John Buccigross

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Monday, February 25
 
NHL and the Olympics: Boom or Bust?

By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com

In the end it was all very ... uncomfortable. Unlike the hockey women of USA and Canada, who have basically been living together and training together for the Olympic Games, the hockey men of USA and Canada are teammates and friends. Millionaires thrown together in the middle of the hockey season. In comparing the faces of the men and women, it was strikingly obvious that the Olympics meant more and hurt more for the women than it did the men.

HIT THE ICE by Michael Fischer
TOONS ON ICE Hockey (www.toonsonice.com)
Hockey at its best has a nasty edge and the USA-Canada final just didn't have that hateful desperation. The effort was enormous, but the game lacked a theatrical tone of combativeness. The North American-European games were much livelier. The third periods of the USA-Russia games were the best moments of the tournament. The USA has no rival in or hatred of Canada. While the people of Canada are very proud and in love with their hockey heritage, the PLAYERS are millionaires because of the economic engine of the United States. They CERTAINLY have no ill will toward the United States. Almost all the players on Team Canada work and live in the U.S.

So, does the NHL participate in 2006 Winter Olympics? There are positives and negatives. Here are some to consider.

Positives

  • Seeing dream lines like Mario Lemieux, Paul Kariya and Steve Yzerman come together and produce is poetry. Dream lines in All-Star games have no value because of the lack of intensity. They really mean something at the Olympics.

  • The big ice. A whole lot less clutching and grabbing. The essence of the game is skating and that is much more on display on the big ice. And we saw plenty of big body checks. That argument no longer applies.

  • Lots of people watching. Millions of people watched hockey the past two weeks. There is no doubt some of those will give an NHL game a look in the coming weeks. Will they like what they see? Also, there will be kids -- especially girls -- who take up hockey because of what they saw.

  • Last Friday night in the ESPN newsroom, nearly every television was on the USA-Russia game. There was a loud roar with each USA goal. That happens for college football, the baseball playoffs, and the NFL, but never in hockey. The game had everyone in the room on the edge of their seats. That scene was likely duplicated all over the country. Hockey had deep, nationwide meaning.

    Negatives

  • The telecasts didn't promote the NHL and its players. The hardcore NHL fan didn't need that, but if the Olympics were on ABC and ESPN just think of all the cross promotion that could be done for upcoming games and preparing new fans for the playoffs. "If you think this is good, you should see the NHL playoffs!" It would make much more sense to the NHL if that was the case. They could hook more viewers to the game by meshing the NHL and its players with the games.

  • Teammates against teammates. Friends against friends. Team sports and the Olympics are meant to be long term bonding experiences. You can't manufacture that in two weeks. The Olympics is largely a young person's Games. A 35-year-old millionaire with a wife and three kids just doesn't grab me. Did any moment of the Olympics match the meaning and impact of Raymond Bourque winning his Stanley Cup last spring?

  • I don't want to hate Paul Kariya. I started watching the USA-Canada game with full 1980 passion. I exploded after Tony Amonte's goal. Then Paul Kariya scored. It was a beautiful play. I love the NHL and I was uncomfortable rooting against Kariya, Steve Yzerman, Rob Blake and the rest of the Canadians. Martin Broduer is my favorite goalie in the NHL. I love to watch him play. This feeling hit me midway through the game. Maybe I'm alone here.

  • Will the skating and passing style of Olympic play, coupled with the playoff-type emotion, make the Minnesota-Anaheim game this Wednesday seem to have the quality of play of a celebrity game with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Alan Thicke?

    Will NHL players go to Italy in 2006? Nearly a couple dozen Canadiens just lost some interest. They have their gold. While some of those players will be retired in four years, the others would likely not want to go through another pressure cooker like this in the middle of an NHL season. Unless it's part of a future television contract, I can't imagine the NHL participating in 2006.

    The Boston Bruins shocked the hockey universe last summer when they signed Martin Lapointe to a four-year contract worth $22 million, making him the highest paid Bruin. It was shocking because prior to his 27-goal season last year with Detroit, Lapointe was a 16-goal scorer. Additionally, the Bruins always have touted themselves as a model of fiscal sanity in a One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest NHL World. (The 1975 movie directed by Milos Forman cost $4.4 million to make). How do they explain giving Lapointe more money to play hockey this year than it cost to make Jack Nicholson's Five Academy Award winning movie? Probably, three reasons:

    Martin Lapointe
    The Boston Bruins out bid the rest of the league for Martin Lapointe's playoff grit.

