- John Buccigross, SportsCenter anchor
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Love your columns, most especially your e-mail bag.
I often get e-mails from you saying how much you enjoy the e-mail bag. So, with just over a week left in the regular season, let's blow out the e-mail bag. Next week, we will hand out our postseason awards, look back at our preseason predictions and make our first-round playoff predictions. I'm already excited about all of that.
So, let's set up e-mail No. 1. Back in early March, when I picked Wisconsin to win the NCAA Championship, I received gobs of vitriolic e-mail, claiming I know nothing about college hockey. For three days, I sat in my room, dressed completely in black, holding a flashlight, reading Nietzsche, playing Yanni and smoking clove cigarettes while reading the hate that dripped from your fingers:
Wisconsin is your pick to win the Frozen Four? Have you actually seen the Badgers play? They haven't played like a team since Thanksgiving.
Section 212, Row C, Seat 8 at the Kohl Center.
I was shocked by all the e-mail furor in my Inbox after picking the Badgers to win it all. Let me get this straight, Tim. The Badgers begin 19-2-2, then lose a couple of close games to Denver and mighty Minnesota. Then, they win three out of four. They have a stinker of a weekend playing an average Minnesota State team, giving up 13 goals in two games. The Badgers refocus and win four in a row, giving up two goals in four games. And you make them sound like they are a bucket of vomit warming in the Madison summer sun? Where is the great Midwest loyalty? This is not the time for negative thinking. Turn your tickets in. Your negative vibe will only hurt Wisconsin's chances. The Badgers are better off having Wolf Blitzer in your seat taking a nap than your doubtful karma. C'mon Tim, you're better than that!
Until next week, your e-mails rule my space!
The Mother of All Mailbags
No Iginla? No credibility.
No shoes. No shirt. No service. No smoking. No Doubt. No Scrubs. No diggity. No loitering. No pepper. No floor hockey in the lobby.
What has Bettman been smoking? (Last week's "You Can Quote Me.") Wirtz is a complete anachronism. He's completely out of touch with the realities of marketing the game in the 21st century. He's gutted the franchise of its most important asset--its passionate fans. And he can't begin to see that the fish rots from the head, in the case of the Blackhawks, two heads, his and Pulford's. That era can't possibly be over soon enough.
It will be yet another playoff picture without Boston and Chicago. Boston's fan base has yet to be obliterated like the fans in Chicago, but it is teetering. The reason why the Red Wings are the Red Wings is because owner Mike Ilitch LOVES sports and LOVES competition. Bill Wirtz and Jeremy Jacobs do not. Their passion is concession and parking numbers. That's not a knock at Wirtz or Jacobs. And it's not intended to be a compliment to Ilitch. It is what it is. When an owner is competitive, it creates a culture of competitiveness. There is no such culture in Boston and Chicago, and therefore, the franchises are in comas. It is wrong and it is bad for the NHL. They should both sell to owners who will resurrect these two great franchises in two of America's best cities.
One quick note I'd make for parents considering having their child skate at a young age -- make the child use figure skates. If a kid uses figure skates, the first few years they skate, they'll be infinitely helped by this, as they'll learn good skating habits instead of trying to run on ice. When I started playing, I was a terrible skater because I never used my edges. My dad got me a pair of figure skates and forced me to do edge drills … and just like that, I was the fastest player on my team. The other thing that really helps skating is long-distance running. I'd recommend every high school player in the country who wants to improve their endurance and speed to run cross country. You'll be faster than you've ever been and you'll be able to play a ton of minutes without wearing down.
My name is Brian Boitano and I approved that e-mail.
Your list of Top 10 players under 30 that have a shot at the Hall of Fame ("Young now, but Hall-worthy in no time; April 6, 2006") may have been OK. I'm not committing myself. But because it doesn't include Pavel Datsyuk, it is horrible. The conventional wisdom that NHL pundits and observers are East-centric is not news, but the bias creates an injustice in this case. Datsyuk isn't just a good hockey player, he is mesmerizing.
Thanks for your game effort,
Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.
