Woke up this morning ... with playoff MVP leaders

Two things intrigued me this past weekend.

• I love the fact that "Entourage" and "The Sopranos" have opening-credit theme songs. I don't watch much network television anymore, but I'm pretty sure, in most cases, they have done away with this musical practice. Don't ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox realize that theme songs are the "settling in" portion of the television experience? The pep rally for the already anticipatory moment of watching a new episode? It's like "O Canada" at an Oilers game during last season's Stanley Cup playoffs, when we all thought life began and ended with Fernando Pisani and what he had for lunch.

Network television executives have done a better job dismantling their industry than Jeremy Jacobs has in dismantling the fan base of the Boston Bruins. I blame "Seinfeld" for this. I think that was the first big hit to not have an opening theme song. This is a nonresearched observation, but I'm guessing I'm at least close. The best theme song of all time is either "Cheers," "Happy Days," "NHL 2Night," "Welcome Back, Kotter," "The Jeffersons" or "Speed Racer." I'll accept any of the six. I will not accept "Facts of Life," "Full House" or "The Golden Girls."


Every week, we present an NHL photo and I provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and the next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.


Goc Octopi? (Getty Image)

Your submissions:
Fox's decision to reinstate FoxTrax had a mixed reception from the Spongebob Squarepants crowd.
-- Chris O'Neil (Austin, Texas)

Odd-looking hackey sack!
-- Barbara Jacobs (Winter Park, Fla.)

"This skills competition has gotten a little out of hand. How am I supposed to get this up into the balcony?"
-- Rob Hallisey (Boston)

"That's a two-minute penalty for Pi Sticking!"
-- Keith J. Haddix

"Tako sashimi for Section 106, Row 4. Coming right up!"
-- Bob Parker (Pittsburgh)


"How long do I have to hold this up?" (Getty Image)

Television theme songs are like a warm fire on a cold winter night. They are reassuring and predictable. I understand that HBO has no commercials and network television believes that, in the time they can play a theme song, they can accept $200,000 for another advertisement. But we can count on theme songs to raise our heartbeat like a monster energy drink (only the green monster cans, not the orange or blue).

That being said, I noticed something 19 seconds into "The Sopranos" theme song, "Woke Up This Morning." While driving from New York City to his home in New Jersey, Tony Soprano takes the New Jersey Turnpike and takes a ticket from one of those automatic ticket dispensers. I mean, how in the hell does Tony Soprano not have an E-ZPass? And why isn't some merchant in North Caldwell, N.J., not paying for it? It just seemed odd to see Tony take a toll ticket. He's better than that.

• The second thing that intrigued me was the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoff MVP. It was introduced during the 1965 Stanley Cup playoffs and the first winner was Jean Beliveau. The latest winner was Cam Ward, the only hockey goalie in NHL history whose name rhymes with ESPN play-by-play announcer Pam Ward, who is the only hardcore Montreal Expos fan I have ever met. Pam could tell you Warren Cromartie's career OPS.

The Conn Smythe is one of my favorite trophies because it makes so much sense. Every sport should have a playoff MVP, not for just one series or, in the NFL's case, a game MVP. Up until this season, I used to say video review was one of the best things about the NHL. But since they are now overthinking video review, I am now returning to the Conn Smythe as my flavor of the month. Who is going to win this season's Conn Smythe? It's early, but these fantastic four have been impressive for their teams.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere
The Ducks goaltender, who turns 30 on Wednesday, comes to mind when I think of impressive postseason figures. Four years ago, I wrote a wrap-up column for the 2003 season and No. 1 on my list was Giguere. I wrote the following:

There are some people I just like to listen to. I used to watch Bob Costas' "Later" show at 1:30 a.m. just to hear Costas talk. George Carlin and Michael Stipe are two others. I just like to look at their eyes, read their lips and listen to them talk. Giguere has that quality. He's a man of action who is a great talker. The words he chooses, how he arranges them, his thoughts and how he times them are more impressive to me than his save percentage. It's why he is the real deal and why Anaheim will enjoy more success in the next 10 years. He reminds me of Tom Seaver. Smarts, heart and details.

Giguere is going to field insane contract offers this summer as he will enjoy the riches of free agency. The Bruins, Blue Jackets, Kings, Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Blues and Coyotes will all be interested. I see someone offering Giguere a 10-year, $70 million deal. And I'm not so sure that's all that insane. From a team perspective, I thought one of the best contracts from last summer was the Islanders locking up Rick DiPietro at $4.5 million a year and I said that from the get go. Giguere's price keeps rising with each win.

