Back in the old days, when ESPN used to televise ice hockey in color, my job was as good as it's ever been in my television life. I would sit in front of a wall of televisions, eat take-out chicken parm from across the street and watch NHL games, mostly with Barry Melrose, Darren Pang and Ray Ferraro. I was out at the door at 1 a.m.
I still watch NHL games at ESPN, but …
Barry is 50 years old and doesn't always remember my name. Ferraro is working in Edmonton. Panger is in Arizona entertaining the 49 people who watch Phoenix Coyotes hockey on TV. The chicken parm place across the street has closed down, and I now stay up until 3 a.m. doing NBA highlights. Melrose works two days a week, Ferraro lives in beautiful Vancouver, Panger golfs 12 months out of the year, and I'm describing a missed jumper by something called Bostjan Nachbar. Who is losing this game of life called "Deal or No Deal"?
In the past, I would often spew against the grain of hockey philosophies to Bubba and Parm. A few years later, some philosophies still stand out.
1. If you break your stick, sprint to the bench and get a new one; or, or even better, make a shift change. Someone replacing you when you are a few feet from the boards is quicker than getting a new stick. This would take at least three seconds, at the most, probably 8.9. Teams have played 5-on-4 before, or even 5-on-3, for three to nine seconds. There are exceptions, but I believe staying out there for 20 seconds without a stick does more harm than a five-second line change. You look like the guy in a supermarket who didn't get the cart and now has too much stuff in his arms to carry to the register. Out of place. Silly. Plus, studies have shown that the chances of committing a holding penalty increase 68 percent. I can't have Don Van Massenhoven pointing at one of my guys with that 'stache.
2. Another one of my brilliant observations was that on a 5-on-3, I would use the low man along the bottom of the circle as the point man. He should have the puck more than anyone. He has four options to pass and can even curl and roof short side. Plus, the puck is in a safer area on the ice as opposed to hopping over or getting a shot blocked at the point and clearing the zone or causing a breakaway. Melrose would just smile and cackle. But remember, this was a man who did not have indoor plumbing growing up.
3. Another thing I would say to Ferraro, Pang Chung and Melrose (as they looked at me like I was Harold Snepsts talking about the major differences between the Sunnis and the Shiites) was the over-power-play-geometry on a 5-on-4. I never understood the game plan of two point men attacking a box.
Going back to my basketball days, one's offense was dictated by the other team's defense. If the defense was in a 1-2-2, we would use two point men like in hockey. Then, you would have wing options (penetrating point men), corner options (bottom of the circle men), and a low/high post option (Phil Esposito, Tim Kerr, Cam Neely). If the team played a 2-1-2, or a box with a man in the middle, then we used one point guard, two wings, a high post man to keep the two defensive point men honest, and a low post man who could go from side to side, or even switch spots with the high post man to get movement and maybe confuse the defense. A 1-3-1 offense with movement.
Since the standard NHL penalty kill is 2-1-2 (without the "1" in the middle since the team is short-handed), I always wondered why teams didn't attack defensive teams like we did in basketball. Why not apply a 1-3-1 offense on the power play? The one point man would be like the mobile point guard who can pass and shoot and find open lanes. The wingmen, one right-handed shot and one left-handed shot, are there to shoot, feed the high post man in the lane or pass toward the low post and cut to the middle. The high post man primarily sets himself in the middle of the box, but he can also "roll away" and move to get open.
He is the most dangerous man in the offense. The man in the middle takes passes from the point rearguard and from the wings. He can turn and shoot, turn and drive, dump it down to the low post man if he has a passing lane, or kick it out to the wings. This always made much more geometric and mathematical sense to me when attacking a box. It would also be much more effective in hockey because the playing surface is so much bigger. It also would be more effective if players were allowed to turn and throw the puck into the net or lob it down low over the defense and throw it in the net team handball style. NOW WE'RE TALKING!
But seriously folks, in Anaheim, we see this being implemented with Scott Niedermayer. He sets himself in the middle of the box, creating all kinds of havoc. Niedermayer's skill is perfect for the "box cutter" because he has the speed to get back on defense. The box cutter has to be a great skater with great vision. It's no surprise Anaheim's power play is at 21.2 percent (third best), even without having any big-time finishers down low.
As teams understand and practice this practical application of numbers, I think we will see power-play numbers climb even higher.
