New rules are a good gamble


The week that was in the NHL: All-Star Game, Arthur Levitt's financial report, Vegas rule change recommendations and Jeremy Roenick's mouth wired shut.

Of course, in the end, nothing, not even a shattered jaw, could stop No. 97 from being interviewed by Darren Pang on ABC last Saturday. Roenick is like the mariners in Tennyson's "Ulysses":

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are --
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield ... to any interview -- especially Panger!

Roenick is the Evil Knievel of those who are interviewed. I mean, nothing can stop this guy. Puck to the face, five hours of surgery, shattered jaw wired shut, and he grants an interview less than 48 hours later! We should have woken up Frank Gifford from the couch to conduct that interview.

Can you imagine if Jeremy were NHL commissioner for a day? We'd have cameras in the showers, microphones in the hotel rooms, and water bottle toss carnival games at every arena. Is there any question that after Gary Bettman negotiates a new CBA sometime in 2007, J.R. should be the next commissioner?

Better yet, contract 14 U.S.-based teams and add six in Canada. We'll have a two-division NHL. Canadian and American. The Canadian champ plays the American champ. Roenick can be the commish of the American Division and Tie Domi can be the commish of the Canadian Division. A 50-game regular season. Top four teams in each division make the playoffs. Naked shootouts. And goalies can only play net wearing an apron and holding a live largemouth bass. This is great. We'll work out the other details later. God, I love J.R.

Meanwhile, in other news ...

The NHL and its GMs came away from Las Vegas with a handful of recommended
rule changes. A return to tag-up icing, 10-inch goalie pads and the nets to 10 feet from the end boards will easily pass the 14 committees the recommendations must go through.

I'm not so sure about this goalie not touching the puck, or advancing the puck, or doing something with the puck behind the net thing. First of all, I don't want more rules, I want fewer. And I don't want any gray areas. I understand the NHL's intent and understand in what instances when the rule would help, but this one is way too artificial and contrived. Why don't we just allow these incredibly padded athletes to be hit? If goalies are open to being hit, they will roam less. Then we wouldn't have to worry about lines and interpretations. Let them be hit when playing the puck behind the net.

And I don't buy the argument that defensemen will get creamed. I think the goaltender is most destructive to an opposing offense as a stickhandler when he plays a puck that an opponent would reach first. That's when they are most effective and obliterate the forecheck. Otherwise a defenseman will have to elude the opposition and protect himself. It's like touch-up icing. Some screamed for its removal. And if you want to do that, that's fine, but these are the same people who say take out the instigator rule and let the players police themselves. Well, that's fine too, take away the instigator, but why can't players police themselves on icings and body contact near the boards as well?

There is a distinct honor missing in the game. Play physical, of course! Cam Neely is my hero! The game's soul is its contact. But, boys, think once in a while out there.

But I like the NHL's aggressive thinking here and I'm willing to try anything. You can always change it back. It's just a game.

Someone at the rule changes seminar told me the bigger net and shootouts got more play than they thought. I'm glad to hear that. As many of you know, I'm a bigger net guy. Six inches longer and four inches higher. If that's all they did, I feel the NHL's average of a shade over five goals a game would increase to 8 to 10, about where it should be.

The tag-up rule, the net being moved three feet back and the red line taken out are needed window dressing. They give the game motion and action, which is most important. But until the net is bigger, goal scoring won't go up.

In 1920 baseball introduced a livelier ball. After Bob Gibson's 1.12 era, and Carl Yastrzemski's .301 batting champion average, baseball lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10. The NFL allowed more liberal blocking, made pass defense more difficult, and added protection for the most important offensive player, the quarterback. The offense should always have the slight advantage and only a legitimate great defense should shine. Not an artificial one. The NHL is behind and needs multiple, married changes to catch up.

That being said, for ME, it would have been nice if the Las Vegas committee -- let's call them the "Rink Rat Pack" -- threw in regular-season shootouts, took out the red line, and -- above all -- not allow any obstruction when a skater is in front of another. It's very simple -- YOU HAVE TO HAVE POSITION ON A MAN TO MAKE CONTACT WITH HIM WITH ANY PART OF YOUR BODY OR STICK; OTHERWISE YOU HAVE TO PLAY THE PUCK!! YOU CAN'T EVER TUG AT A MAN WITH YOUR STICK WHEN HE IS IN FRONT OF YOU. You have to skate and get a shoulder in front of the man to make stick and body contact. That would allow for more speed, more action, more goals and strangely enough, more big hits!

