Commentary

Checking in with "Jonesy"

Updated: December 2, 2008, 9:03 PM ET
By John Buccigross | ESPN.com

Shot of the Week

It's back. You know how it works: We present an NHL photo, and Bucci provides a caption. E-mail him your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state), and we will use the best ones and provide a new photo the following week.

THIS WEEK:

"I'm Patrick Roy, and I approve the NHL's new standard on goalie equipment." (Courtesy: Getty Images)

Your captions:

"Now, boys, we want a clean fight out there."
-- Eric Makowski

Some of the greatest NHL goalies: Roy, Giguere, Luongo, Brodeur, Halak ... HALAK?!
-- Joshua Smith

"Where's Osgood? I want another piece of him."
-- Marco Casagrande (Calgary, Alberta)

"Yo, Mini-Giguere, I heard that!"
-- John Bejarano (San Mateo, Calif.)

"Uh-oh ... I left the team in the dryer too long."
-- Dave Salvadori (Bartlett, Ill.)

THIS WEEK:

Ottawa Boogie Nights. (Courtesy: Getty Images)

It was improbable that Keith Jones played in the NHL, improbable that he has a book about his life in print, and improbable that he is one of the lead analysts for the NHL's cable rights holder in the United States.

It was improbable that Jones made it to the NHL for many reasons, and they are all in his improbable biography, as told to me, "Jonesy: Put Your Head Down and Skate: The Improbable NHL career of Keith Jones." Available at a great price in some bookstores and most Internet book sites. Buy three and pass two on as gifts.

It is improbable that Jonesy is on Versus because I was on the air with him for his very first television appearance on ESPN2 ... and he was brutal. This was soon after he retired because of a knee injury that never would heal. (Again, all this is in the book.) Now, he is one of the best on TV.

Besides his interesting and unique path to the NHL, another reason I wanted to do a book with Jonesy is that he has interesting views, opinions and perspectives on life and hockey. He's an interesting dude, and I always am curious about his opinions on things. So, I thought it was time for a Q&A with Keith Jones. Here it is:

Question from Buccigross: Give me Jonesy's state of the NHL address.

Answer from Jonesy: I think the game and the NHL are the most exciting they have ever been. There are so many games you can work when the color analyst is secondary to the action on the ice. The play-by-play guy can carry the play for long periods of time when he doesn't have to have someone jumping in with a story about something that's not relevant to the game going on. I think that's a great thing that has happened to our game since the lockout. The action is fast and furious.

Q: What impact will the economy have on the NHL in the coming years?

A: It will tough to keep your season-ticket base, especially in corporate sales. So, I think the players, coaches and media are going to work extremely hard to convince people it is worth their hard-earned money to come to the games, and to continue to make the product on the ice as entertaining as possible.

Q: Will there be NHL teams in places where they are not right now in, say, five to 10 years?

A: I don't think so. I do think there could have been if the economy hadn't gone south as badly as it has. I think there is a real unknown out there for three or four years; but for now, I would say no.

Q: How has the culture of the game changed in terms of the players and how they get along -- how they interact, the team dynamic, are they having fun and that whole thing?

A: I think it is improving by the day based on the fact that players are staying with one team more and signing long-term deals, and teams are starting to develop a core of players that are really developing a strong bond through friendships away from the rink and also at the rink. It's great for the community and for team unity.

[+] EnlargeSidney Crosby
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesSidney Crosby has 34 goals in his first 23 games this season for the Penguins.
Q: Is it better than when you played?

A: I do. I think there is less movement, and I think that trend is going to continue, especially with the core players on your team.

Q: If every current NHL player was thrown into a draft, who is your first overall pick?

A: Sidney Crosby. Because he does everything, and he does it at full steam all the time. He's an ultracompetitive player with all of the skills to go with it. And he is driven to be the best every time he steps on the ice. And that dedication, along with the talent, is what makes me think I would pick him first.

Q: Anything you would change about the game right now?

A: I can honestly tell you, for the first time, there isn't. I'm very pleased with the way things have gone. I like the increased number of fights and the little tweaks, like how all power plays begin in the penalized team's end.

Q: When was the last time you skated?

A: The day I retired. I left my skates at the rink and all of my equipment, and I took home four stick blades that sit in my garage to this day. And I have no plans to skate again for the rest of my life because it hurt so much at the end of my career. If it hurts, don't do it.

Q: Are you happy we wrote a book on your life?

A: Absolutely. It's been great. The feedback has been awesome. It's rewarding how it's touched so many people in so many different ways. It's funny what people will bring up to me about certain stories, stuff that I found not to be so interesting to me, but is to them. And then, someone else will bring up something about another chapter. There are little points throughout the book that always surprise me, how everybody I talk to has something else that he found really enjoyable.

