Archive for October, 2011

Avs are the NHL’s early surprise team

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Winger David Jones (four goals in six games) has been a key to the Avalanche’s roaring start this season. (Gary Angus/ZUMAPRESS.com)

By Stu Hackel

We’re a dozen days into the season, a bit too early for any big pronouncements, but not  for some observations. And how can you not observe that the Colorado Avalanche  — who finished 29th in the league last season — are now first overall in the NHL?

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  • Published On Oct 18, 2011
  • Cherry’s apology and Slap Shot mythology

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    On second thought: the threat of legal action against him seems to have helped Don Cherry rethink his attack on the former NHL enforcers he called “pukes, turncoats and hypocrites.” (Leon T Switzer/ Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The Great Apology was issued on Saturday night, Don Cherry admitting to the world that he had thrown three former NHL fighters, “my kind of guys, under the bus.” He set the record straight, saying he was wrong to claim that two of them had come out against fighting and linked their problems with substance abuse and addiction to their former occupation.

    That might end the matter in one sense, because the three former enforcers – Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson — said they’d now drop their threat of legal action against Cherry. Nilan, who expressed dismay that a man he thought of as a friend had inexplicably turned on him, subsequently tweeted that he and Cherry “are friends once again.” But while the lawyers may now stand down and the friendship appears repaired, Grimson wants you to know that he isn’t letting Cherry off the hook so easily.
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  • Published On Oct 17, 2011
  • Impressions of a hockey fight

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    The sight of Jay Beagle crumpled on the ice after his short fight with Arron Asham stirred a wide range of emotions that depend on your feelings about the place of fighting in hockey. (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    A couple of bright hockey writers, Jeff Z. Klein and Karl-Erik Reif, once called hockey “our most morally ambiguous sport.” If there ever was a more clear example of that ambiguity (a “clear example of ambiguity” — now isn’t that something?), we saw it Thursday night in the fight between the Penguins’ Arron Asham and the Capitals’ Jay Beagle.

    Hockey has always carved out a unique path for itself in the sports landscape, and those who love it always cringe a bit when it — and the values of its unique culture — get compared too closely with what goes on in other sports. To put it bluntly, hockey is largely its own animal. That doesnt’ mean it exists totally apart from the rest of the world, in its own isolated bubble. There are things that go on in the real world that hockey people cannot ignore, but there are enough different strands of thought within the sport itself to keep you busy for a while.
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  • Published On Oct 14, 2011
  • Stories abound as Capitals and Penguins renew rivalry

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    Perhaps a spirited battle against the rival Penguins will spark Caps captain Alexander Ovechkin, who was chided by coach Bruce Boudreau for a lackluster start, and his linemates. (Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    Last season’s Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 foes, the Penguins and Capitals, squared off for their first meeting of the season on Thursday night in a game full of storylines and import for two of the NHL’s marquee squads, not the least of which is Alex Ovechkin’s start to the season which, to that point, had thrilled only his opponents.

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  • Published On Oct 13, 2011
  • GMs support Shanny, Loko’s rebirth and empty seats in Big D

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    Despite the fears of some general managers, hitting is not disappearing from the game as the NHL cracks down on dangerous play. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    While some NHL general managers prefer to anonymously whisper to reporters about their support or lack thereof for the NHL’s crackdown on dangerous play — a crackdown they called for themselves — one GM at least has the courage to speak publicly: the Blackhawks’ Stan Bowman.

    “This is what the league has to do and I applaud the steps they’ve taken,” Bowman told Tim Sassone of the suburban Arlington Daily Herald. “At the end of the day the players have to stop doing this to each other. Penalties, and making them severe, it’s the way to go. The NHL should be applauded.

    “We want this to be a safe game for the players and they’ve done a tremendous job. I definitely support it. The chances are one of our players will be on either side of it, but that’s how it goes.”

    Bravo to Bowman for his strong support of a safer NHL, putting the game’s interest above his team’s and not buying into the canard that the severe suspensions the league has been handing down so far this season will dilute the game’s physical play. He’s certainly not alone in his sentiment, but it’s refreshing to see a GM who is willing to have his name attached to it in print.
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  • Published On Oct 12, 2011
  • Will the Blues finally fulfill their promise?

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    The promising young Blues have been a vexing club for years and coach Davis Payne could pay for it. (Jack Dempsey/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    It’s commonly accepted that the draft is the best way to start building a hockey club that will be good for a while. If you develop a core group of talented youngsters together, they can form the bonds and chemistry that make them want to play for each other. Maybe you augment that core with some veterans to help guide the kids and things will take off from there. It also helps if your team has floundered for a while so you can collect lots of draft picks.

    That’s the theory, anyway.

    In the recent times, especially since the lockout,  the theory has worked for the Penguins and Blackhawks, who both won the Stanley Cup. They’re hardly alone in trying it. The Capitals, Islanders, Oilers, Senators, Rangers and Avalanche have also taken the draft route with varying degrees of success of late and are at different stages of progress.

