First Period -- Tempted, But The Truth Discovered
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Bryan Berard was suspended from international competition for two years after testing positive for the steroid 19-norandrosterone. The Nov. 12 test was performed on a sample Berard supplied after being named by USA Hockey as a potential player in February's Torino Olympics.
Berard said his positive steroid test was the result of a supplement he took while preparing for this season. Another test taken within the last month showed no banned substances.
Late last year, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman ridiculed the suggestion by Dick Pound, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, that up to a third of approximately 700 NHL players took some kind of performance-enhancing drugs.
Pound may be a headline seeker, but 700 divided by three is 233. And 233 divided by 30 is about eight players. If you consider 19-norandrosterone and oh, let's say, amphetamines, would you be shocked if eight players on each team were taking performance-enhancing drugs?
Amphetamines are a central nervous system stimulant. They speed up the messages going to and from the brain and body. Their effect is similar to that of adrenaline, which is naturally produced by the body. Even though amphetamines mimic the effects of adrenaline, they last a much longer time in the body. If Player A is playing his fourth game in five nights after flying from Edmonton to Ft. Lauderdale, he might need a little pick me up.
I talked with a former player over the weekend. He told me that although he never saw steroids being used in NHL locker rooms, he said he was convinced some players were using them, after seeing those players come back and fly around the ice months after knee surgery.
Steroids help the body heal quicker, and what sport is more demanding than hockey? In terms of cardiovascular exertion, physical contact, number of games and travel, hockey players are prime candidates to benefit from performance enhancing drugs. The competitor who hates to lose or is chasing history. The soon-to-be free agent who is looking for his last big financial strike. The injury-prone player who just can't seem to get that pain out of his knee. They all are tempted.
Second Period -- Eight is Enough
There was an episode of "Family Guy" in which Peter was sent to a camp by his wife Lois to work on his sensitive side. He returned from the camp too sensitive and too soft for her taste, and Lois longed for the old, insensitive Peter to return after their love life had suddenly stopped. She couldn't take it anymore.
Finally, the old Peter returned, and so did their love life. After they reignited their dormant physical expression, Peter asked Lois to go get him a beer. She began talking about how great it was to have the old Peter back. Peter, thinking only of his ice cold beer, then said to Lois, "Lois, too much talky ... not enough fetchy." It's become my favorite line of 2006 so far.
Hockey fans have their own line: "Too much talky, not enough Ovechy."
Alexander Ovechkin's goal (you know the one) against the Phoenix Coyotes last week is, in my mind, the greatest goal in NHL history. There has never been a goal like that in the history of the game. When you consider how fast Ovechkin was moving, how he was sliding, his feel for the puck, his quick thinking to take his left wrist off the stick so he could hinge his right wrist enough to send the puck on its intended line like a Roger Federer backhand winner; the overall core and forearm strength to get enough of the puck to send it the required distance, not to mention the will he had coursing through his veins to do all of that with care, concentration and effort. Well, there has never been a goal like that.
And, you know what? There are more coming. With the helmet, the face shield, the equipment and the training, players are more fearless than ever. Ovechkin attacks the net like Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu attacks running backs. Ovechkin and his generation are giving the NHL a catalog of breathtaking goals never before seen.
When was the last time you saw something original on a basketball court, something we haven't seen 100 times before? Or while watching an NFL game? Goal scoring in the NHL and defense in Major League Baseball have never been this athletic. ESPN started the ESPYs because of goals like Alexander the Eight's.
There will likely not be a more incredible individual, athletic play all year. And it's because it wasn't luck, wasn't a fluke. It was an incredible athlete using his brawn, brain and will to do the unthinkable. He knew where he was and what he was doing every tenth of a second. Watch it again, slow it down and you can see Ovechkin's brain at work every step of the way. OK, I know, too much talky, not enough Ovechy.
Third Period -- Proud as a Peteborough Peacock
Watching a CBC or TSN broadcast of a hockey game is always a simple joy for a hockey fan. Clear camera angles, few tricks and good announcing. Here in the United States, the game has struggled to find national footing because, as we've said before, it takes effort and sacrifice just to get to the rink, and not enough people have felt the matchless joy of skating and shinny.
So, American broadcasting companies have resorted to tricks in an attempt to attract viewers. Gadgets instead of smart, well thought out decisions. As a result, hockey is covered with a thick layer of makeup, concealing the natural beauty of the game.
Although the cable leg of the NHL deal is clearly struggling and trying to find its way, I think NBC is off to a great start. In fact, the NHL has never looked or sounded better in its free, on-the-air, history. That's right. Ever.
I've always enjoyed NBC Sports. It has always seemed to have a livelier, lighter feel than its counterparts. Where the others seem stuffy, NBC comes off with youthful enthusiasm. Being in third place for all of those years when it was starting out must have instilled a hunger and spirit that still exists, despite some of its enormous network success stories.
