yankee hockey

BEST IN SHOW

Posted in New Jersey, Vancouver, What Going Right by yankhockey on January 14, 2009

How does one decide which team is the best in the NHL? If you go by the obvious one, record, then you’d have to say the San Jose Sharks. If you go by goals scored, or goals against, there’d be no one better then the Boston Bruins. If you go by experience then the Red Wings are the best. And if you go by sheer depth of talent then the top spot would have to be the Penguins. It’s tough to pick a best team in the NHL, especially since in hockey, more then in any other sport, effort can trump skill. A garbage goal barely pushed passed the line by a checking forward is worth as much as a deke to the backhand, top shelf shot.

By that same token, lack of effort is sure self-destruction. There are many teams with a ton of talent and no effort. Teams like Columbus, Nashville, and this years most lazy team Ottawa have plenty of talent to compete every night, if they’d only compete.

This lack of effort usually involves on of two approaches. There’s the one currently popular in Ottawa where players get it into their minds that fancy is better then tough and try to score the perfect goal with every attempt. Everyone likes a pretty goal, but when you aren’t taking the body, aren’t taking a shot, and skating around the perimeter waiting to make the perfect pass you’re never going to score enough goals to win, let alone intimidate your opponent. This one is pretty prevalent throughout the league. Most teams have one line that passes a little two often. The problem is that this line is also often the highest scoring, if only because the skilled players on the line are the goal scorers. Really, it’s ok to have on line like that on the bench, but when it starts to spread to the rest of the team it becomes a problem. Everyone likes to score, and when they see it working for the best scoring line, they get it in their minds that if they play similarly it will work for them too. Well… it really doesn’t. A team needs to be able to ice lines with different looks, that way if one strategy isn’t working you’ve got at least two more you can try, but if everyone is playing the cycle game then the opponent only has to work on one defense. More importantly, having some offensive players who will hit and fight for the puck makes the other team worried and they’ll end up making mistakes, which is exactly what you want to happen deep in the offensive zone.

The other approach, perfected in Nashville, is the “No-one-else-cares, why-should-we?” Thanks to empty arenas, uninterested fans, and a complete lack of accountability, players on teams in non-hockey markets tend to lose the drive to compete. Sure, there are always players on these teams that work hard every night, but it has to be a team effort, and that just isn’t often the case in cities like Phoenix, Atlanta, and Nashville. Hockey is a hard game, not just in practice, but physically. These men are putting their bodies on the line every game. Sure they are getting paid a ton for it, but money isn’t inspiration enough to work as hard as you can, you need to get something back from the fans, you need to know that you are working towards a supported cause.

It’s sad when teams don’t compete, because competitive hockey is great hockey, while non-competitive hockey is frustrated to watch. That’s why the best hockey is in the play-offs. You know you are going to watch a great game cause people are taking the body, taken shots from every where on the ice, and fighting for possession every chance they get. With the right level of competitiveness, the Islanders could beat the Sharks on any night, but without it, Detroit would lose to Tampa Bay every game.

Nothing is worse for a hockey fan then when their team can’t play with any ferocity. They know it too, every city, every team. It’s obvious to any hockey fan when they are watching a team that just doesn’t want to play hockey hard. Hockey fans in hockey cities aren’t afraid to let their teams know it too. Ever heard hockey fans booing the Wings in Detroit? I have. Even teams like Detroit need a wake up call every once in awhile, and the good teams listen to their fans as closely as they listen to their coaches, because they know the fans are seeing things you just don’t pick up at ice level. Effort: It’s what makes hockey stand out among the sports, and it’s what we, as hockey fans, demand.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

Not much for me as a Canucks fan, as they lose yet another game due to a complete lack of effort (see above post). But the Devils played great. Zach Parise got another goal, he’s going to score 50 before his career is done, and Clemmensen won another game in for Brodeur. When Brodeur went down everyone thought that New Jersey was going to really suffer, it’s a testament to their team that they have hung right in there. Everyone always said this was Brodeur’s team, but this team is run well from management on down, and the team has always acted like real professionals, playing hard and fighting for wins. That’s what a real good hockey does.

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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Posted in What Going Right by yankhockey on January 7, 2009

So yesterday prosecutors in Philadelphia determined they did not have enough evidence to charge Indianapolis Colts receiver Marvin Harrison for a shooting that occurred at a car wash he owns, despite the fact that it was his unique pistol (apparently made specifically to pierce armour) that was fired. It got me thinking about just how many times in the last few years sports have been horribly tainted by crime, whether it’s this current issue, and the DA in Philly seemed confident that they will gather enough evidence to eventually charge him, or Michael Vick going to jail for dog fighting. The NBA has a serious drug problem, and now they’ve discovered their refs have a gambling problem. Baseball is clean for the most part, except when World Series winning manager Tony LaRussa gets caught drunk behind the wheel. It seems like every week there are at least two stories involving a sports star and a crime, except for hockey.

What is it about hockey that seems to keep it crime free? There are a number of possibilities that I’ve considered. It’s possible that it’s because very few of the players are American. In the documentary Bowling for Columbine Michael Moore discovered that gun crime in Canada is so rare that it only seems to occur when Americans visit. But I don’t believe that for a moment, not to get into a thing here but Moore is well known for only publishing footage that supports his opinion so I don’t trust anything he produces. It is true, though, that guns, especially handguns, are less prevalent amongst Canadians and Europeans then they are here in the States, but that only accounts for handgun crime.

