Your rants, my answers

December, 8, 2009

I need a ventilator from all your venting. OK, that wasn't that funny. Let's look at the vents I enjoyed the most from this week:

jacobsaltiel: Dear Pierre, my three favorite hockey commentators are Mike Boone, Elliotte Friedman and you. I try to read your columns as often as they appear and I'm rarely disappointed.

I was wondering about the fuss surrounding Alex Ovechkin and his suspension ... Ovechkin was harshly criticized for his hard-hitting style of play and called reckless, irresponsible, and even, according to your fellow commentator Scott Burnside, something of a prima-donna about his responsibilities.

My question is this: How come when Brian Burke goes out and declares to the league, "My team is going to physically assault you if we can't beat you according to the rules," he is lauded as inventing the word truculent and the savior of Toronto and an upstanding representative of the league, while Ovechkin is chided for his dereliction of his duty as a star (Friedman said) in playing exactly the way Burke describes?

Every time the Leafs go down by a goal, in come the goons! Every time Mike Richards knocks someone out, the player turned away from the hit (implying he deserved to be knocked out) and every time Crosby drops the gloves against players who would never punch him back, he is acclaimed for his tenacious style of play. And Ovechkin is different, how? The previous three seem as guilty or worse, yet are routinely praised.

My advice: Jacob, there was indeed no shortage of reaction from my media colleagues on Ovechkin last week, and I thought the pieces from my good buddies Friedman and Burnside were both excellent. (I was off the hook on this subject since Mr. Burnside took care of it for Team

Certainly, some of the media comment around the league was negative, chastising Ovechkin for crossing the line in what they believe was reckless play. But I think one of the most relevant themes in some of the criticism was the concern for Ovechkin's own health; that his style might expose him to constant injury (a la Eric Lindros) and that's something none of us wish on him. We need him on the ice, not in the press box.

But as for the element of dirty play in his arsenal, well, I'd be a hypocrite if I condemned him for it. First of all, it's how I played the game growing up in Northern Ontario. I was a regular visitor to the penalty box in my day and led my high school team in penalty minutes in 1990-91 (when I also sported a mullet). More importantly, Ovechkin's blend of superstar skill and mean streak reminds me of the Montreal Canadiens' all-time greatest superstar, Maurice Richard.

I love the picture of "The Rocket" shaking hands with Bruins goalie Sugar Jim Henry after the 1952 Cup finals, blood dripping down Richard's face. For those young kids who don't know much about Richard, check out the movie on him that came out a few years ago starring Roy Dupuis. There's definitely a little "Rocket" in Ovechkin, minus the cracking of a stick over a referee's head. And it's fine with me.

JoeyNegs12: Pierre, I am a huge Rangers fan. I have been following the team since I was able to understand what was going on when watching TV. It seems as though Lundqvist is now mortal. He no longer looks like the KING that we all are used to. Can this be due to the lack of defensive-minded hockey the team now plays under John Tortorella? He claims that his up-tempo system is based on defensive-minded pressure hockey, but we all know they are a run-and-gun team.

Was Henrik Lundqvist a product of the defense first system implemented by Tom Renney? Granted, we are a young defensive team; I just can't come to a conclusion if the defensive struggles are due to young players, or a lack of commitment to the play in our own zone. I love Staal, Gilroy is a nice offensive defenseman, along with Del Zotto. BUT WHERE IS THE DEFENSIVE PART OF OUR DEFENSE?! What happened to the KING?!

My advice: Lundqvist's numbers aren't bad by any stretch, ranking among the top 20 goalies in the NHL with a .914 save percentage and 2.64 goals-against average. Having said that, if the season ended today, that would be the highest GAA of Lundqvist's five-year NHL career. So while he's not really struggling, per se, he's certainly not up to his usual standards. And that's something this Rangers team can't afford; they need "The King" to be at his very best every night just to have a chance. Veteran hockey writer Larry Brooks of the New York Post explains the concerns with King Henrik in his Monday story.

To make matters worse, while coach John Tortorella likely needs to rely heavily on Lundqvist for the rest of the season, the Rangers star won't get a breather while he will play for defending Olympic champion Sweden in the 2010 Winter Games in February. As a Rangers fan, I'd be concerned about the goalie's workload.

