For 253 days, 2001 was a good year for a lot of people.
It was the year that gave us The Shins' "New Slang" and "Caring is Creepy," which are both on Bucci's "Songs I've Never Tired Of After 7,000 Listens" CD, Volume 1.
U2 cemented its return to pop-culture relevancy by having a good night at the 2001 Grammy Awards. David McCullough's "John Adams" was released, a success that has since resulted in more stellar history books. The animated motion picture "Shrek" came out, fulfilling my comedic requirement for a movie -- Mike Myers doing a Scottish accent.
That same year, Raymond Bourque, playing in his final NHL game, raised the Stanley Cup for the first and only time. It was arguably the most celebrated, sentimental Cup chase in NHL history.
Sergio Garcia is currently the best golfer never to win a major. Well, then, in 2001, Ray Bourque was possibly, or undoubtedly, the best player in NHL history never to win a Stanley Cup. ABC's cameras were focused on Bourque's young family in the stands, and the network kept throwing up the ol' most-games-played-without-winning-a-Cup graphic.
Bourque would not publicly say that 2001 would be his final year, but the signs were there. And after the series, he admitted it was all or nothing in his quest to punctuate a once-in-a-generation career.
Two years ago, Dave Andreychuk, he of 640 career goals, was a sentimental choice. While not a hardware collector or legend like Bourque, Andreychuk was a good player for a very long time. and his sheer mass of good numbers will add up to a Hall of Fame call.
So, what about this playoff season? Well, amazingly, only seven players left in the Stanley Cup playoffs are owners of Stanley Cup rings -- Scott Niedermayer, Chris Drury, Mark Recchi, Jeff Friesen, Cory Stillman, Oleg Tverdovsky and Aaron Ward (two). And while there are no Ray Bourques in the group in terms of long-tenured excellence, it would be cool to see a number of players win rings and get that poster-sized picture of them holding up the Stanley Cup to hang in their memorabilia room.
Here are four players, one from each team, who I would like to see win a Stanley Cup ring.
1. Rod Brind'Amour
I interviewed Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette last week and mentioned this list of guys I'd like to see win a Stanley Cup. He said Brind'Amour has to be No. 1 of all the players yet to win. Brind'Amour was the ninth player chosen in the 1988 draft by the St. Louis Blues. He played a year of college hockey at Michigan State (CCHA Rookie of the Year), scoring 27 goals in 42 games before joining the Blues in the playoffs.
Yes, Brind'Amour's first NHL action was in a Stanley Cup playoff game. He scored two goals in five playoff games at age 18. He is one of those dedicated, hardworking players who drinks protein shakes like John Daly drinks Miller Lites. He can bench-press a '96 Mazda. Those kinds of players are so important to a team because it inspires other players to push themselves and not let down the guy who sets the example. Brind'Amour does not yet have a Hall of Fame résumé -- one All-Star Game, two Cup finals. In 1997, his Flyers were swept by the Red Wings. In 2002, his Hurricanes lost in five to the Red Wings.
2. Teemu Selanne
Anaheim's Teemu Selanne is clearly a Hockey Hall of Famer. He will score his 500th career goal early next season (he is eight goals away at 492). He has played in nine All-Star Games, has two All-NHL first-team selections and has won the Rookie of the Year award. Selanne also has been a very strong Olympic performer for Team Finland. Interestingly, Selanne was taken right after Brind'Amour with the 10th overall selection of the 1988 draft (Winnipeg). The Penguins chose fourth overall that year. Imagine Teemu with Mario? There truly can't be a more likeable guy in the world.
3. Ryan Smyth
Considering the way he plays, Ryan Smyth probably has about 350 or so NHL games left in the tank. If he makes it to 1,100 NHL games, he will likely have about three teeth, 380 career goals and 320 assists, putting him at about 700 points. He could get to 400 career goals if can stay healthy. But I think he may fall short as his skills will quickly deteriorate -- he plays so hard, and he will shrink from lack of protein because he'll no longer be able to chew meat with his three remaining teeth.