The camera angles for NBC's NHL coverage are simple and clear. You can see everything and the director is not cut-happy, changing camera angles midstream. The game is too fast for that. The camera is at perfect zoom length. Not too close, not too far. The top line "score bug," as we call it in TV land, is on top of the screen and not the bottom. Sleek and unobtrusive.
The announcers are outstanding. Mike Emrick, John Davidson and Pierre McGuire are the smartest announcing trio in all of sports. No one provides a better discussion of hockey and the game than those three. NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol should hire the trio to do NFL games next fall.
With NBC's commitment to promoting the Olympics, the bright, young stars entering the league and the fact the NHL is becoming increasingly more American, the league has never had a better chance to achieve moderate success on a national level. Perhaps more of a younger, hip and humorous feel at times is all that is needed to stand out amid the white noise of TV Land. But so far, so good for NBC.
The Mother of All Mailbags
Yes or no. Claude Lemieux. Our Fantasy Hockey League Commissioner, who just happens to be named Mike Kitchen, assures all who will listen he is a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame. I say he's 70/30 at best.
Dean La Douceur
Claude Lemieux. 1,197 games, 379 goals, 785 points. A goal every 3.2 games. 80 playoff goals in 233 games. A playoff goal every 2.9 playoff games. I love when a player's numbers are better in the postseason. For me, that is a big deal. One 40-plus goal season. Five seasons of 30-plus goals. Not great. Four Stanley Cup rings. Conn Smythe winner in 1994-95 for the Devils. Played so hard in his 20s with his collision-style hockey, he had little left in his 30s and burned out.
If you believe the Hall of Fame is for offensive ELITE players, Lemieux is not a Hall of Famer. If you believe, as I do, that the Hall of Fame should be a tapestry of all threads of the great game, and it is nobler to burn out than to fade away, Lemieux is a strong Hall of Fame candidate. He played hard, he played nasty, he did not relent, and in the most important part of the season, he was very good. He had Patrick Roy in Montreal and Colorado and Martin Brodeur in New Jersey in the prime of his career. That will give many players many playoff opportunities. A lock? No way. He was fortunate to play on very good teams with great goaltending. But he shined in the pressure cooker of Montreal as a young man. He helped New Jersey develop into a championship team and made Denver one of the NHL's best U.S. markets with 18 goals in his first 36 Avalanche playoff games. It will take some time, and many similar players like Pat Verbeek are right there with him, but over time, I think Claude will get in.
Tim Panaccio, the Flyers' beat writer, is commending Clarkie on the move. What do you think? Is Petr Nedved going to regain some offensive touch in Philly?
West Chester, Pa.
Tim Panaccio is one of the best hockey writers in the U.S. and a future Hall of Famer himself. I would adhere to most of his opinions. Nedved just turned 34, but he has the kind of body that usually ages well. He's tall (6-foot-3) and flows like Scott Niedermayer. He can play center or wing. He's been a pretty durable player over his career because of his body type and because he doesn't mix it up much. Nedved hasn't played on many top-level teams, which means he's received a lot of attention. On the Flyers, that won't be the case. He should have room to move on the second or third line and be a very effective player. Don't expect Reggie Leach here. In his last 107 NHL games, Nedved has 21 goals. But this is the best team he has played on since the 1995-96 Penguins that had Lemieux, Jagr, Francis, Zubov and Chris Tamer.
You know we have low expectations when we commend an adult for not being an idiot. That being said, I'd like to commend Bryan Berard for not being an idiot after he was caught being an idiot by taking steroids. What a contrast he is to the baseball players concocting ludicrous scenarios to explain their positive tests. He accepted the consequences like adults should. Hopefully, he participates in some antisteroid programs directed at teens and what not.
I know you've repeatedly stated that the Boston Bruins will not make the playoffs. However, after posting an OT win against Anaheim and downing Philly 5-2 (sans Forsberg), do you see any hope for this team? At what point does management pack it in for the season and unload players like Murray? Do you believe there is a specific number of points out of the eighth spot where they consider themselves out of the race?
The Bruins are eight points out of the eighth spot, but the eighth-place team is Atlanta. The seventh-place team is Tampa Bay. The B's are 11 points back of New Jersey with 35 games left. That's probably the Bruins' best hope to make the playoffs, replacing New Jersey in the top 8. I don't see that happening. The Devils will win almost all of the games they are supposed to win because their system is so airtight. The Devils have four games against the Islanders and four games against the Penguins, that's 24 percent of their remaining games. The Bruins are not awful. They likely will finish between ninth and 11th in the East.
They are building a decent corps of defensemen who move well. They are just not managed with a fire and a vision that an NHL team has to have. They should name Ray Bourque as team president and give the team a fresh start with a person who knows what it takes to win on the ice. It's time for Harry Sinden to step aside as president. I would hire Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves as coach, keep Mike Sullivan as an assistant and bring in the Devils' director of scouting David Conte as general manager. The Bruins have become stale. They need an infusion of passion, an infusion of people who love the NHL with every fiber and who are looking to prove themselves.
