flyers. I would sign him and make him the captain.


Dear John,

My first son will be born in May (right in the middle of the playoffs), and I am having a difficult time coming up with a name. I've seen you help out other readers in the past, and thought you might throw a suggestion my way. Any suggestions for a baby boy from a Dutch heritage that is already being described by the doctors as "robust"?

GO STARS!
Jeff Van Houten
Dallas

When I think robust, I think Max. Max Van Houten. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.


John,

How good would Cam Neely be in today's NHL?

Chris Kenney
Boston

Cam Neely was so great, he could have played in any era because he was so skilled and tough.


John,

This is Mark William Andreski (five months). He is the youngest of eight (four boys, four girls). He is being indoctrinated at a young age to be a Wingnut for life. As transplanted Michiganders to Colorado, we consider ourselves the Wings' biggest fan club in the state. In our family, hockey IS the game. We play, watch and study the history of the sport. If all the other sports besides hockey disappeared tomorrow, it would not bother me to much. For me, a "cannot miss" is your weekly column and Don Cherry's "Coaches Corner."

Jeff A.
Loveland, Colo.

A song for Mark William ...

I hate to see you cry
Lying there in that position
There's things you need to hear
so turn off your tears
and listen

Pain throws your heart to the ground
love turns the whole thing around
no it won't all go the way
it should
but I know the heart of life is good

You know it's nothin' new
bad news never had good timing
then the circle of your friends
will defend the silver lining

Pain throws your heart to the ground
love turns the whole thing around
no it won't all go the way
it should
But I know the heart of life is good

Pain throws your heart to the ground
love turns the whole thing around
fear is a friend who is
misunderstood
but I know the heart of life is good

At this moment, John Mayer's "The Heart of Life," from his latest CD Continuum, is the finest three minutes and 19 seconds inside my 2001 Nissan Maxima. Download it, buy it, live it.


















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