Smyth does have gold-medal insurance on the mantle. But that picture of raising the Cup is way cooler than getting a gold medal draped around your neck by an old guy in a bad suit. If Smyth can lead this season's Oilers to a Cup, he might get his No. 94 raised to the rafters. A consolation prize to the Cup would be if Smyth won the Smythe. Smith, as in Billy, won a Smythe. But a Smyth has never won a Smythe. A Tony (Randall) has won a Tony.
4. Teppo Numminen
This is the first year Hello Numminen has gotten out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs! Because international NHL scouting in 1986 was not what it is today, defensemen taken in the '86 NHL draft before Numminen (second round, 29th overall) include: Fantasy Hockey/Scrabble Hall of Famer Zarley Zalapski, Shawn Anderson and Kerry Huffman.
Numminen has great hair, but he's never been on a great team. He's been a 20-minute-a-game workhorse for a long time. He has good size and good hands and doesn't do dumb things. Numminen was diagnosed with a dilated aorta in 2003-04 while playing for the Dallas Stars and had heart surgery following that season. He will have surgery again after this season. He missed one game and part of another in the Flyers series because of a racing heart and pulse. He injured his groin area in Game 1 against the Hurricanes. You have to wonder, if he can raise the Cup for the first time, it might be a perfect way, like Bourque, to retire. To preserve and protect your health and to freeze a moment of glory that every NHL player would die for.
The Mother of All Mailbags
Your statement that the NHL should ban fighting absolutely guarantees that I will never read another column written by you again.
One reader down, two to go.
The Blackhawks have sunk to a new low. Pat Foley is gone. The best play-by-play man in the business is gone. For the quality of the broadcast, is what they say. What a load of crap. Hopefully, this will send the franchise spiraling down far enough to begin the demise of Dollar Bill Wirtz.
Bob Foltman of The Chicago Tribune put it best: "As Harry Caray was during his time broadcasting bad White Sox and Cubs teams, Foley was a primary reason for many fans to pay attention to the Hawks."
No more. I'm done
Thanks for your time
Garden Prairie, Ill.
P.S. I took the Blackhawk stickers off my car this morning.
I've received plenty of e-mails on the Foley departure, which clearly speaks to the emotional connection he had with Blackhawks fans. That broadcaster/fan emotional tie is hard to construct, rare in this day and age, and should be protected whenever possible. Management types often underestimate that broadcasting skill and its value to a team's brand. Management truly believes anyone can do the job, that they are truly the smartest ones in the room. It is absolute arrogance. And arrogance often leads to loneliness and/or irrelevance.
Does the revenue-sharing portion of the new CBA include proceeds from the playoffs or is it just from the regular season?
If it includes the playoffs, does that not create a disincentive to win a series in four games? Granted, the NHL has players that place a greater premium on winning than anything else, but the fact that the gate for an additional game or two has to net about $700,000 per game (since their are no players salaries to pay) has to create a bit of a temptation.
P.S. Please say that John Davidson is staying at MSG Network and not going to St. Louis to run the team for his old boss.
John Davidson is 99.9 percent assured of becoming the man to run the St. Louis Blues organization. That official announcement will likely come after the Stanley Cup finals. Perhaps, NBC will "break" the official announcement at some point during the final Stanley Cup finals broadcast, perhaps on the postgame show or during the third period if the outcome is obvious.
Players are primarily paid for their regular-season performance. They do not get paid during the postseason until they are eliminated from the playoffs or win the Stanley Cup. A small, in their world, playoff share. The longer you last, the bigger the playoff check. The playoffs are the owner's money grab. Depending on ticket prices, some teams generate more than a million dollars a game in the playoffs. A current NHL player just text-messaged me and gave his check amount before taxes after losing in the 2003 conference finals. It was about $60,000. A lot of NHL players use their playoff shares as a downpayment on their summer cottage on a lake in Canada.