Other Ducks to watch out for: Chris Pronger and Ryan Getzlaf.

Jason Spezza
The Senators forward will probably be underrated his entire career. You could take anyone off of the Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson-Dany Heatley line, but Spezza's ability to win the big draw directly led to the winning goal in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals vs. Buffalo. His hockey IQ is off the charts. He always seems to make the right play. He will win an Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer at least once in his career. He is a world-class set-up man with a great release. He will score 50 goals (in a season) soon. If Ottawa wins the Stanley Cup, Spezza should win the Conn Smythe. It will be the first step toward a Hall of Fame career.

Other Sens to watch for: Wade Redden, Heatley, Alfredsson and Ray Emery.

Nicklas Lidstrom
No one on the Red Wings carries more weight on his shoulders than Lidstrom. The beauty and excellence of Lidstrom can only truly be appreciated in person. You feel the power of his mind through the Plexiglas. The Red Wings defenseman is constantly surveying, scanning and deducing. His split-second decisions are actually "logical conclusion based in reason" at warp speed. He seems to be in a different time and place. I have no ability to contribute to the debate of whether or not there is a god. The best I can do is point at No. 5. I don't know what that means. I can't explain it and don't want to try. Some people are just different; like they are walking billboards for the best humanity has to offer. I'll stop now.

Other Wings to watch for: Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom.

Chris Drury
I don't know if the Sabres are believers in team meetings, but they need one right now. They are all over the place, like a baby elk. They need to tighten things up and refocus. They don't seem to have a universal game plan on what they want to accomplish in the course of a game and how they plan to go about that. Plan. If the Sabres are to win the Stanley Cup, it will take more scoring, more faceoff wins and more leadership from Drury. I'm guessing he's already said something, but something needs to be said here.

The Sabres will either persevere and roar back with a series win over Ottawa, or they will go quickly and quietly. It could go either way. Can they quickly pull all of these players, with so many different cultural backgrounds, together? Hockey players are a culture unto its own. But there is something to say for a team like Anaheim; besides Ilya Bryzgalov, Samuel Pahlsson and Teemu Selanne, the rest of the skaters, and the starting goalie, are all North American.

The Sabres are a walking atlas. Drury is going to have to do his best Boutros Boutros-Ghali imitation to fix this loose ship. In this time of adversity, we'll have to see if the Sabres band together and join hands with The Pointer Sisters, Huey Lewis, Steve Perry, Michael Jackson and Billy Joel and sing "We are the World," or fold quickly and go home.

Hi John,

I took a job as the play-by-play broadcaster for the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs of the CHL. My predecessor is now the voice of the Isles, Steve Mears. He's a good guy, maybe you met him in your NHL travels this year. Believe it or not, we have a very rabid fan base for hockey here in Louisiana. I still really enjoy reading your column. Had to ask you about the new Pete Yorn album. I haven't heard it yet. I saw him at a small club in Kansas City after I graduated from KU and he was phenomenal. So the new album rocks?

Any chance we'll see a Jeff Tweedy reference in any of your work in the future? The new Wilco album comes out in less than a week and it's going to be a must buy. Enjoy the conference finals.

Justin Scholtes

Some artists and/or CDs have a very strong emotional connection for various reasons. Pete Yorn is one of those artists. His CDs take me to places in the past that will always be rich in the recesses of my mind. Yorn's first major release, "Musicforthemorningafter," was released in 2001. I discovered it in early 2002. This coincided with the Red Wings' Hall of Fame-laden team of 2001-02. Longtime, hardcore readers of this column remember I drove to Detroit, then to Raleigh, then back to Detroit and finally back home to Connecticut in my newly purchased Nissan Maxima while covering the 2002 finals for ESPN. (I am still driving that car and it now has 151,000 miles on it)

Two of my staple CDs during those drives were The White Stripes' "White Blood Cells" and "Musicforthemorningafter." Covering that Cup final will always be one of my top five occupational moments. Yorn's second CD, not as strong as his first or his latest, will always conjure memories of singing "Crystal Village" with my young sons in that same Maxima during warm, sunny summer days. Yorn's latest effort, "Nightcrawler," coincided with another Red Wings run. I have been listening to Track 12 -- "Ice Age" -- two times a day for the past month. Red Wings fans, for karma sake, should buy Pete Yorn CDs.