Four economy-sized hockey McNuggets, dipped in fat and served warm with ring dings, bacon and a watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher.
At full strength, the Buffalo Sabres are unequivocally the best team in the NHL. Not only do they have the full complement of parts, but Buffalo has that confidence that Oasis had when they went head-to-head with Blur back in
1995 in a Britpop mano a mano, or more accurately called boyo-a-boyo.
Noel Gallagher said he and Oasis' soul was more pure than Blur's because they grew up poor, with dirt underneath their fingernails, while Blur was middle class. The concept is interesting, especially when it is spoken with a rough English accent while sitting in a gigantic and expensive chair.
But Chris Drury, who grew up in a middle-class town in southern Connecticut, makes $3.1 million this season and probably will sign a five-year, $22 million contract with someone next summer. And yet, he plays every game like someone kidnapped his entire family and the ransom is winning the faceoff he is about to take. That's the story, morning glory.
Anaheim has had a light schedule in terms of travel. The Ducks are not better than Buffalo. No way. Their schedule gets grueling starting Dec. 8. Also, they finish up the regular season with a hectic schedule, mostly on the road. This team is not a high-powered offense. I like the Ducks a lot, but I could see where their lack of scoring could result in a 3-6-1 stretch or two. GM Brian Burke has cap room and he needs another dynamic offensive player. I wouldn't be shocked if Burke was a player in the Peter Forsberg sweepstakes.
Watch out for the San Jose Sharks. They are right on Anaheim's heels and their schedule is very friendly in December and January. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sharks catch Anaheim in the Pacific by the All-Star break. The Sharks are much more offensively dynamic than Anaheim, as well. When they play with passion and concentration, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek cannot be matched offensively by any other Western Conference team. Michalek, (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) is the Jim Cantore leader in the under-the-Doppler-radar Sharks' clubhouse. They need one more reliable defenseman before the trade deadline.
As I type this, Atlanta is 3-0 against both Washington and Florida. They are also 2-0 against Boston when the Bruins didn't have Brad Stuart. I'm not a believer in the Thrashers. I said to buy this stock a couple of weeks ago, but I'd put it on hold. Marian Hossa is not going to score 60 goals and Slava Kozlov isn't going to score 40. As they slow down, there isn't much scoring. I don't see the Thrashers as a long-term threat.
I have a question. Why does everyone say that Forsberg is a "great" postseason player? Wasn't it Sakic that led them to the first Cup, and I think that I remember that Forsberg had a spleen removed and then they still won the Cup! Peter is a great player, but not a better playoff player than Super Joe. Forsberg doesn't have six or seven playoff OT goals. Never had 16 goals in one postseason and also he hasn't won a CONN SMYTHE! When will everyone credit Joe and not Peter? Look at the Flyers. They suck with Forsberg compared to when the didn't have Forsberg. Go Sakic! And will people start to give Joe more playoff credit!
Bryan C. Masten
Playoff stats per game:
" Goals per game: Forsberg .44; Sakic .51
" Assists per game: Forsberg .73; Sakic .59
" Points per game: Forsberg 1.17; Sakic 1.10
Two great playoff performers.
One of my favorite things was the nicknames you made up for, what seemed like, every player. The only one I can remember is Shawn "Turn Your Head And" Horcoff (I was at the Avalanche-Oilers' game last night when I remembered that) and that got me thinking about all the nicknames you came up with. So, for old time's sake, how about a list of your favorite nicknames? In the spirit of this week, your "Hall of Fame Nicknames," if you will.
Greenwood Village, Colo.
Hmmm, "NHL 2Night" was so long ago. I don't think I did that many nicknames. Paul Kariya "Cha, Cha, Cha." Any player with "Kov," or as you mentioned, "Coff" at the end got the "turn your head" treatment. I think that's it. Maybe other readers can remind me.
What would be harder to do: (a) be a goaltender and stop a NHL slap shot from the center of the blue line by someone of Al MacInnis' ability or (b) hit a major-league fastball thrown by Nolan Ryan in his prime?
I like "Baseball Tonight's" Tim Kurkjian for many reasons. One of them is because we often have discussions on how so many fans believe they can achieve a certain amount of success against major-league talent. The underrated aspect of your two examples is the fear factor. Forget talent. I would be confident that my NHL-approved goalie gear would keep me safe in the Al MacInnis scenario from 64 feet. Getting in a batter's box 60-6 away from Nolan Ryan in 1974 and seeing a baseball come at me downhill at 100 mph? I'm pooping my pants right now.
