First Period -- El Sid
Can't you see it?
Right now, there are few players in the NHL who have his vision and feel for the game. As repetition and experience mix in with his bubbling talent, he will take over as the supreme player in the NHL. Feel, speed, hands, intellect, passion, a first step and focus are his -- more than any young player.
As he grows, he will become even faster, stronger and more dangerous because his shot will improve. If there was an All-Star Game this year, he would have been in it. He should be heavily considered for the Canadian Olympic team and I believe he will eventually be named to the squad. Word will slowly spread. Players and coaches will say at their morning skates: "Did you see that play last night?"
Can't you see it?
On opening night, Crosby was paired with John LeClair and Mark Recchi. Maybe Recchi can hang, but LeClair is a poor fit. He is now a marginal NHL player and should not be playing with someone like Crosby. Then, I saw the Penguins with multiple 5-on-3 power plays and Crosby was on the bench.
Penguins coach Ed Olczyk quickly realized Crosby was his best player. By the team's second game, he put Crosby on the power play with Ziggy Palffy, and with 1 minute and 24 seconds left in regulation, Crosby rifled an outrageous centering pass to Palffy for the tying goal. The Penguins are realizing you don't bring this kind of talent along slowly. You let them go, let them fly. All while badgering him on the details of the game: "Sidney, I want you to be the best face-off man in the NHL!"
No. 87 is the man. Can't you see it?
Alexander Ovechkin is a great talent. But when people, whether it is Barry Melrose or the many who write me e-mails, suggest Ovechkin or any other rookie will win the Rookie of the Year award over Crosby, it makes me question my eyes, my brain and my entire being. Crosby's talent, along with help from his team, will make him the runaway for the Calder Trophy.
When I read national hockey writers, who are either in the Hall of Fame or one day will be, state in the preseason that 60 points is all we should expect from Crosby, it made me wonder whether I should change my contact lenses. Or perhaps my morning ritual of three quarts of Jack Daniels and a sleeve of Oreos was clouding rational thought. I wrote in late July that my prediction for Crosby's rookie-year point total was 38-63-101. As long as he plays with Mario Lemieux and the first unit on the power play, and plays with someone who can keep up and finish off his genetically superior passing skills, Crosby will be cruising down Highway 101 with ease.
Can't you see it?
Second Period -- Video Killed The Radio Star
The roots of my hockey love were formed while listening to games on the radio with my Dad. The booming play-by-play voices painted pictures of bravery, speed and tension that seared my brain with images that stay with me to this day.
That childlike wonder has returned with the NHL's deal with XM radio.
When I was a kid, I could listen to the Penguins on KDKA, the Bruins on WBZ and the Blues on KMOX. Now, with an atmosphere that is no longer owned by radio waves, I can hardly pick up the Boston Bruins on the radio and I'm 90 minutes from Boston. Now, with XM Radio, clear play-by-play of NHL hockey is back on the radio.
While driving to ESPN for work Saturday night, I was scanning the NHL games and was able to catch the Predators and Ducks just as they were beginning their shoot-out. I have written in this space for the past three years the various reasons why I thought making the two-line pass legal and implementing the shoot-out would be a wise move. As far as the shoot-out is concerned, you can add another reason: it is great radio.
The Predators went with Steve Sullivan-Marek Zidlicky-Paul Kariya as its shoot-out shooters. Anaheim chose Sergei Fedorov-Teemu Selanne-Andy McDonald. I was so far on the edge of my seat, my steering wheel was now behind me. Fedorov went first and I could see him skating, slowing down and getting eaten up by Tomas Vokoun. Sure enough, Fedorov coasted and Vokoun ate him for supper. Sullivan was first for Nashville and you just knew something fancy was coming. Sure enough, he tries the ol' one-armed junior move and Jean-Sebastien Giguere easily stops him.
Selanne was next for Anaheim. Would he go high glove or five-hole? I thought, whichever he chooses, he won't be going very fast. Sure enough, Selanne stopped moving his feet and Vokoun knew with his glove on the right hand, Selanne was thinking five-hole. Vokoun knew it. Save. Zidlicky was next, and I've got to tell you, I had no idea what he had in mind. Save by Giguere.
The Anaheim announcers, Steve Carroll and Brent Severyn, were doing an excellent job of painting the picture of the sellout crowd and the players approaching the goalies. Carroll said he thought McDonald would score. He probably figured the speedy center would come in with more speed than Fedorov and Selanne and cross up Vokoun. It didn't happen. And so it came down to this: Paul Kariya, the longtime Mighty Duck of Anaheim in the bottom of the third for the win (at least in my mind, I refer to shoot-outs in terms of innings).
