I think the NHL gets the final it deserves. Instead of a fresh, fast, talented team like the Sens, the final will be a trap-fest between two teams so unexciting that hockey fans might feel like baseball moves too fast.
The above e-mail was sent to me following the Devils' 3-2 win over Ottawa in Game 7 last Friday night. Yes, a Senators fan sent it from Ottawa. I omitted the name because I'm sure -- "Vincent Riendeau" we'll call him -- is a good guy who was feeling empty and emotional after his Sens were so close to reaching their first Stanley Cup final.
The utter shock and on-ice tears exhibited by this team, which had nine European skaters and nine North American skaters, graphically showed two things: 1) The Senators have heart and passion, 2) Europeans care, as Steve Thomas told me on NHL 2Night, as much as anyone, and the anti-European playoff bias is now a bogus claim.
The power and allure of the Stanley Cup continues to grow in stature because its profile is gaining power internationally every year. When Europeans first entered the NHL ... well, let's just say some were probably more interested in an early summer than grinding out playoff wins for a trophy with which they had no emotional bond. But through time, television, and the winner's day (or days) with the Stanley Cup, the reputation of the cup has been elevated to unforeseen heights all over the world. The planet's greatest trophy is growing in power with every hand that touches it. The NHL's most brilliant unintentional PR move was initiating its "Cup for a Day" for members of the Stanley Cup champion. A keeper with white gloves and a 35-pound chunk of sterling silver. Pure and simple every time.
Back to the e-mail ...
I've received a few of these "why will anyone watch, what is Gary Bettman thinking" e-mails, been asked about it on radio talk shows I do around the country, and heard from the uninformed and basically ignorant U.S. media on the subject. And my answer is the same as it was in a recent column in this space: I DON'T CARE.
If our goal is to have a New York-based or some other gigantic market team against another gigantic market team, why have a league? And just because a team that isn't from a large market is in the Stanley Cup final doesn't mean it got there by clutching and grabbing and cheating! I've watched every one of the Devils' and Ducks' playoff games. These were awesome games. Everyone can -- and does -- skate. Each has big, strong defensemen who hit and fast-skating, creative ones who score.
To those who say this is a clutch-and-grab, non-sexy final, I say: Do you ever just watch Paul Kariya skate? Can you see the courage and sheer will of Scott Stevens? Do you understand the art that is Stanislav Chistov playing hockey? That his skill and IQ are mind-boggling? Do you realize Adam Oates is one of the greatest passers of all time? OF ALL TIME!!! Do you realize that there isn't a more captivating goaltender than Martin Brodeur? Do you know how many men out there would take a puck in the face to win a playoff game? Like, all of them.
If you can't feel the relentlessness of John Madden, the sense that Steve Thomas would walk on his lips through broken beer bottles to win this thing, that Keith Carney has made the quick-decision-little-play correctly 294 times this postseason, that Joe Nieuwendyk will cry if he can't play because of his injury, that Jean-Sebastien Giguere is the best player and the most humble at the same time, then you shouldn't watch.
These two teams exemplify all that is good about the game. Smarts and hearts. You have to have both ALL THE TIME. Chris Chelios had a couple of lapses in the first round. His mistakes weren't covered by the goaltender and his team lost. Marty Turco probably should have frozen the puck when his tired teammates were trying to get a line change. The Stars and the Senators played stretches of emotionally flat hockey and it caught up with them because they played against teams who haven't taken a second off.
Rucchin-Madden, Kariya-Elias, Stevens-Carney, Ozolinsh-Neidemayer, LeClerc-Pandolfo, Sykora-Nieuwendyk, Oates-Gomez, Giguere-Brodeur, Babcock-Burns. The similarities are there. The heart of champions is here. These are two hockey teams with heart and Hall of Famers. They deserve to be here. They should be here. THEY BELONG HERE. These two teams, more than any others, have displayed this great game's great qualities. They haven't taken a night off.
This is a fantastic final. It will be great television. Both teams really believe they are going to win. You know hockey. Sacrifice. Passion. Creativity. Persistence. These are the qualities that make a great person and these are the qualities that make a great game. There are enough ignorant people out there beating up our game. Ignore them. This is not a clutch-and-grab final.
Watch. Yell. Love.
As we stated above, this series is as dead even as it can be, not only talent wise but stylistically. It's eery. From two French Canadian goalies, to brothers, to the personality of the coaches, it's even.