Maybe it’s the culture of hockey that keeps it squeaky clean. Hockey is always more of a team sport then the others. There are certainly star players, but there isn’t any tolerance for star behavior. When one of the biggest stars in the game, Alexander Ovechkin, is the sweetest, most personable, most innocent player on the ice something’s right with the world. It’s quite a bit different then listening to players like Terrel Owens, Stephan Marbery, or Barry Bonds, whose personalities are about as rough as a cheese grater.

But why is hockey like that? I’d like to say that it starts with good hockey parents, but I’ve seen my share of bad hockey dad behavoir. Youth coaches have had some problems too. I think it can come down to two things. The first is the nature of a hockey player. This is a sport that still respects its gentlemenly background. There’s even a trophy for it, the Lady Byng is awarded to the most gentlemenly player. People think fighters are brutish, but they are very polite to each other, making sure both are ready to fight, following a The Code to the letter, even congratulating each other after the fight is over. Even after a hard, and often physical playoff series, teams skate together and shake hands with the men who, just minutes before, were their mortal enemies. The second reason is that players just don’t spend enough time in the game to really get a swell head about it. At most they’ll spend a minute, minute and a half on the ice and then off they go back to the bench.

It’s the swollen head that I think gets sports stars into trouble. They believe that they can do whatever they want because they are much beloved. When New York Giants receiver Plaxico Buress went to a night club in New York City last year he brought with him a loaded gun, despite the fact that it is illegal just to carry a loaded gun within the city limits. He thought that since he brought the city a Super Bowl victory he could break the law, now the mayor of New York wants him to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

But now it’s honesty time. Hockey players get in trouble all the time. Theo Fleury’s alcohol and drug problems got him arrested on multiple occasions. Rick Tochett, and assistant coach in Phoenix got busted for an illegal gambling ring, and oddest of all was the murder-for-hire scheme that landed young Mike Danton into prison. The thing is, hockey players aren’t big stars around the States so we don’t hear about their brushes with the law as much. Though they certainly haven’t been known for committing violent crimes hockey players abused alcohol, beaten spouses, trashed public property, you name it. But that doesn’t mean that everything I’ve already stated isn’t true. The nice thing about hockey is that the biggest stars are also often the most responsible, most active in charities, and most fan-friendly of all the players. Who knows why Sidney Crosby never bitches about not getting the puck enough, or why Roberto Luongo doesn’t complain about his workload, ,or Joe Sakic doesn’t send some schmuck at a bar to the hospital? It could be any of those reasons I mentioned above, or it could be that hockey is the last vestige of the honorable sportsman. Or it could be something in the water, I don’t know, I just know it works.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

You mean besides everything I already said today? Well hockey is finally back on network Television starting next week, which I think is great. Even though I have cable now, I always watch hockey when it’s on NBC because I want it to grow. Now that FOX and ESPN no longer show games, it’s pretty much NBC and VS, and I don’t much like VS. I want hockey on like it used to be, I want to catch a bunch of games a year, not two or three a week. So anyone out there who loves hockey, watch it on NBC even if your team isn’t playing because we want them to know we support the game, and we want them to be able to make money off it so they will show some more.

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MINE GOES TO ELEVEN

Posted in New Jersey, Retired Jerseys, Washington, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 31, 2008

The Capital’s retired Mike Gartner’s number eleven this week. He had a wonderful career, putting up over 1300 points, and many of his best years came in Washington. No one would ever say that Gartner doesn’t deserve accolades. In fact, I think he deserved a ton of accolades during his career, but he was often overlooked, even in seasons where he was scoring 50+ goals. He never once won an NHL award, never once a Stanley Cup, he was never even on a conference winning team. One of the tragedies of expansion is that many talented, deserving players, never went on to post season success thanks to the large number of teams they now had to contend against. It’s hard to see a player  who could score a hundred points in a season not even playing in a Stanley Cup game during the Original Six era, but with more teams comes more challenges.

Anyway, like I said, I would never say that Gartner doesn’t deserve accolades, but this seems to me to be yet another of the pointless retirements that we’ve seen this year. It used to be that you didn’t retire a number unless the player who wore it was not just (or even) exceptional, but a cornerstone of your team. Number retirements should be reserved for players who didn’t just shined in your arena, but defined an era. Gartner was probably the best player on the Capitals teams he played for, but there was nothing about his stay there that was especially significant.

You have to ask yourself: Was Mike Gartner a different player on the Caps then he was for the Rangers, or the Leafs? He was a role player, granted a very talented one with a knack for scoring a lot of points, but he never even captained a team!

Speaking of retired numbers, I was watching a game in St Louis today and there were six numbers in the rafters. What’s that about? Have they really had that many great players in there somewhat short history? I really feel that the only numbers retired this year that really deserve it are Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson in Chicago, and Trevor Linden in Vancouver. Those numbers represent players who weren’t always the best, even on their own teams, but who were leaders, definers, and monuments to their teams and their cities.

Or maybe I’m just really pissed off because the banner Washington lifted into the rafters is the ugliest creation in sports history!

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

The Brodeur-less Devils keep on a-winning without their all world goalie. It’s a testament to a team that competes every year. Maybe now people will stop giving as much credit to Brodeur. Just think about when he gets back how good this team will really be. They may well win the Atlantic. The Rangers are struggling, they’re already ahead of the Penguins, and Philly might give them some trouble, but with Brodeur in net who gives a damn about Philly. In fact, with Brodeur in net they have to be mentioned in any discussion about who will be playing for the Stanley Cup.