I agree Datsyuk is mesmerizing. Maybe the most visually correct player in the league, especially on shootouts. But he turns 28 this summer and will have about 241 points in 284 games after this season. Certainly, his numbers are lower because he broke in with a good team and didn't get the ice or power-play time that young players get on bad teams. What concerned me when I made my Top 10 list were injuries, like the one he has now. He is a small man and I think he might age quickly. Also, he has not been a good playoff player when the going gets tough. In 37 playoff games, he has three goals and nine assists. The Red Wings will have a difficult time winning the Stanley Cup without a healthy and productive Datsyuk. I hope he is, because there is no player in the NHL who makes one go "holy $%#$%" more than P.D.
I'm sure I'm not the only person to question your list of under 30 Hall of Fame prospects, but the guy who I thought would be near the top, Dany Heatley, wasn't even in the top 10. As a Thrashers fan, I was fortunate enough to watch Dany play in Atlanta for two seasons. As a fan, I stuck by him after his accident and I am beyond impressed at how well he has rebounded mentally with the Senators.
Two things from last week's list. It wasn't the only 10 players I think will one day will make the Hall of Fame. And as I stated, they weren't in any particular order. If I was forced to wager on Dany Heatley, I would wager that one day he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
In a recent article, you listed your top 10 prospective Hall of Famers under 30. Perhaps the most talked about player not in the NHL has been Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins top draft pick the year before Crosby and the guy selected directly after Ovechkin. Your list included Ovechkin and Crosby. Is Malkin a future franchise cornerstone like the above mentioned or is he a tier below those guys?
From what my eyes have seen, Malkin will be the run-away winner of the Calder Trophy when he enters the NHL. Until someone actually plays in the NHL, there is always uncertainty. However, Malkin has a Mats Sundin game. He is big. He can skate. He can shoot. He can create. He has a bit of nastiness. With Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins are obviously set at center. This year's draft is heavy with centers. Erik Johnson, an 18-year-old defenseman, is tempting to take, but teenage players can sometimes take a long time to develop. The Penguins are primed to trade down, perhaps using the possible first pick as a way to unload Sergei Gonchar's salary if that is in their plans. If someone wants Jordan Staal or Jonathan Toews or Johnson bad enough, it will cost multiple draft picks and a player.
What would I do? I would take Phil Kessel and make him a wing. He can skate and shoot. Crosby or Malkin will get him the puck and Kessel will score. His status has dropped a bit after an indifferent world juniors, where he showed a lack of puck movement and playmaking. Well, the Penguins have the best young playmaker in the game and will be among the NHL's elite very soon. They need finishers. Kessel is immature and needs to train, practice and act with more humility and hunger. But he most likely will be an NHL finisher, and if he plays with Crosby, he can be an instant 30-40-goal guy.
You are way more international than you know. My friends and I read your stuff here in Palau (small island nation in the Western Pacific, 25,000 total population; for beauty Guam has nothing on us) and I have friends in China and Mongolia that read your stuff, too. Just thought you would want to know what a following you have!
Koror, Republic of Palau
I want an e-mail from Iceland. C'mon, Iceland, step up!
At what point is my man-crush on Phaneuf improper?
If loving Dion's wrong, I don't want to be right.
Did I truly see the Rangers clinch a playoff spot last night or was I dreaming? It's been so long since the Rangers have owned a playoff spot, and I decided to reminisce on what has happened in my life since 1997 (the last time I was able to see Rangers playoff hockey).
I have graduated from high school, college and law school. I've become an uncle to a niece and nephew. I was at Ground Zero on 9/11. I watched the Yankees win three World Series titles (and unfortunately, saw the Red Sox celebrate in St. Louis). I've lost four grandparents and had a good friend come home from Iraq in a wooden box. I've infuriated countless girlfriends by caring more about Mike Mussina's WHIP in August and Mike Dunham's GAA in December than about their "feelings."
Long story short, a lot has happened in the past nine years. However, nothing felt more important to me than having the ability to call my dad last night at the end of regulation to celebrate a Rangers' playoff berth. I know it sounds trivial, but it's true. We remained on the phone together for the entire OT period and shootout. I almost lost my father two years ago and last night was one of the best feelings of my life.