I'm a die-hard Wings fan. Have been, always will be. With that out of the way, it pains me to ask this: Why are the Wings getting a free pass for the empty seats? Everyone uses the same excuse -- "Michigan's economy sucks right now." That's a cop out. It may be true, but the team that had no problem plunking down $70-plus million a year in payroll prior to the cap was one of the few NHL teams that didn't lower ticket prices after the lockout. In fact, they acted as though they were doing the fans a favor by not raising prices. To quote from Cool Hand Luke, "I wish you'd stop bein' so good to me, Boss."

The Wings are many things, but fan friendly hasn't always been one of them. Now, with ticket prices at $100 to just get in the door, the Wings aren't looking like the only game in town. The Pistons and Tigers are championship-caliber franchises. Heck, the Lions might even win more than four games this year.

Here's hoping that those empty seats are a wake-up call to the Ilitch family. They might get their new arena soon, but if the organization doesn't reach out a bit more, they'll have the same turnouts. (Now, I get to run for cover as an army of pizza mascots hunt me down.)

Phil Kennedy


I feel for Red Wings fans. I know a couple of years ago, when the Flyers moved to variable pricing in the playoffs, our finals tickets would have been $250 a seat, while a similar seat in Detroit would have been $450. It seems way out of whack, considering the difference in economies.

Deborah K. Sullivan


As a transplanted Pittsburgher and lifelong Pens fan, it's great to see them on the rise again. They still have a way to go, though, as the Ottawa Senators proved quite convincingly. I'd love to see Recchi and Roberts around for another year. Any other specific things you look for them to do this offseason?


The Penguins obviously need to upgrade their defense. That's the No. 1 concern. The next concern is getting older and more experienced, and my sources tell me that every member of the Penguins will be older by next season. One thing I would love to see the Penguins do is to sign Paul Kariya and put him on the wing with Sidney Crosby. Now, perhaps there is a team out there willing to give Kariya a five-year, $25 million deal. I don't know if the Penguins want to go there because Kariya is 33 and will probably be a 20-goal, 50-assist player on most teams. Now, if Kariya were willing to go three years at $12 million-$15 million, I think he would be a perfect complement to Crosby in talent and personality. Additionally, this move would cement Kariya's Hall of Fame credentials. Three years with Crosby and the Penguins' power-play unit would likely add about 100 goals and 175 assists to his totals. This would give Kariya career totals of 466 goals, 675 assists and 1,141 points at age 35. He could then sign a two-year deal to stay in Pittsburgh, or sign elsewhere, and get his career numbers to 1,200. Signing in Pittsburgh would also help his Stanley Cup chances as the seasons go on. Kariya signing in Pittsburgh seems like a win-win to me.


I was just reading this week's column and I saw the letter about how tennis uses technology to track the ball for line calls. I was e-mailing a group of friends and mentioned why not put a GPS in the puck to track where it is on the ice and be able to "see" if it crossed the goal line? While we all hated the glow puck, they were able to put a chip in the puck to make that happen, so why not a GPS device? If my local golf course has GPS in the carts, I imagine the cost should be manageable for a premier sports league like the NHL. (Although, I admit, this is purely speculation.) This would make replays quicker and more definitive. The refs have a tough enough job keeping up with the speed of the game.

John Rubino

With the NHL destined to be a tight-checking, close-scoring, low-scoring league until the net dimensions are increased, an improvement in puck tracking should be No. 1 on the offseason agenda.


I'm disgusted with the ownership and the management of the Capitals. I know they'll have almost more money than any other team out there this coming offseason and they are in deep need of a solid defenseman who can quarterback the power play (i.e. Souray), a No. 1 center and another solid winger.


The Capitals have loads of cap room and the fifth overall pick in the draft. There will be a good offensive player on the board, most likely born in 1989. Yes, babies who entered the world when the B-52's "Love Shack" was playing on the radio are now about to enter the NHL.

You wonder if the Caps would possibly dangle that pick to a team, say the Sharks, for a player like Patrick Marleau. This is just a hypothetical. I'm curious if teams will begin to create cap space by trading high-salaried players for high draft picks. It gives a team like the Caps an instant top forward and it gives the Sharks organizational depth and space to sign a player they deem an upgrade.