    Right in that group are the St. Louis Blues.
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  • Published On Oct 11, 2011
  • Cherry is an early season bomb

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    Don Cherry and his brand of rock ‘em, sock ‘em hockey will always have fans. (Carlos Orsonio/AP Photos)

    By Stu Hackel

    The Winnipeg Jets got off to a shaky start Sunday night, at least on the ice (although their fans got off to a terrific start, with a standing ovation for their team in the final minute of a 5-1 loss to Montreal). The Senators are off to an even shakier start, surrendering 11 goals in their first two games. But no one has gotten off to a worse start this season than Don Cherry.

    The bombastic former coach overshadowed the arrival of the NHL season with an opening night tirade on Hockey Night in Canada that a few commenters called “a new low” and eventually forced his usually compliant overlords at the CBC distance to themselves from them, a very rare move. Then he only made things worse in his subsequent attempts to justify his initial remarks.
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  • Published On Oct 10, 2011
  • Euphoric Winnipeg ready for the Jets

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    Evander Kane and the Jets will enjoy a hero’s welcome in Winnipeg this season and quite likely beyond. (Fred Greenslade/Reuters)

    By Stu Hackel

    “It’s crazy here,” said Brett MacLean, the 22-year-old leftwinger, about his new city. MacLean has just had his first skate with the Jets, who rescued from him from the AHL on Thursday. On Sunday, he’ll be in the lineup against the Canadiens when Winnipeg begins a new era.

    From every indication, it’s all Jets, all the time in the ‘Peg. Game 1 will likely be the hardest ticket in the history of the city. The Winnipeg Free Press had an item Friday that said Prime Minister Steven Harper had requested 14 tickets for his cabinet members. He was politely turned down and given a pair.

    “Someone told me at school that someone sold a ticket for two grand for the opener,” said Ben Carr, a Winnipeg school teacher who was on the other end of my phone call Friday morning.

    There’s no way to adequately understand what it means to the city to have the Jets back without speaking to a Winnipegger. We thought about calling Neil Young, however CBC got ahold of him first. But Carr certainly qualifies. The 25-year-old native who today teaches Grade Six recalls, “I was in Grade Six when the Jets left town and my kids now, the kids I teach, they get the team back. Full circle. Fifteen years.”
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  • Published On Oct 07, 2011
  • Shanahan has the worst job in hockey

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    Brendan Shanahan admits that as a player he committed the infractions he must now crack down on as the NHL’s new discipline czar. (Lou Capozzola/SI)

    By Stu Hackel

    When the NHL season starts tonight, fans and the media will have one eye on the action and the other on Brendan Shanahan, the league’s vice president of safety, who has taken over the job of disciplining players for flagrant violations of the rules. Because of the escalation in dangerous play during the past few seasons and the heightened awareness of the effects of concussions on players’ long-term health, his is now one of the most important jobs in hockey.

    It is also the worst job in hockey.

    Perhaps only Gary Bettman among hockey personages has been more reviled over the past dozen years than Shanahan’s predecessor, Colin Campbell. Maybe it’s a tie. How deserving either man has been of all that scorn is a matter for discussion, but that does not alter the facts: The person who enacts league discipline on players will likely end up hugely unpopular.

    The rancor can come from the fans, who either want the perpetrator banned (if not shot) or, if he plays for their favorite team, exonerated and hailed as some sort of hero or martyr. No matter what, some group is unhappy.

    It can come from the media, this blogger included, who are not averse to assuming the role of an outraged God in these little morality plays. And it can come from the teams, who don’t want their players removed from the lineup. In their eyes, their players do little or nothing wrong. It’s often the victim who is to blame, at least partially, and the perpetrator’s clubs often transmit that message to their local media for dissemination to their fans.

    The one who has to enact justice, the standards for which are developed by the teams themselves, often catches the most hell of all.

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  • Published On Oct 06, 2011
  • 30 teams worth of questions

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    Time to go to work: Are Milan Lucic and the Bruins hungry for a Stanley Cup encore? (Elise Amendola/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Every NHL season starts with expectations and conjures up predictions on where teams might finish. Longtime readers know we eschew such forecasts here at Red Light, taking cues from our patron saint Hector (Toe) Blake who famously said (seen in this video), “Predictions are for gypsies.” In fact, we were going to call this blog “Toe Blake’s Tavern,” but that’s a story for another day.

    Anyway, instead, here’s one of our favorite preseason habits. Rather than exhaustively breaking down each team’s offense, defense, goaltending, special teams, coaching, intangibles and so forth (we’ll let Adrian Dater and Darren Eliot do that), let’s try to boil down each team’s success or failure to one or a few essential themes. Each club has them and the answers to these questions, theoretically at least, should go a long way to determining if teams plays up to their expectations and potential.

    Anaheim – Can goalie Jonas Hiller, who missed a large chunk of last season with a mysterious case of vertigo, avoid a reoccurrence and bounce back to his excellent first-half form that had him close to Tim Thomas as the best goalie in the NHL?

    Boston — Assuming Tim Thomas plays somewhere in the neighborhood of his remarkable performance last season, can the Bruins survive the short offseason? Can they continue to have the good fortune and good health every champion requires and beat back the diminished hunger that almost always accompanies winning it all? Can they become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings in 1998?
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  • Published On Oct 05, 2011


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