Buccigross: Here's what I know ...

Updated: August 23, 2005, 3:35 PM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

There is a lack of independent thinking around hockey because no one wants to be kicked out of the club.

Is it OK if I think fighting should be banned? Will hockey fans think I'm & soft? I'm not sure if I should say I want bigger nets.

What about this? Shorter shifts, better skating and safer equipment. Quicker, bigger and better prepared goaltending. Defensive coaching has stifled scoring throughout the game.

And this? We have heard the term clutch and grab a lot the last few years, and frankly that is not the problem. While I detest the act of tugging at puck carriers with a stick, I don't see that much interference away from the play. I see incredibly mobile skaters with long reaches. I see goaltenders with 8 percent body fat. Gump Worsley had the same amount of body fat just on the back of his neck.

I see speed used as a defensive weapon. I see film sessions used primarily to defend and not to score. I see all of this contributing to lower-scoring games, which only leads to more defensive thinking because it's so hard to score goals.

Some will say I know nothing about hockey. Charles Schultz, the late, great "Peanuts" creator, was a hockey fan. His son once sent me an e-mail saying I know nothing about hockey! Snoopy's drinking Hater-ade.

I believe what I say because I think about it so much. I watch the games. There are people who cover hockey and talk about hockey who don't watch the games.

The hockey community needs to allow and promote independent thinking. For too long, hockey has been like that one college fraternity that advocates single-minded thinking. People are afraid to suggest in fear of being ostracized. I've been around nearly every sport in close capacity, and I've never heard the phrase, "you don't understand the game," more than I do in hockey.

The lockout broke down some of those barriers. As life went on and fans didn't light themselves on fire outside Madison Square Garden because there was no NHL season, NHL general managers and other assorted lifers began to expand their minds. They realized there were a lot of things to see on TV and a lot of places to go around town.

Maybe fans were able to move on during the work stoppage because the product was getting stale. Now I believe that argument is exaggerated and without foundation. There are more than 1,200 NHL games a year, and they can't all be good. Ben Affleck only makes two movies a year and they are both bad (that's a zero percent success rate). With some small, simple adjustments, the game could shine brighter if all ideas were heard and discussed.

My top ideas:
1. Bigger nets
2. No touching of a player with hand or stick when they are in front of you
3. Nets closer to the end boards (part of new rules)
4. No ejection-free fighting
5. Legalizing two-line passes (part of new rules)
6. Ten minutes of 4-on-4
7. Regular-season shootouts (part of new rules)

Hang with me here for some ironic validation &

At this year's Travis Roy Charity Golf tournament in Orange, Conn., I met Boston University coach Jack Parker in person for the first time. Within seconds, I understood what makes Parker a great leader and coach. He has a dominating and confident personality mixed in with a dash of sweetness. He has a presence without being a bore. It's a fine line, and Parker walks it with balance, style and grace.

We were talking hockey as Chris Drury, Julie Chu, Tom Poti, Steve Kasper, Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, Ted Drury and others slowly made their way over to Travis for the annual team picture.

We were talking about some of the issues brought up at the annual NCAA hockey coaches convention. Parker took out a folded piece of paper from his pocket, unfolding a page he ripped out of a Sports Illustrated issue. It was a classic photo of an NHL game from long ago. Parker said, "Look at that." He didn't have to say a word. Right away, I saw what he saw: how much room there was to shoot, how much twine was visible to the shooter, how big the net was.

Parker is also a bigger-net guy. He knows there is too little to shoot at and defense is choking the fun, entertainment and thrill out of the game.

I have to admit it, when a man with an impressive résumé like Parker makes an unpopular stand that coincides with one's own unpopular stand, it puts a minion on air.

Talking hockey with Parker can make one feel small. It can make one hesitant to advocate a position that isn't popular. But as the Boston University coach unfolded that piece of paper, he made me more than relieved to find out someone of significance believes in bigger nets. He made me feel that I might know a little something about hockey.

The Mailbag

John
Quick question. I'm seriously considering getting NHL Center Ice this year so that I can watch my Pens from a distance.
1. Any idea what it runs for the full season?
2. Is it worth it to have?
Mike Glover

1. Last year, you could have got an early-bird special on Direct TV or other cable outlets that offer the package for $129.99. 2. I believe it is. The Hockey Night in Canada and TSN coverage is worth the price for me. I love the late night Canuck games. This year, the Flames, Oilers, Ducks, Sharks and Kings are all going to be good and entertaining. It will make for a lot of entertaining late-night bowls of cereal on the East Coast. I watch every game, every night, so writing the check is no chore for me.

Hey there John,

Did you see "Cameron" Neely's appearance on the FX show "Rescue Me" on Tuesday night? Not exactly a stretch for him (he played a teammate of Denis Leary's on the NYFD's hockey team), but even still, it was some really funny stuff.