Again, the Marleau thing is just an example of a team that is down on a player and might be looking at creative ways to deal that chip. I've always thought a team like the Capitals should continue to collect blue-chip talent. They are still very young, but they do need to add a big free-agent piece to keep the train moving forward. The question is: Do already wealthy players want to play in Washington? The Capitals would probably have to overpay (or offer an eight-year contract) to get someone like Scott Gomez to play center for Alexander Ovechkin. If I were the Capitals, unless I couldn't get a high-end player, I would stay put, keep playing the young players and keep collecting top-10 picks. Teams make mistakes when they overpay for average players. That is death.


As I sit in another boring Geology lecture here at the beautiful University of Oregon and read about the conference finals, I'm left wondering one thing … WHEN WILL THE BLACKHAWKS FIGURE IT OUT?! Do you see any hope for my team in the future? Will Khabibulin and Havlat lead Chicago to the Promised Land? I need to know!

Rene Sanchez
Eugene, Ore.

Geology.com reports that warming trends have caused the minimum sea ice cover in the Canadian Arctic to decline year-by-year. If this trend continues, the Northwest Passage could routinely be used to cut 2,500 miles off a trip from Europe to Japan and open parts of the Canadian North to natural resource development. The problem might be political because there is disagreement over who controls these waters.

Now, about your Hawks. Again, since 1963, the Blackhawks have had the first overall pick ZERO times. They will undoubtedly select 18-year-old Patrick Kane from Buffalo, N.Y., in this summer's draft. This past season, Kane played Junior in Canada for the London Knights of the OHL and his numbers were 62-83-145 in 58 games. He turns 19 this November and looks like the younger brother of Chris Martin from Coldplay. The Hawks have lots of holes. Still, if the young players step up and the team makes a good free-agent signing, it should make a move up. But I don't think the Hawks can get to a 90-point season in 2007-08. If Kane, Jack Skille and Jonathan Toews score a combined 60-75 goals, I would give them an outside chance.

It is very difficult to forecast young players because you don't know when they will make their physical and mental leap. Some take a huge leap over a summer, while others have it spread out over a number of years. Over the past few seasons, we've seen young players produce relatively quickly in the NHL. How quickly the Hawks' big three of Toews, Skille and Kane produces depends on how much of a leap they make. Also, if Tuomo Ruutu suddenly steps up and becomes a 30-goal, 80-point player and the Hawks can get their goal total over 250, things could be fun in Chicago next season.

Hello Mr. Buccigross,

What does San Jose need to do to get to the conference finals, and hopefully, to the Stanley Cup finals next season? It seems like their acquisition of Rivet at the deadline was a boost to the team. Should they pursue Rivet as a free agent? How bad do they miss a player like Brad Stuart on the blue line?

As a fan from the days when the Sharks played their games in San Francisco's Cow Palace in 1990-92, it surprised me to learn that only 15 years later, San Jose now plays their games in the eighth-oldest arena in the NHL. That being said, I wouldn't change a thing about the Shark Tank. During the playoffs, that place gets Chicago Stadium or Boston Garden loud.

Thanks for your efforts promoting hockey at all levels,

I was not impressed with Craig Rivet during the Sharks' playoff run. I think they should make a big run at Sheldon Souray. They need a blue-line presence. Souray would be a huge power-play threat and give the Sharks something they really need: personality.


I just got back from an Elvis Costello concert in Denver and I have a couple of questions for you: 1) What is so fun about "Peace, Love and Understanding?" and 2) What are the Avalanche going to do about their payroll situation and Jose Theodore?


Joe Benvegnu

In the summer of 1984, I listened to Costello's "Punch the Clock" in my gigantic Sony Walkman cassette player every time I mowed our gigantic Ohio backyard. I mean, this thing was literally the size of 12 iPods. It remains one of the best CDs in my collection. Theodore's $5.5 million salary is a pain in the butt and will cost the Avs some skating depth if they can't deal him. Fortunately, they have young players with manageable salaries that can offset Jose's deal.

Hey Bucci,

Your buddy Melrose doesn't like the Wings nor the Michigan State Spartans -- and we know how the NCAAs turned out.



I've said it before and I'll say it again. Barry does not care who wins. The officials don't care who wins.

Hey John,

I always see the cute kids in your e-mails, so I figured I would drop the gloves and join the fray. My Islanders may be out of the playoffs already, but does Emily really need to know?

Michael Seitz

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.