THE ICE STORM

Posted in san jose, Vancouver, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 24, 2008

I went to my first (and likely only, these games are expensive) NHL game last night in San Jose. Got home really late so I didn’t have time to gather all my thoughts for a post, so another late post today. The Sharks were playing the Canucks, and like practically every Sharks/Canucks game I go to, the Canucks were embarrassed on the ice. Last night, 5-0 Sharks, the last pair of goals coming within the first minute of the second period.

Going to games always brings my entire hockey history into mind. In 1996, while I was still in high school, I had a teacher whose name was Dave Beauvais. I loved having him as a teacher, there was something very honest about him. He taught history, but he didn’t teach history from books, he taught the kind of un-PC history that’s all the rage these days. He was from Detroit, and he was a huge Red Wings fan. No matter where he went he always carried around a full Paul Coffey mug (serious). Since I found myself wanting to emulate the man I began to pay attention to hockey.

Even though he influenced me to give it a try, falling in love with hockey was all me. Before I found hockey I was a fan of baseball and that was about it. I would watch football, but I never really liked it much, and I’ve never liked basketball. I did like soccer, but we live in the States and finding soccer on television outside of the World Cup is nearly impossible.

Hockey instantly drew me in. It’s the only game where you have to be tough and nimble at the same time. It’s the only game where intangibles could actually be measured in things like speed, grit, ability to fight, ability to pester. It’s the only game where a penalty is equally exciting regardless of which team you are rooting for. Hockey is an amazing game that too many people miss out on because they “can’t see the puck”, which is really sad because within a few games following the puck becomes natural, especially now with HD games where the puck is big enough to eat a Denny’s Grand Slam off of. Hockey is power and finesse, and that dichotomy kept me coming back for more.

The very first NHL game I went to was also a Sharks/Canucks game. I don’t think there was any reason for it, I think it just happened to be a weekend my father was able to take me to a game. It was 1997, both teams were pretty sad that year. The Sharks were fielding a team consisting of a talented Jeff Friesen, big Owen Nolan coming off a decent first year with the team, and a  young Patrick Marleau, not yet the leader he would become, they had some decent defense in the guise of Marcus Ragnarsson, Mike Rathje, and Al Iafrate. The Canucks had the makings of a powerhouse, but not the finish. They had just picked up Mark Messier, Pavel Bure was absolutely lighting it up, they had Alexander Mogilny, Markus Naslund, Jyrkki Lumme, a high scoring rookie defenseman Mattias Ohlund, Todd Bertuzzi, Trevor Linden was still on the team, that’s a line-up that should have scared the pants off of everyone, but going into their 19th game of the season they had only won three games.

I believe the goaltenders were Mike Vernon for the Sharks, and Garth Snow for the Canucks, not exactly a pair of Vezina winners. The game ended 5-2 Canucks (they weren’t shut-out? Amazing!). I don’t remember many details of the game, but I do remember Pavel Bure playing like nothing I’d ever seen. I hadn’t yet picked a team to root for because I didn’t have any roots with a team, but watching Bure skate made me want to root for him, so I started cheering for the Canucks despite their dismal play for the next few years. Then, when he was gone, it was too late and I stuck with them.

The first hockey game I ever went to was in Salt Lake City. I went with my father when I was about seven to see the Golden Eagles, who were an IHL team at the time. I don’t remember much about the game, but I do remember enjoying the experience much more then the times we went to see the Jazz play. I’m sure I was too young to really appreciate the game, but I have no doubt that I was fascinated with the men flying up and down the ice at high speeds, the thunder of the boards when there is a big hit, the sound of puck hitting the crossbar. It’s the sounds that strike me the most when I go see a game live. I remember once my father and I sat near the glass. The sounds there were so intense it was incredible. I felt really drawn into the game, like I was a part of it. Maybe that is true in basketball too, but it certainly never happens in football or baseball. They need to find a way to pick up those sounds better for television. Nothing says hockey like a blade on ice, or the strike of a slapshot. When you are up close and you can hear the grunt of players hitting each other, and calls for passes, well that’s even better.

Hockey is a special kind of game whose exclusivity makes it so much more fun to be a fan. Whenever I meet someone from a city that has a hockey team I always ask them if they follow their team. If they say yes then I know we’ll be fast friends. Being a hockey fan is like being part of a cult, fans of other sports don’t trust us, no one wants to talk to us, we all gather in a big meeting place and practice rituals no one else understands, and we’ve always got each other’s backs (unless you’re an Edmonton fan in Calgary).

As for the game last night, well, as a Canucks fan I don’t have much to say about it other then I really need to stop attending those games. Maybe if I attend some Minnesota games the Sharks can start shutting out a division rival.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

It’s holiday time so I’d like to wish a Happy Channukah (or as I like to call it, Jewish Memorial Day) to my Jewish readers. Merry Christmas to my Christian readers, along with all you non-Christians celebrating the season. A Happy Kwanza to my readers looking to connect with the traditions of Africa. And a late Joyful Eid al-Adha to my Muslim readers (thought I’d forget about you huh?). So many merries, happies, and goodies to you all.

CAPTAIN BLOOD

Posted in Retired Jerseys, Vancouver, Veterans, Washington, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 17, 2008

I would really like to delay this post, maybe skip today and do a special Thursday post, or wait until Friday’s, but with the Mats Sundin soap opera supposedly ending on Thursday there is just too much about to happen to delay today’s post.