I get a pretty good gauge of the passion level, and perhaps demographics, of NHL teams by the number of e-mails I get from the fan base. For instance, I get plenty of e-mails from Red Wings fans, Blackhawks fans (they are all angry), Bruins fans, Hurricanes fans, Sharks fans, Kings fans and more NHL teams. The Rangers are right there. This has been a great season for Rangers hockey and it's good to have an Original Six team in the postseason. It's good news for OLN and NBC, too. If the Rangers go deep into the playoffs, they will get good ratings. I don't hear much from Tampa Bay and Florida fans. Makes you wonder about the fan bases of those teams.
After last night's Flyers/Rangers game, I second your vote to extend 4-on-4 overtime to 10 minutes. Such an important game that felt like a seventh game of a playoff series from start to finish should not be decided by shootouts unless all else fails.
On a musical note, I'm going to see Live for the first time next month (I hope the Flyers and Sens aren't squaring off that night in Round 2). I don't think I've ever seen you mention Live in your column. I feel they are extremely underrated. How about a Top 5 Live songs list from you?
I saw Live a few years ago and they are OUTSTANDING. "I Alone" is a turbo shot of adrenaline live and will be the highlight of the evening. For the rest of your life you will remember screaming "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" with your fist in the air. Ed Kowalczyk is a compelling front man who sings like Brendan Morrow plays hockey for the Dallas Stars. For me, "Throwing Copper" is without question a signature CD from the 1990s. It's one of the best CDs of the '90s. By the way, some time last week, I got my first pang of true nostalgia for the 1990s. I'm not sure why it happened, but it did.
I enjoy your column every week, but I've never e-mailed you before. This week, when I was reading the short interview you had with the Bruins' interim GM, I realized something. You see, my dream always has been to be the GM for the Montreal Canadiens, but really, it is to be a GM in the NHL for any team.
Hockey has been my favorite sport for most of my life now (I'm 20) and I know every little detail about the NHL. I am now studying to get a commerce bachelor's degree in finance, but I never played for any hockey team, even if I've been playing for fun since I can't remember. I realized that if I ever want to accomplish my dream, I need to start working toward it now, since 20 is young but not that young anymore to start pursuing a career.
I know that, unlike most GMs, I've never been a player or coach or anything in the NHL. So, I'm asking your help so a person in my situation can know where to start to pursue this dream. Any help or hint to where I should start would be greatly appreciated.
Anyone who has big dreams like you have Rami, I would recommend to go after the law degree. That will put you at the real expensive table of a hockey organization. The one that will be worth more than your first car. The law degree will help you negotiate contracts earlier in your career, which will get you near owners, and GMs more often. That is key. Get your bachelor's degree in finance and then get your law degree while you work for a hockey team, any hockey team, anywhere. Above all, watch games and go to games. Talk to scouts. Learn what is important to the current game as it always will change and you'll need to be on top of it. Learn to be a top-rate observer. Observational learning is the most important attribute on the ice. Off the ice, you can use your education. It will give you more options. You can be a GM. You can be an agent. You can be commissioner.
So, in review:
Get your Finance degree.
Find a hockey team, whether NHL, AHL, ECHL, UHL, Steubenville Street Hockey League and work at the ground floor while you get your law degree. The law degree will make you stand out.
Why is there offsides in youth hockey? If teams have numerical equality, then why have ANY offside? Or icing? How often do children in the USA ever get to play "pond" hockey? They are ALWAYS with coaches at a lined rink with a 1,300-page rule book, a sure way to cripple creativity. I'm facilitating a 3-3 league without offside, icing, coaches or refs, but the kids still play onsides, simply out of habit. What do you think?
In watching old classic games on the NHL Network, I assume I'm watching games played by men who largely or significantly played hockey on ponds and such. I don't see anyone who had more creativity than Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Adam Oates or others who played primarily organized, "rule-book" hockey. Now, in the U.S., you might be on to something, Bernie. Canadians do play lots of rule-book hockey, but there are playgrounds of ice for Canadian kids to "fool around" on. The U.S. has few backyard rinks and even fewer ice playgrounds. Who are the great U.S.-born playmakers? The unique creators? The U.S. has great skaters and shooters, but where are the playmakers? Scott Gomez is one of them, but growing up in Alaska, I bet he had lots of free, fun time on frozen water. This undoubtedly aided his feel and knowledge for the game. So, I like your thinking Bernie. I would recommend splitting the ice in two and playing two games at once.
