The annual Naughty or Nice column needs a little modernizing.
Instead of helping Santa Claus (and Opt-Out Claus, his player-agent brother) by way of simple moralistic jargon, we're going to break things down for him the way NHL owners prefer: credits and debits.
Those with credits are those players, teams or executives who have done well enough to deserve a little leeway should their performances tail off in the New Year. Those with debits should just be thankful they aren't paying 700 percent interest on the deficits they've rang up this year like the rest of us.
Credit: Whoever unearthed a 1987 music video in which the entire Calgary Flames roster pretends to sing "You Can't Stop A Flame When It's Red Hot", a "tune" (in the loosest sense of the word) written especially for them. If you thought Jim McMahon's Chicago Bears video or anything recently done by R. Kelly is beyond surreal, get ready for:
--Players fake-playing brass instruments when it's obvious the music is originating from a synthesizer.
--Almost every player lip-synching a verse of his own when it's obvious just one voice is responsible for the singing.
--Mike Bullard taking his featured role waaaaay too seriously.
--A vaguely deranged-looking Mike Vernon.
--Brett Hull, Gary Roberts and Al MacInnis, who like about 21 years old. Combined.
Honestly, it's the scariest video since Don Johnson's "Heartbeat." But we couldn't agree more with Ryan Kennedy, one of our colleagues at The Hockey News, who suggested that every pro sports team should be contractually obliged to do something similar every year. It's the least athletes owe fans for foisting clichés on them night after night.
Debit: Bruins management/ownership for sticking it to Boston's fans yet again by dealing away one of the team's most beloved stars. Joe Thornton might not have been the savior management envisioned, but he wasn't the problem in Beantown. And with all due respect to Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau, what the Bruins got in return isn't the answer. If Jeremy Jacobs managed his players as well as he publicly questions their heart, the Bruins would have a dynasty on their hands. Instead, they have a blueprint to rebuild in hand. Again.
Credit: Alexander Ovechkin. Nobody's saying Sidney Crosby hasn't been superb on an enormously disappointing Penguins team. But there's one reason why we'd choose to watch a Washington game over a Pittsburgh game -- the borderline-cocky Russian kid has more zip to his public persona than Sidney, who graduated summa cum laude from the Wayne Gretzky Institute of Safe and Boring Quotes.
Besides, have you seen some of Ovechkin's on-ice moves? He's so electric, you'd swear he was abandoned as a baby and raised by a pack of Solid Gold Dancers. The NHL is lucky to have his skills, and luckier to have his swagger.
Debit: A Couple of High-Profile Ex-Senators. Patrick Lalime and Jacques Martin have done little do dissuade critics who saw them as the root cause of Ottawa's annual postseason floppery. Granted, Lalime is playing behind a horrendous team in St. Louis, but he hasn't made things any easier for them, either, as attested to by his .868 save percentage.
Martin also has failed to make fans since he headed south. Despite working with a skilled, tough, young lineup in Florida, the Sens' former coach has only come up with 22 points and two road wins. In an unrelated story, North American geologists are predicting a 75-mile radius for the ash spewed during the imminent eruption of Mt. Keenan.
Credit: The NHL for drawing up thrilling plans to expand the playoff race to 20 teams. The "play-in" system, in which the top two teams in each division are guaranteed postseason berths, while the remaining four teams would play a best-of-three series to decide who gets to keep on keepin' on.
Any plan that increases the potential for excitement in as many NHL markets as possible is fine by us. This guarantees more teams will be playing not only to make the playoffs, but also to get guaranteed spots (or in other cases, to even qualify for the play-ins) well into the spring. And imagine the excitement when a shootout will drastically alter a team's fate.
But let's have it sooner than the rumored start date of 2008.
Debit: Jacques Lemaire's offensive strategies. Here's a question for you: how does a team surrender a stingy 65 goals in 27 games, yet find themselves 13th in the Western Conference this year? Here's another: Why in their four-year history have the Wild never broken the 200-mark in goals scored?
The answers seem pretty obvious to us, but the annual "Jacques Lemaire is thought to prefer a defensive, suffocating brand of hockey, but he's really an aficionado of the freewheeling, devil-may-care game" isn't far away. Rabid Minnesota fans deserve far more flash for their cash.
E-mail Adam Proteau at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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