I want to delay today’s post because the topic hasn’t occurred yet. Unless you’re reading it after seven on Wednesday the 16th of December in which case it’s certainly already happened, but not for me now in the present… Ok, temporal mechanics make everything more complicated so I’ll just stick with it hasn’t happened yet.

Tonight, before the Canucks take on the Oilers in Vancouver, the most worthwhile event to take place so far this year in the NHL will occur; the retirement of Trevor Linden’s number 16. For those of you unfamiliar with Trevor Linden he is possibly the most significant player in Canucks’ history. Yes, I’m aware of Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny, Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Kirk McLean. They even had Mark Messier for a moment. But none of those players can hold a candle to Trevor Linden in Vancouver.

Trevor Linden was the second overall pick (after Mike Modano) in the 1988 draft. He quickly won the hearts of the fans with his skill, but more importantly, his heart and spirit for the game. At age 21 he was made their captain. In 1994, thanks in large part to his stellar post-season play and leadership, he brought the Canucks to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, losing to the NY Rangers 3-2 (both goals being Linden’s). He gained the nickname “Captain Canuck”.

A few years down the road there were problems for Linden in Vancouver. New coach Mike Keenan didn’t take to his presence and made things difficult for Linden. Then they brought in Mark Messier, who only a few years earlier had been instrumental in beating the Canucks for the Cup. Linden was forced to give up his ‘C’ to Messier, an act many fans saw as sacrilege. Then came what is still known in Vancouver as “The Trade”.

In 1998 Linden was sent to the Islanders for Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe. This was a different Canucks team now. Bure wanted out, Linden and McClean were gone, and the shuffle would cost the Canucks in the short run. After a bunch of disappointing seasons finishing out of the playoff race, Keenan was out, Marc Crawford was in, and Markus Naslund was captain. Meanwhile Linden found himself captain again in Long Island, where he once again was a fan favorite. Still, his heart belonged to Vancouver, a city he adopted as his own. The charities he began there he continued to run, he continued to visit hospitals there, make appearances where he was needed like a super-hero. To Vancouver fans he was still a member of their family, still Captain Canuck.

The Canucks were doing well again, with Naslund-Bertuzzi-Brendan Morrison making up the highest scoring front line in the league, the West Coast Express. In 2001 Linden was playing for the Washington Capitals after coming over from the Montreal Canadiens, four teams in only four years. Having trouble finding his scoring touch in Washington, the Capitals were happy to trade Linden, something the Canucks took advantage of. Canucks GM Brian Burke sent a first round pick toward Washington, and in exchange got Linden back in Vancouver. To say Canucks fans were excited would have been an understatement, Captain Canuck was back in town!

Back in Vancouver his scoring touch returned as he began to light the lamp with more regularity then he had in years. You could tell he was playing the game where he was meant to be. He played five more seasons with the Canucks, setting records for goals scored, assists, games played, and playoff points. The highlight of his return may have been game seven of the 2006-2007 playoffs against Dallas. In a hard fought and stingy series (Turco shut out the Canucks three times) Linden came out skating in that seventh game, scoring two goals, including the series clincher. He was the hero of the Canucks, as if the fans needed to be reminded.

After a 2007-2008 season where he put up small numbers, and which everyone agrees he was under-utilized, Linden retired, announcing it in the dignified and humble manner he had always held himself during all the years he was playing.

Linden was more then just Captain Canuck, he was respected league wide. He was made president of the NHLPA, a title he held for nine years which still hasn’t been refilled. He has gotten accolades not just in Vancouver but around the league for his charitable work. There isn’t a player or coach in the league (well, maybe Mike Keenan) who wouldn’t praise him on his leadership abilities, not to mention his hockey skills.

Linden loved the game. That’s what he brought more then anything. Every team he played for he got outscored by other players. While Bure was scoring 60 goals, he was scoring 30, while he was struggling in Washington, Peter Bondra was scoring 81 points. Still, regardless of where he played people loved and respected him. The reason is he played with heart. You hear that a lot, especially from hockey fans. You want a guy who plays with heart. You wanna know why Boston traded Joe Thornton? He didn’t play with heart. You wanna know why gritty guys who are missing teeth and can’t score a goal to save their lives get played over talented AHL scorers? They play with heart. Heart is a good commodity to have in the NHL and Linden had it in bunches.

Vancouver isn’t a team with a lot of history. If you don’t count their very sad 7th Man promotion (which has already been discontinued for reasons of stupidity), they only have one number retired; Stan “The Steamer” Smyl. Of all the players that have played for them, other then Linden, only two other names come to mind for possible future  honors; The Russian Rocket Pavel Bure, and former scapegoat and holder of all their points records Markus Naslund. Linden deserves the honor more then either of them. More even then Stan Smyl, though Smyl certainly should be up there. Linden was the very spirit of Vancouver hockey, even when he was no longer playing in Vancouver. And don’t think that just because he is retired that that has changed at all. Vancouver fans still hold a torch for this guy, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I’d go so far as to say that Linden is to Vancouver what Gordie Howe is to Detroit, or Bobby Orr is to Chicago. Linden is that guy in Vancouver, the guy you tell your kids you saw play, the guy whose jersey you still wear long after they are gone, the guy who you think of when you think of hockey. This jersey retirement isn’t a promotion, it isn’t a gimmick, it’s exactly what the entire process of retiring numbers was created for, honoring those who have done what no other player could ever do again. So congratulations Trevor Linden, and Vancouver fans everywhere.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

