It is a common complaint from sports fans: "The players don't care about this team as much as I do." What's that Jerry Seinfeld line, again? "When it comes down to it, we're just cheering for laundry."
Not this year.
No one can complain for a second that the 45 men who've dressed for the Stanley Cup Final (so far) have shown anything less than total commitment to victory. This is an excellent series. But it's a nasty one, too. To Craig Simpson, Game 3 reminded him of 1990, when his Oilers beat Boston.
"Guys were really trying to hurt each other," he said.
"From watching years in the past, I don't know if there has been so much hatred on either side," Bruins forward Daniel Paille said last week. "I think we all want to win and we all put it out there as much as we can. It's been that type of series where everyone is kind of getting away with things and it's been kind of interesting to watch, I guess."
Boy, has it ever.
Asked more about that this morning, Paille added, "Everybody is making hits. Everybody is trying to deliver hard checks. You see injuries on both sides and players are trying to take advantage."
Since the lockout, the two fiercest series were Carolina/Edmonton in 2006 and Chicago/Philadelphia last season. (The second Pittsburgh/Detroit series - 2009 - is probably third.) But this one surpasses all of them and if it goes seven, that game is going to be absolutely unbelievable. When Vancouver took Game 5 1-0, Ryan Kesler was asked if that's the kind of game a player enjoys winning the most, because the effort level is so incredibly high on both teams.
"Yes," he said, with a smile. "Yes, it is."
Watching these games at ice level, you can see how badly these players want to win. In a league where a new "players safety" committee has been created, this final is a perfect example of the NHL's difficult balance. You can see how easily play shifts from hard and clean to outright dirty. This series has crossed that line several times.
It's hard for choirboys to win the Cup.
1. A number of NHL execs and players are amazed that Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake are leading the safety charge, considering that was probably the last thing they were concerned about when they played against you. "Those two guys were brutal," one said, and it's not an insult. "Blake is one of the nicest guys in the league, but on the ice, he'd kill you. And Joe Nieuwendyk was no softie, either."
2. Blake made an interesting point. The toughest thing about the Rule 48 adjustment: drafting the language. While watching examples of hits they wanted to get rid of, one executive turned to another and said, "I know what I don't like when I see it, but it's hard to put it into words."
3. Jeff Carter's 11-year, $58-million US extension kicks in next season. Under the current CBA, you cannot receive a no-trade clause until you are a Group III free agent (at least 27 with seven years experience). That's why Carter's NTC doesn't begin until the 2012-13 season. When he signed, there was an understanding he wouldn't be dealt beforehand. Would Philadelphia violate that? Mike Gartner claimed Toronto did in 1996.
4. From a media-relations point of view, the Coyotes did an excellent job of managing the message when they traded Ilya Bryzgalov's rights to Philadelphia. One source says Bryzgalov and the team were at least three years apart on term and $20 million on money (but probably much more). Another source claims the goalie never stated any kind of firm demand.
5. Two years ago, read "The Bald Truth" by one-time NBA super-agent David Falk. If you're really interested in how they think, I'd recommend it. He talks about how to maximize a client's earning potential. Answer this question: to whom is Bryzgalov most valuable, especially since some suitors are scared off by the fact he hasn't won a playoff series in five years? Probably Philadelphia. Bet that his agent, Ritch Winter, will ask owner Ed Snider, "If you believe Bryzgalov is what you need to win the Stanley Cup, how much is that worth to you?" Keep in mind that Snider is 78 and hasn't won it in 36 years.
6. Winter's agency, The Sports Corporation, has hired Claude Lemieux.
7. Thought the Coyotes had serious interest in Viktor Fasth, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Swedish goaltender who was MVP of the world championship. But it's hard to see them going with a combo of Fasth and Jason LaBarbera. More likely: they ask the Bruins about Tuukka Rask or the Canucks about Cory Schneider. Neither will come cheap.
8. Wouldn't be surprised if Coyotes defenceman Adrian Aucoin pushed for associate coach Jim Playfair to join Dave Tippett on the bench.
9. With Peter Chiarelli and Mike Gillis as GMs of the Stanley Cup finalists, it guarantees that three of the six post-lockout champions will be led by former agents. The others were Brian Burke and Ray Shero. (This is a good omen for the Los Angeles Kings.) An agent pointed this out to me, asking, "Do you think any owners will notice?"
10. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Sunday he will conduct interviews for the team's head-coaching job. One thing I didn't realize: Moose boss Claude Noel has a contract with the Canucks, not True North. And it includes next season. No doubt, though, Vancouver would grant permission if requested.
11. Strange irony that Cheveldayoff has now replaced Rick Dudley in two consecutive jobs (Chicago, Atlanta/Winnipeg). He put together the complicated Dustin Byfuglien deal between the Blackhawks and Thrashers. Now he probably regrets getting Jeremy Morin for Chicago.
12. Asked Bryan Murray at the GM meetings if, at the very least, Kurt Kleinendorst would be an assistant in Ottawa next season. Murray said he "wouldn't do that to him. He's a head coach." Thought that was interesting, especially now that Paul MacLean will be head coach.