Lets play GM for a minute. I am seeing a lot of talk about how Daniel Alfredsson can't get it done in Ottawa and maybe it is time for a change. Personally, I would have a difficult time letting go of a player like Alfie if he were on my team, but here is something to consider.
Alfredsson for Todd Bertuzzi.
That is a tasty proposition. Bertuzzi is set to make $5.2 million next year with Alfredsson at $4.6 million. Almost a wash. Bertuzzi needs a new, fresh start, and Vancouver could probably use a cleansing trade, as well. Maybe, Mats Sundin to Vancouver would complete the line. Personally, I wouldn't deal Alfredsson. I understand the Senators have challenges in the salary-cap department, with Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden up for contracts, but Alfredsson should retire a Senator. He is a part of Ottawa's young heritage as a franchise. He does have just seven goals in his last 35 games, but he has plenty of game left. Steve Yzerman won his first Stanley Cup at age 32. Alfredsson is 33. He is too good and too versatile to cast aside.
That was your response to an e-mail about some of the big hits in the playoffs so far this year. I take issue with this statement big-time.
Scott Stevens was as honest a player as you'll ever find. His hits were always devastating, yet always clean. He is the definition of sportsmanship. That particular hit on Kariya happened in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals with the Devils looking to clinch. Is that the best time to tone down your play?
He always played at 110 percent and he had a knack of making that big hit to spark his team. He'd done it in 1995 and in 2000, notice the trend? Scott Stevens was one of the cleanest hitters to ever play the game; for you to call him unsportsmanlike is a travesty.
It's amazing to me how much Scott Stevens is viewed as a deity. Well, maybe it's not. He is a player who is easy to latch on to. Hardworking, exciting and tough. Doesn't Ottawa wish he were 32 and a free agent? But you think Scott Stevens played over 20 years in the NHL and never got an elbow, slashing, cross-check, roughing or high-sticking penalty? The Kariya hit was clearly late. I believe Stevens was looking to eliminate this formerly concussed player from the series. He knew how much damage his shoulder pads had done to other NHL brains in the past. He saw them stumbling off the ice or being helped off the ice.
But hockey is a tough game played by tough men, and if the hockey community accepts those hits to the head, whether shoulder pad or elbow pad, then of course you make that play when the player has the puck. I understand the intent for Stevens was usually, and primarily, to set a tone, to steer players away from the center of the ice and have them think wide and/or dump in. Because Stevens was limited offensively, he needed to bring value to his team, and this was it. The intimidator. His standard open-ice hits are generally viewed as legal despite the physical harm he caused to the brains of NHL players. They were exciting and entertaining, but shoulder pads-to-head hits are dangerous.
But let me be clear, Scott Stevens is a Hall of Famer. He brought a toughness and single-mindedness to the Devils. He wasn't a talker, he was a doer. He wasn't a show horse, he was a workhorse. I'm sure retirement will be difficult for him because I imagine he was the most comfortable in his skin when he was on the ice. He was born to be a hockey player and he was born to be a captain.
He would be a fascinating subject for a book. I still believe the Kariya hit was unnecessary, but it did make for one of my favorite pieces of video in NHL history. Kariya knocked unconscious for a split second and then waking up with a burst of air that fogged up his visor. The ABC cameraman who got that shot should go in the Cameraman Hall of Fame.
There are reports in the paper here in Minnesota that the Wild have offered Marian Gaborik in the neighborhood of $5.5 million a year for five years. GM Doug Reisbrough has sent two offers to Gabby's agent and has not gotten one counteroffer! Gaborik's agent stated that it appears inevitable that he will need to go to arbitration. Doesn't this just seem like Gabby is fed up of being handcuffed by Lemaire and really just wants out of Minny?
If Gaborik played for a team like Colorado or Ottawa, he would put up 100-plus points every year for the next five years. Minnesota cannot afford to lose him. What are your thoughts?