Vegas was a start. Let's keep thinking big, Rink Rat Pack members. The game is money. But like everything, cars, bands, relationships, and life, they need tweaking. U2 has had three distinctive musical eras, but remains a great band. When the group sensed it was taking itself too seriously after "Rattle and Hum," it tried something different. "Achtung Baby" CD was U2's shootout album. It worked, and the group even got some new fans.

Sport is art. It's poetry. It's U2 and Interpol. It's Tennyson and Whitman. Passion, creativity, fun and beauty. Competition? Of course. U2, The Mars Volta, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Thomas Yorke, William Butler Yeats, John Adams, and Jack Johnson are all competitors. That's a given. The job of the Vegas Rink Rat Pack is to aid the game in passion (forechecking, fewer games, more fans), creativity (see capital letters above), fun (shootouts), and beauty (no red line for long passing, bigger net for more attractive goal scoring).

Don't treat hockey as traditional organized religion. Treat it as a game. Life evolves. Games evolve.

And as far as that whole Arthur Levitt report, CBA, NHL, NHLPA, Bryan McCabe
six-year work stoppage threat, stuff? That just bores me and makes me mad all at the same time.

I just want to pop Jack Johnson in the CD player, lay on a beach, open a Labatt Blue, and dream of a Detroit/Colorado, Ottawa/Toronto final four.

It's poetry in motion and music to my ears.

This year's MVP race is wide open. With about 20 games to go in the NHL
season, the last 20 will decide who is the year's most valuable. These five
are the front-runners.

1. Martin St. Louis, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning: He is in the race for the Richard Trophy and the Art Ross. He began the week tied for second among forwards in plus-minus. He plays 20 minutes a game. He doesn't take bad penalties, yet plays with passion and purpose. He has six power play goals and seven short-handed goals! He has six game-winning goals. He is equally productive at home and away. He is a factor in every game, in every building, in every portion of the game and on every spot on the ice. He's on a first-place team and a legitimate Stanley Cup finalist contender.

2. Markus Naslund, LW, Vancouver Canucks: He and his Canucks have lost their mojo of late. Vancouver seems a bit listless right now. Once they get a little healthier and Brian Burke makes a trade, hopefully they will get their "A" game back because they are a blast to watch when they get 'er going. Naslund carries this team. He has heart and is clutch, the greatest combination an athlete can have. I expect a big kick out of this horse and a possible Richard/Ross/Hart Triple Crown.

3. Joe Sakic, C, Colorado Avalanche: Seven goals in November. Seven goals in December. Seven goals in January. Nothing but consistent excellence from Joe this year. Potent power-play guy, great faceoff guy and clutch. Plays a lot and plays well. He has yet to explode and have that big month yet which makes him scary in the MVP race. He will have a monster postseason.

4. Jarome Iginla, RW, Calgary Flames: He completely carries this offense. If Calgary is to make the playoffs, Iggy needs to keep putting the lotion in the basket. He plays a lot in every situation and is clearly among the NHL elite. He embodies what an ideal hockey player is all about -- talented, tough, honest, likable. He is so Cam Neely.

5. Andrew Raycroft, G, Boston Bruins: I'm not kidding here. He is the Bruins' most important player and they would be nowhere without him. Two years ago when Jose Theodore won the Hart, he had 30 wins, a 2.11 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. Raycroft will probably finish with at least 30 wins, a lower GAA and about the same save percentage as Theodore had in his MVP year. And the Bruins are not a great defensive team with average defensemen. "Razor" is unquestionably the NHL's rookie of the year. If the Bruins win the Northeast Division, Raycroft should get strong MVP consideration. He gives Bruins fans legitimate playoff hope.

Bucci --
Why do the Flyers feel they need veteran goaltending? Didn't Anaheim go to the finals last year with a goalie who won the Conn Smythe and wouldn't be considered a "veteran" goalie? Especially since Esche's numbers are good and Nitti's numbers even better! In other news … Favorite three Ben Folds songs?
1. Peace brotha!
2. Terry
3. Haddonfield, N.J.

At this point last season, the Ducks did not expect to reach the Stanley Cup final. The Flyers do. I can't imagine Sean Burke playing poorly. Will he be the difference? We'll find out.

