Six weeks ago, I spent an afternoon with Chris Taylor's family for a Hockey Day in Canada piece. Taylor is 39 years old, drafted 27th overall (second round back then) by the New York Islanders in 1990. In those 20 years, he has played 151 NHL games, including playoffs. The most recent was in 2004.
But he's still going.
This season, he's got 42 points in 65 games for the AHL's Rochester Americans. Like many players his age, Taylor goes year-by-year, so I don't know if he'll continue in 2011-12. What I do know is this: since he left the OHL's London Knights in 1992, he's played for 10 different teams in North America and taken a three-year detour to Germany. (He's also overcome a horrible mullet, but that's another story.)
Why? Because, as many of you understand so well, he loves the game. Why stop when you can still play?
From Chris Chelios and Teemu Selanne in the NHL to Mike Keane in Manitoba to Dominik Hasek, who wants to play another season in the KHL, leagues are full of guys who don't want to give it up. But those players really lived the life. All won Stanley Cups, combining for more than 4,700 games (and counting, thanks to Selanne) at the highest level.
What about the guys like Taylor, who play 20 years without seeing much NHL action? He won't play two seasons worth but loves it just as much. And if you think his dedication is special, how about Kalamazoo's Kory Karlander, profiled earlier this year by TSN's Bob McKenzie? Since finishing at Northern Michigan in 1995, he's played on six ECHL teams, five IHL teams, four in the UHL, one each in the AHL and CHL. Oh, and two seasons in Britain, plus roller hockey.
He's never seen NHL action, but continues to be effective with 77 points in 68 games. He turned 39 last week.
The point of all this rambling is I'd love to see the NHL reward these guys. Every year, one player gets the Masterton for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. It's a great award. But what about giving someone like Taylor or Karlander a similar trophy? As part of the annual awards show, the league could select one player to receive their night in the spotlight. It would be incredibly appreciated by that person and their family, it would be great PR and you'd get your most genuine emotion of the show.
Name it after a long-time minor-leaguer (Johnny Bower, Don Cherry) and figure out some kind of cut-off for games played in the NHL. What an opportunity to let someone who's chased the dream get a terrific taste of it.
2. Teemu Selanne scored numbers 26, 27 and 28 last night in a 5-4 win over Colorado. Yes, he's had an incredible career, but more impressive were his friends travelling to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. On the final leg of their journey, they drank their airplane dry. Flight attendants had no alcohol left for anyone. Now, that's an accomplishment.
3. Before that series began, I'll never forget the look on Selanne's face when Randy Turner of The Winnipeg Free Press informed him people were cheering for Anaheim over Ottawa because they wanted to see Selanne win the Cup. It meant so much to him. If the NHL does return to Winnipeg before he quits, his number 13 should be retired the first time the Ducks travel there. I know it's a little odd to do it that way, but what a scene it would be.
4. When the news on Anze Kopitar was a broken ankle, I thought the Kings might really be lucky. Anyone who's ever injured themselves knows if you break the bone, it's a lot better than tearing the ligaments. Bones heal quicker and recovery is easier to manage. Rich Hammond reported last night there is a tear, so it's worst-case scenario for Los Angeles.
5. The toughest thing for LA is that, even before landing Dustin Penner, Dean Lombardi tried so hard to get another A-lister for his offence. But all of his attempts (Jarome Iginla, Brad Richards, Patrik Elias) were rebuffed, making this doubly painful.
6. Dan Hamhuis did not talk to the media Monday after suffering a concussion in Columbus. Ben Kuzma of The Vancouver Province republished some of Hamhuis' quotes from a similar injury in February, where the defenceman talked about the possibility of retirement. Putting myself in Hamhuis' shoes, I can see why he wouldn't want to address it. It's so hard. You're torn between your love for your family and your lifelong dream to win a Cup, especially with a team that has a chance.
7. There is no nice way to say it: the Canucks fans who disgustingly taunted Theo Fleury on Twitter for saying Vancouver wouldn't get out of the first-round are an embarrassment.
8. As for that theory, Mike Babcock was the latest to question Vancouver's mettle even though he called the Canucks "a great team" before he did it. There's no reason to take it so personally, any team that hasn't won must overcome doubts. Just ask Washington's fans. The Sedins do remind me of Datsyuk/Zetterberg when they finally broke through and won as leaders, not complimentary pieces.
9. Speaking of Pavel Datsyuk, walked with him to a photo of the 2002 Stanley Cup champions. I pointed at Steve Yzerman and the first words out of Datsyuk's mouth were "hockey heart." Then he talked about how much he learned from watching Yzerman during those playoffs, how the captain could barely walk into arenas but when the game started, you couldn't tell. That really meant something to the young Russian.
10. The thing current and former teammates love about Datsyuk: his sense of humour. Example I: in the Inside Hockey piece, he refuses to take any credit for his role on that Cup team, saying all he did was sit on the bench. When I pointed out he did more than that, he said he handed out water, too.
11. Example II: As Todd Bertuzzi prepared to play his 1,000th game, wife Julie set up a surprise party for him in celebration. Datsyuk ruined it, however, by saying to him, "After the game, we celebrate you with beers," while the Red Wings prepared to take the ice. The entire team howled as Bertuzzi clued in.
12. Since the NHL began counting plus/minus in 1967-68, only two defencemen have won the Norris in the red. They were Rob Blake in 1998 (minus-3) and Randy Carlyle in 1981 (minus-16). Nicklas Lidstrom is even after Monday's 3-2 loss to Chicago.
