- Scott Burnside, NHL
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DETROIT -- Can we stop the bleating about not seeing enough goals in the playoffs?
You'd swear those complaining that we're not seeing basketball scores in the postseason had never seen a playoff game or understood what makes the NHL playoffs so compelling.
When the NHL was being driven into the ground by the trap and the nightly rodeo performance that passed as hockey before the lockout, the complaints were loud and they were justified.
The regular season, which often lacks drama and urgency, needed to be opened up. And it was.
But part of the allure of the playoffs has always been, and always will be, the drama and urgency that are inherent with every game. The fact the best teams are playing (and they know how to play defense) and the best goalies are playing (and they know how to stop pucks) suggests it's illogical to demand a slew of 6-5 games.
Hands up for those who saw the Ottawa Senators beat the New Jersey Devils 5-4 in the opening game of the second round? Interesting game? Perhaps. But Martin Brodeur was junk and the Senators got lazy with a big lead. It led to a game that was closer than it should have been. But compelling? Hardly.
Now, hands up for those who saw the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres play three straight 2-1 games, two of which went to overtime in the second round. Drama? Oh yeah -- Chris Drury's tying goal with 7.7 seconds left in Game 5, and the overtime power plays and chances. Think anyone in Madison Square Garden or in HSBC Center cared there were nine goals scored over the course of those three games? No. Only writers, it appears, who unfortunately perpetuate the myth that more goals mean more excitement and fewer goals mean an inferior product.
If people don't get it, they should stay home. To quote the Grinch, "Stop all the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise."
The bottom line
Last week, NHL sources told ESPN.com they expected the Russians to rejoin the international fold after a two-year absence and sign on a new agreement covering the transfer of players to the NHL.
But, in typical Russian fashion, in a country where extortion isn't a vice, it's a hobby, Vladimir Tretiak pulled the plug at the last minute, saying the Russian clubs didn't find it fair that players like Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin go to the NHL and Russian teams receive only about $200,000 per player.
Fair enough. But how it benefits the Russians to get zero dollars for players like Malkin and Ovechkin, which is what they've received by refusing to sign the previous IIHF transfer agreement, is beyond our comprehension.
If, as Tretiak has warned, the Russians move to close loopholes in their labor laws, which allowed Malkin and other Russians who wanted to sign NHL contracts to simply give two week's notice, then it may become more difficult for Russian players to come across after they've signed on in their homeland.
That's what the Russians hope will happen.
Ultimately, though, they'll be hurting themselves as fewer Russians will sign on to play in the elite league if they believe they have a legitimate shot at playing in the NHL. Before, players could count on being able to extricate themselves from their Russian teams with little problem (beyond having an agent cut a check or two). If the Russians play hardball with their own players, what is the incentive to stay at home?
On the other hand, given the conceit of the Russian federation – that somehow their players are worth more than the players from the other hockey nations who've signed the transfer agreement -- is galling. And at some point, it might be interesting if the IIHF and the NHL played a little hardball of their own.
For instance, if the Russians aren't interested in signing the transfer agreement, they would be prohibited from hosting any further World Championships or other international best-on-best tournaments. Further, they would be prohibited from taking part in those competitions until they sign.
Would the Olympics be a lesser competition without Ovechkin, Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, et al? Of course. But we're willing to wager that if the Russians, already shunned internationally for their stand on the transfer agreement, had their skates put to the fire, they would come around.
Just wondering ...
What if it was Ottawa's Chris Neil, and not Daniel Alfredsson, who drilled Buffalo's Henrik Tallinder from behind into the boards during overtime of Game 2? Would there have been a penalty called? No question Alfredsson isn't a dirty player, but isn't this a good place for the league to step in with supplemental discipline if the on-ice officials missed the play in the heat of the moment? It's all about optics and messages, and it certainly wouldn't do the league any harm if it suspended Alfredsson for a game, which wouldn't be out of line for the dangerous hit.
What if ...
How's this for a series of "what ifs." What if Ottawa GM John Muckler was able to get Gary Roberts from Florida at the trade deadline? He then wouldn't bring in Oleg Saprykin from Phoenix. And what if Patrick Eaves didn't get his head handed to him by Colby Armstrong early in the Ottawa/Pittsburgh series? Saprykin, regularly a healthy scratch, wouldn't see the ice. But Muckler didn't get Roberts; instead, he brought in Saprykin for depth. And Eaves did get his bell rung and isn't ready to return to active duty. It was Saprykin who scored to break a 2-2 tie in Game 1 of the Eastern finals against Buffalo and give the Senators an early series lead. Go figure.
No turkeys for McDonald
We give credit to the Anaheim Ducks for including a great bit in their media guide that describes players' first jobs. Among the most interesting was Andy McDonald's time as an assistant to the turkey vaccinator at a large poultry operation near his hometown of Strathroy, Ontario. He recalled how he was among a group of teens who received the coveted jobs and were responsible for holding down turkeys so they could be vaccinated against diseases. Because the barns were so hot during summer days, the vaccinations had to be done at night. So, he and the other workers would arrive at about 1:30 in the morning and work through the night. "I lasted three weeks," McDonald admitted. "They're not very friendly animals."
Six degrees of Drury separation
In some ways the NHL is a small town. The relationships that exist between coaches, players, scouts, general managers and even the equipment guys is like a spider web, all interconnected and interwoven.
And so it is that Ottawa Senators scout Lewis Mongelluzzo, one of the top American-born scouts in the business and a longtime part of USA Hockey's talent evaluation process for its junior program, finds himself on the opposite side of the fence from Sabres co-captain Chris Drury, a player whom Mongelluzzo scouted and recommended to the Quebec Nordiques prior to the 1994 draft.
Mongelluzzo recalls taking Dave Draper, then head of the Nordiques' amateur scouting staff, to see Drury play when Drury, a native of Trumbull, Conn., was still playing high school hockey. The competition wasn't terrific and there was initially little interest in Drury, who will become one of the most sought free agents this summer.
"I think Dave looked at me like I had two heads," Mongelluzzo recalled. "I remember saying, 'Don't worry about the level of play, just watch how he plays.' He is so smart. He is the ultimate team player, and more important, he is a leader of men."
Mongelluzzo kept pushing and the Nordiques took Drury with the 72nd pick in the 1994 draft. Both Mongelluzzo and Drury moved on from the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise, but they meet again in the East finals. Small town.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com
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