- John Buccigross, SportsCenter anchor
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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.
"Instant karma's gonna get you; gonna knock you right on the head." (Courtesy: Getty Images)
"No, Jochen Hecht didn't give me a black eye. I simply ran into a doorknob, I swear."
-- Josh Coveny (U.S. Coast Guard Training Center, Petaluma, Calif.)
"Maybe I should have let her have the remote."
-- Hunter Anderson (Venice, Fla.)
"You got something on your eye ... no, the other one."
-- Chris (Boston)
'Nucks in a box. (Courtesy: Getty Images)
Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that begins Sunday at sundown.
It begins on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev. This year is the year 5769 on the Jewish calendar. Add up those four numbers, and you get 27, which is exactly how many goals Hakan Loob scored in his final season with the Calgary Flames during their 1988-89 Stanley Cup-winning season. Eerie, eh?
Hakan Loob is the greatest name in hockey history. If you are looking for a hockey name for your pond hockey, street hockey, fantasy hockey or any other hockey team, it's tough to beat Hakan and the Loobs.
In the name of Hakan Loob, Bucci wishes you happy holidays.
So, per tradition, we present our annual, slightly changed "Happy Hakan-Hanukkah Song."
It must be sung to the tune of Adam Sandler's classic "The Chanukah Song." Refresh your memory or introduce yourself to that song before replacing Adam's lyrics with mine. It will enhance your reading pleasure.
Happy holidays to all, and here is the 2008 version of the "Happy Hakan-Hanukkah Song."
This is a song that, uh ... there's a lot of Norwegian songs out there, but not too many about Hakan Loob and Swedish hockey players. So, I wrote a song for all those nice Swedish kids who don't get to hear any Swedish hockey songs. Here we go ...
Put on some ABBA-kah,
Here comes Hakan-Hanukkah!
So much Swedish-funukah,
To celebrate Hakan-Hanukkah!
Hakan-Hanukkah is a festival of ice
Instead of one night of hockey, we have 180 crazy nights.
When you feel like the only kid in town without a Synergy,
Here's a list of people who are Swedish, just like Mats Sundin:
Henrik Zetterberg was once pulled over for speedin',
Victor Hedman's rookie card will be something worth collectin'
So is Kent's and Ulf Nilsson's and Pelle Eklund's.
Swedish names are awesome, and Swedish names are fun,
There's a Nik Backstrom in Minny, and one in Washington! One's Swedish!
Put on your ABBA-kah,
It's time for Hakan-Hanukkah!
The ex-captain of the Vancouver Canuck-anukkahs, celebrates Hakan-Hanukkah!
Saku Koivu, not a Swede
But guess who is? Hakan's older brother Pete (he scored one goal in nine NHL games)
Peter Forsberg has bad feet, but he still likes dancin',
So do Roger, Mathias, Calle, Bjorn and Andreas Johansson.
Mike Grier's not from Sweden, nor Dainius Zubrus
But Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin and Hakan Loob is!
So many Swedes are in the NHL,
Tobias Enstrom's in Atlanta, but it feels like hockey hell!
Tell your friend Per-onica,
It's time for Hakan-Hanukkah!
I pray for new Graf-onikahs
On this lovely Hakan-Hanukkah!
So drink your cold Fal-connika
And golf 18 with Annika
If you really, really wannakah
Have a happy, happy, happy Hakan-Hanukkah!
Another edition of "The Life of Podes"
Here is an excerpt from Shjon Podein's Wikipedia page:
"Shjon Podein (born March 5, 1968 in Rochester, Minn.) is a former professional ice hockey player who played for the Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and Växjö Lakers Hockey (Sweden) over the course of a 699-game NHL career. Podein graduated from John Marshall High School in 1986. He went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche. He also won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy that season. He did 'Let's Play Hockey' for the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 19, 2008."
Readers of this column know there is so much more -- body painting, cars that go only backward, inflatable dinosaurs and stolen vacuum cleaners. So much that there really should be a Shjon Podein book. I think I'll get on that. Podes, you in?
Podein is a hockey original. Once a year, we check in with the Minnesota resident after the minimum number of "Hey, Bucci, what's up with Podes?" e-mails are received on my end.
The process is simple. You ask me what is new with Podes, then I send him an e-mail asking what is new with him. Podes then sends me an e-mail back. Here is that e-mail:
Oh John, John, John. Where does an old washed-up tree hugger start? Let's number the ways.
Feeling too blessed. Anna loves SpongeBob and Junior loves hockey time.
I think it's a great season to reflect on how fortunate a lot of us are to have a warm supper, a roof overhead and gifts under the tree. Also, don't forget about those who don't.
I have been working as a family adviser for a couple of years. It's been a great experience, both positively and negatively. I love working with kids and their families and being around the game. I'm pretty sure I am the only guy whose partner is his 2-year-old kid.
