May 1, 2002
I'm back for round two folks, but I must say at this point, I'm not too impressed with anyone involved in the National Hockey League right now. We saw some things in round one never seen before in the NHL, and I'm afraid to say they are not good things for the league. Let me just start by saying that there isn't a bigger fan, student, and supporter of the game of hockey then I am. I have watched, played and studied the game since I was dropping pucks in my diapers. I grew up on it. I have learned so many of life's lesson's being involved in this game I could write a book called "Zen and the Art of Hockey." My hockey life started on the heels of Henderson in '72 and I have been fortunate enough to grow up in the Gretzky era. Hockey is in my blood, and boy is my blood boiling. The game is messed up on so many levels right now. Please, let me vent and explain.
I grew up with the crazy notion that hockey people held a certain code towards the game. No matter what, you do not compromise the values of the game. What are those values? Pride in the fact that it is a tough, sometimes vicious game. That it is not for the physically or mentally weak and if you play, you have to be tough in both aspects. If you are good and successful enough to play at an elite level, than you have endured adversity not seen in any other game. Let's face it, you have overcome the odds if you are playing in the NHL because every Canadian kid growing up wants to be there. I was taught that if you want to be involved in the game you have to carry yourself with dignity. If you don't, hockey will chew you up and spit you out. I can still hear my dad now, driving home in the old T-Bird after one of my first competitive games, "If you want to play hockey Dwight, you have to first respect the game. You can't cheat, cut corners, or loaf. You can't hang your head and quit when things get tough. You have to be mentally strong, suck it up and persevere. That's what makes a hockey player. Not goals. Not assists, hell, not even wins. Oh, and most of all, YOU CANNOT WHINE when things don't go your way."
Back to the present and the first round of the 2002 National Hockey League playoffs. What is going on with the people in the game today? The first round of the playoffs had so much whine in it, I've been sent on a three-week bender watching the nightly highlights. As I stated earlier, the game is so messed up right now that something has to be done. Let me see if I can shed some light, and remember I'm only saying these things because I want what's best for HOCKEY.
The people involved in the game right now are divided into two groups, "Old school" and "New school." These two groups are indeed at war within the game. The "new school" are the powers that be. The people who say they love the game, but want to change it at every turn to make it more globally "marketable." They want to "clean up" the game to bring it to new audiences all over the world, because that, they say is what will make hockey great. That is what will make hockey money. The "old school" grew up on the game in its primal origins. Hockey history clearly shows that, yes it is a brutal sport at times, because emotions run rampant when you are playing the game. A true hockey player is trained from an early age that you have to win the battles no matter how small they are, and only the strong survive. That is what they love about the game. Don't change a thing. What do I say? With all do respect to Gary Bettman as a lawyer, and successful moneymaker, he does not know the true value and essence of hockey, and is working towards the sole purpose of making the league money. This is where the problem starts, at the top. We have to make up our minds where to draw the line. We need to ask ourselves, what do we want for the game of hockey? The owners, management and coaches are making more money than ever before, great! Can any "true" hockey person say that they are happy with the game today? Not with a straight face.
The first round of the playoffs saw managers and coaches who are considered to be "old school" stage media conferences to show tapes of incidents to "the powers" that were not nearly as bad as what they themselves endured when they played the game. It saw managers call press conferences to work on their stand up routines in a ploy to sway the officials. Why? Because they are true hockey people who are at their wits' end trying to get the attention of the guy running the show. I don't want to beat a dead horse but no one seems to realize the embarrassing state of the officiating from a "hockey" standpoint. The league is trying to train the officials with the intent on cleaning up the game at all costs. The problem is, the management, coaches and players are left not knowing how to play the game anymore. They have been taught to play "old school" hockey. We can't have this both ways folks. If what we want out of the National Hockey League is global acceptance and maximum profit at the cost of the dignity and value of the game, than consider me officially retired from the NHL. The league needs to decide fast what their priority is. The game or the money. Right now, similar to many facets of life, money is winning. If us "hockey" people don't put up a fight, money will soon flat out win.
This is not a new problem. The train got on the track right about the time the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets relocated. We couldn't save those storied franchises. Now, the money train is in full throttle, and soon, we won't be able to save our storied game. I don't accept that it is the sign of the times. I won't accept it. There is plenty of money in the jar right now; we need to take care of the game. We need to get back to hockey people running the show. It is the only answer to the problems that plague this once elite league. It is a sad sight to see hockey games decided by anything or anyone besides the coaches and players themselves. Trust me folks, it runs deep. Granted, the first round of the playoffs saw some great performances by the players like Steve Yzerman, Jose Theodore, Brent Johnson, Patrick Marleau and Patrick Lalime. Were these player performances the focus of the first round? It's a shame. You want evidence that the problem runs deep. At the same time that managers, coaches and players are livid at the state of officiating, Mr. Bettman is saying that the officiating in the playoffs has been good. I can say this without getting fined, come on Gary, you can't be serious, and if you are, then you are more ignorant about the values of hockey than I thought you were.