  • Lapointe was entering a new phase of his career. A 20-30 goal stretch. As a young unrestricted free agent at 28, it makes better sense to overpay for a guy now, as opposed to when he is 32. "Ahhh, Juicy Fruit."

  • He is a physical, crowd-pleasing player who never played fewer than 77 games since he became a regular Red Wing during the 1996-97 season. He didn't miss any games during his last two seasons in Detroit as offseason training became part of his lifestyle -- as opposed to eating tubes of Pringles and downing two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew.

  • He is a playoff kind of player. During the Wings' Cup years, Lapointe had 13 goals and 27 points in 41 playoff games. He might take a dumb penalty, but he won't wilt when the going gets tough.

    No. 1: You missed the last couple of games before the Olympic break with a hamstring injury. How do you feel and are you ready to go?
    Lapointe:
    Yes. I was feeling good before the break and could have played the last two games before the break, but the Bruins didn't want to push it. So, I was able to get three weeks of rest. It turned out pretty good. I've had hamstring injuries before.

    No. 2: What has the reaction been from fellow players about your contract? Has it been more supportive or have you sensed resentment?
    Lapointe:
    I can't speak for other players. I think more support than resentment. It's good for the players when a guy gets a contract like I got.

    Marty and a group of teammates go to Massimino's Restaurant before every home game in Boston. He gets the veal with a little pasta on the side.

    No. 3: Are there times you look at your paycheck and shake your head?
    Lapointe:
    I've worked hard all my career and I was in the right time at the right moment. I've paid my dues and the free agency really helped me out. It something I can't control and I was there at the right time.

    Would YOU turn down 5 million a year? "Ah, you know, jeez, boss, I don't want that much money. It doesn't feel right. You keep it and buy another boat."

    No. 4: Are you happy with your year so far?
    Lapointe:
    Obviously as a player, you would like to have more production, but my goal is to get in the playoffs and go far in the playoffs. I could have a better year than I'm having. That's the way it is. That's one thing the Bruins told me. They didn't get me to score 40 goals. They said they wanted me because I'm a hard nosed player that could help the dressing room. It's nice they don't put pressure on me. But, I put pressure on myself to do better.

    The last movie Marty saw was "Life as a House." He says it's a great movie. From the previews it looked ridiculous to me. If you've seen it let me know what you think.

    No. 5: Are you a playoff player and are the Bruins a playoff team?
    Lapointe:
    I think I'm a playoff type of guy. I like to be in key situations and I think we have a lot of those guys on the team. You don't want to have guys who don't want to be out there in tight spots.

    No. 6: Do you speak French to your kids or English?
    Lapointe:
    I speak French. My 5-year-old would rather speak English. He doesn't like to speak French that much.

    Marty is a big Creed fan. That was the last concert he saw. He uses music to pump himself up.

    No. 7: If the Bruins trade Bill Guerin will that be a disheartening blow to the Bruins locker room?
    Lapointe:
    Obviously. Bill Guerin is a key guy in our dressing room. He is one of our leaders that guys really respect. I want to see Bill Guerin in a Bruins uniform. Definitely.

    No. 8: What makes the Bruins a Stanley Cup contender?
    Lapointe:
    We're a hard working team. Almost every game this year we are in the game. It's always close and we have a lot of guys who like the pressure and like to step up. That should make us a good playoff team. Doing the little things, working hard, and hanging around.

    Most Valuable Player isn't all about statistics. Statistics certainly aid in choosing the most valuable players, but the award is also about presence and versatility and projecting who can keep up their play in the playoffs, when it matters most. The Red Wings have a team of them, so if one player goes down, they keep going forward. It can be argued that if every player were thrown in a hat and the NHL had a draft of every player, Joe Sakic would be the first player taken. The Olympics showed his level of play. But, to this point in the NHL season, Joe is just outside the top five. The following list was so difficult to determine, it made my ears bleed:

    Jeremy Roenick
    Roenick
    1. Jeremy Roenick, Philadelphia Flyers: He begins the post Olympic break tied for 9th in scoring and a plus-30! He plays disco in the dressing room before games. On his worst day he is 10 times more comfortable in his skin than I am on my best day. His value list is long. Talented, physical, smart, intense, media savvy and entertaining. The quiet players can go about their business. This was a tight organization during the Lindros years. Jeremy is the anti-Lindros off the ice. He SHOULD lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals.

