Archive for November, 2010
By Stu Hackel
Depending on your rooting interest, he’s either St. Sidney or Sid Vicious — few people seem to feel anything in between. But love him or hate him, no one should deny what Sidney Crosby does with a puck when a hockey game is to be won.
Crosby may or may not have kicked Ryan Callahan’s skates out from under him last night at Madison Square Garden — it sure looks like he did from the replay — but if that’s your main takeaway from the Penguins’ 3-1 win over the Rangers, you’re missing some great hockey.
The incident in question (described and well illustrated by Greg Wyshynski last night on Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog for those who missed it) was of minor consequence in the outcome of the match. The Rangers didn’t play a solid game last night and were especially anemic in the second period when the Penguins took command. Pittsburgh played consistently, if not thrillingly, for their fifth win in a row. They now have 19 points in their last 20 games and they did it because Crosby orchestrates their attack as well as any player does for any team in hockey.
The Penguins skated well, but had trouble getting pucks to the net in the first period because the Rangers’ checking scheme took important areas of the ice away from them. They made some adjustments in the second period, starting with long passes through the neutral zone that opened the ice for them, allowed them to gain the offensive zone and spend some quality time there or create odd man rushes. The goal that turned out to be the game-winner displayed that adjustment and Crosby’s talents quite well.
By Stu Hackel
In his prime, Bobby Hull was Original Six hockey’s most dangerous and prolific goal scorer. With his lethal slap shot, his powerful skating, matinee idol good looks and ability to bring fans out of their seats, the Golden Jet was the game’s top drawing card, the biggest sports star in Chicago and, to opponents and fans of other teams, the most feared player in the league.
Younger fans who primarily know him as Brett’s father likely can’t begin to appreciate Hull’s talent or charisma. The thrilling sight of him flying down left wing, wearing that famous sweater with the Indian head crest on his chest and with puck on his stick lifted fans out of their seats throughout the league. Enemy coaches would draw up their entire game plans with stopping Hull as the focus. He’d absorb all variety of physical punishment and come back for more. A first team All-Star 10 times and the first player to break the 50-goal barrier, he would famously make his team’s bus wait at the arena after a game while he fulfilled every autograph request and answered every fan’s question. For fans of a certain generation, Hull was it.
In 1972, when Hull jumped from the NHL to the WHA, “It shook the entire sports industry,” according to the new book The Golden Jet, by Bobby Hull with Bill Verdi (Triumph Books, 300 pages). “Only one player could provide the rival league with instant credibility and traction: Bobby Hull. His move, rife with pressure to produce, immediately enhanced the value of players in either league.”
By Stu Hackel
When you strip away their economic might and level of media attention that are wildly at odds with with their on-ice success, there is one glaring fact about the Toronto Maple Leafs that stares you in the face: From a competitive standpoint, they are largely irrelevant.
Once upon a time, the Leafs were the best team in the NHL, a formidable collection of rock hard, mostly veteran athletes whose various talents blended seamlessly. Their reward was three successive Stanley Cup championships (1962-64), and four in six years.
Those Leafs were classy and even colorful…
…and everyone loved (and still does) their ageless goalie Johnny Bower, who not only stopped pucks with the best of them, but also had something of a hit song.
By Stu Hackel
Thrashers GM Rick Dudley is probably not waiting with breathless anticipation, but it appears that Jeremy Roenick owes him an apology.
When the Thrashers announced in training camp that they would play Dustin Byfuglien on defense, there was something of an outcry among fans and observers that this was not the best use of Big Buff’s talents. He’d enjoyed a very impressive playoff performance as a power forward during the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run, but many wondered why Dudley traded for him if he and coach Craig Ramsay were going to turn Byfuglien into something else.
No one was more outspoken than former Blackhawk Roenick who — in characteristic bombastic fashion — let fly to The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore:
“That might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Dustin Byfuglien as a defenseman. I would love to play against Dustin Byfuglien as a defenseman. I would turn him inside out, left, right and center every single time. This kid, he made his living in front of the net scoring goals during the playoffs for the Chicago Blackhawks. Why on earth would you put him back as a defenseman? This kid is strong, he’s powerful, he’s a great skater. Put him in front of the net as a forward. That’s where you want him to do all his damage. Playing him as a defenseman? Maybe that’s why the Thrashers are 0-3 in preseason. Maybe that’s why nobody comes to watch their games. It’s crazy. What are they thinking? They already have a GM that doesn’t know the game whatsoever. But, hey, that’s just my opinion. Like me or hate me if you don’t [agree]. I’m not a big fan of Atlanta for a lot of reasons, but the fact that they’re going to play Dustin Byfuglien [as a defenseman], my goodness gracious.”