The "new" NHL, a term I despise, is made for Kariya. It never made much athletic sense that someone so talented, so fast, so committed, could be so suffocated. Sprinkle in something like an occasional shoot-out and, well, Kariya is a born-again NHL player. Wild and free. Would there be any doubt he would score? There was none in my mind. I knew what Kariya would do -- he would go to his go-to shoot-out move, the move that is the go-to move against Giguere. Skate in with speed and shoot. Don't deke. Rip a wrist shot over, or next to, the glove. The weakness of Giguere and the strength of Kariya.
It was a great radio moment. Driving to work on a dark and rainy Saturday night, in my mind, I was in hockey's honky tonk, picturing Kariya circle in his own end, visualizing the successful outcome. A hockey talent reborn, destined for this moment of icy rebirth:
You love this town
Even if that doesn't ring true
You've been all over
And it's been all over you
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day
(U2, "Beautiful Day")
For me, it was a hockey radio moment unlike any other, listening to a shootout on the radio. The unshackled star showing off his talent. He shoots … he scores! Winner winner, chicken dinner.
Third Period -- Two-line passing
Last winter, while the NHL slept, I wrote:
"That being said, for me, it would have been nice if the Las Vegas committee -- let's call them the "Rink Rat Pack" -- threw in regular-season shoot-outs, took out the red line and above all, did not allow any obstruction when a skater is in front of another. It's very simple: You have to have position on a man to make contact with any part of your body or stick; otherwise you have to play the puck! You can't ever tug at a man with your stick when he is in front of you. You have to skate and get a shoulder in front of the man to make stick and body contact. That would allow for more speed, more action, more goals and strangely enough, more big hits!"
A few months earlier I wrote:
"Removing the two-line pass. This is one of those changes that wouldn't necessarily open up the game, but it would add beauty and exhilaration to a game smothered by players who flat out skate too well. I want to see long passes. And I don't buy the European and U.S. college argument because those players aren't good enough to take advantage of longer passing lanes and more neutral-zone space. If they were, they would be in the NHL. Skill plus space equals exhilaration. If the players are having fun, you are having fun."
In less than a week, we have seen the return of the long pass to the NHL.
In the Hurricanes' home opener against the Penguins, Cory Stillman took a long pass coming out of the penalty box. The next night, Eric Staal took a 100-foot pass and broke in to score against the Islanders. NHL players are the best passers and stick handlers, and the most agile and fastest players in the world. I've written ad nauseam on how allowing two-line passes would work in the NHL; comparing it to any other inferior league was irrelevant. These are the best players in the world. If you give them time and space, they will do amazing things. And they are.
What's with the recent spate of bulky, ugly new hockey helmets? Petr Sykora's ITECH is bad enough, but the new Reebok and Mission models make half the league look like Robocop on skates. What's wrong with a good old "Stevie Y" CCM or a sleek Marian Hossa Bauer?
I agree some of the new helmets make the players look like the Great Gazoo on the Flintstones -- the tiny, green, floating alien, voiced by Harvey Korman. I compare a CCM hockey helmet to a Titleist golf ball: classic, timeless and without peer.
In overtime, how are the scoring stats for the players calculated? Will there be a new stat such as overtime goals? Also, how many games in do you think we can tell good teams from the bad?
Kyle K. Hanni
WNML "The Sports Animal"
Goals scored in regulation and overtime are part of a skater, goaltender and team's regular statistics. Goals scored in shoot-outs are a separate category. They won't count for the player or against the goalie. Also, a goalie won't get a loss on his record for a shoot-out loss. shootout goals will be a separate statistic.
I forgot to mention how great the new OLN commercials are. They truly are fantastic, capturing the spirit of the hockey family with ads that highlight the action, skill and camaraderie we love so much about this great sport. Please get the NHL to see them.
The promo spots are excellent. A great concept, wonderfully edited and the "We Believe In Hockey" is a beautiful and perfect phrase. Well done.
If you or your cubicle mates are looking for Bill Clement, I found him. He was playing anchor on a set that some undergrads from the AV department at NDSU built out of stuff they stole from the machine shop on a dairy farm north of Fargo. I felt genuinely bad last night that your network, and you in particular, played no significant role in the evening.
I got home and flipped on OLN to see what the new coverage looked like. Is it just me, or does it all look … well, bad? Both the games and the studio show look like they were produced by a cable access crew (anyone see Wayne and Garth hanging around?). They lack the clarity and flash of the ESPN games from two years ago. It seriously looks like the NHL got in the way-back machine and dialed in the 1980s. I desperately hope this improves, because the product just doesn't look comparable to the other major sports, and that's a shame, because the 'new' NHL is already incredibly exciting.
I understand the factors involved, but I wish the NHL were still on ESPN. Oh, and the OLN logo looks like it belongs on a can of vegetables on the bottom shelf of the supermarket.