Bob Braine

I have three things on TiVO season pass: 1. "This Week in Baseball"; 2. "Entourage"; 3. "Rescue Me." Jessica Leccia, who plays Mary Magdalene, is my TV girlfriend. We're going steady.

John,

Bravo for your above referenced article on how the NHL should market themselves in the states. A stellar product is always a draw regardless of what gimmicks are used to market the game.

As a University of Maine season-ticket holder, I have the privilege of watching some of the best college hockey in the country. It is great to see that the NHL has picked up on some of the rules that make college hockey more offensive, with less clutch-and-grab, than the NHL. It is also undeniable that with the young talent that is in the NHL, the game can become lightning quick with the rule changes. This is what the NHL needs and hopefully the owners who want hockey teams in the tropics don't drive the league into obscurity.

Lester French
Hampden, Maine

Hey JB

I think your analysis of the Wild was right on. This team makes huge money and should have upgraded the team. I wouldn't call signing three third- or fourth-line D-men and Todd White an upgrade. Add to that the loss of Andrew Brunette (their best offensive player the last two years) and where does the team go? I think they have the small-market mindset (a la the Twins), when they are clearly a big-market hockey team. The X is sold out every game and the Wild are near the top in merchandise sold. Help me here in the great northern tundra!

Scott Radzak
Sauk Rapids, Minn.

If the NHL is going to resemble college hockey, (smaller, quick-skating players who play both ways and low-scoring games), the Wild will be fine. The Wild are focusing in on drafting talent and building a team. When the time is right to add a free agent to fill a need, I'm sure they will. I don't think scoring will go up much this year, so the Wild's skating style of play will still be effective. Yes, they could use more scoring punch and Martin St. Louis is unrestricted next year. He seems like a good Minnesota fit in personality and style if he doesn't take less in Tampa Bay. Overall, it's probably smarter to see how the game looks and feels this year before making expensive investments. Also, the cap number could drop in the next year or two, and some teams will be forced to trade salary which can be acquired for a song (see Roenick). And remember, teams with cap room and prospects, like the Wild, can be players at trade deadline time for teams looking to dump free-agents-to-be or teams looking to dump high-payroll players. The Wild will be able to get good players and actually hang on to their prospects at the same time. Just because your team didn't add payroll or players in August, doesn't mean they won't in January. It might be smarter to wait.

Hey Bucci,

Love watching ESPN Hockey down here in New Zealand.
As a devout Avs fan, I'm not mourning the loss of Foote and Forsberg. Once I recovered from my initial shock of losing Forsberg, I realized it had to happen and that losing Tanguay and Hejduk would be more devastating. The Avs have had to put up with Forsberg being injured all the time and have coped quite well. Besides, Joe Sakic is the best player in the league, not Foppa. The Avs will be a tough prospect again this year without Foote and Forsberg. Agreed?
Fred Lunjevich
Auckland, New Zealand

Yes, the Avs will still be good. Their experienced defense has some grit and has a little youth. Blake turns 36 in December and that bears watching. By the looks of the roster, the Avs are going to play a lead with a stick kind of defense. They are not an explosive team and will be easy to defend. As I look at their roster right now, I don't think they are as good as the Flames, Sharks, Kings, Canucks or Stars, and they are comparable to Detroit, Anaheim and Edmonton. One of those teams is not going to make the playoffs. If Colorado is that team, I wouldn't be shocked. But as I said, they are well-coached and have good veteran players. If they are healthy and gel early, they should be OK. I think we'll tell in the first month if the Avs will have a good year or not.

Hi John,

Once again, another big Pens fan here with a question for you. Does the signing of Jocelyn Thibault leave Marc-Andre Fleury as the second choice to play between the pipes for Pittsburgh, or will this be one of the great goaltending controversies (eg. starting quarterback) of the season? Who do you think should be playing opening night for the Pens?

Also, where does the signing of John LeClair leave the Pens in terms of cap space and who is rumored to be their next major signing?

Go Pens!
Chris Ozereko
Tampa, Fla.

Marc-Andre Fleury will see some action in Pittsburgh, but not the whole season, barring injuries. He needs to play and he has contract kickers that activate when he reaches a certain number of games played.

John,

About the Sharks. Given the loss of Ricci, Damphousse, and now Rathje, the team has most certainly gotten younger. Some say that Marleau, McLaren, and Hannan will step up to lead the team. Regardless, do they really need a veteran scoring presence in order to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs and the Cup, as so many people have been saying?

Dave Segreto
San Jose, Calif.