I’m sorry all your loyal Canadian (not Canadiens) fans out there. This argument has to stop, and I know you won’t like the result. Alexander Ovechkin is better then Sydney Crosby. I mean, like, WAY better. Crosby is a phenomenal player, he’s incredible. He reminds me very much of the man he used to play with, Mario Lemiuex, who is certainly in the top ten all time. But Ovechkin is just incredible. He’s more exciting, he’s more dynamic, he’s a bloody powder keg that can skate like Bobby Orr, shoot like Joe Sakic, hit like Scott Stevens, and stun you like a modern day Maurice Richard. I watched his team play the Islanders last night. He scored a gimme goal earlier in the game which looked like it would be the game winner until the Islanders tied it up late. Then in overtime he pushed his way just below the face-off dot and let loose a powerful and sneaky backhand that just went off the post and out. “Wow,” I thought, “What a play.” Then, less then a minute later he was back in. He slid into the middle and snapped a shot into the upper part of the net I just couldn’t believe. And the scary part is… he does that kind of stuff all the time! It’s not lucky or a fluke, he’s good. He’s really good. I’m willing to put forth that he is the best. Sorry Crosby, you’re just not that good.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Posted in Detroit, Players, Vancouver, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 10, 2008

An important event happened over the weekend that I really probably should have addressed Monday, and would have had I not suddenly become obsessed with helmets. In Detroit before a game against Vancouver, the Red Wings honored Igor Larionov. This wasn’t just about a player entering the Hall (which he is), it’s about the change in the NHL brought about by his arrival.

Larionov was a significant international player playing on the Red Army team between Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov to form the much feared KLM line. In the past, perhaps, a player of Larionov’s stature might have been happy with his place leading what was considered the Soviet national team, but the world was a changing place, and the increasing awareness brought about by increasing international play opened the eyes of many Soviet athletes to a world outside the stifling, government dominated nature of Soviet sports.

In 1985 the window of opportunity opened for Larionov, when Vancouver took a chance and picked him 214th overall in the draft. He would be forced to remain playing for the Soviet Union for another 4 years when finally, he and a handful of other players drafted by the NHL, were sold to the league to help stave off a financial crisis in the Soviet hockey league. It’s likely due to his publicly known desire to play in North America that got him this chance, as his popularity in the Soviet Union was falling because of his criticisms of the Red Army team. He was even kicked off the team for fear he would defect during international play.

He played three years in Vancouver, starting out slowly but soon getting the hang of NHL play. Because of a contract that made sure a portion of his salary went to the Soviet league as long as he played in the NHL, when his contract ended in Vancouver he went to play in Switzerland for a year. The next year he came back, free from that constraint, to play a short time for the Sharks. The Sharks traded him in 1995 to the Red Wings, where he would become a very important piece to their Stanley Cup runs in ’97 and ’98.

Larionov never had the kind of season that you see out of such players as Alexander Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin, or even Pavel Bure whom he played with in Vancouver. He never scored more then 21 goals in the NHL, never more then 71 points. He wasn’t that kind of Russian import. He was experienced, he was a leader, he changed the game with his poise, but more importantly, he changed the game by simply playing in the league.

Before Larionov, the idea that we’d be seeing Russian (or Soviet as they were then) players playing for North American teams rather then against them was absurd. Before the Soviet Union began to fall, players on the Red Army team were as good as gods in their home country. But as the communist government there began to fall apart, so to did the ideologies and idols of communism. Suddenly the dominant hockey played by the Soviet teams wasn’t enough to mask the social issues facing the people of the USSR. And these issues were even being felt as high up as hockey players like Larionov, who ten years earlier would have been crazy to want to leave his posh position and travel to the US or Canada. And yet, here he was, holding the Stanley Cup over his head.

It was a great thing to do to honor Larionov that night, with the team that brought him across the pond playing the team that brought him glory. It’s a great thing to, to honor him in the Hall of Fame for what he brought to North America. Without him we would not be seeing Malkin and Semin and Ovechkin, nor Khabibulin and Nabokov. We wouldn’t have seen both Bures or both Fedorovs.

It’s also timely with what is currently happening in Russia. With the new Russian Super League able to pay their players NHL salaries or better, we will probably be seeing many less Russian players playing in the NHL. It’s already occured many times in the last few years. Teams are hesitant to draft young Russians for fear that they will never see ice time in the NHL. Why would a young star from Russia spend a year or two in the AHL making $80k a year when they could be playing for a real home crowd making $1.8 million a year?

We’ll never see another Larionov in the league, he broke the last barrier there was. In a weird way he was the Jackie Robinson of the NHL (who was actually Willie O’Ree, I’ve seen the guy in person, great man, very good hockey player), only he was breaking out of Russia, instead of into a white man’s game.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

In honor of Larionov we’ll have the What’s Going Right: Russian Edition this week. Evgeni Malkin currently leads the league in points and is constantly proving that he deserves more attention the fellow young star and teammate Sidney Crosby. Alexander Semin is leading +/- (which is a very underrated stat in my opinion), and his teammate Alex the Great is steadily increasing his own numbers to where they should be. Evgeni Nabokov is right back in the saddle winning five of his last six since coming back from injury. And Andrei Markov is in the top of the league in defensemen scoring. And before I get any comments (and I know I will), I am aware that Nabokov is not exactly Russian, but he’s played for them in the Olympics and is pretty much considered Russian by the international community, so put a sock in it.