Tigergolf11: I have been a Thrashers fan their entire existence and have been through the thick and thin of the team. Unfortunately the majority is thin. Finally this team looks like a real contender and the entire city of Atlanta seems to have no idea. I am from Atlanta and hate the support the fans are showing. They have just given up on the team. This year we have depth in almost every position and have the youth waiting in the wings for the first time in franchise history. With that being said, what kinda finish do you see the Thrashers having this year?

Also what will they do with Kari? With Moose and Pavelec set between the pipes, it would make sense to shop Kari. Basically the issue I am having with the team is its inability to re-sign Kovy because without him hockey in Atlanta will be dead for a second time. What pieces are the Thrashers missing that might make them a legitimate threat for the Cup?

My advice: Well, actually, how about Scott Burnside's take? My colleague lives in Atlanta, so why not give him the opportunity to answer this. Besides, he just wrote a terrific column on the Ilya Kovalchuk situation.

"Well, obviously losing Kovalchuk will be a monster setback for the franchise," Burnside wrote me in an e-mail. "Will it kill it? Not sure it's that dramatic, but it would set the team back even further and test the patience of those fans who still remain. That said, I think there are lots of good things when you look at Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Bryan Little (off to a grisly start), Evander Kane et al. But this is a young team that needs to mature and learn. Keeping Kovalchuk is important because the Thrashers have a real shot at making the playoffs this season, but it's a process, and there are lots of steps yet to take for this franchise even if things look better than they have in a long time."

dandrade1971: The Ducks are driving me crazy. On paper, they look like a playoff contender but their goaltending is not up to snuff, their defense can't hold a lead, their 3rd and 4th lines are all pylons and their the most underachieving group in the league. Do they turn it around?

My advice: Dan, they are driving me crazy, as well. Ever since I covered their near second-round upset of Detroit last spring, I was convinced they'd come back strong this season and challenge San Jose in the Pacific Division. Well, you can forget that now. All they can do is hope to get hot and squeeze into the playoffs, and that's still a tall order.

The offseason acquisitions of Saku Koivu and Joffrey Lupul were supposed to help fill the void of secondary scoring, something the Ducks didn't have last season, relying too much on the top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. Well, they're still relying on those three guys for nearly all of their offense. The trio has a combined 91 points as of Tuesday morning, while the remaining 16 forwards who have dressed this season for at least one game have a combined 87 points.

Lupul, in particular, has really disappointed. He needs to pick it up. In the meantime, we all knew the loss of Chris Pronger would hurt, but it's been felt more than anyone anticipated. They really miss him on the penalty kill, where the Ducks rank 25th in the league. Finally, there's coach Randy Carlyle, for my money one of the best at his craft in the NHL. But nearly every coach, even the great ones, eventually sees his voice ignored by his players. I hate that part of the game, but it happens. And if things don't turn around this season, you have to wonder if Carlyle's fifth season behind the Ducks bench won't be his last for the 2007 Cup champions. Hopefully not.

Wingsfan4013: I'm a big Wings fan and right now I'm as upset with Detroit fans as I am with anybody else who talks about the Red Wings. People seem to love to pin the blame on our goaltenders and our injuries as the main reasons we're failing. I really don't see that. In terms of Osgood? Yeah, he hasn't been too good this season, but Howard? He's been solid for every game this season except the St. Louis game in Sweden.

That leads me to my point of the main reason we're failing. Our defense is playing terrible. It was bad when Kronwall was around and it's just as bad when he isn't around. Take the Edmonton game for instance, everybody blames Howard for losing, yet I'm curious if they actually WATCHED. I only got to watch the first period because I had to work, but the first goal Lebda shot in his own net, and the second goal Ericsson left Howard out to dry, and if you look at 60-80 percent of the goals Howard allowed in the games he's lost, they come from bad defensive errors where there was nothing he could really do to stop them.

Now missing Franzen, Filpulla, and Kronwall is certainly putting a big hole in Detroit, but look at how many games we've lost because of bad defense. We should have won both games in Sweden, but we let the Blues walk over us in the 2nd and 3rd. We never should have gone into OT in the second Colorado game. That's 5 points we should have had, at least. So I wanna know what you think is the Wings biggest problem?

My advice: Wingsfan4013, I agree to a degree with your analysis on the defensive game of the Wings. For starters, I don't think one of the game's great all-time blueliners, Nicklas Lidstrom, has been up to his usual standard this season. The injury to Niklas Kronwall severely hurts the cause, as well.