If I were Marian Gaborik's agent, I would recommend that he not sign a five-year, $5.5 million dollar a year contract. He should be a 50-goal scorer the next five years. That's worth at least $6 million. I don't know if Marian Gaborik has it in his heart to play in Minnesota. Perhaps he sees the Rangers with cap space and scoring needs and sees $6.5 million to $7.5 million. The Wild have the best read on Gaborik's heart. I think their offer was a PR move. They knew a player with 50-goal potential and approaching free agency would not sign that deal. Their argument is probably, "Well, that's a Rick Nash contract." However, Nash is years away from free agency.
Now, was it a first offer? If it was, it is a healthy one for a player who is 24 and has had some injuries. Gaborik had nine more equal-strength goals than Jarome Iginla. Now, I understand Iginla has lots of responsibility and duties that warrant his salary. But if the Wild want to prevent Gaborik from getting to unrestricted free agency, they should up their offer to five years and $32.5 million ($6.5 million a year). If they don't believe in him, they should go to him and say, "Listen, if you don't want to play here, let us know and we will deal you now." Marian Gaborik is a huge talent with options. The Wild have plenty of cash. Up the offer to $6.5 million and let's go.
I noticed one of your readers posted a comment about the usefulness of the SlingBox. Unfortunately, this service and equipment costs a little bit of money, but a poor college hockey player like myself doesn't have a bundle of extra cash just lying around. So I've searched other options and found a service called "Orb" at www.orb.com. It is basically the same thing as the SlingBox, except its free (YAH!!). Anyone with a TV tuner attached to a home PC can watch the live feed from any Internet-enabled computer. Better, I have an Internet-enabled phone, and during a few trips with my team we watched the Rangers on there! The same can be done to share video, audio and picture files through all Orb!!! Now, I'm never more than a click or two away from MSG and the Rangers' broadcast.
I hope other readers can use this service, as I have.
Stony Brook, N.Y.
After watching way too many games on NHL Center Ice (j/k -- life revolves around hockey). Do the officials get fined or reprimanded after missing a large amount of penalty calls? It seems in some games, they call everything, and in others, the same officials don't call the game the same.
What's up with that?
Santa Clarita, Calif.
Officials are not fined, but they are graded and rewarded with Stanley Cup playoff games, which translates into more cash. Officials are sent e-mails and video links to calls they make and what the league is looking for. The officials you still see officiating are obviously the ones who have and are grading the best.
You gotta admit, although OLN's coverage of hockey isn't great, they really have made it a foundation for the network. A writer from CNN/SI made a good point in that all the supplemental hockey shows and documentaries, such as Lord Stanley's Cup, are programs essential to converting bandwagon fans. In addition, it's nice to finally see hockey get its due respect. What can I say, it sucks when, after a triple-overtime game, you turn on "SportsCenter" and it doesn't even make the recap or intro.
For the final time, here is my stance on the above subject. OLN is doing a very good job during these Stanley Cup playoffs. They had one month to prepare for the season, when most networks have more than a year. The supplemental programs on OLN are awesome and would not be on ESPN or ESPN2 as much. The problem is the network doesn't resonate with the sports fan, and its ratings will suffer until it does. Can it? Yes. It will take time, but they have money behind the venture and I wouldn't underestimate their resolve.
However, whether I am employed at ESPN in the future or not, the NHL needs to have a presence on ESPN. The blanket of ESPN is too large to ignore, its promotional capabilities on a worldwide basis too valuable. Why not both networks? The NBA is on TNT and ESPN. And on that very rare occurrence when I miss a playoff game, yes, I wish "SportsCenter" showed longer NHL highlights.
Is there any way we can get Barry Melrose's mullet to hang out with us at my bachelor party in Vegas the first week of June? We'd even allow the rest of Barry to come with if that works better for it.
First week of June? Barry will be at the Stanley Cup finals. Call my boy Brian Engblom. That thing is beautiful! NBC takes over for OLN after Game 2 of the finals. Barry's mullet will be available for speaking engagements come July.
As someone who was born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., I have to ask you this. Do you still doubt the Sabres' talent now?
PFC. Sara L. Szalkowski, U.S. Army
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.