    2. Mike Modano, Dallas Stars: While his organization is in a transition period, he is having the second-best goal-scoring year of his Hall of Fame career. Strong on faceoffs. Defensively, no centerman is better. He really should win the Selke. His speed breaks up plays no one else even gets to. His stick work stripping opponents of the puck is exceeded by none. He and Sakic both entered the league in 1988. Sakic has attempted 500 more shots than Modano. Last year Sakic took 332, Modano 208.

    3. Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche: I know a lot of people have him as their MVP, but he plays on a good team for which to tend goal; the Avs are good defensively and don't give up a lot of shots. That being said, Roy has been stellar and still has that psychological edge over everyone else. He is why the Wings are not a lock to reach the finals. If Hasek doesn't match Roy, the Avalanche could be right back in the finals again. How good would an Avs-Wings Western Conference final be?

    4. Mats Sundin, Toronto Maple Leafs: Tied for fifth in scoring. Remember the last person to win the scoring title other than Mario, Wayne or Jagr was Marcel Dionne in 1979-80. Like Modano, historically he hasn't taken many shots - he took 226 last year and 184 the year before. That has changed this year - he'll get close to 300. He's playing with a playoff edge in the regular season. His Leafs are good enough to get to the finals.

    5. Joe Thornton, Boston Bruins: The 22-year-old thinks pass first and would have been great on the big ice. His size and strength make him an MVP player. Only Adam Oates had more assists at the break. He, too, doesn't shoot enough -- he has 113 fewer shots than teammate Bill Guerin. The Bruins should sign him to a 10-year, $60 million Nomar Garciaparra-type deal to save the hassle of negotiations. Thornton gets the better of the deal early, the Bruins late. A Conn Smythe kind of player. He had nine points in the Bruins' 11 playoff games in '99 when he was 19.



    Perhaps no music is more in tune with the movements of NHL hockey than punk. Fast, furious, hard hitting and, at its purest, raw to the bone. The band Two Man Advantage is a Long Island-bred band that turns out no-holds-barred punk with a heavy emphasis on hockey lyrics. For the past five years they have produced two CDs and toured in the name of puck. For the complete story go to www.twomanadvantage.com.

    I talked a member of Two Man Advantage who goes by "Spags," who is a big Islander fan.

    On fighting the novelty act label: "What we have going for us is that we are passionate on what we are singing about. We MEAN it! This is what we like. It comes across. In the past we've been called a novelty act, but, lately we haven't been. That's why we named out latest CD, 'Don't Label Us'."

    The challenge to grow in popularity: "We tour constantly. The only way to win people over is to play live and to what you are all about. The only way is to keep playing. We have some big die-hard fans on the East Coast. There's a big group of Washington Capital fans that are fans of the band."

    The relationship between punk and hockey: "As far as I'm concerned hockey is punk rock. The best way to describe our band is Tie Domi. We're an annoying little runt that won't go away. We'll stand up to anyone."

    Staying the course in this "boy band" climate: "We keep in mind that we all love punk rock and we have all been punks our whole life. We play what we like because we like it. It's not about making it, it's about being true to what we like."

    Searching for the perfect hockey anthem: "We are presently writing a song about Barry Melrose and his hockey hair which you know all about. We just wrote a song called 'Blue Seat Riot.' It's about Ranger fans and Islander fans fighting in the blue seats."

    Tell me more about the Melrose song: "We were really upset when he cut his hair last year, but we're real excited that the mullet is back this year. We're definitely going to write a song on hockey hair."

    What's it like hearing your songs in an NHL arena: "Thirteen arenas played songs off our first CD, 'Drafted.' The Colorado Avalanche called us and told us about it. They played a song called hockey junkie. We thought that was great. We shopped our new CD to all the teams to see if they'll play some of the ones they CAN play. They are not all suitable for children."

    Who's going to be in the Stanley Cup finals?: "Detroit is a great team, but I think they are going to run out of gas. St. Louis has a shot. I think the Flyers are the top team in the East, but they are streaky. I think I'll go with a Blues-Flyers Stanley Cup final."

    John,
    How about getting out to Utah and giving poor Bill Clement some help. The quality of hockey being played is outstanding, but, I can not stomach any more Jim Lampshade.
    Jim Peavy
    Greensboro, N.C.

    It's over. It's all over.