But overall, I have to agree with GM Ken Holland, who recently told me his biggest concern was the lack of offense. It's no surprise the Wings would find it more difficult after losing Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky from last season and replacing them with Jason Williams, Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, Brad May and Drew Miller. Not the same juice.

Now, let's give you some historical backing. The Wings are 18th in goals per game right now at 2.76. I did a little digging just for you. In the last 10 NHL seasons beginning with 1999-2000, the Wings' final regular-season goals per game average never dipped below 3.00 and the team ranked top five in the NHL in eight of those nine seasons:

1999-2000: First in the NHL, 3.39 goals per game
2000-01: Fifth in the NHL, 3.08
2001-02: Second in the NHL, 3.06
2002-03: First in the NHL, 3.28
2003-04: Second in the NHL, 3.11
2005-06: Second in the NHL, 3.67
2006-07: 10th in the NHL, 3.07
2007-08: Third in the NHL, 3.07
2008-09: First in the NHL, 3.52
2009-10 (through Monday night): 18th in the NHL, 2.76

Final analysis: The Wings need more goals!

VanBringingit: As a longtime Wings fan it was so nice to watch them play against the Rangers Sunday night, which is also the root of my beef. Why is it that great rivalries are not pushed to help boost NHL ratings. Toronto vs. Detroit or Montreal vs. Detroit? I'm force-fed Nashville and Columbus 20 times a season (no offense to the both of you), but then only get to see the Leafs and Habs once, if at all! I'm sure it's the NHL brass trying to promote new NHL cities, but at what expense?? Other sports promote their rivals, the NHL should take note.

My advice: Mr. Van, I understand your frustration, but understand the other 24 teams in the NHL also adore having Original Six teams in their buildings. Phoenix actually gets a crowd for the Red Wings. The Florida teams love the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Habs in town, etc. If we made exceptions in the schedule for the Original Six teams to play one another more often, then you'd be depriving other markets. We've got a structure to the schedule now where every team in the NHL plays every other team in the league at least once every season, sometimes twice. That way, all the fans around North America get to see a bit of everything.

jaguar0413: What's with the lack of respect recently in the NHL? After watching the last two Capitals games in which both Mike Duco and Dan Carcillo were ejected for blatant sucker punches, I begin to wonder whether or not there is a general lack of respect amongst the players. Both of these incidents came after two completely clean and legal hits. I know you talked earlier about the headshot problem, but I wonder if these incidents are in a similar vein. Do you think these incidents are indicative of a new culture within the league or do they come as a result of new rules like the instigator penalty? Watching both these incidents I found it hard to understand why both Duco and Carcillo responded in the manner they did.

My advice: Jaguar, the stunt by Carcillo on Saturday night versus Matt Bradley was really bush league, especially. But to be honest, and maybe you're younger, but sometimes it's important to understand the history of this league before making snap judgments on today's game. When you talk lack of respect, do you remember the past incidents in this league? Check out this famous brawl from the 1984 playoffs between the rival Quebec Nordiques and Montreal Canadiens. One particular sucker punch from Louis Sleigher on Jean Hamel during this brawl would have been major news in today's society and media-driven world.

I'm not at all condoning incidents like Carcillo and Duco, but what I'm saying is, it's no worse than what we've had in the past in this league.

kap9562: Here's the question: What do you think would be the DREAM Stanley Cup finals match for the NHL in terms of fan interest and TV ratings? I remember how well the finals in 94 did with the canucks and rangers, what do you think would come close to matching that? (I was surprised to learn that the sabers/stars final did better in terms of ratings than the flyers/red wings final in the 90s. Maybe it does not have to do with big markets as much as we think? or does it?)

My advice: Well, this isn't a rant, but nevertheless, a great question. Methinks the following news release from the Blackhawks provides our answer:

    CHICAGO, December 7, 2009 -- The Chicago Blackhawks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins game on WGN-TV, Saturday, Dec. 5 was one for the record books. The Hawks defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions 2-1 in overtime and in doing so achieved their highest regular-season household television rating in over 20 years. The game averaged a 3.2 HH rating, peaking at a 5.7 HH rtg/10 HH shr. Blackhawks ratings on WGN-TV are up significantly over last season, as the first place Hawks continue to perform on the ice. Household ratings are up +44 percent, and in the key demographic adults 25-54, the Hawks are generating a 1.7 rating, up +89% vs. year ago.

A Penguins-Hawks Cup finals? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury versus Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook? Yeah, I think that would be a ratings king for this season.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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