My NHL season ends on an emotional note

Updated: June 22, 2006, 5:15 PM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

My eyes were wet watching Game 6 on Saturday night.

They were wet when NBC analyst Ray Ferraro was talking about Erik Cole courageously returning to the Hurricanes' lineup. Ray had that emotion in his voice only a former NHL player could, an emotion that saluted Cole and his service to the team. At that moment, the body is filled with so much emotion, one could bench-press a refrigerator.

My eyes were wet watching Cole step on the ice. I was told those close to Cole were praying he was healthy. They just didn't know. No one does. Yet, there he was. Playing and praying. His team needed him.

Banged-up, injured and in need of inspiration, Carolina looked to Cole to be its alternative energy source.

SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week, we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. I've really enjoyed your suggestions, and we'll pick up the tradition again in the fall.

LAST WEEK:
Mick McGeough and his death-defying four-inch-off-the-ground high wire act. (Getty Image)

Your submissions:
"Ta-da. And that, folks, is how you land a triple axel between the whistle."
-- Lenny Robinson, Philly

"OK, everyone ... Hands across America!"
-- Rickey K, Bloomington, Ill.

The fans in the arena rise in unison to scream at McGeough: HEAD! MOVE!
-- Pat Kelleher, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Mick McGeough doing his best Don Denkinger impression.
-- Steve Pona

Unfortunately for McGeough, the Village People had no songs needing a "T."
-- Kurt V. Beyer

"Can someone help with my zipper? My arms are stuck and people are looking."
-- Jon Bentz

"If this ice suddenly melts, I'm sittin' pretty with these neon-orange flotation devices!"
-- Larry Nagel

My eyes were wet listening to the fans of Edmonton singing both anthems. I've always sung anthems. My high school teammate Don Goodpaster and I used to harmonize "The Star-Spangled Banner" before games. The function of music to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought, Sir Thomas Beecham said. The majesty of anthems can do that. Anthems aren't political to me. They are theme songs for the human spirit and bring a feeling of community. The spirit of the Edmonton fans jumped through the television screen like the first 20 seconds of the song "Vicarious" on Tool's new CD "10,000 Days."

The hair on my arms was standing up straight as hundreds of goose bumps were strewn on my body. I turned to the person next to me in the "SportsCenter" newsroom, pointed to my left arm and said, "This is how much I love hockey."

Edmonton won Game 6, which was good news for hockey fans because it gave us a championship game. The NFL has a winner-take-all game every year. College basketball, too. And college football kind of does. The NBA, MLB and NHL need a Game 7 for a title game.

Game 7s are so emotional, they really are numbing. When the team you don't want to win has the puck in your zone and is threatening to score, it is impossible to exhale. When your team finally does get the puck out, you can breathe again. It is a terrifying, helpless feeling.

Carolina fans had a terrifying third period in Game 7 as the Hurricanes hung on to win a much-deserved Stanley Cup. They were good from the get-go. Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy with his third-period performance in Game 7. It was the year of Cam -- Neely goes in the Hall, and Ward wins the Smythe and Cup.

The following were my first words written in this space for this NHL season:

"Well, here goes nothing. The annual Bucci NHL-musical-new-zoo-review column. This is my favorite column of the year. Although this year, it's probably the stupidest column to write. Let's face it, it is an entirely different sport now: the rules have radically changed, players have retired, rosters have dramatically changed and goaltenders have had their equipment reduced. The game will be faster than it has ever been. Let me say that again: the game will be faster than it has ever been. The best players will be the young players, which is how it should be. There hasn't been this much of a makeover on something since Sally Jessy Raphael's dreadful face-lift. It makes it nearly impossible to predict and forecast each team, but we'll try our best and do it anyway."

Yes, it has been a loooong year. For the hockey community, there has not been a true offseason since summer 2003. Once Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup in June 2004, the lockout began. And it didn't really feel over for most until the puck dropped this past fall. Then we had this season. With an Olympics thrown in. We are due for a break. To enjoy the draft and the awards show and relax in the positive vibe of a season complete and a season to dream about this fall.

In some strange way, the lockout and all its wretchedness didn't end for me until NBC went off the air after Game 7 faster than Brad Pitt rebounds from a broken relationship. It was just the latest slap to the American hockey fan. But we are used to that. We know the greatest byproduct of the Internet for us is that there are pockets of hockey love all over the world. Find them, bookmark them, watch the games and talk to your friends. Anything else is a bonus.