Where I think the Ducks have an edge is in the utter, insane consistency in net and all that rest they got. They are primed to go in and win their fourth straight Game 1 and put their opponent on their heels from the get go. The Devils are a bit banged up and are coming off a tough seven-game series. But they have heart and Pat Burns can sell the underdog role, which falls right into the Devils' hands. The Ducks' bandwagon is bursting. Way back in the first round that wagon was driven by one skinny geek from Connecticut. Now I can't get a seat. "Diane Sawyer??!! Get the hell off of here!!!!!!!!"
Conn Smythe edition:
1. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, Anaheim Mighty Ducks: The trophy is his to lose -- win or lose. Although, if the Ducks lose, the series will probably have to go six or seven for it to happen. A .960 save percentage is just sick. One more series with that number and the Cup is heading to SoCal.
2. Martin Brodeur, G, New Jersey Devils: He's had a couple of shaky games in these playoffs, certainly a couple more than Jiggy. He needs a couple of shutouts or to steal a couple of games to leap over Giguere. He has the second-best playoff save percentage behind Giguere and in front of, yes, Jeff Hackett!
3. John Madden, C, New Jersey Devils: Madden has been New Jersey's best forward. He'll probably finish first in points in the playoffs and second in goals. He has played against top-flight Eastern Conference forwards every night and is a plus-10. He is why losing Bobby Holik to free agency was not even a factor for the Devils. Holik played like the rich man he is this year, while Madden has played like he made a $10 wager on the game with just $5 in his hockey pants.
4. Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, New Jersey Devils: If the Devils win the Cup, Brodeur isn't awesome and Jamie Langenbrunner scores 4-5 goals in the series, it will be hard to overlook him. He's been up and down, but he paced the Devils early and scored two goals in Game 7 in Ottawa. Everything has to fall right for him. I really see this as a three-horse race.
5. Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin, LW and C, Anaheim Mighty Ducks: If Kariya connects for 5-7 goals and the Ducks win in seven on a Kariya winner, Kariya may be able to sneak ahead of Giguere. Same goes for Rucchin. He'll need to score.
The Conn Smythe is for the entire playoffs, but let's face it: THIS IS THE ONLY SERIES THAT REALLY MATTERS. And the fact that there are not superstar forwards means the checking centermen and stay-at-home defensemen will get lost in the crowd. If a forward wins the Conn Smythe, the series will have been a long one and that forward will have 4-7 goals. If the series is shorter, it will be Brodeur or Giguere.
The life of Podes
The life and times of Shjon Podein in his words, left on my cell phone:
"OK, this week's bedtime story is the off-the-ice story that happened to me last summer.
"I was out at a bar with a good buddy of mine having an ice-cold Budweiser when my wife calls me to tell me that my 'boyfriend' was at the bar she was at with her girlfriends.
"'Dave Pirner is here,' she said.
"Pirner is the lead singer of Soul Asylum and he has no idea I have a platonic, rock-and-roll crush on him. I told Sherry that I thought me and my bud would 'just hang out here,' but I KNEW SHE KNEW that when I hung up the phone I would come screaming over. I hung up the phone and headed over to where my wife was. I had a golf shirt on because I had had dinner with Sherry's grandparents that night. I couldn't be seen by Dave Pirner in a golf shirt!!!!! So I ran home and put on the official uniform of the early 1990s: a black T-shirt and flannel shirt so DAVE THOUGHT I WAS COOL. Then when I got to the bar, Sherry said my hair looked too 'poofy.' So, I frantically ran into the bathroom to wet it down and fix it so I looked half way cool. I was in there for probably 5-10 minutes making sure everything was just right. Then when I came out of the bathroom, I said: 'Hey, Dave!'
"Dave said: 'Hey Shjon!'
"He was real cool about it, gave me a big hug and it made my whole night.
It's Jason from Bangkok, Thailand, once again. We need your help in a big way.
Yours in hockey forever,
Jason, I've told Murray Head to stop with the "One Night in Bangkok" marathon, but he just won't listen. He's waiting for "Thailand Idol" to debut and wants to be prepared "just in case."
I've thought of writing a script using Ken the Otter as the star. It'll be called "Bulletproof Otter." In it, Ken's evil twin brother, Kent, will inhabit the body of Michael Peca and Ken must stop him from turning the Stanley Cup into aluminum siding using only Barry's mullet and a tube of toothpaste. See you at the premiere!