I once again find myself writing to a hockey columnist on behalf of Henrik Lundqvist. He's not a serious candidate for the Calder, he's not even an afterthought for the Hall of Fame. Why not? I could understand you leaving him out due to his youth, but then I see Dion Phaneuf on your list, so that can't be it. Why is he so easily overlooked? Does Jagr cast such a long shadow?
You haven't read this column very much if you are questioning how much "ink" Henrik Lundqvist has received here. He's been mentioned as a Rookie of the Year candidate and Vezina candidate. Hall of Fame? A little early for that.
How is this year's draft going to be conducted? Will it be like last year where, though the odds are more favorable to less successful teams, everyone has a chance to walk away with the top pick. Or, will it set up like it was pre-lockout, where only a handful of teams have a shot and drawing the top pick?
The draft returns to its normal draft lottery procedure for teams missing the playoffs. The only change this year is that Bill Wirtz has convinced Gary Bettman to award the Blackhawks 459 picks in the 2006 NHL Draft. It's for the dedication and service to winning Wirtz has shown the children of Chicago and the great hockey fans of North America.
Whenever I'm having an exceptionally bad day, I say this name out loud -- "Bonk" -- and I'm immediately at ease. I'd like to pass this along to all hockey fans. Try it, it really works. For it to work, though, it must be said out loud, and the louder the better.
Once, a friend of mine was in a nightclub men's room with Radek Bonk. My friend thought he looked familiar and said, "Do you play for the Senators?" Without looking up, Radek simply said "Bonk."
For the love of Mario, I write and I write about Le Magnifique and the Pens trying to get into your mailbag. Nor do I have any kids or soon-to-be kids, so I don't need any advice on baby names. So, let me ask you this: I will be married come this October and my fiancée and I can't decide to on what our first song should be. I'm from the Burgh and am very picky about my music (Rolling Stones, Phish, Foo Fighters, none of which are allowed to be played), she's from the Valley (Encino, Calif.) and loves '80s rock and old-school hip hop. What can you recommend?
Your first song should be "The Luckiest" by Ben Folds.
My kids play hockey on a team here in Japan. They're 11 and 9, respectively. Age groups in Japan are divided from grades 1-3 to grades 4-6 in grade school. They've been playing for two years and their improvement has been remarkable. Japan is tough in that everything is too serious.
When a child goes out in a sport, it usually ends up being their one sport, and this occurs early, because of the year-round nature in their thinking. If you look at pro baseball players here, they actually practice year-round, which is just an extension of their sports culture, where the kids do the same. I don't really approve, but if you take your kids out of the program for awhile, it doesn't do any good for the kids because they want to play with their teammates and love to play, and they fall behind not only their teammates but the competition as well. Amazing, really.
One of my sons loves the sport so much, and his hero is Joe Sakic. He wrote a six-page, multi-colored, well-designed and thought out biography with downloaded photos on Joe for a project at school that was excellent. This, from a kid who seemed disinterested in just about everything before hockey.
The virtues of the game are slowly spreading. Be patient, all.
Just wondering what you think of Pat Verbeek's chances of entering the Hall of Fame. His regular-season career numbers are: 1,424 games, 522 goals, 541 assists and almost 3,000 PIM. He flew under the radar for many years on weak teams like New Jersey and Hartford, not to mention a near career-ending thumb injury in the mid '80s. In my opinion, he did remarkably well considering he was 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, and I think he is as strong a candidate as Dave Andreychuk. Thoughts, feelings?
Pat Verbeek was a courageous, tough player. The kind of player every team needs to win. To play as long as he did shows a commitment to fitness, and the game. Add in 522 goals and a Stanley Cup and that is a great career. I wish his playoff stats were better, but as I've stated before, if it's close, I'm putting the player in. Hockey is a hard game played by hard men. It is not poetry. It is hard. Pat Verbeek played hard ALL the time. His set of hockey values added to the game, they didn't diminish it. He illuminated the game by his values of work, grit, training and effort. He would be a great model for Phil Kessel or any talented, young player who has skill and wants to be great. If Phil Kessel trains and plays like Pat Verbeek did, he will score 600 NHL goals, get his name on the Stanley Cup and make the Hall of Fame.