Favorite three Ben Folds songs right now? (These things always evolve).
1. Philosophy
2. Best Imitation of Myself
3. Songs of Love (cover)

Think Ben Folds can bring back The Whale? I miss Brass Bonanza.
Tom O'Dea
Plainville, Conn.

Someday I will bring back The Whale. Ben is busy making ep's. Go online and buy them. I'll take care of The Whale.

I am, once again, predicting that the Wings will win the Cup. Last year, we disagreed on this, and you were right. Please, for the love of GOD and everything Holy (lie to me if you have to), tell me you think the Wings will win the Cup!
Tim Sudz

It is so hard to gauge the Wings right now because of their uncertain goaltending, their age, and how much of a factor Derian Hatcher will be. We just don't know the health and effectiveness with a new team Hatcher will have. The quest for the Cup is so wide open, we'll have to wait until the March 9 trade deadline to see how the teams shake up.

J. Buccigross:
Thanks to your interview with Trent Hunter, I discovered an interesting fact that did not occur to me previously -- I share the same exact birthday with him (July 5, 1980). I, of course, have made the vicious, perhaps ill-conceived, maneuver of having my birthdate "stamped" across my back in tattoo form (it says "Est. July 5, 1980" on the first line, "Norfolk, VA USA" on the second, all in seriffed block letters). Upon viewing this monstrosity, which took over two hours to create, people either high-five me in unbridled joy or recoil in disgust and malignment; moreover, I have, in fact, used it as proof-of-age to get into bars.
Tim Kavanagh
Hoboken, N.J.

Fact: Dale Purinton and Todd Fedoruk have their names tattooed on their upper backs uniform style.

Señor Buccigross --
Last night I went to see my local theater's sneak preview of "Miracle." I tingled. I cried. I'm going back again when it actually comes out on Friday. Go to see the best story ever told, or go simply to see the eyebrows on Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov.
Matthew Meehan

Ken Morrow was a little bummed his beard didn't make the movie. They had his actor clean shaven. They did keep his back hair though.

I still get what my girlfreind calls "shiverbugs" when I watch that 1980 U.S./Russia game! It was one of those moments in our lives when "I remember where I was." My family was on our way to Florida. We had a small TV in our van hooked up to our lighter. The signal kept going in and out along the way so we stop at a rest area in Georgia and sit to watch the end. Something I'll never forget!
Rod Jarrett
Clyde, Ohio

So, Jarrett the carrott saw the USA beat the Russians IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!

I went to see "Miracle" last night (best hockey movie since "Slap Shot") and although I never agreed with the idea of making the nets bigger before, after getting another look at what the goalies had back then as opposed to now, I have been converted. Goalies nowadays barely have to move or react to the puck any more. You watch guys back in the day and you see them moving and diving around like crazy to make saves. That kind of goaltending is long lost and the game is weaker for it.
Anaheim, Calif.

I love my Devils, but the NHL should move them.
Christopher Benbow

When I see the name Benbow, I think of the Men at Work song, "Down by the Sea."

Down on the beach
Saluting Captain Benbow

It was me and my girlfriend Carol's song at Steubenville Catholic Central High School. Should the Devils move? That's their choice. Where? Winnipeg, Hartford, or Seattle would be my top three choices.

Thought you might like to know that when I opened the newspaper this morning your name was in the Jumble -- "Bucci." Serious, and I have no idea what it's supposed to be.
Matt Monaghan

Cubic, dude.

Why are the GMs patting themselves on the backs and referring to themselves as "bold" and "willing to listen to anything that will make our game better" when all they're talking about doing is reverting back to rules that have already been used? I'm one of these people who won't be impressed until the GMs vote to allow Ilya Kovalchuk to come down on Martin Brodeur, one-on-one, to decide a game. SHOOTOUTS! SHOOTOUTS! SHOOTOUTS! There are so many wonderfully skilled players in our sport? Why not showcase that?
Rick Shanley
Kalamazoo, Mich.

I recently spent a Friday night at the Taj in Atlantic City. My buddy, Mikey, and I were playing roulette and we were betting only on numbers we could think of on the "old-time" FLYERS. I must admit even though Bobby C seems to be making some interesting trades that seem to be costing the team its youth he was raking in the money on RED 16. I will also give Hexy his due, he hit a couple times, RED 27. Let's just say we walked out of the Taj as if we'd just won the Cup, or as if we could have bought one. Keep up the verve on the cold-water battle.
Take care, brutha!

John Buccigross is the host of NHL2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.