Da Vinci knew all about the Stanley Cup

Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.

Leonardo da Vinci arranged those words sometime during his life that lasted 67 peerless years. Da Vinci was a stud. The REAL Leo. Smart, handsome, musically gifted, innovative, and as the above quote suggests, a mental warrior. The Italian was a vegetarian, yet he had a carnivorous appetite for life.

Da Vinci's quote blares STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS in broad, colorful strokes. Obstacles, resolve and mind -- the three most important words in the quote and the three most important words in describing the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yes, a talented team will raise the 35-pound Stanley Cup, but the winner will be determined by who overcomes obstacles, displays an almost inhumane resolve, and whose mind is maniacally driven to reach his star. His Stanley Cup.

Only a special kind of athlete -- a special kind of man -- can endure such a concentrated vision, resolve and passion for two long, painful months. The talented team that has the most of these men will win the Stanley Cup.

Pat Verbeek was one of those athletes, one of those special men. Verbeek personified the Canadian farm boy that embodies da Vinci's quote. Obstacles? Five feet, nine inches tall, less than 200 pounds, and, in his own words, not a fast skater. Resolve? Despite said obstacle, 522 career goals and his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Mind? Resolve is essential and effort mandatory, but what makes a champion and thus the difference from a career in the AHL and a 522-NHL-goal career is the mind. Smarts and hearts. Thinking the game, working at the game and loving the game.

Maybe you don't think Pat Verbeek is a Hall of Famer, but I do. The Hockey Hall of Fame is a place where we celebrate the game. Its members should be men and women who reflect the values of the game. Overcoming obstacles, showing resolve on a nightly basis, and having the mind of a hockey player -- tough, smart, resilient and productive.

That was Pat Verbeek, the "Little Ball of Hate."

Pat told me last week that he will officially retire in the next few days after holding out hope of playing one more NHL season. Talking about -- and talking to -- Verbeek is a perfect way to usher in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every great hockey player has had a little, little ball of hate in him.

It takes 16 wins to capture the Stanley Cup while da Vinci had 17 brothers and sisters. You can argue what the bigger challenge is, but thankfully MTV wasn't around in 1464, otherwise that had "MTV Real World Vinci" written all over it. It may have been tough for Leo to get the last piece of bread at dinner, but he was never was hit by Scott Stevens in the neutral zone. These are the good ol' days. The Stanley Cup playoffs. Where a lot of luck and a little ball of hate go a long way.

No. 1: Who gave you the nickname "Little Ball of Hate?"
Glenn Healy. Glenn, Ray Ferraro and I were all playing in New York with the Rangers. Glenn called Ray "Big Ball of Hate" because of his off-ice grumpy demeanor. He called me "Little Ball of Hate" because I was grumpy on the ice. It really stuck when I went to Dallas and Ray left a note in my locker and put "Little Ball of Hate" on it. The guys in Dallas ran with it.

Beeker was born May 24, 1964, in Sarnia, Ontario.

No. 2: How in the world did you score 522 career goals?
It's a combination of a lot of things. One of the things I prided myself on was studying goaltenders. I always liked to watch hockey games and study where the goals were going. When I got in the game, I had a better idea of what to do. I worked hard in practice to put the puck in the right spots. Because of my size, I had to be able to think the game. My first two strides were quick, but I wasn't fast. I scored goals from beating players to the net.

Pat was the 43rd player chosen in the 1982 draft by New Jersey.

No. 3: Who was a boyhood role model for you?
Bobby Clarke. I just remember watching the Flyers and I started playing his style. He wasn't a big guy, but he was a tough, vicious player. He was a tough player to play against and that's the kind of player I wanted to be.

Pat retires with 1,063 points and 2,905 penalty minutes. Not as many points as Clarke (1,210) but more penalty minutes (1,453).

No. 4: 500 goals, 1,000 points and a Stanley Cup Champion. Hall of Fame nominee credentials. Do you think about that chance?
I think about it. It would be a mind-boggling accomplishment. I never even thought about it when I was growing up.

Pat played junior hockey for the Sudbury Wolves.

No. 5: Did the NHL get less nasty as your career progressed?
It's a different kind of nasty today. When I first came into the league, if you cut someone with your stick, you knew a guy would get you back. And that's why we have more vicious hits now. There was an honor before that seems to be missing today. It was an obligation before to do what you had to do. Now, there is willingness to get revenge in a violent way because you don't settle it man to man. A lot of it can be blamed on the European influence, and that's a fact.

Beeker played for New Jersey, Hartford, the Rangers, Dallas and Detroit.

No. 6: What's your fondest memory as an NHL player?
Certainly winning the Stanley Cup in Dallas. The three years in Dallas was special. We were all about a team that wanted to win. Everybody pulled together and nothing took us off our focus to win. ("He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.")

Pat lives in Michigan and broadcasted Red Wings games this season.