In your opinion is Jeremy Roenick a potential Hall of Fame candidate? Good numbers, numerous All-Star games, Olympian, advocate for the sport, etc. All he needs is his name on the Cup and I'd say he's a lock. Your thoughts?
Hockey is a team sport, and getting one's name on the Stanley Cup does little to validate Hall of Fame status. Jeremy Roenick was a role model for kids watching NHL hockey in the "Throwing Copper" 1990s. He reached the 50-goal mark twice and recorded 100 points three times. Take away his first playoff season at 19, and he scored 34 goals in 72 playoff games as a Blackhawks regular. That is top notch. He was a physical player who energized arenas. Then, he went to Phoenix, where he probably played too much golf, spent too much time in the sun and played on average teams. Again, it's a close call, but good playoff success, nine All-Star Games and plenty of spirit gets him a "yes" vote from me.
Does Vincent Damphousse make the Hall? He's got some numbers that you ordinarily would think would get you in, but I'm not sure.
My reflex answer is no. Damphousse played in only three All-Star Games. His points-per-game average of .874 is low, way lower than Rick Middleton's average of .983 and Bobby Smith's .962 average. Damphousse probably was not as good as Bobby Smith. Jeremy Roenick had a .996 average coming into this season. Dennis Maruk had a .989 average. Damphousse supporters can look at a comparable player like Alex Delvecchio and say, "If he is in, Vinny should be in." Damphousse probably will fall short and I'm comfortable with that.
Recently, I was talking to some friends in Toronto and the topic of Eric Lindros came up and they mentioned how few in the media were speculating about Lindros making the Hall of Fame.
Their argument (or rather the Toronto media's) was that Lindros has a shade over 800 points at age 33, so he could still crack 1,000 for his career with 400-plus goals. He's a former MVP, captain of the Flyers, captain of Team Canada, etc.
Mine is that he's been a whiner (from refusing to play for Saute Ste. Marie in Junior to the Quebec draft fiasco that cost him a year to how he left the Flyers), injury prone and had only three Hall of Fame-worthy seasons (1993-96), when he was considered the best or one of the top three players in the game.
What's your take? Does he make it or not and how much longer (and more productive) would he need to play to make it?
Eric Lindros has monster numbers -- 839 points in 711 games, 1.18 points per game. Better than Messier, Howe, Mikita, both Hulls and many other Hall of Famers. He's won a Hart Trophy. His off-ice politicking, directed mainly by his father/agent, has soured Lindros in a lot of people's eyes. His talent is enormous. I have stated here more than once that he is a Hall of Fame talent, with big numbers and great résumé points. His "moments" are brief and sometimes dubious. He is a close call, but he has my vote. And he still may have a productive season or two in him.
I figured I was one of few kids in 1970s America who got depressed at the 10-minute mark of an NHL game -- even though I was STILL AT THE GAME! But I thought for sure I was the only one sniffing GOAL Magazine!
As it often does, your column took me back, back, back. My first NHL game -- with dad, February 1971, hometown Minnesota North Stars hosting the expansion Buffalo Sabres, top row of the Met Center, maskless Gump Worsley in the nets, game ended in a 3-3 tie. The cover of GOAL had Gilbert Perreault on it, and I sniffed it in bed every night.
I'd give anything to have a copy of that program, which is why I save all the programs from the Wild and Gophers games I attend with my sons (1 Bantam, 2 Pee Wees). However, I just don't think their memories will be the same. I had Al Shaver on the transistor radio and one live game a year. They have Center Ice and 3-4 live games a year. I think the trade off for our generation is that because we had less, the memories give us more. Keep the memory machine running.
Sioux Falls, S.D.
I intend to.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.
What warms John Buccigross' heart more than a Cam Neely TV marathon? Your e-mails. And there's a ton of 'em.