Weekly Tribute to Jack Falla

The following is an excerpt from Jack Falla's "Home Ice." Falla passed away Sept. 14. We'll honor his memory each week with a few lines from one of his classic books:

"We continued skating even as the first snowflakes fell. I cannot truly say I whistled or sang or hummed to my grandson, because I cannot do those things in any sort of tuneful way. But what I can do is reproduce a song in my head exactly as I might hear it on an album or in concert. And as I swept around the rink with my grandson on my arm, I began adjusting my stride so that I was skating in time with the music in my imagination, which is where the late John Kiley was sitting at his Boston Garden organ, and the strains of 'Paree' echoed again in the arena of my mind, and the last two lines of the lyrics I had just learned ran through my head: 'You know I left my heart with you/Although I said adieu.'"

The Mother of All Mailbags

John,

I feel very lucky in life to not only have had Jack Falla as a professor, but also to have been able to have many, many conversations about life with him. I always felt honored when he would stop by my office to talk or would yell "Hi" to me from his class when he saw me walking down the hallway. He wasn't just a great teacher, he was a great man. Once I was walking up the stairs and was looking down at them so as not to trip. (Hey, it was early in the morning.) Out of the corner of my eye, I see an elbow coming at my head. I pull up, and there's Jack saying, "Keep your head up." And I have ever since. I always read your column because you're great, but also because Jack had so much respect for you.

Tim
Boston


Bucci,

I just finished watching "Pond Hockey." It sure brought back a lot of memories and emotions. Thanks for bringing it to your readers' attention. Pond hockey (or, in my case, river hockey) is about the only thing I miss about the upper 48. It never gets below about 70 degrees here, so we never have solid water except for small cubes in the rum punch.

Jeff Garrison
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

A combination of the DVD "Pond Hockey" and Jack Falla's book, "Open Ice," would make a unique holiday gift for someone you know who really loves the game.


Bucci,

Adam Oates. Hall of Fame or not?

Adam Oates
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesAdam Oates had 1,420 points in 1,337 career games over 19 NHL seasons.
SLW
Waverly, Neb.

Adam Oates is sixth on the NHL career assists list and will stay there for a long time. He also is sixth all time in average assists per game. Oates averaged more assists per game in his career than Marcel Dionne, Ron Francis, Bernie Federko and Dale Hawerchuk. Those four players already are in the Hall of Fame. The top five assists per game leaders ahead of Oates:

1. Wayne Gretzky
2. Mario Lemieux
3. Bobby Orr
4. Peter Forsberg
5. Peter Stastny

Oates played in 1,337 regular-season games and averaged better than a point per game during his career. His 1,420 points rank 15th all time, and he racked up more points than Hawerchuk, Jari Kurri, Jean Ratelle and others.

Oates' playoff numbers are respectable: 42-114-156 in 163 games.

You might say Oates' numbers are inflated because he played with two of the best goal scorers in NHL history in Cam Neely and Brett Hull. (Hull is fifth all-time in career goals per game; Neely is 11th.) But you would have to counter that Neely's best goal-scoring season was his 50 goals in 49 games in 1993-94, and Hull's most prolific goal-scoring seasons all happened when Oates was their center.

Also, Oates' best offensive season was 1992-93, when his scoring line was 45-97-142. That season, Neely played just 13 games, and Oates was setting up Dmitri Kvartalnov.

Oates was an artist. He was a smart player who thought the game and understood time and space. He was not a physical force, but there was no way he could have been. I remember interviewing him in the early '90s at a charity golf event on Cape Cod as I was just beginning my television career. In his golf shorts and shirt, he had the physical intimidation level of a Jonas brother. Scrawny is the word that comes to mind. That he was able to do what he did in his NHL career is a testament to his brain and hands.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It takes all kinds to construct a Hall of Famer. Adam Oates is a Hall of Famer.


Hey John,

Did you see the Bruins-Habs game two Saturday nights ago? Every time Georges Laraque was on the ice, he tried to get Milan Lucic to drop the gloves and fight. I like fighting in the NHL just as much as the next guy, but when you have a goon like that not even playing the game, he shouldn't be on the ice. At one point, the puck actually got caught up in his skates, and he didn't even know it was there because he was too busy trying to get Lucic to fight! I don't know if this was something Laraque was doing on his own or if Guy Carbonneau told him to fight Lucic, but what he was doing was just a disgrace to the game of hockey. Play the game or get off the ice!

[+] EnlargeFan
Richard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesSome fans were hoping to see Georges Laraque and Milan Lucic drop the gloves during a recent game in Montreal.
Justin H.
Westborough, Mass.

Isn't it ironic? Don't ya think? The Bruins are playing smart. The Bruins don't have a designated fighter. They haven't sacrificed a roster spot with a guy who can't skate and would sacrifice team speed. (Shawn Thornton is the closest to a DF, but he doesn't have those gaudy PIM numbers.)