13. It was weird to look at the game notes Saturday morning and see Lidstrom at minus-2. He's been a plus for all 19 seasons of his career, only twice has he even finished in single digits. "It bothers me," he admitted after the 4-2 win over Toronto. The key is neither Lidstrom, nor his opponents, see any kind of serious drop in his play.
14. Boy, you could see how disappointed Toronto's coaches were after that loss. I've seen that look before. You really think you're going to overcome the odds and make the playoffs, but, suddenly reality smacks you in the face.
15. Thought Joey MacDonald was really in trouble during that game when Jimmy Howard bolted right off the ice, giving MacDonald no time to get ready in relief. But goalie coach Jim Bedard disagreed. "That's the best way to go in. You have no time to think."
16. Here's Henrik Zetterberg, asked how the Red Wings have been playing: "We're good when we've been excited to play our opponent ... Everybody says there's no on/off switch, but I've seen it. It's there."
17. Cam Janssen let it slip on St. Louis Sports Radio 1380 that TJ Oshie's absence from practice was nothing serious (i.e., he slept in), which is a relief. But if you're the Blues, you've got to be furious. That's the second faux-pas in a year (Patrik Berglund) on a team that's disappointed since its incredible second-half run to the playoffs in 2009. They've already traded two major parts of that team - Erik Johnson and Brad Boyes - so John Davidson and Doug Armstrong clearly feel they didn't have the right group. Not smart at any time, but especially when there's a negotiation coming for Oshie.
18. On Mark Recchi: I do think he felt terribly for unintentionally questioning Dr. David Mulder, one of the most honest men in the game. The Bruins were in Toronto for a Hockey Night broadcast on March 19, and I didn't clue in at the time, but after I heard Recchi's comments, it became clear that he verbalized what a lot of people around the Bruins organization were thinking. They felt Pacioretty's concussion was not as severe as those suffered by Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron or Dennis Wideman.
19. His comments reminded me a lot of 2003. When Steve Moore was injured, Vancouver privately thought Colorado exploited the situation to destabilize a division rival. The Canucks really didn't go there publicly, a good thing because with a court date looming, Moore reportedly is still bothered by post-concussion syndrome. And that's the thing to remember about Max Pacioretty. He is just resuming workouts. Unfortunately, we've seen a lot of players suffer setbacks at that point. Let's see where his recovery goes from here.
20. That brings us to Sidney Crosby. Obviously, there is a lot of excitement in Pittsburgh about his improvement, but until he's cleared for contact in practice, it's premature to be expecting any kind of game-related return. Remember, they are a Stanley Cup contender for the next 15 years with a healthy captain. No need to jeopardize that in the short term.
21. The Penguins' surge reminds me of what one player said happened when Evgeni Malkin joined Sidney Crosby in the emergency room. Dan Bylsma and his assistants preached nothing but a positive attitude. Confidence is everything in this game and he led Pittsburgh into that kind of feeling.
22. Todd Richards is taking a beating in Minnesota, but if a coach's job is to get the most out of his team, he sure did that. The Wild need a lot of work.
23. Another coach getting a rough ride right now is Doug Gilmour of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs. They are are down 3-0 to Oshawa in their first-round series and the wolves are at the door. All-time great rant here from local sportscaster Doug Jeffries.
24. Don't know if the Maple Leafs really would have any interest in Ilya Bryzgalov, but do understand that he and Francois Allaire - now Toronto's goalie coach - did not agree on positional philosophy in Anaheim.
25. The post-trade deadline limit of four AHL callups per team no longer makes sense. Yes, some teams loaded up on extra bodies for the playoffs and the NHLPA didn't want veterans sitting for younger guys. But if a team can manage the salary cap, it deserves the ability to bring in injury relief, especially with the quantity and quality of players going down.
26. When we first discussed Stephane Da Costa on this blog, there were a few snickers of "Fabian Brunnstrom." Understand why some of you are saying that, but I don't think it's a fair comparison. First, Brunnstrom was 24 when he joined the NHL. Second, he had zero exposure to the North American game. Da Costa's been here since he was 16.
27. Da Costa is from France, and it sounds like the NCAA is going to take its battle with the CHL into Europe. Five years ago, Viktor Stalberg's coach sent video of him to a bunch of American schools. Only one, Vermont, bothered to take a look. There were 13 Swedes in the NCAA this year. More are wanted.
28. Did I get a laugh when I saw Barry Trotz steaming about David Legwand passing up two empty-net goals to try and get Sergei Kostitsyn a hat trick last week. Neither worked and the Ducks turned them into scoring chances. As a young reporter, I saw a couple of Detroit players do that in a game and asked Scotty Bowman about the unselfishness of it. Bowman said he hated when players did that, because it burned him before. I don't think I asked him another question for a decade.
29. Line of the Week goes to Tomas Holmstrom, discussing the 2002 champion's fourth line - him, Igor Larionov and Luc Robitaille: "I was the fastest of the three." Holmstrom is not known for his speed, but, geez, what a 10th, 11th and 12th forward to throw at other teams.
30. I can still remember it: my first trip to Edmonton as a member of HNIC. "I really like your work," Rod Phillips said. He calls his last game on Tuesday, and I still haven't forgotten how great it felt to have a legend like him say that. Enjoy your retirement, sir.
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