TAKING OUT THE TRASH

Posted in Dallas, Players, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 3, 2008

The NHL made a bold move yesterday, suspending Sean Avery indefinitely for comments he made about the personal lives of other hockey players, specifically those dating his ex-girlfriends. Because I know you’re dying to hear the story behind the story (unless you’ve read it somewhere else first), here it is: Avery approached a group of reporters in Calgary where his Dallas Stars were to be playing the Calgary Flames, and after making sure there were cameras present said probably the stupidest thing of his career:

Specifically Avery was talking about Dion Phaneuf and Elisha Cuthbert, though Avery has also been romantically involved with Rachel Hunter who is currently seeing Jared Stoll of Los Angeles. Before the game could even start Commisioner Gary Bettman had already handed down the suspension.

First, let’s start with the suspension. Indefinite sounds like a long time, but in this case the term is only used because the NHL has never handed down a suspension for public idiocy before, so they’re not entirely sure how long it should be for. I doubt it will be longer then three games, even Sean Avery couldn’t get more then that for a public comment short of encouraging violence or racism.

I applaud Bettman for acting so quickly on this one. The NHL is not a trash-talking league, and when it is, it’s done with a modicum of respect. Comments like Avery’s are not just inflammatory, they are insulting, a little disgusting, and of a very very personal nature. These kinds of tactics don’t belong in any sport. We forget in this day and age that athletes are supposed to be role models and live to higher moral standards then the rest of us. They need to be this way because they are some of the most public figures around. They should be held to the same standards as politicians, because like politicians, they can end up as heroes to the nation. Movie and music stars can be scum all they want, it improves their careers and for some reason Americans love to imagine their favorite stars in some sort of Caligula like fashion. As hockey fans we are lucky because hockey players are some of the nicest, most honest, most down to earth people around. While football and basketball players get arrested, and baseball players act selfish and aloof, I’ve always found hockey players to not just be approachable, but most agreeable as well. Well, except maybe Mr. Avery.

As for Avery, the man’s a dick. You want to know the medium with which to gauge the level of dickdom in the sports world? If you have a rule named after you because of your antics, you’re a dick. I realize Avery was trying to get under Phaneuf’s skin, but what a deplorable way to do so. He’s not only insulting Phaneuf, which may be acceptable, but also Cuthbert. Elisha Cuthbert is a big hockey fan and one of it’s better advocates. What she saw in Avery besides the fact that he’s probably very much like many of the Hollywood people she spends her time with, is beyond me. You want to describe her as sloppy seconds in the locker room, fine. You want to tell Dion Phaneuf he’s dating your sloppy seconds on the ice where it’s just between the two of you, not great but acceptable. But to seek out reporters so that you can tell the entire viewing audience, not to mention all the people you know who will see it on the internet, you’re a dick.

Dallas gave Avery a four year deal this offseason. Already this season Mike Modano, the most venerable man in Dallas, has expressed his distaste for him. Already the Dallas fans have expressed distaste for him. And now, with this, even Stars owner Tom Hicks says he agrees with the suspension, and says he would have suspended the man himself had the league done nothing.And Brett Hull, who lobbied long and hard to get this guy on his team, said that he had let his teammates down.

In the end the real victim is Elisha Cuthbert who doesn’t deserve to be chastised by an ex-lover on national television. We’ve all had exes (probably), and we’ve all wanted to say nasty things about them, and they about us, but I hope that all of us have had the decency to only express those thoughts in private. If Avery really thinks of his ex-girlfriends as “sloppy seconds” then that’s his issue, just don’t make it the NHL’s issue.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

Sean Avery’s gone! Yay! Also, this last week has been a great week of parity. Teams are winning all over the place! It’s great to see close, competitive hockey games, and that’s what we’ve been having. Don’t expect it to last too long. Some teams have injured players on their way back, some teams are just slumping, some teams are over-achieving. These things have a way of balancing out again with the good teams on top, but for the few weeks a season where things get a little jumbly, it makes for a lot of fun hockey.

WE SHOULD HAVE A HOLIDAY FOR THIS KIND OF THING…

Posted in What Going Right by yankhockey on November 26, 2008

Ok, I was being really mean with last weeks post. Really, it was all the black jerseys paraded out like they were something new and interesting when they each one looked more and more like the last. Well, after breathing deeply for a couple of days I think I’m over it. The meanness is out of me.

In fact, I’m feeling so good that I’ve even become thankful for hockey and third jerseys. Hey! Thankful? Why, isn’t Thursday Thanksgiving? That almost seems like a planned segway into a topic where I described what each of the 30 teams are thankful for this year. That’s a good idea, let’s do it.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are thankful that that only one other team in their division is capable of winning a game. They are also thankful that LA is capable of supporting two teams.

Atlanta Thrashers: Down Atlanta way they are just thankful that Johan Hedberg and Ondrej Pavele are doing as well as Kari Lehtonen was before he went down.

Boston Bruins: TIM THOMAS!? Ok, and Phil Kessel too.

Buffalo Sabres: Who wouldn’t be thankful for a goal scorer like Tomas Vanek? They are also thankful in Buffalo for having the best fans in the game.

Calgary Flames: Only that their veterans are still producing, only that.

Carolina Hurricanes: A smooth transition from the experienced team that they were into the young promising thing they’ve become. And their going to be even more thankful as the years pass and this team just gets better and better.

Chicago Blackhawks: Every      Single      Thing. Even Khabibulin has joined up for this years rocket ride to the stratosphere. They even get to play outside this year.