Yes, a stress-free offseason is here. A summer to look back and look ahead. The lockout is now over. Thank you, fans.

The Mother of All Mailbags

John,

Stevie Y counted to infinity. Twice.

Bill Voigt


John,

In the beginning, God said, "Let there be light," and Stevie Y said, "Say please."

Cheers,
Jonathan "Yzerman is Latin for Best Captain Ever" Barnes


You Can Quote Me
"We don't want to sign long term and then be traded to somewhere like, say, Columbus, and be stuck there."

-- Roberto Luongo's agent, Gilles Lupien, after informing the Florida Panthers that his client will sign only a one-year deal this summer.

Bucci my man,

What are the chances of/how would the Red Wings acquire Roberto Luongo?

P.S. -- You forgot to mention in your last column Stevie Y's ability to pull out Jenga blocks with his mind.

Regards,
Terrence Oliver Welsh
Novi, Mich.

The chances of the Wings acquiring Roberto Luongo are good for a few reasons:

They are a Western Conference team. If Florida trades Luongo, it probably will trade him to the West so Panthers fans will see him win fewer games against them. Detroit will give Luongo the big contract he and his agent are looking for -- five years, $35 million to $40 million. The Wings have young players to deal, if that's what the Panthers desire. Detroit probably would trade any player on its roster for Luongo -- except Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom.


Hey John,

My personal favorites: "Stevie Y doesn't read, he just stares the book down until it gives him the information he wants" and "When Stevie Y does a push-up, he's not pushing himself up, he's pushing the world down."

Brian
L.A.


Bucci,

Reading your article each week, makes me realize you are a hockey god. Keep up the great articles.

Thanks
Marc Manzi
Boston

Marc, let me introduce you to Daniel Beaudin …


John,

Each and every time I read your columns, I can't understand why you made it in the hockey journalism. You are an awful hockey journalist.

Daniel Beaudin


Hi John,

What are your thoughts on Canucks' offseason plans? Should Dave Nonis trade Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison and keep Anson Carter, Matt Cooke and Ryan Kesler? Goaltending is always an issue for the Canucks, should they sign a veteran goaltender? Seems like Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado and even Minnesota Wild will be good next year, the Canucks have to do something to stay competitive.

Thanks,
Adrian
Vancouver, B.C.

The next Canucks coach will be Alain Vigneault, Brent Peterson or Dave Lewis. Remember, the Canucks won more regular-season games than Edmonton. I do think a Bertuzzi trade would be good for both sides. I like Dan Cloutier if he comes back healthy.


Hey John,

What do you think the Ducks need to do this offseason to clear that final hurdle and win the Cup? The core is in place, and re-signing [Teemu] Selanne was huge, but who's the big name (or couple of small ones) that Brian Burke goes after to win the big one?

Thanks,
Chet

GM Brian Burke is in a good position with his team. A reshuffle on defense is in the cards for Anaheim. Burke probably will trade Jean-Sebastian Giguere for a similar high-salary player, such as Martin St. Louis, or a defenseman. I like St. Louis as an addition because the Ducks need some spunk among their top six forwards.


John,

It's hard to believe that only two years ago the Bruins had one of the most talented rosters in the league. Now, it's a glorified AHL team. They have a ton of cap room heading into the free-agent season, but too many holes to count. The Bruins are at a crucial point right now. What will their game plan be this offseason? Would you hang onto Andrew Raycroft and hope he returns to form, or try to package him for a solid defenseman? Also, you should check out Pleasesellthebruins.com, it's pretty funny and sad at the same time. Down with Jeremy Jacobs!

Mike
Boston

The Bruins are possibly in a transformation stage. Perhaps the Harry Sinden influence is overblown, but I still think a high-profile, strong president is what the Bruins need. A fresh start and a chance for a president and general manager to work together to come up with a fresh vision and definitive plan. Trading Joe Thornton, signing Martin Lapointe and not hiring Peter Laviolette as coach are just three transgressions. I've been pushing for a Ray Bourque figure to give the organization new life. I would call Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, any big name like that. Those two probably are destined for future administrative roles with the Rangers and Red Wings, but I'd still ask. The Bruins have some life left in their brand name, but it needs to be expanded.