    John,
    Being the huge Curtis Joseph fan that I am, it always pains me to see Joseph work his rear off and become the victim of a poor team effort, and then take flak from the entire hockey analyst and columnist community about he has never won anything.
    Gerald Neuhoff
    St. Louis

    John,
    OK, so Melrose beats Engblom in the war of the mullets and Kerry Fraser beat Steve Levy in round two. So, I now have then next installment. Darren Pang against the immortal Mark Messier. Who's heads shines brighter? And what is your take on the controversial Avalanche third sweater? It's a hit and miss here in Denver, with me on the negative side.
    Brian Bunch
    Arvada, Colo.

    By the power invested in me, I am not granting a license to the Pang-Messier bald off. That's not my bag, baby. I like the Avs third sweater. A Bunch, Brian.

    John,
    This is a comment I posted on Phoenix website today at the "Ask Wayne Gretzky" space: You are my favorite athlete of all time. I have followed your career since you joined Indianapolis in the WHA. I worship you so much I even named my cat after you. So, you can imagine how distraught I was to hear your comments during the Olympics. I you don't like us "ugly Americans," then why do you continue to take advantage of our smaller income tax brackets, warmer weather, and force American taxpayers in Arizona to build you a new arena?
    Jonathan Moncrief

    Yo John,
    Have you seen anything funnier or phonier than Wayne Gretzky trying to pull his team together by saying everyone hates Canada? Please tell him to stop talking.
    Todd Shannon

    Another strike AGAINST the NHL in the Olympics. They are cannibalizing their own product. Pitting fans against NHL players and NHL legends doesn't sound healthy. The Olympics are very emotional and lasting. You wonder if some fans will always have a negative vibe towards Gretzky as a result of these Games.

    John,
    You HAVE to get rid of touch up icing if you get rid of the red line. That's just common sense. Or not?
    Niclas Schaub
    Stockholm, Sweden

    You're right.

    John,
    I've been a hockey fan since the late 60s. I have a pet peeve that's been bothering me for some time. Ever since they changed the nets back in 80s, it's very difficult to see watch a game on TV and see the puck hit the back of the net. The nets are so tightly strung now. Look at any of the old games on ESPN Classic and you can really notice the difference. Over the years they have become tighter and tighter.
    Alex
    Ohio

    John,
    Your entire article on how much better Olympic hockey is than the NHL just adds to my low American views on hockey. Your opinion is not valid or wanted. Do all true hockey fans a favor and start commenting on something you know about.
    From a Canadian that actually understands the game,
    Rhett Blach
    Regina, Saskatchewan

    Clutching! Grabbing! 1-0 games! Diving! No long passing! No speed through the neutral zone! And if you do, you'll likely get concussed! Chip it off the glass! Cue up Pink! "I'm coming up, so you better get this party started!"

    John,
    Have you been confusing Scott Hamilton and Darren Pang? I certainly have.
    Carolyn
    Grand Rapids, Mich.

    It is spooky. Both are good announcers. But Panger is taller, better looking and a better golfer. They aren't the same person, however. LastJune during the Stanley Cup finals, they were both in Denver at the Chop House having dinner. If you go there, get the mashed potatoes.

    John,
    Just wanted to say how much I enjoy watching NHL 2Night. It's one of the few shows I watch on TV. I got some PANGERISMS to add to your list: It takes two to PANGO, PANG ten, and after a long night of drinking, there is nothing worse than having a PANGover. Also on your first show back from the Olympic break, could you say "What Steve Gorman was to Black Crowes (blank) is to (blank) during three stars?
    Thanks,
    Nathan

    Yes, on the Black Crowes request. Make sure you watch. Once again some more PANGERISMS to add to last weeks anthology. Just when you think there are no more ... PANGus Khan ... PANGin with Mr. Cooper ... From the B-52's "Love Shack": PANG, PANG, PANG, on the door baby ... NHL players - Robert PANG, Jamie PANGenbrunne, Daymond PANGkow ... PANGxiety attack ... "Walk like an Egyptian" by the PANGles ... T.S. Eliot said, "This is the way the world ends: not with a PANG, but with a whimper ... PANGER management classes ... The Star PANGLED banner ... The whole ShePANG ... T Rex and Power Station sang, "PANG a gong, get it on" ... WolfPANG Mozart ... Orange flavored PANG ... Buckwheat was part of Our PANG ... Workin' on the chain PANG ... Back on the chain PANG ... AC/DC's PANGus Young ... Actor Jackie PANG ... Ice-T, the original PANGsta ... Ba da bing, ba da PANG ... PANGkee doodle dandy ... PANGglider ... PANGhi moon ...

    Thanks for the contributions. That has to be it?!! Right??!! 74 so far. We need 365 for a PANG a day calendar.

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







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