I love the sport as much, if not more, than anyone, including you, JB. We watch the NHL package often, as that's all Junior wants to watch. I have only two questions or concerns from my end as a dad and fan:
a) Why have the Tampa Bay owners been so negatively critical of both coaches they have fired? And, at the same time, the current coach is frustrated beyond perception? I probably don't know the facts, but I loved the concept in sports that owners hire GMs to manage and GMs hire coaches to coach. It seems much simpler.
b) I cried inside when my 5-year-old daughter asked me what "sloppy seconds" were after an interview with an NHL player.
I don't have the privilege of not having kids any longer. I wish the Dallas Stars would have put the pride and integrity of the organization and the great players who have played there first and foremost immediately.
If they would have suspended, fined, sued for non-payment of salary and been extremely vocal [on] how those comments have no place in their organization and zero place in this great league, I think it would have set a precedent for players long into the future.
Maybe I am just an old, bitter man, John, or maybe I just care about the game and how I feel it should be upheld.
Either way, Badger Bob said it best: "It's a great day for hockey." The game is always bigger than the individual, and I love it. Gotta go ... there's a "Scrubs" episode on I haven't seen.
Enjoy life. Peace.
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:
It is late March 1962 and the 20 members of St. Mary's CYO hockey team of Winchester, Massachusetts are gathered in the parish hall to be measured for the jackets that are our reward for an undefeated season. We stand in line in front of a salesman who measures us and then writes down the name or nickname we want stitched on the left sleeve. It is my turn.
"Name? Spell, please," he says.
I start to spell my name, "J ... A ... C ..." and then I make my mistake. But I have help. "Q ... U ... E ... S," yells out one of my teammates from somewhere near the back of the line. Others laugh. I laugh. It's an inside joke. The "Jacques" my teammate refers to is, of course, Jacques Plante, the great goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens and, as everyone on the team knows, my one and only sports hero.
The Mother of All Mailbags
I took two of Professor Falla's classes at Boston University. I was lucky enough to be in his last COM 201 class, which is communication writing that every student had to take. After this class, he went strictly to his sportswriting and sports marketing classes. But there I was in 1996, sitting in his last 201 class.
One morning, he came in and was talking about his weekend, informing us all that he was busy over the weekend working on a story about this French hockey player. He immediately deadpanned, "Mario Lemieux." Now, there were only a few of us in the class who understood the immensity of that statement, but he always enjoyed dropping little bombs like that. He was always willing to use his own life experiences to help teach his students, and it was the special moments like that which truly made his classes memorable.
We all miss you, Jack!
Two questions for you:
A fellow John in Minnesota
2. Thankfully, in today's game, yes. Hockey Canada and USA Hockey have instituted the programs necessary during the past two decades to improve North American skating. Skating is part of the game that the NHL's hard-core fans and casual fans don't appreciate enough: the art, beauty and power of skating. It's why I think hockey televises beautifully, because the skating is so exciting and exhilarating to watch.
I get that you were all sour about Melrose being tanked by the Bolts, but his recent tirade where he whined and moaned was pretty disgraceful. Any time you have a 50-plus year old taking pot shots at an 18-year-old kid, you have to start questioning his class.
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Barry is a lot of things, but a whiner and a moaner are not two of them.
If you hear the audio of his interviews, you hear a man who is matter-of-fact in his tone. He is asked a question, and he answers. And I don't think Barry's assessment of Steven Stamkos was a "pot shot." I think he believes that after seeing Stamkos play a handful games this season, the rookie probably would have been better off with another year of junior or maybe a year of college. (Obviously, the college angle is too late, but you know what I mean.) I don't think his reasoning had anything to do with Stamkos' work ethic or character. That is not an outlandish position for one to have. It could be debated.
It is almost always a difficult decision on whether or not to keep these 18-year-old players, but it probably shouldn't be. If I were running an NHL team, I would almost never keep a high draft pick, 18-year-old player, especially if my team were nothing but average. First of all, the player has a large cap number and is a year closer to restricted free agency, which has become like unrestricted free agency in terms of pay scale. Also, although you want a bit of a defined role for the player, you still are trying to win games. I don't know how the Lightning's front office could have looked at its roster in the preseason and seriously thought it was a playoff team.
A young player is best served being on a young team with no expectations (think Drew Doughty in Los Angeles or Mikkel Boedker in Phoenix), or a good team with depth (think Blake Wheeler in Boston). The Lightning are neither, so it's a difficult fit for Stamkos, just as it was for Joe Thornton during his rookie season in Boston when former head coach Pat Burns thought Thornton hurt his team more helped it. Thornton, like Crosby, was a very young 18 because of his July birthday and had three goals and four assists in 55 games.
The most important role for front-office personnel is talent evaluation, the ability to look at a player and see and understand what you have or what you want. The Lightning traded Dan Boyle, signed Radim Vrbata and gave Gary Roberts $2.4 million coming off a three-goal, 38-game season. They're playing Mark Recchi (minus-11) as much as the Bruins play Phil Kessel.
So, now, Tampa Bay is a bit of a mess, and Stamkos is in the middle of it. I actually don't think that will matter. He is obviously self-assured and well trained. He will be fine as he continues to get stronger and gain experience in the NHL. He looks like a quick study. He is a great skater and has a great shot. I'm not blown away by his vision and playmaking skills. (I think he falls short of a Patrick Kane in that regard.) I see him more like Kessel -- a great skater who has a great shot and playmaking skills that will improve like every NHL player's skills do as he learns what works and what angles are available in the greatest and fastest hockey league in the world.