This is where the value of a Milan Lucic is so great. He can score, bang and fight. Lucic will never score like Cam Neely because he doesn't have Neely's Hall of Fame release. But as he gains experience, he will combine that with his size and reach to score 25-35 goals a season. And by fighting so well, the Bruins don't need a designated fighter. Also, the Bruins' defense is very sturdy, led by a five-star fighter in Zdeno Chara and "Sheriff" Shane Hnidy. So, when they play a team like Detroit, which they played Saturday night, they can roll their four lines and not worry about a slow-footed designated fighter costing them a goal or line balance.

The Bruins have size, skill, chemistry, toughness and goaltending. They are for real. They've spent a lot of time in their own zone late in the game against some good teams. I think the Bruins still need to add one more puck-moving defenseman and one more small, speed/skill upgrade on forward to fortify their playoff roster. They still were outshot 30-19 by the Red Wings this past weekend, and although they won the game, taking fewer shots than the other team usually won't win you a playoff series.


Bucci,

One of my friends thinks that Chris Chelios will be on the U.S. Olympic squad in 2010. I can't imagine this is possible, but he is convinced. Can you give me a little bit of firepower for that argument?

Pat Maxey
Boston

Chris Chelios has a better chance of signing autographs at a "Golden Girls"-"Matlock"-"Murder, She Wrote" convention than of being on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. I think he might end up on the administrative/coaching side of things if he chooses to retire after this season. That would be a good transition for him. Then, of course, it's off to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and Hockey Hall of Fame in the years to come.


John,

This past Monday [Nov. 24], Nicklas Backstrom scored a goal against Niklas Backstrom. Somehow, the laws of time and space appear not to have collapsed. I'll let you know if there is any change in their condition.

Matthew B. Harney, Ph.D.
Fairfax, Va.

I just pulled my groin reading that paragraph.


Bucci,

My wife and I are expecting our first child in January and, if I can help it, will be wrapped in a jersey that is too big and watching games with me soon after.

Still hoping for an NHL team in Houston,
John Venditti

Vincent John Venditti
Veronica Rose Venditti

Hockey fact: Pavel Datsyuk has won the past three Lady Byngs. Wayne Gretzky won four Lady Byngs during his career.


John,

Boy, do I miss "NHL 2Night." Your "Ode to Hockey" was spot-on. I particularly liked your "Thanks for hockey equipment taking so long to put on and take off." As a goaltender, I took this to the limits and then some! I cherish those locker room days like nothing else. It's truly a beautiful sport, something that you will know only by playing the game and being in the room with the boys.

Thomas Gillen
West Babylon, N.Y.

And you never forget the stench.


Hey John,

Would the Flyers ever consider getting rid of Daniel Briere? Thoughts?

Richard M. "Tres" Lambert III

I wrote the following in May 2007 as Briere was just finishing up his playoff run with the Sabres and set to become a free agent:

"[Briere] made $5 million last season [with Buffalo], and I don't see any reason to pay him any more than that. I see no reason to give him a five-year deal at $6-7 million per. So, unless Briere has his heart on playing with Montreal or Florida or whomever, I would sign a tidy five-year, $25-30 million deal and stay in Buffalo."

The Flyers do not read my column. They signed Briere to an implausible eight-year, $52 million deal even though he was entering his small-guy injury/decline years. Briere has seven years left on his deal with a cap number of $6.5 million. His salaries, however, are $8 million, $8 million, $7 million, $7 million, $7 million, $3 million and $2 million. (By the last two years of the deal, he will either be bought out or play for the Islanders.) That real money and his cap number make Briere very difficult to trade. He is a small, one-dimensional player in his 30s. Lately, he has been battling abdominal and groin issues, but he hopes to be back this week.

Overall, he presents too much risk at that money. Putting money aside, Briere has performed as advertised for the Flyers. He had 31 goals last season, and getting 30 goals out of him pretty much fulfills his warranty. During last season's playoffs, he had no goals and 7 assists in 17 games. That's very good production. He is a highly skilled player who, when healthy, greatly contributes to a team's offense. He has helped teams get to their conference finals the past two springs. At this point, however, there is no doubt the Flyers would trade Briere for a big-time goalie or No. 1 defenseman if they could.


Bucci,

I just read another article discussing making the nets bigger, and it makes me sick. All the talk about limiting the size of goalie gear hasn't done much because they really haven't done much. I saw a highlight of the Penguins winning the Cup in 1992 the other day. When the clock hits 0:00, Tom Barrasso does a little dance that would be impossible (or at least improbable) for any current goalie to do because of the bulk of the pads. I say we use the "Barrasso-sized" pads as a standard and do anything else possible to keep the same for the NHL and down to peewees. I believe very strongly in three constants -- death, taxes and the old 4-by-6.