Colorado Avalanche: Maybe that Joe Sakic will be back soon… except there’s a good chance this is his last year. Maybe they’re thankful that they haven’t put out a black third jersey.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Rick Nash! Oh wait, that’s me. Actually the Blue Jackets have a lot of promise this year, and I think by the end of the year they might be thankful that they’ve finally made it into the post season.

Dallas Stars: That the season will end eventually.

Detroit Red Wings: That the season won’t end until June again this year.

Edmonton Oilers: That they didn’t end up spending all that money on Dustin Penner…. Oh, wait, whoops.

Florida Panthers: That after this season they can finally begin to rebuild.

LA Kings: That they just keep getting better every year.

Minnesota Wild: That Jacques Lemaire is the eternal walking dead, and as long as no one stabs a stake through his heart this team will never miss the playoffs.

Montreal Canadiens: Montreal is thankful for 100 absolutely incredible years, and they are looking forward to 100 more.

Nashville Predators: The team is thankful that they won’t be in Nashville for long, and the fans would be thankful to have a team if they knew they had a team.

New Jersey Devils: It’s hard to be thankful when Martin Brodeur is not playing, but they can be thankful that Zach Parise is a goal scoring machine.

NY Islanders: They’re thankful that at one point in their franchise history they were the best.

NY Rangers: At Madison Square Garden they are thankful that they are no longer the laughing stock of the league.

Ottawa Senators: That Alex Auld has found his starting goaltender skills, albeit on a team that can’t win a game for him.

Philadelphia Flyers: That goal scoring will never be a problem this season, and each game will be exciting.

Phoenix Coyotes: That The Great One is still behind the bench. This guy could have jumped ship a long time ago, but he believes in his team and they will reward him soon.

Pittsburgh Penguins: That they carry the faces of the NHL, even if those faces don’t always deserve the honor.

San Jose Sharks: They are thankful that they are the unstoppable force this season… will they make it work in the playoffs finally?

St Louis Blues: They’re thankful that injuries heal. They’ll be more thankful once their goal scoring comes back.

Tampa Bay Lightning: That you can fire a beloved NHL personality and not feel a boatload of backlash.

Toronto Maple Leafs: That Leafs fans will never stop showing up, even if they dressed a team full of monkeys.

Vancouver Canucks: That no one has mentioned a lack of goal scoring once since the season started.

Washington Capitals: That all their big names are playing like big names.

Happy Thanksgiving readers, and happy Thanksgiving NHL

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

Back-up goaltenders are going right this week. And it’s a good thing too because there are too many damned goalie injuries right now. Curtis Sanford hasn’t lost in place of Roberto Luongo. Brian Boucher in San Jose has been keeping San Jose on top of the conference. Joey MacDonald is playing as well as Rick DiPietro ever did. Kevin Weekes is making sure that fans in New Jersey aren’t passing out from holding their breathes in anticipation of Brodeur coming back. And Dany Sabourin in Pittsburgh is holding his own in the crease. So everyone go down to your local arena and give your back-ups a hearty handshake and thank you for all the hard work they put into their jobs.

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DALLAS AND PHILLY DISAPPOINT OFF THE ICE TOO

Posted in Dallas, Philadelphia, third jersey, What Going Right by yankhockey on November 19, 2008

It’s a sad day in hockey when Carolina is the best at something, but when it comes to alternate jerseys that is certainly the case this year. Ok ok, I’m exaggerating. Buffalo, St Louis, and Pittsburgh have put out some absolutely beautiful sweaters this year, but so far Carolina’s has been the most imaginitive and original. You can add Dallas and Philly to the ranks of the unimaginative as of Tuesday when they released their very uninspired third jerseys.

Let’s begin with the worst in Dallas where their design team apparently believes that simple changing the color of a previously existing jersey is considered a radical change. Oh daddy daddy! Get me the white Dallas Stars jersey!

Feh!

Who got paid for that? I should be paid just to take all those jerseys off their hands and give them away to needy children. I’m trying so hard not to go down the “all Texans are inbred rednecks” road here, but if one of these miserable excuses of a jersey sells it’s the fans themselves taking that road. I’d even like to say that it’s better then the uterus jersey they put out a couple years ago (cause let’s face it, practically everything is), but at least that jersey required an a little creative effort to design. The new jersey is just lazy. No, it’s beyond lazy, if there is a word that is lazier then lazy, someone comment on this entry and let me know because it will certainly describe this jersey better then I can given my apparently limited vocabulary.

Now, on to Philly where their new jersey, while also being a bit lazy, does at least come with a history. That’s fine with me, I like it when a team and its fans appreciate the history of the franchise. So why do I call it lazy? I call it lazy because what’s the point? It all just comes down to a money grab in the end. These teams like the Islanders, Canucks, and Flyers who have put re-released original jersey designs are just looking for a way to make a little bit more money. If you liked the design so much, stick with it, don’t trot it out years later as an “alternate”, especially not in the case of the Flyers and Islanders where it’s just your current logo with slightly different color management.

This is why I started the post by stating that the Hurricanes are doing this best. They made something different for their fans. If i was a Carolina fan and I saw that jersey I might think to myself “That doesn’t look anything like any of my other jerseys, I might like to own that”. It’s an alternate jersey, make it something unique. Not Dallas Stars uterus unique or Boston “Winnie the Pooh” unique, but something cool like the Oilers did a few years back. Put something on the jersey that everyone can get excited about for ten or twelve games a year, and the rest of the year wear the classic jersey that your fans love.