With the preliminary discussions of the World Cup of Hockey returning in 2008, I have to ask you, do you prefer a World Cup or the NHL in the Olympics? I will never forget the thrill I had as a 10-year-old watching the 1980 team win the gold. I also loved the '94 World Cup, but I hate the thought of the NHL season being interrupted again so that our players can go to the Olympics.
What do you think?
If it weren't for hockey, I probably wouldn't watch the Olympics, so I'm all for Olympic hockey. Although, I think they should have the World Junior Championships take place at the Olympics every four years. I think it would be much more vibrant. I don't like to root against any NHL players, so it's hard for me to pull for the USA in that setting. I don't want to root against Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin or Nicklas Lidstrom. The world juniors have enough anonymity where I feel more comfortable rooting for the U.S.
Living in Detroit, we hear rumblings here and there about the Red Wings leaving the Joe for a new home. Personally, I don't have an issue with this, I've heard rumors of a new location behind the Fox Theatre to give Detroit a "Sports District" (Lions, Wings, Tigers).
I'm only hoping Mr. Ilitch would want to bring back the aura that old Olympia carried with it, fans almost being on top of the ice surface. Do you think he would, or any owner for that matter, combine the closeness of the old-time stadiums with the advancements of the new arenas? And how about a name for the new home?
Whatever the name, we know it will be a corporate name. The new one will not be named "Oscar De La Hoya Arena." I hope a new Red Wings' rink is better than the Tigers' Comerica Park. Of all the "new" old ballparks built since Camden Yards opened in 1992, Comerica is a second-tier park. I wouldn't expect a new Red Wings' arena for some time. Municipalities are not building millionaires arenas and stadiums any more. Plus, Ilitch probably has a lot of debt from Comerica since he financed half of it himself and the Tigers didn't really draw until this season. Even in this past successful season, the Tigers were still fifth in American League attendance. Maybe one of the casinos will build him one. The NHL apparently doesn't mind using gambling profits to build and maintain NHL arenas, but Rick Tocchet is apparently blackballed from working in the NHL for alleged involvement in gambling on football. Are things in proportion here?
My wife and I are expecting our first (a girl) in mid-February. I hope that she'll don the leg pads and blocker like her father, but I'd be just as happy if she plays defense. I'm 6-foot-5 and my wife is 5-foot-10, so we're expecting a big baby. I'm of Czech ancestry and my wife is Norwegian, but we've stalled trying to think up a good Czech or Scandinavian name for her. Do you have any thoughts?
Long time fan and very pro-Laaksonen,
Katerina Anika Nemecek
Hockey Facts: The neutral-zone edges of blue lines are 64 feet from the attacking goal line and 75 feet from the end boards in the attacking zone. The goal line is 11 feet from the end boards. The size of the neutral zone is 50 feet. The blue lines and center line are 12 inches in width.
Ever since they've begun calling the "dive," I've been curious: If it's a dive, why do they call a penalty on the other guy, too?
If a player is hooked, that is hooking. If a player does a "Guttenberg" (bad acting) and accentuates the hook as he is falling, much like punter's try to sell a "roughing the kicker" penalty -- that is where diving comes in. You can, in fact, have both. I just think it's silly to have both. If a player wants to act like a fool, let him act like a fool. He's the loser. The NFL doesn't have a diving penalty on kickers because it's impossible to judge and it's a waste of official brainpower. If a stick is placed on a player in a certain way, it's a penalty. It really doesn't matter if a player goes down or not.
I personally think the Hockey Hall has low standards when it comes to inductees. But if Mats Sundin gets inducted, that's going a couple steps too far. Here you have an oft-injured guy who doesn't score a ton of goals, is a wishy-washy captain, and has never won anything. He's never been a stellar point producer, especially not since his first few seasons. I'm willing to bet your average hockey fan hasn't heard of two thirds of the inductees in the HHOF. While your average baseball fan probably knows 90 percent of MLB Hall of Famers. I guess it's too late to shape things up now, but there are too many ho-hums in the Hockey Hall.