If anyone does not name Alexander Ovechkin to win the Calder, it will be an injustice. He alone is worth the money for Center Ice. He is worth the price of admission for any game the Caps are playing. What an immense combination of passion, hockey sense, size and skill. Thanks for the name suggestion for my future granddaughter. Rose Dosenbach has a nice ring to it.
Alexander Ovechkin may score 60 this year. He has nudged himself past Crosby in their race, but don't forget Henrik Lundqvist in New York. He has my vote for the Vezina right now. He has changed the culture in New York and he has a .821 save percentage in shootouts, stopping 23 of 28 shootout shots. If I had a goalie to make a shootout save to win me a new Mercedes, I would take Martin Brodeur first and Lundqvist second.
I was wondering what your take is on the Pens' future in Pittsburgh. Do you think they'll find a way to keep the team in Pittsburgh? Just the thought of not having them in Pittsburgh makes me sick. Kansas City Penguins just doesn't sound right. There's been some effort to find ways to keep them in the city, but nobody seems to be very adamant about it. I would think the Penguins organization, the city of Pittsburgh and the NHL would be doing anything possible to keep them there. They're part of the city and league's history and tradition. It would be a shame for the sport and city of Pittsburgh if they leave.
I was born in Pittsburgh and certainly would like my hometown to stay as major league as possible. I'm not surprised the NHL is not more vocal. The NHL wanted the Whalers to leave Hartford to increase their national TV blanket. I don't think the NHL would mind if the Penguins left. Population in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County peaked in the 1950 and has dropped since.
Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. and growing. Kansas City is bigger than Pittsburgh and is not losing population. Las Vegas is bigger than KC and Pittsburgh and growing. Winnipeg is much bigger than Pittsburgh, and its population has slowly grown.
Hockey in Canada is as sizzling as the NFL in the United States. The population in the United States is moving south and west. Long term, it probably makes sense to the NHL to leave Pittsburgh, and it may make more sense to Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to use whatever money the Penguins would use, slots or no slots, for other services. I don't know. But I do know Mario Lemieux no longer having a sweater to call his own would be sad.
As a huge Blue Jackets fan, I am being treated to another miserable losing season. With all of the recent additions, most notably, Adam Foote and Sergei Fedorov, I really thought we could at least make a run at the playoffs this year. I know it takes a while to build a winning franchise from scratch, but a lot of teams are winning with a lot less overall talent.
The Jackets recent success, although possibly short-lived, leads me to one question: Are they really a terrible team, or are they just not playing to the potential that they are hyped up to have?
The Blue Jackets are not horrible. They have tried to give their great fans a good team. I think they have been too impatient, but they have been shellacked by injuries this year. I watched the Blue Jackets beat the Panthers in person two Saturdays ago and they play hard. Fedorov played real hard and Rick Nash is a beast, but they have no scoring depth and no defensive presence. They do have four wins this month as I type this, but three of those wins are against Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Florida. Go look at the Blue Jackets' schedule the next few weeks. It's brutal. Their next breather of a game is March 7! A dirty dozen of games that could bury the Jackets. Until Columbus puts a stretch of wins together against good teams on the road, they can't be taken seriously.
I read somewhere that Jeremy Roenick said he and Mike Modano were the best two American players of all-time. Just wondering what your top five list is and feel free to include Rick DiPietro and Chris Drury (two guys you overrate as badly as we Canadians overrate Shane Doan).
Here's my list:
1) Mike Modano
2) Pat LaFontaine
3) Chris Chelios
4) Jeremy Roenick
5) Jason Bonsignore
Anyway, enjoy your work and hope to see you on the Satellite Hot Stove again.
Chris Drury has won at every level of every sport he has played -- a Little League World Series, Pee Wee National Championship, Prep School Championship, an NCAA National Championship, a Hobey Baker, an NHL Calder Trophy and a Stanley Cup. He kills penalties, scores power-play goals and wins faceoffs. He scores more in the postseason than the regular season. He is an overtime playoff legend. It is impossible to overrate Chris Drury. Comparing Shane Doan to Chris Drury is like comparing Smash Mouth to REM.
Quick question, why are the Devils having so much trouble finding a coach?
Dave, Oklahoma City
Lou Lamoriello is trying to get the Devils back on the rails, and they are now there. I imagine he could make the move any day now. Part of it may be evaluating whether or not John MacLean is ready to be an NHL head coach. No better place to evaluate MacLean than to stand next to him during games and get an idea of how he thinks under pressure and how much of a presence he has on the bench. The Devils are capped out, so there isn't much Lamoriello can do anyway. I would be surprised if he stays behind the bench the rest of the season. I think he might take it to the Olympic break and then either give the job to MacLean or find someone else. If he is having fun, though, he will stay. The Devils are a successful franchise for many reasons. But, in my mind, the biggest reason is that Lamoriello is infatuated and unconditionally in love with hockey and the Devils. It's like a child to him -- treasured, nurtured and given undivided and passionate attention.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.