Dec 31, 2001
The halfway point of the 2001-2002 National Hockey League season has quickly come upon us and there have been bright spots and low points thus far. Every hockey season is a unique, up and down journey for organization, player and fan alike and that is the unpredictable beauty of sport. Here are some thoughts, questions and musings about the state of the game:
» The excitement in Canada revolving around the selection of the Canadian Men's Olympic Hockey team once again causes a churning in my stomach about the business of hockey. Hockey flows in the veins of Canada and it is truly a shame that there are Columbus Blue Jackets, and not Hamilton Steel; Nashville Predators, and not Quebec Nordiques; Phoenix Coyotes and not Winnipeg Jets. We all know why this is, but the "business" of hockey sometimes ruins things don't you think?
» The Detroit Red Wings have been by far the most enjoyable team to watch so far this year. I guess that's a no-brainer when you look at the talent they have on their team. It's not just the individual skills though, it's the way they work together. The passes are always on the tape and their legs are always in motion. The Red Wing games always have a flow, and they play together better than any other team in the league. They are going to be this season's President's Trophy winners.
» Will someone please explain to me why everyone in the National Hockey League is accountable for their performance, except for the officials? There seems to be some giant machine at work in terms of protecting them from harm. You say a word, fined. You look at them funny, fined. What's the story? The officials have been nothing short of atrocious in the past two seasons, yet no one can say anything to correct the problem. The officials should be held accountable for their mistakes, otherwise how will they get better? If some of the players and coaches think the officiating is bad, they should be allowed to say so, after all they are the ones that know best what is going on out there, not the officials. There are way too many phantom calls being made on the ice without any explanation needed. Whatever happened to the philosophy that a great referee is in control but barely noticed. The officials are having way too large an effect on the outcome of the games now in the N.H.L. and the league seems to want it that way. I'm not blaming the guys in the striped shirts, this clearly stems from a higher call to "crack down" on the physical play on the ice. It has clearly shifted the whole balance of the game. The league has killed five on five hockey and I ask this question: Why is this sort of thing allowed in the regular season, yet come playoffs, the refs put the whistle away? The officiating is the biggest reason why regular season and playoff hockey are like night and day. LET THE GUYS PLAY!!!
» While we're on the subject of officiating, the ripple effect has begun. There used to be a time when it was clear who the divers were in the league. There was a time when you could tag a guy like Tomas Sandstrom or Claude Lemieux for diving because referees like Bruce Hood or Andy Van Hellemond could clearly distinguish between a dive and an actual infraction, and would not be fooled. They wouldn't call a penalty if there wasn't a penalty. A player could flop and dive all he wanted, but it was him who would be embarrassed because there was no call. Believe me, there is nothing a player hates more than being called a diver, just ask Brad May. In today's game everyone dives because they know they can fool the refs into calling it. The players know now, that the officials do not know the game enough to distinguish when a guy is clearly trying to draw a penalty, and when a penalty has actually occurred. If it is late in the game, and you need a powerplay, players can orchestrate a power play. For the players, diving has become a smart move, because eight out of ten times the ref will call a penalty from it. This season, I watched a game where two guys from the same team collided a little bit behind the play, the one player went sprawling through the air in surprise, and a penalty was called on the closest opposing player. It was clear that the ref didn't actually see a penalty, there wasn't one, but the combination of the sprawling player out of the corner of his eye and the crowd reaction caused him to call it. Diving now works in the NHL folks, I'm ashamed to say we are now challenging soccer in that respect.
» I like the fact that the league has switched it's "size first" philosophy and adopted a more "skills first" attitude in it's scouting and recruitment pf players. It's good to see guys like Sergei Samsonov, Daniel Briere, Steve Sullivan, Mike Comrie and Oleg Petrov getting the oppurtunity to play the way they are. They are excellent players to watch if you are a little guy learning how to play hockey.
» Look at it every way you want to but there is one huge reason why scoring is down in the National Hockey League. The goaltenders. The goalies in the league now are unbelievably talented and committed. It is getting harder and harder to score each year. There are many different styles and ways to stop the puck, and the goalies have found more and more moves each year. So often, we as fans follow the puck and only see the goalie as he makes the save. The next time you are watching a game, spotlight the goalie a couple of times and watch how good these guys are.
» Now that the rosters are set for the 2002 Olympic hockey tournament, it is easy to get excited about the calibre of hockey that is going to be on display in the tourney. Check the rosters top to bottom and it is hard to give one country the edge over the other. The goalies are under the most pressure here, whoever is hottest wins the gold for their country. Remember this name: Tommy Salo.
Love it or hate it, hockey is here to stay! Here's to a great second half of the season, a safe and successful Olympic games and a worthy Stanley Cup winner. Happy 2002 Everybody!
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