No. 7: You were almost the game-winning goal hero in Game 6, right?
I think about it once in a while. I had Hasek down and thought I got it up high enough. But, we won. And I'll tell you, I don't know if we had enough left if it went to Game 7. John, it was incredible what the guys sucked up in that locker room. Me and Brett Hull blew out our MCLs, Mike Modano had a broken wrist, and seven other guys were really banged up. It was unbelievable.

Pat played 88 games as a New York Ranger scoring 51 goals.

No. 8: What are your post-NHL playing career plans?
: I did some broadcasting this year with the Wings and I really want to get good at it. I enjoy coaching my son's hockey teams and I love to fish. I have competed in a couple of competitive fishing events. You have to not only catch the fish, but catch more than someone else.

Playoff predictions
After watching most of the 1,230 NHL games that took place during the past seven months, here's what I see:

The Carolina Hurricanes were an average regular-season team last year. They scored 217 goals, gave up 217 goals, won fewer games than two teams who didn't make the playoffs (Rangers and Capitals), and had 16 ties and 5 overtime losses. Yet, they made the final.

How? Well, they were strong up the middle, had a good-skating, veteran, and rugged blue line, and got great goaltending. It was still a Cinderella story, but the ingredients were there in a weak conference to make an opportunistic run. This year, the elite teams have fewer questions. In my opinion, only seeds 1-4 have a chance to win the conference.

New York Islanders vs. Ottawa Senators
Ottawa will carry the play in every game of this series; the better skating team almost always does. Patrick Lalime will have to be rancid and Garth Snow will have to wear one of those sumo wrestler suits for the Islanders to win. The Islanders have plenty of grit and good defensemen. And they have centers. Sounds a little like Carolina, eh? Keep that in mind, but I'll take the Senators in 5. Islander fans will make it very tough to win on Long Island.

Boston Bruins vs. New Jersey Devils
This is actually a good matchup for the Bruins. The Bruins can score goals and are a much better offensive team than the Devils. But, the B's allowed 71 more goals than the Devils during the regular season. This series will be longish because the Devils don't score consistently. Boston has a chance, however the Devils have more structure, a better goalie and better defensemen. You don't bet against that. Devils in 6.

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
This series could be a lot like Toronto and the Islanders last year where the home team wins all the games. I project Tampa Bay to be one of the loudest opening-round rinks, like Carolina last spring. Central Florida has some Super Bowl mojo lingering and the Bolts' rink is a nice, intimate setting. Both the Caps and Bolts have good goalies, suspect defensemen and offensive flair up front. This is a tough series to pick. Tampa Bay wasn't a strong statistical 5-on-5 team, but Nikolai Khabibulin didn't find his "A" game until March, when he was the NHL's player of the month. I'll take Tampa Bay in 7.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Holy shnikey. What a way to kick off a playoff season -- 205 combined points is the most of any opening-round series. It's amazing what the Tony Amonte trade did to the Flyers' offense. Enthusiasm and confidence are the two words that come to mind when I think of the Flyers. They have good centers, veteran defenseman and good goaltending. Toronto is not as strong up the middle, their defensemen are not quite as strong and they have a Stanley Cup champion goalie. I'll take the Flyers in 7.

There was little doubt in my mind Detroit would win the Stanley Cup last year. The gap has closed considerably because of what Dallas did in the offseason, the six-month "vacation" they had, a fresh start with head coach Dave Tippett and the emergence of Marty Turco as an absolute "A" list goalie. More of the best NHL players are in the West, and thus the best teams are, too. Last year, picking Detroit as the team most likely to win the Cup took a split second. This year, I'm losing sleep.

Edmonton Oilers vs. Dallas Stars
Fans of both teams know the history of this matchup. Edmonton will play tough, as they always do, but the Anson Carter trade weakened them. It will be more evident in this series than during the regular season. Dallas should be OK here. They are a little banged up, but they are playing well and should sweep the Oilers. Dallas getting home-ice advantage is huge. And I think Marty Turco's play is the difference. He is a champion. Stars in 4.

Anaheim Mighty Ducks vs. Detroit Red Wings
I can't believe the Wings did not seize home-ice advantage with games in Columbus and Chicago to end their season. I think that could prove fatal to their Stanley Cup hopes. Anaheim is a much tougher opponent than Edmonton. Anaheim has good special teams, is good at faceoffs and has a good goalie. Anaheim is good enough to beat Detroit. In fact, I would take Jean-Sebastien Giguere over Curtis Joseph if I were starting a team right now. The Wings might be fooling me. Maybe they will tighten things up in the postseason like the legends they are. But, for now, they are too loose. I can't believe I'm typing this, and it's a reach, but I have no faith in Cujo. Anaheim in 6.

Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche
This is a good matchup for Minnesota. They can focus on one line and one player: the Peter Forsberg line and Joe Sakic. There is not much else here to be frightened of offensively. However, the Avs counter with a very good blue line. Minnesota can skate and works harder than anyone. But I wonder if they have another gear for the playoffs. It seems like they just played 82 playoff games with their intensity and effort. I say they are pooped. I'll take Colorado in 5.