Well, that certainly got people’s attention, which is something at which J.R. (his detractors call him P.R.) excels. But he didn’t seem aware that Byfuglien had been drafted as a defenseman by the Hawks and had played the position quite a bit when the need arose due to injury. Buff wasn’t a stranger to the blue line.
By Stu Hackel
Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars currently sits sixth in NHL scoring (10-15-25 in 19 games) and he’s in the final year of his contract. Meanwhile, the franchise continues to live with ownership uncertainty. The Tom Hicks mess forced the Stars under the control of a group of lenders led by Monarch Investment Group and Galatioto Sports Partners with no potential buyer close to making a deal. This raises the question of whether the team will be able to sign Richards to a contract extension, or be forced to deal him before the trade deadline, or risk losing him to free agency on July 1.
The complexities of the situation mean that the negotiations to keep Richards may involve the team, the NHL, the lenders and Hicks’ people. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk has huddled with Commissioner Gary Bettman to communicate how much the Stars would like to keep Richards, how happy Richards is playing for Dallas, and to keep everyone aware that the clock is ticking on his free agency.
By Stu Hackel
What’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin?
Ovie has been Novie more often than not lately. Last night in New Jersey was the fourth game in his last six in which he didn’t register a point. Perhaps not coincidentally, three of those four games were on the road. Overall in those six games, he’s produced a goal and two assists and is a minus-3.
Everyone has bad stretches, but stats aside, Ovechkin’s characteristic passion and explosiveness are absent. What made the hockey world fall in love with Ovie was his all-energy, all-the -time performances, regardless of who he’s playing against. Even his detractors would admit that he’s hockey’s most exciting player when he’s on his game.
But when his team is flat, Ovechkin is the guy that coach Bruce Boudreau relies upon to re-inflate the Caps. Hasn’t been happening lately.
By Stu Hackel
We don’t often agree with Mike Milbury. His rantings on Hockey Night in Canada‘s “The Hotstove” intermission segment are legendary for often being shot from the hip. But he sounded uncharacteristically reasonable in his comments on the “Colie-mail” controversy, blogging on CBC.ca and saying on Saturday night (video) that while he didn’t suspect any wrongdoing in the matter, the problem lies in Colin Campbell’s inability to acknowledge that he did anything wrong and show any remorse.
“He screwed up!” Milbury wrote. “And the commissioner screwed up by not saying he screwed up!…
“The NHL and its chief of hockey operations made mistakes. Those mistakes have impacted Marc Savard. Call the guy and tell him it never should have happened. Apologize to the PA and the fans. Hockey people know Campbell’s reputation and if it’s as strong as the league statements of support would have you believe, then there is plenty of political capital to use to get by this.
“And you owe your son an apology, Colin. You have put him in a very uncomfortable situation in the Boston clubhouse. Greg seems like the type of man who can handle the heat but just the same, he deserves the call. After all, his dad’s comments were about a teammate.
“And enough with the ‘we did nothing wrong, we are men of integrity’ spiel. A simple admission of making a mistake will do. Please don’t tell me that the emperor is wearing a beautiful robe today. We all know better.”
Mad Mike even quoted Brenda Lee in his post. What a guy.
By Stu Hackel
He is not listed among the top 10 in any regular season statistical category for coaches. He is not considered much of an innovator behind the bench. He never coached any one NHL team for more than four seasons. And yet, when the fiery Pat Burns left this world last week at the end of a brave and rather public six-year battle against three forms of cancer , the deluge of tributes and the public response confirmed his place among the game’s great figures.
Burns dominated the weekend hockey news. The reaction reveals just how popular and forceful a figure he was in hockey circles and among fans, who could identify with his tough but caring, no-frills everyman personality. (Here’s Michael Farber’s 1988 profile of Burns from the Montreal Gazette.)