[+] Enlarge
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesWill there be bigger nets in the NHL's future?
Matt
Pittsburgh

Sportsmediawatch.blogspot.com reported last week:

"What cannot be disputed is that the NHL's attendance is on an upward trend, while the NBA's is on a downward trend. Through Nov. 10, NHL attendance was up 1.2 percent compared to the same period last year. During the 2007-08 season, NHL attendance was up 1.8 percent, while NBA attendance was down 2.1 percent. While the NBA still draws higher attendance, the gap is close enough that the NHL could end up with a higher average attendance than the NBA this season."

This is the time for the NHL to be aggressive. Its game is young, fast and exciting, and strong draft classes are replacing older, slower players. The game looks great, but it has to stay that way, and if scoring regresses or stays flat, the NHL should continue to consider the slightly larger net.

I'm looking for only those two or three posts a game to be goals. Last season, three players scored 50 or more goals; the season before, two players did so. Like I've said before, I'm not really concerned about whether the NHL grows. I'm concerned with my own enjoyment and love for the game. But to a marketer, I think an occasional 10-9 game is not a bad thing. I understand 2-1 games can be outstanding. The soul of the game is speed, contact, precision and emotion. Just like football. A 42-35 NFL game is like a 7-6 NHL game.

NFL games are averaging 45 points a game this year, the highest since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. And look at college football. Oklahoma has scored more than 60 points in four straight games. Both the NFL and college football are wildly popular, and the ratings are through the roof, the highest in all of sports for regular-season games. I believe the rise in popularity and ratings in the NFL and college football is because of the high-scoring games.

I'd like a few more of those games in the NHL, and I do think it would help keep the casual fan watching on TV or would encourage him to take in a game in person. Again, I don't think it's red-alert time, but hopefully it is still being debated.


Bucci,

What do you think of the Blues' new third jersey? I like it. A nice alternative.

Tony
Beaverton, Ore.

I love the new Blues jersey. The Blue Note is one of the coolest logos in all of sports, and the silhouette of the St. Louis Arch is really cool. In the summer of 2005, I took my two boys to a game at the old Busch Stadium as part of one of our ballpark summer tours by car. You know, Griswald style. We went to visit the St. Louis Arch. I thought you showed up, looked up at the arch, then went back to the hotel. I thought it was a solid structure of steel, but it's not. It's hollow. And one can take the most claustrophobic, hot, frightening ride to the top of the arch, where there are small windows through which you can look at St. Louis sweat on a hot August day. I guess I'm kind of glad I did that once, but I certainly won't do it again. Still, it's what I think of every time I see a likeness of the Arch, which includes the Blues' cool third jersey.


John,

I am an avid reader of your column on ESPN.com and wanted to share with you and your readers why hockey is such a great sport. I am currently going through a separation/divorce, which has created some adjustment problems with my wonderful kids (not having dad there all the time). My two sons (ages 6 and 8) play amateur hockey for the Allegheny Badgers. I have not been able to be as involved with their teams as I have in the past but attend every game and nearly every practice.

Hockey is an unbreakable bond between my sons and me. When I am in the locker room tying skates, snapping chin straps, etc., it's as if nothing has changed in our lives. There is a closeness in a hockey locker room that is not replicated in any other sport. During our nightly telephone calls, we always catch up on the latest NHL happenings and the Pens. Their younger sister is a true "rink rat." She knows every vending machine and arcade game at our local rinks. Although the family dynamics have changed, our hockey family is as strong as ever. That's one of the most important reasons I love hockey.

Greg
Pittsburgh


Bucci,

Many years ago, my family moved across the state to the Jersey shore; I was 6. My neighbor was a nice girl, just about my age. We became best friends until she moved away a few years later. In her senior year of high school, she moved back into that very same house, and I still lived next door. I had hockey playoff tickets, and a friend bailed on me on game day, so I went next door and said, "Hi. Welcome back. How've you been? Oh, by the way, do you want to come to a hockey game tonight?" She did. Thirteen years later, we're married, still watching hockey like crazy and have been blessed to welcome another hockey fan into the world and into our family. One day, I hope she'll grow up and read your column.

Here's our little Hawaiian-inspired Rangers fan, Kealia Grace.

Joshua and Dawn Smith
New Jersey

[Kealia] laughs and
It's raining all day She loves to be one of the girls
She lives in the place
In the side of our lives
Where nothing is
Ever put straight
She turns herself round
And she smiles and she says
'This is it'

Pretty in pink
Isn't she?
Pretty in pink
Isn't she?

-- "Pretty in Pink" by Psychedelic Furs


















John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- 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.