Monday, April 30, 2007
Note to NHL: Ditch the kick rule, keep OT
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
When Michal Rozsival's slap shot found the back of the net in the second overtime in the Rangers' 2-1 win Sunday, it not only gave the Blueshirts life in their series against the Buffalo Sabres, but it also prevented a controversy over an earlier disallowed goal by Rangers defenseman Karel Rachunek.
Imagine the mess if the Sabres won the game to take a 3-0 series lead. There would have been days of debate over whether Rachunek actually tried to kick the puck into the net, as officials ultimately ruled he did. The goal would have given the Rangers a 2-0 lead early in the second period.
From our vantage point, we thought officials made the right call. Rachunek appeared to direct the puck past Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller with his skate. Many others disagreed.
Which brings us to the greater issue, one we hope the competition committee and NHL general managers will consider this summer: Why is this an issue at all?
For all the talk about trying to create more offense, why not simply erase the kicking rule entirely? Who cares if a player kicks the puck into the net? We know it's not soccer, but players are allowed to kick pucks to each other. They can kick the puck to safety. Why not kick it into the net? If they can, more power to them.
By erasing the "kicking motion" rule, the flow of the game would be improved. No more lengthy stretches of video replay and calling upon the spirits to determine what a player's intention might have been.
Did the puck cross the goal line? Yes? Goal. End of story.
Furthermore, why are there rules prohibiting passing the puck from player to player with a glove? Players can scoot a puck to a teammate in the defensive zone with impunity, but not anywhere else. Why? If you're on your knees and can direct a puck to a teammate in the slot for a scoring chance (without closing your hand over the puck, just to keep things from degenerating into handball on ice), go for it.
Similarly, why not allow a player to swat a puck into the goal as long as it's below the crossbar? What's the difference between batting an airborne puck with a stick and a glove? Both require hand-eye coordination. As Don Cherry likes to say, let them play.
Coaches safe for now
The theory coming out of the lockout was that parity would put many NHL coaches on double-secret probation. Owners and GMs, hungry for success in a league in which success was suddenly attainable for each of the 30 teams, would be quick to make a coaching change if their teams stumbled.
At least, that was the theory.
The Stars announced last week that they will retain coach Dave Tippett and his staff for the 2007-08 season.
Yet, the reality is parity has made many owners and GMs more patient if their teams don't meet expectations.
Despite an 11-18 postseason record and three straight first-round ousters on his résumé, Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett will be back next season.
Barry Trotz led his Nashville Predators to a franchise-record 110 points and a third straight playoff berth, but once again they fell in the opening round. San Jose dispatched the Preds in five games for the second straight season, but unless GM David Poile has a major change of heart, Trotz, the franchise's only coach, will be back.
Thrashers coach Bob Hartley swapped goalies like trading cards in Atlanta's first playoff appearance, contributing in no small part to the New York Rangers' first-round sweep. But according to GM Don Waddell, Hartley will be back behind the bench next season.
GM Jay Feaster has big issues to deal with in Tampa Bay, but his close ties with John Tortorella seem to indicate the emotional coach will return for an eighth campaign, even though the Bolts fell in six games to the New Jersey Devils in the first round.
Dave Lewis couldn't get anywhere near a playoff berth in his first season in Boston, but he'll get another chance to turn the sorrowful Bruins ship around.
The list goes on.
Barring something unforeseen -- a Detroit collapse against San Jose that pushes coach Mike Babcock over the edge or a breakdown in Ottawa that costs Bryan Murray his job (both unlikely) -- this summer may see just one coaching opening. New Jersey president and GM Lou Lamoriello will be looking for a replacement for himself.
Why are so many coaches being given a reprieve?
In part, the great parity across the league has forced GMs to look beyond simple wins and losses to assess whether their teams are getting better. For instance, GMs have to determine whether young players are developing according to plan and whether coaches are correcting mistakes and making adjustments in a timely fashion. In short, as long as the team is moving forward, at least incrementally, GMs seem prepared to put up with more disappointment, in terms of results, rather than bringing in a new coach.
In a bottom-line business, the bottom line has suddenly become a lot fuzzier when it comes to coaching.
NHL, hear our plea!
We were disappointed to read comments from Brendan Shanahan and Martin Brodeur in The New York Post over the weekend. Both future Hall of Famers, and important members of the league's competition committee, suggested to veteran hockey columnist Larry Brooks they would entertain discussion of limiting the length of overtime sessions in NHL playoff games.
However, the idea that playoff overtimes might some day be altered to 4-on-4 play after one overtime period and (God forbid) perhaps a shootout after a second scoreless overtime frame, is disturbing to say the least.
The arguments are sound. Players get tired as overtime extends beyond the first couple OT sessions. The fatigue not only affects play in the game, but also has the potential to affect play down the road. And, of course, television folks don't like the idea of extended overtime sessions because there are no TV timeouts beyond regulation (God forbid that a long overtime game might bleed into an important infomercial).
But is there anything better than watching teams push each other back and forth, knowing the next mistake, the next shot, could be the difference? And if that war of wills takes an hour or two hours, so be it. Overtime is the time for heroes and goats, for players to rise or succumb above fatigue and injury on the game's finest stage. Putting an artificial end to the drama would destroy the very fabric of the playoff quilt.
Through Sunday's action, Scott Gomez leads all playoff scorers with 12 points.
This isn't European hockey and it's not the Olympics or World Championships. This is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Here's hoping no one forgets that.
Don't worry, the Canucks will still lose
We found it interesting the chest-thumping that accompanied the Vancouver Canucks' 2-1 overtime victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 2 of their second-round series. The suggestion was that critics who predicted the Canucks were going to be overwhelmed by the Ducks had been put in their place.
Of course, the fact the Canucks had been lucky in that victory, and then dropped a 3-2 decision on home ice Sunday night in Game 3 to fall behind 2-1 in the series, suggests this series is going exactly as most critics (including this one) had suspected.
The Canucks have now played 10 playoff games and managed to score just 18 goals. Two of those were empty-netters against Dallas in Game 7. The 16 others have been spread over a period that includes a four-overtime game and a double-overtime tilt. In short, the Canucks can't score to save their lives, and no matter how close the games are against the Ducks, they're doomed to fail with their only victories moral ones.
You can almost hear the cash registers going "cha-ching" every time Scott Gomez, Daniel Briere and Chris Drury register another point in these playoffs.
As of Monday morning, Gomez led all playoff scorers with 12 points in eight games and was a plus-6. Briere and Drury, the co-captains of the Buffalo Sabres, have seven points apiece in eight games. All three natural centers will be unrestricted free agents this summer.
At the start of the playoffs, Gomez would have ranked third among this trio on the free-agent market, but his play has given him at least equal billing. The question will be where the bidding will stop this summer, at least $6 million per year for each of the three, and possibly much higher with the cap expected to settle between $47 million and $48 million next season.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.