Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hockey Thoughts!

Well, we get an NHL season, which means I get to share a few thoughts on hockey.

On the Lock-Out: As soon as the owners risk their health and well-being to entertain hockey fans, they can whine for a larger cut of the profits. Sure, owners deserve to make money on what they own, and yes, they deserve input on the nature of contracts, but there is no hockey without hockey players. Also, again, because this infuriates me, owners don't get concussions in their luxury boxes, they don't put their brains and knees on the line, they don't prematurely wear out their bodies and risk living like cripples for the second half of their lives. They don't get stitched up on the bench and then play hockey with a gash on their faces. Their broken hands don't curl into arthritic claws in their 40s. They don't kill themselves because repeated hits to the head cause brain damage. They should be thankful they get anything, not hold out for more. And was it the players who put a team in Columbus?
He is better than you. Except for knee health.

There Should Be a Bobby Orr Award: There is absolutely no way Erik Karlsson was the best defenseman in the NHL last year. He was an extremely dynamic, versatile player, who happened, like Dustin Byfulgien, (one of my favorite hockey memories is telling Riss how that last name is pronounced. You should've seen the look on her face.) to stand at the blue line on face offs. I'm not arguing that Karlsson is not an extremely talented player or that he did not deserve some kind of recognition for his skills, but the Norris isn't it. I think the NHL should create the Bobby Orr award to be given to the defenseman with the highest point totals. Forwards have both the Ross, for the most points, and the Selke, for the best defensive forward. I know the Ross trophy isn't technically limited to forwards, but, exactly one defenseman in the history of the award has won it. Bobby Orr, who scored 120 (!!!) pts in 1969-70. (Ross, side note, Gretzky makes a pretty compelling case for the greatest of his game whatever that is. I mean, I hadn't planned on mentioning it, but he won the thing 10 times, including 9 in a row and a 215 pt season. That is all.) I suppose the Ross could be stipulated for forwards but last season, Malkin had 109 pts and Karlsson, far and away the most for a defenseman, only had 78. (And, for a guy who creates that many goals, a pretty thin +/- of 16, especially when compared to Chara's (who was sent out against every team's top line) +/-33 (and 52 pts thank you very much), and why not point out Bergeron, who, unlike Karlsson, killed penalties, had an eye-exploding +/-36, but, well, I guess this argument is over.)

Now he'll never write a villanelle.

The Biggest Question Facing the Bruins in 2013: The state of Nathan Horton. Losing Horton to a second concussion last season, effectively hamstrung the entire Bruins offense. It wasn't just his own point totals they missed; his presence created opportunities for other players, most demonstrably David Krejci (who at times seemed to be the one suffering from the concussion). But there is absolutely no guarantee that, even with all the time off the lock out gave him, Horton will be able to come back at the same level he played at before his second concussion. The Bruins had plenty of success without him. I think they could've repeated if Bergeron hadn't been injured. But it was clear there was a difference between Bruins with Horton and Bruins without him. Despite playing only half the season last year, Nathan Horton might be the most important Bruin this year. Unless...

Tyler Sequin Could Explode: Tyler Sequin had some fun in Europe. Larger ice surfaces, less hitting, somewhat diluted talent, really for a player with his speed and skills, it couldn't get any better. His first two seasons in the NHL he's shown flashes of pretty ridiculous talent. He can score with his shot, with his stick handling, and he seems to have hockey's equivalent of “The Shining.” Remember when that puck bounced in the air and he casually batted it over the goalie's shoulder for a goal. Yeah, he does that kind of stuff. Put it all together, with the breakaway speed and you've got a 40 goal scorer waiting to happen.

This Year Could Be the End of Hits to the Head: Not because of Shannahan's uneven handling of discipline last year, where he showed pretty definitively in the slap on the wrist given to Shea Webber, that he'll cave to status and story, but because the season is so short. A 5 game suspension is more than 10% of the regular season schedule. Even with fourth line forwards the risk generally outweighs the rewards. Furthermore, players, coaches, and owners will need to rehabilitate the sport and, really only the players can do that. A hits to the head scandal after a lockout could do substantial, perhaps even permanent damage to the NHL. There are just more reasons this year for players take Shawn Thorton's advice and just stop hitting each other in the head. We might be a little more sensitive to this in Boston, but there seems to be a critical mass building and this problem might work itself out.

He didn't even have to be here today.
Rock Bottom for the Habs: The Montreal Canadiens have been on a death-spiral since the Bruins eliminated them from the playoffs a few years ago. Right now, they are one of the most mismanaged teams in the league, if not in sports. (Don't worry Brian Burke, I'm still thinking of you. Also, thank you.) We saw the psyche of their management unravel when they traded their most dangerous goal scorer at the time, Mike Cammalleri, for definitely not a dangerous goal-scorer Rene Bourque mid-game against the Bruins. Essentially, they shipped him out for a round of vocal criticism. Gionta was a flop last year. Now P.K. Subban is holding out. What they need is a complete overhaul from the GM down, a change in organization culture, and a re-appraisal of their team and their strategy. They need a Cam Neely. Another year at the bottom of the division might just be what ownership needs to show them they've lost their way. And, for the love of all things merciful, trade Carey Price. Despite being rock solid for a ton of minutes every year, the fan base turns on him just about instantly. If he played for either Pittsburgh or Philly, they would've won the cup. Perhaps a deal for draft picks and young players for Carey Price might be exactly what the Habs need to begin the rebuilding process. Because, frankly, I want the Habs to be good. Not unlike Boston, hockey is just better when the Habs are good. And it could be a long time before they are again. (Also, Brian Burke is awful.)

It's been to Kenora!
The Stanley Cup is Up for Grabs: The winner of the Stanley Cup is the quality team, healthiest in the playoffs, who also happens to reach a playing peak at that time. Like all things, hockey teams have their ups and downs, and, just like in everything else, no one has figured out how to guarantee the ups and prevent the downs. The Kings were healthy and peaked in the playoffs, so they won the Cup. Same thing with the Bruins the year before. That hasn't changed, but, the other determining force has been removed. The hockey season wears players down so every team carries players who are hurt, if not injured, into the playoffs. Think Bruins in 2010-11, the year they won the President's Trophy. The team was riddled with nagging injuries in the playoffs, most notably Charra and Reichi. With only 48 games, that process of wear isn't going to happen. The Stanley Cup playoffs are already sports greatest tournament, but there's a chance this year, for every team to enter the playoffs healthy. For the same reason, teams with less depth will have a better shot of getting in the playoffs. For example, Edmonton's raft of young talent, though I don't think ready to distinguish themselves in the course of a full season, might have a shot of making the playoffs.

The Shortened Season Will Be Entertaining: Finally, this is going to be one hell of a season to watch. The shorter season will mean heightened intensity. Teams won't be able to take any games off and they won't be ground down by the end. And, with about a week of training camp and no pre-season, we'll probably see a lot of shinny hockey stuff in the beginning which should be tons of fun. Everything that makes hockey great will be condensed and intensified. It was a stupid, stupid lockout, driven by the stupid greed of the stupid owners, but the fans who return should be rewarded for their loyalty with one hell of a season.

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