Personality-wise, Kessel is very quiet and uncomplicated. He just plays hockey. Stamkos has the personality and presence to be a captain. In that regard, Stamkos is more equipped to be a captain than Vincent Lecavalier. Earlier this season in Minnesota, Stamkos was awarded a goal in the first period. The replay seemed to show Vrbata touching the puck before it went into the net. After the period ended, Stamkos went to the referee to make sure the goal was awarded to Vrbata. Stamkos gets it. The Lightning should begin to build from him out in terms of character, personality and game.
In fact, I think the Lightning should brainstorm the benefits of trading Lecavalier to Montreal. Watching him play and seeing his reactions as the Lightning played in Montreal last week, I think Vinny needs a change, and Montreal is the place to energize him. The Lightning signed Lecavalier to an implausible 11-year contract extension. Eleven years! His cap number is $7.7 million until 2020. The Canadiens have numerous expiring contracts after this season and could easily fit the French Canadian star into their cap space; plus, they have young players whom the Lightning need.
I would love to see Lecavalier in that Canadiens uniform, and I think it would push him to great things. Such a move also would put the Lightning on track to acquire assets and slowly hand the team over to Stamkos.
Your thoughts on the Sabres? I think they need some improved secondary scoring after Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville. But their special teams are pretty solid, especially the PK, and I have faith in Ryan Miller. He played great against Pittsburgh last night. Last thing, Bucci -- what do you think about Andrej Sekera? He's filling Campbell's void pretty well so far, and much cheaper. Thanks for the time.
Watching the Sabres on television and seeing them in person last week in Tampa, the thing that sticks out is their lack of a dominant personality. They seem to lack that leader to act as a ballast to keep them, and their effort, consistent. They have a lot of skill, but I just wonder whether they have the right mix of DNA to finish in the top eight in the Eastern Conference. I think this issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
What team is Jaromir Jagr playing for? Is he out of the NHL?
Granada Hills, Calif.
Avangard Omsk, a hockey team in an oil town on the Siberian plain, signed Jagr to a tax-free, two-year deal at $7 million a year this past offseason. That would come out to about $11 million annually if he were to play in the NHL. Omsk is part of the Continental Hockey League (KHL). The league extends to Latvia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Jeffrey Tayler has a nice little article on Jagr's time in Russia in the latest issue of The Atlantic, which is my favorite magazine if you are keeping score at home.
I don't know what kind of language is in Jagr's contract, but I would love to see him sign a salary-cap-friendly deal to play for the Penguins. I know some Penguins fans can't stomach this. But I would sign him, raise his No. 68 to the rafters in his first game back and play him with Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke.
Do you think that the Penguins will make a push at the deadline to try to acquire a Marian Gaborik or an Ilya Kovalchuk? I think that they might try to move Jordan Staal and either Kris Letang or Ryan Whitney. If they package Staal and one of those two defensemen, plus a draft pick, I think that they could get something pretty good in return. Also, what about Petr Sykora? He is in the final year of his contract. Do you think they will re-sign him, trade him or let him walk?
West Mifflin, Pa.
Until the Penguins get Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney back, it is hard to judge them fully. Their roster appears to fall just short of Stanley Cup heavyweight, but Gonchar's and Whitney's returns might make some of the forwards more productive. I think Kovalchuk is a more likely scenario than Gaborik because Gaborik is unrestricted after this season and seems destined to be an L.A. King with all their cap room and Gaborik's penchant in the past for money.
Kovalchuk is really interesting because his cap number is $6.3 million this season and next, although his salary is $7.5 million. Plus, the Penguins and Thrashers have pulled off a big trade before with last season's Marian Hossa trade-deadline deal. Kovalchuk is only 25! If the Penguins wanted to, they probably could pull off a trade for Kovalchuk, but it probably would have to include Staal.
Considering their young talent and the uncertainty of the future salary-cap numbers, I would tend to think the Penguins will stay put with what they have.
I know you're always on the lookout for great hockey names. Yesterday, I was perusing minor league rosters and found a gem. The newest goaltender on the Flint Generals of the IHL, Bill Zaniboni. It's no Zarley Zalapski, but I got a kick out of it.
Michigan State University
Interesting query, Sean. Neither is really a playmaker. Both will retire with more goals scored than assists. And, as goal scorers, they are very different. Carter is a big, smooth-skating center with a lethal wrist shot. Vanek is not the world's greatest skater, but he might have the purest, quickest, most deft hands in the NHL. They are magical. They are different players, and I have a hard time finding a preference.
I want to thank you for your ESPN column and for turning me on to Jack Falla. I've read "Home Ice" and "Open Ice" and love both of them. Attached is a picture of me and my kids (Marit and Anders) enjoying some time on our lake in northern Minnesota this past Thanksgiving. Unfortunately for Anders, Hakan didn't make the cut.
There is no place like home ice.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.
12dScott Burnside and Craig Custance