The moneymaking media is missing the point too. They are saying things like, "The league should fine these general managers for speaking out," and "The players just don't show each other respect nowadays." Guys, as a player you are taught that there are no friends on the ice, and the infractions that have occurred in the first round are not even close to the infractions that made heroes out of Rocket Richard, Mark Messier, Scott Stevens and Denis Potvin. These guys did much worse, and you know what, as players, you accept the risk. The media says, "something has to be done for the sake of the players careers," That's baloney. The players are paid with career longevity in mind, which is part of the reason they make so much. The players know the risks and they accept them. Nothing made me angrier this round then listening to the whining about Kenny Jonsson getting hurt by a clean check. Yes Gary Roberts skated hard from the blue line in, it's called forechecking. Yes he hit him in the head, but it wasn't a high hit. Look at the tape. The problem in that case was the receiving of the hit. Kenny Jonsson is notorious for not knowing how to take a hit. Some may say that is a cold point of view. Sorry folks, I call them as I see them and it happens in hockey. The same hit was delivered by Todd Bertuzzi on Chris Chelios in the Red Wing vs. Canucks series, and due to the fact that a) Chelios knows how to take a hit and b) Coach Scotty Bowman didn't whine about it, everyone involved labeled the hit "awesome". Inconsistency, it plagues the league. In the code of hockey, despite the battling, no matter how vicious it seems out on the ice, as soon as the final buzzer goes the anger turns to respect. Respect at the fact that yeah, you pushed me to my limit, you made me be at my best mentally and physically, and no matter what happened between us out there, you didn't whine and I didn't whine and you won. That is how you learn. That is how you gain strength, and you know what? That's hockey. Smarten up guys, you are losing fans.
THE ELITE EIGHT
After round one, I am sitting with a 5-3 record. Not bad considering none of the so called "hockey experts" on the various airwaves did any better. I should have been 6-2 but someone talked me out of taking Theodore and the Habs. Check my last article, the proof is there. Hey, I'm not whining though. Here we go!
(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (4) St. Louis Blues
We have seen this rivalry many times in the past, dating back to the days of
the old Norris Division. This time seems different going in because the in my
opinion, the Blues actually have a chance. Both teams are fairly healthy going
in, and this one should go the distance. Detroit has found their stride after
underestimating the Vancouver Canucks in the first couple of games of the
playoffs. St. Louis and goaltender Brent Johnson are as confident in their game
as they have been all season long. One theme to watch for in this series, is the
battle in front of the Blues net, as I think you will see Tomas Holmstrom and
Chris Pronger get to know each other very well. In the end, The Joe Louis Arena
will be the deciding factor.
Red Wings in 7
(2) Colorado Avalanche vs. (3) San Jose Sharks
This series is going to be a tale of toughness. Both these teams are have a
lot of intimidating hit men on their roster. For the Avalanche, The majority of
these bruisers play on the blue line as guys like Rob Blake, Adam Foote and
Darius Kasparaitis will be at their best. The Sharks will counter with their
gritty forwards such as Owen Nolan, Scott Thornton, Adam Graves, and
ex-Avalanche fan favorite Mike Ricci. I believe that the question mark in this
series lies on the Shark defense. Their defense corps is very similar to that of
New Jersey's last season, and they could not handle the Av's speed.
Avalanche in 7
(3) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens
I'm not sure what to make of this one except to say that Jose Theodore is for
real and Kevin Weekes is not. The Hurricanes have the luxury of veteran Arthurs
Irbe to go to if Weekes comes down to earth. They are playing good team hockey
right now, and teams tend to underestimate them. The Canadiens have that karma
thing going again this year, like back in 1993 when the Hab snow ball rolled
right to the Stanley Cup. Is there anyone out there not cheering for this team?
The stories of adversity inside this locker room make you want to see them do
something special, and special it would be if they could get past the 'Canes.
All eyes will be on Theodore in this one, and I can't help but think that the
leadership of Doug Gilmour will overshadow that of Ron Francis.
Canadiens in 6
(4) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
They say that the third time's a charm, and that is good news for Ottawa and
their blood- thirsty fans. The Senators have taken the "us against the
world" mentality and that is what will sink the Leafs this time. This
mentality breeds team unity, something that takes you far in the playoffs. The
last thing the Senators want to do is lose a third installment of the battle of
Ontario. Toronto is banged up, bruised, and extremely tired after the series
against the New York Islanders, and it is going to be very difficult for them to
recharge considering the state of their roster. A key factor in this series may
be the healing powers of one Mats Sundin because a healthy Sundin will be a
fresh Sundin, and that may be the only thing that can save the Leafs.
Senators in 6
My second round wish? The "game" is the focus, not the officiating,
general managers or league disciplinarian Colin Campbell.
More to come, enjoy round two!
Your own opinions can be expressed in the message forums.
Editorials are opinions of the author, not this website, the owner of this website or any of its members.