Yes, it's tradition, but players should have a choice

Updated: April 26, 2007, 7:18 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

So let's say Flames goalie Jamie McLennan hadn't been suspended -- in this world, anything is possible -- and he was in the handshake line at the end of the Calgary-Detroit series.

Would the Wings' Johan Franzen, who had taken a stick swipe to the midsection from McLennan, have shaken his hand?

Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco
Jeff Vinnick/Getty ImagesMarty Turco, left, and Roberto Luongo took part in the NHL's longtime tradition after Monday's Game 7.

Or, perhaps more appropriate, should he have?

The answers probably are yes and no.

And were Wild winger Derek Boogaard and coach Jacques Lemaire wrong or tacky for skipping the line at the end of the Minnesota-Anaheim series last week, in the wake of the Ducks' Brad May landing a cheap-shot punch on the Wild's Kim Johnsson in Game 4 and Boogaard's involvement in a warmup skirmish before the series-ending game?

Not at all.

Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough, who clearly was not happy with his Anaheim counterpart, Brian Burke, said he advised Boogaard to stay out of the line because of what might happen.

Whatever you think about Lemaire and what his trapping strategies did to the sport, the man has paid his dues, and not just to the players' union in the past. His name is all over the Cup, his influence is all over the game, and, even now, his barbed sense of humor can be refreshing.

He was not a bad sport for skipping the line. He was saying what he thought, what he really thought, and not going through the motions.

Eleven years ago, a Red Wing faced a similar dilemma following the end of the Western Conference finals in Denver, where Colorado eliminated Detroit in six games. A few minutes after the post-series shake, Dino Ciccarelli was standing in the dressing room at McNichols Sports Arena, aghast. After seeing Kris Draper's face, which was turned to mush, Ciccarelli exercised a bit of self-censorship as he said: "I can't believe I shook his freakin' hand."

The aforementioned hand, of course, belonged to Colorado's Claude Lemieux, who had been tossed from the game for his hit on Draper, but returned to the ice for the celebration and handshakes.

Ciccarelli shook his hand.

Every night a series ends, a certain comment and its variations are inevitable, whether on broadcasts, in Section 116 or in the living room in front of the television.

This is one of the great traditions in sports ...

No matter what has happened during the series, generally speaking, they line up and shake hands. Tradition and history suggest that even if opposing players have a mutual hatred that dates back to major junior, or had a falling-out as Binghamton teammates, they shake.

It hasn't always happened in the past, either, as when the helmeted avenger himself, Darren McCarty, skipped the chance to shake Lemieux's hand after a subsequent Avalanche-Red Wings series. There undoubtedly has been far more abstaining than we've realized, because nobody records the results on the gamesheet or breaks down the video. Plus, comments undoubtedly have been made about lineage or native nations or other such issues that stray beyond "good job" or "good luck."

Like anything else in life, if it's done because you're supposed to or have to, its significance and impact are diluted. Doing something only because you're supposed to do it is not sportsmanship.

Sometimes, it can seem akin to an athlete who has run afoul of the law or a commissioner reading a statement at a podium that sounds as if it came straight from the laptop of his agent or lawyer, and is about as genuine as a Canadian three-dollar coin. (A "trooney"?)

It's nowhere near as stupid or silly as NBA players (or, now, high school players) feeling as if they must slap or tap hands after every free throw, made or missed, because if they don't, they're dissing a teammate.

But I'd rather this become more of an elective exercise, with players not being excoriated if they decide to skip the line altogether or skip shaking hands of individuals. I didn't use to feel that way because I went along with the conventional wisdom that the sportsmanship involved in the gesture outweighs any individual considerations and sets hockey apart.

No matter what ...

The Thrashers and the Rangers shook hands, even as the Madison Square Garden technocrats in the booth, undoubtedly thinking this was clever tribute to Robbie Robertson and The Band, played "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

(If they thought it was clever, which would make it the product of those ridiculous marketing meetings that produce bush-league stupidity in major-league sports, shame on them. Bobby Holik or Keith Tkachuk, neither of whom were born in Charleston or Augusta, would have been justified to step out of line and signal No. 1 to the folks upstairs. If they thought it was paying homage to the group, fine.)

The Red Wings and Flames shook hands, despite the fact the Flames', ahem, message-sending -- and not just from McLennan -- was one more sign that GM Darryl Sutter's mind-set still influences what happens on the ice.

Do it if you want to do it. It remains understood that if you do take part, you're not surrendering or gloating, you're paying homage to tradition. All you have to do is turn on the television, look online or read the paper the next morning to understand that, in the grand scheme of things, this isn't all that important.

Don't do it if you don't want to. No recriminations. No criticism. You're not being a "bad loser" or spitting into the Stanley Cup if you don't.

We live in a world of scrutiny and opportunistic sensitivity. I'd hate it if the handshake tradition becomes infected by it.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."

Terry Frei

ESPN.com contributor
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."