John,

What do the Avalanche need to do in the offseason to make themselves a Cup contender? Can they go all the way with Jose Theodore in net? And, are the Avalanche forced to re-sign Rob Blake at any cost since they let Adam Foote go last season?

David Telega
Plymouth, Mich.

The Avalanche need to get younger and faster. I still think Theodore has a chance to reinvent himself in Denver.

Blake is still a high-level player, but he turns 37 in December. His five-year contract days are over, but I imagine he is looking for a three-year deal. Blake made $6.3 million last year and had a typical Rob Blake year. I imagine the Sharks or the Ducks will be making a call. Blake is a California guy, and those two teams could use him. If I'm Blake's agent, I'm starting at three years, $18 million.


Hey John,

I wondered if there's any truth to your rumor about my Penguins trading the No. 2 pick to Carolina for Jack Johnson? I know how you like it when things just fit perfectly, as this trade would (allowing good friends Crosby and Johnson to lead the Pens for the next decade plus, and obviously uniting the Staal boys in Carolina). So is this trade just your good imagination or is there some actual possibility to it? It's tough to stay current on local news when I'm sent out of the country for a while.

Mike
Rockhampton, Australia

The Penguins are a horrendous defensive team. They gave up more goals than any team in the NHL last year. They need a young, tough defenseman with personality. Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson fit that bill. St. Louis likely will take Erik Johnson. Jack Johnson is property of Carolina and will return to Michigan to at least start the season there in the fall. Considering Carolina's age on defense, I'm sure the Canes' first choice is to keep Jack Johnson unless having two Staals -- if the Penguins even make the offer -- is too good to pass up. If there is no trade made, and I would make that deal if I were both teams, I would take the best two-way centerman available, and that is probably Niklas Backstrom.


Bucci,

Words cannot convey the rage I feel at the moment. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah. Not the center of the hockey world, I understand. NBC's Utah affiliate KSL decided Saturday night to broadcast a regular-season soccer game between Real Salt Lake and Houston instead of showing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. The NHL always talks about low ratings; you cannot have large ratings when entire states are not able to watch the hockey game at all. Utah has the largest growth rate of any state in the United States. How many youths were unable to watch the game and let their love of the NHL grow?

Jason

Ashamed once again to be in Utah.


John,

What do the Stars need to get past the first round of the playoffs?

Rhonda Rich
Denton, Texas

They need more people who were in their cribs when REM's "Shaking Through" was playing on college radio. They need more players who were born around when Lyle Lovett released his self-titled debut album/cassette in 1986. The Stars need younger legs and more speed.


Bucci,

Is there any hope for the Hawks next season? What do you think this team needs to get back to the top of the league?

Thanks,
Matt Thoma
Chicago

The Blackhawks are one of those organizations that have a poisonous strain that runs through them. It starts at the top and drips its way down. It's a country-club mentality. I've been told that from announcers to GMs, the Hawks have been a lazy organization. There is an arrogance and laziness that runs through franchise. We have seen what that has wrought. Until that changes, nothing will change.


Good afternoon, Bucci,

I'm sure you have had this question in the past, but I have tried to read up on it and have had no answers. Question: Will the NHL ever go back to the home (white) and away (dark) jerseys? Why fix something that isn't broken? To me, it just looks out of place.

Thanks for any reply,
Marcel Bouche

Remember when Bobby Orr sailed through the air in 1970? He was wearing black, and he was home. It goes back and forth. But, I agree, I like white at home.


Hey John,

What do you think is the possibility of Mark Messier someday being an NHL head coach? If you do think he will be one, how soon do you think? I think he would make an awesome coach.

Wes W.
Yorba Linda, Calif.

Mark Messier's soul will always be in an NHL dressing room. I do think he will make a great coach, and I do think he will coach one day. I could see it happening any day.


John,

I love hockey. God, I love it. That's pretty much all I wanted to say.

Brad Groatman

And that's a pretty good way to end another year of this column. Have a great summer. I'll be working on my upcoming book "Mr. Jonesy and Me -- Lindros, Laughs and the Improbable NHL Career of Keith Jones." Due in the fall. See you in late September for our season previews. Peace. Butchy, out.

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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