Good stuff on the articles and broadcasts. If Ken gets bored during the day, have him click over to the otter cam at the Monterey Bay aquarium web site: http://www.mbayaq.org/efc/efc_fo/fo_ottr_cam.asp. The woman and I are heading to Monterey for the extended weekend. We'll send over a few otter pictures upon our return.
Willy Anderson Jr.
Finally, this column is slowly achieving it's true principle. Get the otter some recognition. The ignorance and neglect has been going on for too long. Ken likes the Ducks in a sweep.
I was wondering how you and Ken [the Otter] are going to make the cross-country trek from East Rutherford, N.J., to Anaheim, Calif., for the Stanley Cup finals. I'm not sure they will let him on the plane. Do you have a special container for him?
Keep up the good work,
A container??!! What are you sick?!! He flies coach!! We don't have a "special container" for Darren Pang. You're a sick man Chris. Anti-Otter, I'd say!!!!
Will the Red Wings go for the youth movement that has been talked about since 2001 or will they just do some minor tweaking through the free agent market? Someday I hope to be just like you. Except female. And with a normal sized head.
There will no youth movement in Detroit. A healthy Jiri Fischer will basically be an addition. They will probably get another physical blueliner and another character forward. They need to resign No. 91 and resign "GO SHORTY, IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY, WE GONNA PARTY LIKE IT"S YOUR BIRTHDAY, WE GONNA DARREN MCCARTY LIKE IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY."
Do the players receive any monetary bonus as they advance through the rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I had thought their only reward is the date with the Cup and a night out with Barry's mullet, but I would like to confirm.
Burr Ridge, Ill.
Actually, players get a check after they lose in the playoffs. Each round's losers get a bigger check than the previous round's. Of course, now that the final is here, both the Devils and the Ducks will get a check. The winners' will be bigger, like Melrose's mullet. The losers are more like Engblom's.
As an Avs fan on the other side of the Atlantic I have a quick question for you: If Patrick Roy were to retire, who do you think would replace him in Denver?
If it's not Scottish it's CRAP!!!!!!! Hey, Euan, Scotland rocks. I'm saving my pennies to golf there next summer. I'd say the Avs would sign Felix Potvin if Patrick Roy retires.
Just to let you know, us Ducks fans are for real. We are not some bandwagon dorks that just came in from the beach and noticed that the Ducks are going for the Cup. Even my boy (4 years old) knows what the Cup is. My fat, out-of-shape weekender friends and I play roller hockey on Saturdays (even when its an uncomfortable 80 degrees here in January), and we love it !! Hockey, not just for the right-coast anymore !!
Go Ducks !!
San Clemente, Calif.
MMMM, fat, sweaty men on roller blades. Mike, save me a seat. And a doughnut!!!!!!!!
In tune with your CSI theory about Kevin Sawyer's son, Jack. Kevin's son's name is the same as the main character in the Steven King, Peter Straub books, "The Talisman" and "Black House." Great books, special kid. Do you think they even contemplated "Tom?"
Who would have won in a hockey fight between Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy?
I am a middle school social studies teacher in Casper, Wyo. This year, a new student moved into my class from the Ukraine. His name is Pavel Dragonchuk.
Again, some sentences are simply there to be stared at in utter awe. Stop thinking and read these sentences over and over again and you'll stop thinking about your massive debt, thinning hair, expanding waistline and pathetic spouse. Feel better already, don't ya?
I would like to take a little moment and say thanks. Mr. Buccigross, I never liked you when you first started on NHL2Night.
Keith A. Moran
West Virginia Wesleyan College
Hold me, Keith. Then slap me. Then hold me, again.
My family and I are HUGE Devils fans and we go through a pregame ritual every time the Devils play ... like a good luck charm. We play three specific Eminem songs on our stereo ... loudly. Then during the game we play the Coors Light "Wingman" commercial on our computer (which we downloaded). I was wondering if you do anything before each game or show that you're on? Also, Do you think it's weird that we do that?
I read your e-mails. And no, I don't think it's weird, Tim. I think it's awesome. Silliness is the glue to every close family, whether it's a hockey team or people in a three-bedroom ranch. Parents that aren't silly with their kids aren't close with their kids. Do not miss your chance or blow these opportunities; they come once in a lifetime. Thanks for loving the game, loving your kids and sharing it all with me. I'll miss your e-mails while I'm reporting from the road. I won't be ignoring you. I'll be with the Ducks and Devils. Read you when I get back. Peace. Out.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.