Players like Dave Andreychuk are invaluable to a young team. Especially when they are a good interview, because they can absorb the media crush. The Sharks' best players are Brad Stuart (25 years old), Patrick Marleau (25) and Marco Sturm (26). That's a young core. Scott Thornton is a key guy on the Sharks. He turns 35 on Jan. 4 and has a great personality. He's had just 22 goals in his last 121 games. If he can get back to that 20-goal mark and provide a little leadership, it will go a long way. The Sharks will need some young players with promise to produce big. They have a chance to be among the Western Conference teams that have a Stanley Cup chance. I see the West as parity-filled and almost impossible to predict.

John,

A stat that may only interest you and me:
301 days between the beginning and the end of lockout
301 days between the Draper hit and revenge on Lemieux
MacPhisto
Budapest, Hungary

John,

I wish that people like you, columnists/announcers/etc., who have a voice in the media would take a clear stand on fighting in the league. Your comments about making the game fun and marketing it better are accurate, but in my opinion, all of that is secondary if the league doesn't ban fighting. That will be the single largest hindrance to the league's growth.

Tony Lauro
Denver

I believe it would serve the NHL well to ban fighting. Now, for those people who believe fighting should stay need to realize, there will still be fights! There is fighting in baseball, basketball and football. Players are just ejected for it. Players are getting too big and too strong to allow bare-knuckle fighting on ice and it's ludicrous to have teenagers sent out to fight. If fighting was illegal, Todd Bertuzzi probably would not have hit Steve Moore from behind. It would then be up to the players to enforce a code of fairness, and for the NHL and its officials to strongly enforce and penalize cheap-shot artists.

John,

I don't frequently read your column (sorry) but happened to recently and saw someone's comments about rule changes.

I recently attended the USA Hockey Master's Coaching Clinic where I had the pleasure of listening to and interacting with seven NHL coaches. It seemed a unanimous theme amongst those coaches (I also got to listen to the U-18 coach talk about this) that scoring in the NHL and internationally wasn't a by-product of net size or goalie equipment or even clutching-and-grabbing. It was almost singularly caused by defensively minded coaching and playing.

Once at the pro level, these players have been "programmed" to think defensively first. I can't even count how many times I have seen youth coaches yell at their players to dump the puck when pressured, or chastise the player who decides to try and skate up the ice with the puck for not passing. From mites to midgets, too many coaches are focusing on defensive skills - - dump the puck when pressured, put the puck in the corner and chase it down, clog the neutral zone to stop oncoming traffic; and that is creating the type of player we see in the NHL today. There is little being taught to young players about "puck possession," about making a one-on-one move to create an opportunity, about creativity and decision making.

Jason Thibeault
Chandler, Ariz.

I have two sons, a bantam and a mite. I've watched the older boy play for five years and when I hear coaches scream "dump it in," I age a few months. I had to beg my son to carry the puck when he was 8. The above e-mail is reason No. 24 why I believe the nets should be bigger. This defensive hockey will not go away. Never go away. It's here to stay. I'm going to help coach my younger son's mite team this year and I am looking forward to helping the kids have fun playing the game. To advocate creativity, coach without screaming and have every kid come to the rink and leave the rink with sweat on their foreheads and a smile on their face.

John,

Do you know why the Flyers aren't going to get to the Cup finals this year? I do. Defense. Why? Derian Hatcher, Eric Desjardins, and Chris Therien. When will Clark learn size doesn't matter? They're too slow and old!

Eric Kearns

I get Flyer e-mails like this a lot. Don't forget the Flyers have Kim Johnsson and Joni Pitkanen, two excellent puck-moving defensemen. Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje will be key penalty killers in front of the net as we have double-digit power-play opportunities in the early part of the season. They will clear space and they will block shots. The Flyers believe the NHL will be an end-zone game this year and they are prepared in with big defensemen.

John,

I think that the NHL allowing Bertuzzi back in the game at all is a disgrace. This guy is a criminal for what he did to Moore. For Bertuzzi to go on TV and whine about getting a second chance is a joke. Moore may never get a second chance. I don't want to hear from Bertuzzi about how hard it was not playing hockey during the lockout. At least he wasn't recuperating from a broken neck from a sucker punch. I love the NHL and believe in players policing themselves, but this wasn't just policing, it was assault on the ice. This is coming from a die-hard Flyers fan who loved every minute of the Flyers-Senators brawl a couple of seasons ago. At least they were facing each other when they fought.

Tony Basilio
Kennett Square, Pa.

John,

I just can't fathom making the net bigger. It's too freaky like the stupid blue puck they try to get squirts to use. Better? Make the ice bigger, get rid of "touch-up" icing and the red line, call obstructions, and contract four teams; the offense will take care of itself.

Herman Schultz
La Crosse, Wisc.

I don't know how much bigger we should make the net, but I am adamant that it should happen. When you watch a game, count all the posts hit this season. If the net was just 6 inches wider and 4 inches higher they would all be goals. 1-0, 2-1 games can be great, but most of them are not.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.

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