More than a point per game over 1,100 games and almost a point per game in the playoffs is pretty good. He has not had world-class wingers to help pad his stats. He made Jonas Hoglund a 29-goal scorer. He helped Sergei Berezin score 37. He's been the best player just about every season as a Leaf. He plays with edge and talent in a tough environment. In 1989, Sundin became the first European to be chosen first overall in a draft. His Olympic numbers? In 16 games, his goals, assists and points totals are 11-9-20. His character is unquestionable. Depending on the list of nominees, I would give Sundin's career a lot of thought when considering him for Hall of Fame induction. I'm a fan.
Teppo Numminen has just set the NHL record for games played by a European trained player, passing the great Jari Kurri. Would you consider him one of the most underrated defensemen to have played in the NHL?
I would. And his hair is a plus-26 every year.
As someone who routinely watches seven NHL games at once, I'm sure you have your opinions on the TV broadcasting tandems in the league. Who are your top five best hockey commentators (both play-by-play and color) around the NHL?
Like an Al MacInnis bomb ringing off the pipe,
I base this on the strength, listen-ability, and likeability of the play-by-play man and the color man.
1) Dallas Stars
5) 26 tied for fifth.
Always love the weekly read, even though I may weep if Forsberg does get traded like you are saying. However, I'm writing in response to your Hall of Famers list. Not trying to take anything away from any of the guys that you picked, because there is no doubt in my mind that all of them eventually will be immortalized. But no mention of Chris Chelios or Mark Recchi kind of surprised me. I know Recchi's numbers aren't mind-blowing, but he is one of the best two-way wingers I've ever seen play.
Thanks for listening,
Jim Thorpe, Pa.
Chris Chelios will make the Hockey Hall of Fame as will Sergei Fedorov. Mark Recchi is interesting. He has played on good teams with massive talents: Lemieux, Jagr, Lindros and Crosby. His international résumé is basically nothing. But he is a high-effort guy who has shown he can skate, score and pass. He has seven All-Star Games under his belt. His playoff numbers are solid. My first inclination is no on Recchi. He's kind of like Craig Biggio in baseball. Grandpas won't have grandkids on their laps talking about Craig Biggio and Mark Recchi. But Recchi might finish this season with 500 career goals and 800 career assists. Now, keep in mind, in terms of numbers, if you let Mark Recchi in, you have to let Pierre Turgeon in. He and Recchi have almost identical numbers.
I officiated a midget game last week, and was very gratified to see players adapting to the new standards. I watched as one player defending a breakaway reached out with his stick, and obviously considered hooking the other player's arm, but before contact was made, he put his stick back on the ice (where it belongs) and took ONE MORE STEP and was able to catch the player and place a clean body check shoulder-to-shoulder, knocking him off the puck and saving a potentially game-winning goal (at the time the score was 0-0 in the third. Good goaltending). My point is, this young player SKATED, instead of taking the lazy way out. Last season, he probably would have hooked the elbow, and gotten away with it. While I think we are over-calling many aspects of the game, in the long-term, it will improve the game. The penalty numbers have subsided hugely the last couple of weeks.
I do believe the offsides rule in youth hockey should be changed to tag-up to improve the flow of the play. I also read an e-mail about concerns of head contact, and you correctly responded USA Hockey is attempting to curb that. There is a USA Hockey rule as follows from the book that has been an emphasis for several years:
Rule 616 Head Contact
(a) A minor penalty, major penalty or a major plus game misconduct penalty, at the discretion of the Referee, shall be assessed to any player who intentionally or recklessly contacts a player in the head, including with the stick or by an illegal body check;
(b) A major plus a game misconduct penalty shall be imposed on any player who injures an opponent by head contact (see Glossary).
(Note) Head contact may also be treated as Attempt to Injure or Deliberate Injury of an Opponent under Rule 603.
USA Hockey Referee
I play in an adult in-line hockey league and like to listen to some good tunes before my games to get the blood flowing. What top 5 songs would you pick to get someone fired up before stepping onto the rink?
We all differ. Here are mine:
1. "Vicarious" by Tool
2. "Midnight Blue" by Lou Graham
3. "London Calling" by The Clash
4. "I Believe" by REM
5. "Optimistic" by Radiohead
"Flies are buzzing around my head
Vultures circling the dead
Picking up every last crumb
The big fish eat the little ones
The big fish eat the little ones
Not my problem give me some
You can try the best you can
If you try the best you can
The best you can is good enough"
-- "Optimistic" on the album "Kid A"
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.