13. Murray added that, as good as Robin Lehner was in the playoffs (Calder Cup MVP), he doesn't want to see the goalie in the NHL "until Christmas at the earliest." Beforehand probably means the Senators are having more nightmares in net.
14. Don't know a ton about potential Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan. Another AHL bench boss texted me a quick scouting report: "Great guy. Quiet and a hard worker...Smart team play. Organized." What also can't hurt is he had Jamie Benn playing like a beast in the playoffs last year.
15. Saw an interview several years ago with a fired football executive watching his former team reach the playoffs. He said, "The only good thing about this is, the better they do, the better my resume." That fits for Dave Nonis, although he might have the best non-GM job in hockey. It also fits former Senators goaltending coach Eli Wilson, who joins Bob Essensa as the men who've shaped Tim Thomas. (Wilson's also worked with Carey Price and Ray Emery.) He's a Calgary guy and you wonder if the Flames would be interested in Wilson to replace Jamie McLennan.
16. Did Toronto really have interest in Evgeny Artyukhin? In that city, he'd have a permanent seat in Shanahan's office.
17. Those who know Roberto Luongo say he was not trying to rip Tim Thomas after Game 5 when he said Maxim Lapierre's winner "was an easy save for me," because "it's not hard if you're playing in the paint." That's probably true; it was analysis, not criticism, but, boy did Luongo throw gasoline on the fire with the "I haven't heard one nice thing he's said about me" line the next day. I love the honesty, but seeing Thomas' response after he was questioned following Game 2, would you want anyone saying anything about him?
18. As the Canucks tried to regroup after losing Game 4 in Boston, several teammates credited Alex Burrows with loosening up a disappointed room. "I've known (Ryan Kesler) and (Kevin Bieksa) a long time, so I just started making jokes about their mothers," he said.
19. Boston's great off-ice motivation came from Zdeno Chara in the first intermission of Game 3. The Bruins were understandably stunned by Nathan Horton's injury and looked dazed. Once they found out it wasn't as bad as feared, Chara went into a lengthy tirade about winning it for Horton. One player described it as "epic."
20. Also under the category of good leadership: Daniel Sedin going to Tanner Glass after Game 5 (Glass fanned on a great scoring chance) and saying, "We didn't need it tonight, good thing you saved it for next game." A little thing that goes a long way.
21. The Bruins did a fantastic job of getting the news out quickly that Horton could move his extremities. It drives me crazy when a player is removed like that and teams delay the announcement. Didn't like Boston revealing Horton was out for the series one hour before Aaron Rome's disciplinary hearing. While I believe Rome was getting the four-gamer anyway, the NHL should enforce a "Cone of Silence" until a decision is announced.
22. Several Canucks said Rome's reaction to the suspension was absolute devastation. "I've never seen someone so crushed about not playing," one said. Added another, "If I'd lost the opportunity to compete for the Cup, I'd have cried just as hard as he did." That explains why Rome came off more upset than apologetic when he talked to the media for the first time on Sunday. But, Horton is the guy who got hurt.
23. Rome didn't appeal because all of them go through commissioner Bettman. That's going to be a CBA issue. The NHLPA will want a different process.
24. Vancouver fans were apoplectic when Mike Murphy indicated he consulted Brian Burke while considering the Rome suspension. Knowing Burke is one of the hawks when it comes to on-ice play, I'd bet a billion dollars he never would have suspended Rome four games. (In fact, he was a fan of Rome's when they were both in Anaheim.) While Burke and Gillis will never exchange Christmas chocolates, the former did vote for the latter as GM of the Year.
25. David Krejci's 11 goals (so far) tied Jaromir Jagr's record for most in one playoff by a Czech player. Asked about it, he said, "All I care about is the Cup."
26. Alex Edler's four-year, $13 million contract is turning into one of the NHL's best values. "Our toughest job is convincing him how good he is," one Canuck said. Edler is 25 and associate coach Rick Bowness constantly points out how Nicklas Lidstrom won his first Cup at 27 and first Norris at 31. Chances are Edler won't win six Norris Trophies, but it's a great way to pump up a guy.
27. Brad Marchand got his second talking-to of the Stanley Cup from Claude Julien after his Game 4 "mission-accomplished" hand-wipes. (The first came after Game 2.) "I don't want him to fall into the same troubles as other guys who've done those things," Julien said. "You can be forced out of the league. Brad is too good player to have that happen to him."
28. Twitter is awesome, reason number 5,627,981: RJ Umberger, an Ohio State alumnus, hears Jim Tressel is forced out as the school's football coach. He logs on and rips Michigan as being full of hypocrites.
29. Vancouver may not win the Cup tonight (honestly, this one's a tossup), but the organization made sure Ron Shute could travel to the game. The 64-year-old started as a stick-boy with the WHL Canucks in 1960, and has been with them ever since. This is his first road trip of the season. Great gesture.
30. One year ago, the league was very concerned about the reaction of Philadelphia's fans should Chicago win the Stanley Cup on the road. The Blackhawks did that in Game 6, and there were no issues. Should Vancouver take it, let's hope Boston follows that lead.
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