Obviously, I am disappointed that I am not covering the nationally televised NHL games of the week. My job is not as much fun as a result. But, I still write about it here, watch every night and we will be doing lots of hockey on ESPNEWS on Thursday nights, which I will be a part of periodically starting in November. I'm not bitter or angry. The OLN coverage did not get off to a strong start. The picture quality was not good. The camera was zoomed in too far. And the intermissions were marred with wrong video rolling, and not enough highlights. That being said, OLN had very little time to put their team together. Most networks have more than a year to prepare for their productions. OLN had less than two months. Some aspects will likely get better. This was a long-term decision by the NHL. Time will tell whether it's the correct one.
Longtime reader, first-time writer. I know you have a keen ability to name kids, but does that translate into dogs? My wife and I are getting a Rottweiler puppy at the end of this month. He is gonna be a big boy (his dad is 120 pounds) and we wanted your input on naming him. We're huge Detroit Red Wings fans if that helps. Thanks a ton, enjoy opening night, we will Lower Bowl, Joe Louis Arena style.
P.S. The Counting Crows are where it's at.
If I'm a Wings fan and I was about to become a Rott owner, I would name the dog either: Gordie, Maltby, Yzer (pronounced "WHY-ZER" for non-Wing fans), Ted, Shanny or Liddy.
One of my favorite Counting Crows lyrics:
Got a message in my head
that the papers had all gone
Richard Manuel is dead
And the daylight's coming on
(from "All My Love")
My Rangers season-ticket package arrived last week Martha Stewart style. It is a decorated paint can containing various items such as tickets, T-shirts and a packet of blue "Ranger beans." I'm curious to see whether a clown will grow if I plant them. If the front office would put this much creativity into the team as the marketing department does into ticket packages, they would be a lot better for it.
P.S. -- The paint can does not fit over my head. I love hockey.
Budd Lake, N.J.
The Rangers are off to a good start. They have more workers than before and should be a solid team. I don't see them making the playoffs, but they have an environment in which they can begin to cultivate young players who work hard and who are Rangers. Not an aging free agent looking to cash in one more time before retirement. And, Dan, don't eat the Ranger Beans before going to church, OK?
I adore your column, man. Living in rural Oklahoma and loving hockey as a 19-year-old girl is a grueling task. Oh, and Arcade Fire is a great band, but you already knew that. Can you help me name my car? It's a blue Chevy Cavalier and needs a righteous hockey name.
You better name it Loob, Geralynn, or Earl.
Ovechkin. The kid is brilliant, and surely has benefited from competing against mature athletes in the Russian Superleague for another year. I'm absolutely sure his winsome personality will be adored in D.C. and he will step up in a big way for the Capitals. However, he is known to not like losing, which manifests in his taking penalties after turnovers. When he is pressured and loses the puck, he sometimes reached out to hook the opponent skating away with the puck and was instantly penalized. This happened both in the Superleague and during international play. My question is: What approach will the Capitals, and Glen Hanlon in particular, take with Ovechkin? Sure, the team needs to improve in terms of performance, and Ovechkin may be just the man to do that, but just how much will he be able to get away with?
The Capitals are not about winning right now, Alexey. They are about nurturing young players and getting more lottery picks. Ovechkin's primary job this season is to sell tickets in D.C. He will get better as he ages. He will get playing time, score goals, make mistakes, be a healthy scratch if he crosses the line, and get better. His leash will be long, but the Capitals will bring the hammer down when necessary.
I hit the 21 mark in November, and for my birthday, the boys are scrapin' up and buying me a tattoo. And I'm going orange and black! This is their year, time for me to get serious. Only problem is, I can't decide where to put the logo! Bicep? Back? Over my heart? Any ideas?
Thanks for any help,
Ahh, the dreaded tattoo question. What to get, where to put it? The Flyer logo is solid. Great tattoo. I'd put it where you can see it, so that would remove the back from a possible location. I kind of like the chest idea. I also would put two mini Stanley Cups above the top edge, starting on the left edge. Then, whenever they win future Cups, you can add a little cup. It makes the tattoo perpetual, and in certain years, topical and relevant.
I started coaching 9-year-old travel hockey this year, and recently while on the bench, the head coach came up to me and asked: "Do you think I get these kids pumped up?"
I didn't know how to answer, for some reason. These kids do not show any emotion at all. Any advice on how to really get them going?
Thanks a bunch,
A quart of Slurpee and a dozen doughnuts before the game. Most 9-year-olds are trying to disseminate all this information they are receiving from coaches and parents. Hockey is a difficult game. Like golf, that is its allure. As parents and coaches, we must never forget that hockey is hard, especially when you are 9. On the Mite team I help coach, I tell the kids what they do well, how good they are and how they can be even better. Then, I slip them a Ring Ding and a Mountain Dew and sing them an Audioslave song.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.