The only teams I will let off this tirade this year are the Canadiens and Leafs who have had the same color schemes and logos since they played in Ancient Sumeria and are allowed to trot out throwbacks which bear resemblance to their current jerseys. To the rest of you teams; listen up! If you want to make a statement with a third jersey, make a bloody statement. Don’t make your fans continue to shell out cash for what amounts to slapping the same damn logo with a slightly different striping and shoulder pattern. And to the Dallas Stars – any money you spent designing your “third” jersey needs to be reimbursed, like now. I don’t see how any judge or jury could find that what you paid for could amount to a new jersey.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

Division leaders are going very very right. As of Tuesday night, the division leaders in the NHL are a combined 74-21-14. They are lead by San Jose and Detroit and Boston who have lost a total of only eight games in regulation between them. Since the new CBA was drafted there has been a lot more parity in the NHL. It seems now, more then in any other time of my hockey memory, teams have a better chance of beating any other team then ever before. The competition in the modern NHL is so good you almost forget that there are still dominant teams… until you look at the standings. But that’s exciting too. It’s exciting when your team is either one of those teams in the lead, or playing that team and keeping it close, maybe even beating them. There’s a lot of adrenalin flowing in any hockey fans veins when their team is heading into the third period up a goal or two on the Red Wings, it’s fun. But the best part is, regardless of how far ahead in the standings the Wings are, once the post season starts there’s almost no way to guarantee they will even make it out of the first round. And that, my dear readers, is what competition is all about.

JERSEYS EVERYWHERE!

Posted in Buffalo, Carolina, Edmonton, St. Louis, third jersey, Toronto, What Going Right by yankhockey on November 12, 2008

So I was browsing the internet recently when I suddenly realized I had made a horrible oversight on Yankee Hockey. In my haste to cover every third jersey release this season I didn’t recall that a number of teams had already released their third jerseys either in the off-season or early in the season before I had started writing. In the interest of full coverage today’s entry will finally give those jerseys their due, albeit more brief then I’m sure fans of those teams would like. So let’s get started with the:

Buffalo Sabres: If you read my report on the new Penguins sweater then you know I love shield logos on hockey jerseys. This jersey is so awesome it’s near perfect. The buffalo over two sabres is so very much better then the buffaslug they’ve been wearing for the last little while. It’s the exact kind of logo you’d expect from a team that wants to be taken seriously, for a team with smart hockey fans, for the Buffalo Sabres. The colors are great too, dark blue mixed with a deep yellow. None of this bright color garbage that so many teams have these days. Ok, so the Sharks and Canucks look pretty good in non-traditional colors, but that’s the West Coast, in the East you gotta look more dabber then that. Good for Buffalo for taking a step in the right direction.

Carolina Hurricanes: It might surprise you to learn that I actually like this jersey. It might just be because the normal Hurricanes jersey is so damn stupid that nearly anything would look better. They share their colors with just about every other team in the East (Devils, Panthers, etc…), and the logo certainly doesn’t scream hockey. The new logo, a tattered flag fluttering in the wind, is actually kind of interesting. And the colors, though still shared, are in better proportions then they were before. A nearly completely black jersey isn’t so interesting, but it is something the NHL doesn’t currently have which makes it much more entertaining to look at.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers are getting back to what works. I’ll admit I actually like the oil drop in the cog logo, but there’s something about a classic look that trumps anything new you could create… hence the term classic I guess. The orange and blue are the colors that Edmonton came into the league with, they’re the colors that Gretzky played under, and they’re the colors that they won many many cups under. Like a lot of Northwest teams the jersey colors are based on the local scenes, blue and orange are working colors, Edmonton is a working class town.

St Louis Blues: Cool Cool Cool Cool Cool! These jerseys are so cool they absolutely belong in Music City. The shield is great, with the classic Blues logo in front of the Gateway Arch. The colors are great but we better hope they don’t play a game, alternate versus alternate, against the Sabres or we may have no idea which team has the puck. The best part about this jersey is how ugly St. Louis jerseys could have been, but instead they got these beauties. St Louis is taking a cue from the teams with history, shield logos are hockey perfection.

Toronto Maple Leafs: No surprise here, we’ve already seen this jersey from the Leafs. None-the-less it’s a nice jersey to see. It brings me back to an earlier time, a time when helmets were for the army, sweaters were sweaters, and six teams were all you needed. I’ve read a lot of reviews, both previously and in this newest incarnation, that complained about the wordmark in the Leaf. I actually like wordmarks on jerseys. It’s not just for baseball people. There’s something nice about seeing the team name and city on a hockey sweater, and it’s hardly a new phenomenon, rather it was common all the way up to the Original Six era. I think it makes a lot of sense both stylistically and historically.

And there you have it, a quick synopsis of all the new jerseys I have missed. And allow me to apologize for making the mistake of ignoring these jerseys for so long. Now that I’m caught up I can finally relax.

What’s Going Right:

Goaltending! Finally, after watching goaltenders struggling all year we’re seeing some stellar play from the goaltenders who were supposed to be stellar. Even without Brodeur, and with Turco playing like Swiss cheese, top-tier goaltenders are showing why they are top tier. Roberto Luongo might not let another goal in all year. Henrik Lundqvist is making sure the Rangers are the best team in the east. But what’s really fun to watch is the next generation keeping the crease free from pucks. Ryan Miller is playing like a man possessed, Alex Auld is the only thing Ottawa has the be optimistic about, and moving South, Mike Smith is making  Dallas regret letting him go. Suddenly goal scorers are facing goaltenders on their game, and that’s just as fun to watch.