St. Louis Blues vs. Vancouver Canucks
It will be nice to see one of these teams in the second round, because it will probably give them some needed confidence. Vancouver is not playing well right now, but remember Detroit won just one of their last 10 regular-season games last year. Imagine how nasty it will be between Chris Pronger and Todd Bertuzzi in front of the net. I think St. Louis' talented forwards will win out here and win despite some shaky goaltending. St. Louis in 6.

So, who plays for the Cup? I'm picking either Ottawa or Philadelphia in the East and Dallas or Detroit in the West. Even if Detroit gets to the conference final, I'm more comfortable with Turco over Cujo. Colorado and New Jersey would be my honorable mentions. I'm rooting for Detroit vs. Ottawa because, from a neutral corner, I think that would be the most entertaining hockey. But right now, Cujo can't be counted on and Philadelphia has confidence, a game plan, and lots of incentive to beat Ottawa.

Hitchcock vs. Dallas. Roenick vs. Hatcher. Flyers vs. Stars. Stars win.

Hey, John:
Any way you can ask Melrose about talking his pal Dooger into playing goal for the Blues? He already has the jersey; I'm sure the team will sew his name on the back and give him whatever number he wants. Nos. 30 and 35 should be available soon.

Rob Goeggel
St. Louis

I NEED ANSWERS!!!! Conditional draft picks: exactly what are they and how do they work. And natural hat trick: definition of …?
Paul Tincher

Peoria, Ill.

A conditional draft pick is what it is, a draft pick with conditions. If I traded my friend Petey Potenzini my REM "Murmur" CD for a bowl of oranges, Lyle Lovett's "Pontiac" CD and a conditional CD and I still got scurvy, my conditional CD would be U2's Joshua Tree. If my gums weren't bleeding and I was generally healthy, I would get, say, 38 Special's "Greatest Hits." A natural hat trick is three goals scored in a row in one game by the same player with no other players on either team scoring between them.

Dear John,
You're right to enjoy your 3-year-old now. How fortunate that you get it. They go from "I'll be Joe Sakic" to "I'm transferring to the 82nd Airborne" in no time at all. Excuse me if I'm bummed that he won't be here to root against my team just for the sake of being ornery. Thanks for your column, but it made me cry.

D. Cano
Yucaipa, Calif.

Thinking about your son's bravery and honor makes me cry. Have him e-mail me.

Just wanted to write a quick e-mail to say I read your article "End of one season, start of another" with a twinge of sadness, as I could relate to what a wonderful backyard rink season this was. Our rink was done for the season around February, but the memories of freezing nights under the Christmas lights and long afternoon skates haven't faded. Those of us who are hockey fans and players and who are lucky enough to be able to construct a backyard rink, can only describe to those who can't what a thrill it is.
Jeff Frost

Hey John,
I haven't seen NHL 2Night listed as of late. Will it be on again during the playoffs?

NHL 2Night, which was nominated for an Emmy for the second straight year, will return full force the opening night of the playoffs and will remain on just about every night there is a game, through the conference finals. The one-hour playoff preview show will air on ESPNEWS, Tuesday, 3-4 p.m. ET.

Seriously, how good is Brian Leetch?? I am a Ranger fan, but with all
objectivity, since he's come back, he's been the best player in the league who isn't named Forsberg. He's the only D playing today who can take over a game. He's willed the Rangers their slim chance at the playoffs. He has to be a Ranger next season.
Brandon C.
New York

Brian Leetch has been amazing to watch. Don't worry; since Glen Sather has witnessed No. 2's play from behind the bench, he realizes that he is the Rangers' best player. Leetchy isn't going anywhere.

Hey John,
What's the deal with never giving Pasi Nurminen any credit?
Janne Oivio
Helsinki, Finland

Those are 10 simple words, yet a million thoughts go racing through my oversized, vapid head. I'm not the man to investigate such a question. Someone call Wolf Blitzer.

Hello John,
Who has more buoyancy? Ken the otter or Barry's mullet? Thank you.
Darryl Donor

It's close. Both Ken and Barry are covered with thick, brown fur and both have webbed feet. However, Ken, as you know, belongs to the genus Lutra, while Melrose belongs to the genus Boutros Boutros-Gali. Ken, by a nose pad. Actually, when you think about it, otter's are a walking, living, breathing mullet -- business in the front, party in the back. See, it's ALL coming together.


Your column never ceases to amaze. I was wondering if you could do me a favor. My best friend is over in Iraq with the 15th MEU. He is a huge hockey fan and whenever he writes home he asks me to send him updates on how the Devils are doing. Can you and the guys (Melrose & Parm) throw a shout out to him (Corporal John A. Baker, USMC) and his crew (Fox Company, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit) on the show? If so let me know so I can fire up the VCR. Thanks!

Rich Galasso

Will do, Rich. First night of the playoffs, NHL 2Night, right at the top of the show when we say, "Hi." And Thanks.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.