"I like the game a little better in our era, mostly because the players policed the game. I think there's so much onus put on the officials right now ... I don't mind the fighting in the game, I know they're trying to take a lot of it out.
"The game in the old days got rid of the pretenders and the guys who do the whacking and the hacking, guys that are chirping back. That stuff got eliminated years ago. If somebody was taking a shot at your best player, somebody got rid of that right away.
"The reason I think there's a lot more injuries now? Guys are bigger, stronger, better fit overall. But you can just take runs at people left and right and they're coming at full speed. And in the old days, you eliminated that from the game."
-- Mark Howe on HNIC's Inside Hockey
I thought a lot about what Howe said during the Hockey Night In Canada pre-game show after seeing Milan Lucic run Ryan Miller without in-game consequence. (Lucic has a hearing Monday afternoon with the NHL). While Sabres like Paul Gaustad later said they were "embarrassed" they didn't do anything about it, we're seeing more and more teams programmed to step back and let the referees -- or Brendan Shanahan -- handle it.
The only reason Howe is not considered one of hockey's great statesmen? Because he rarely talks publicly. Over 22 seasons and 1,355 games (counting both the WHA and NHL), he never had more than 62 penalty minutes. But he was no softie; very powerful, unafraid and not be trifled with. As a scout, he's a critical part of the Red Wings' success. As of Monday night, he's a Hall of Famer.
When Howe speaks, people listen. And I wonder, is he absolutely right?
What if the reason we're seeing so many dangerous on-ice plays is that we've forgotten how to deal with the bully in the schoolyard? You can run to the principal all you want. Eventually, you've got to stand up for yourself. The Bruins sure do.
"I think there's so much onus put on the officials right now." Of everything Howe said, that sticks most with me.
A major factor in the Bruins' recovery from a 2-0 deficit to win the Stanley Cup was a willingness to do whatever it took, pushing the rules to the limits (and beyond) against Vancouver.
Canucks fans will never forget the image of Brad Marchand punching Daniel Sedin without consequence during Game 6 of the final. Boston used a strategy created by the Flyers of the 1970s and perfected by the NBA's Pistons of the late 1980s/early 1990s -- there's no way they can call everything, so let's see what we can get away with.
You could see the anger and frustration in the Canucks because that's not the way teams are supposed to play now. The preference is to play hard whistle-to-whistle and skate away from scrums. If something gets out of control, let the referees or the league handle it.
The bigger the game, the less referees want anything to do with determining the outcome and the Bruins were smart enough to recognize and take advantage of that. You can't penalize -- or suspend -- everyone for everything. It's just not possible.
What Howe is suggesting is a little dangerous because, once you open the door a crack, someone could kick it off the hinges. (Staged fighting, for example, is useless for policing the game.) But I'm wondering if there is a kind of happy medium where the NHL can allow a little more frontier justice while maintaining supplementary control in more egregious situations.
That's got to be better than what happened in Boston, where Miller was flattened and injured, with an incredulous Lucic telling The Buffalo News: "We wouldn't accept anything like that. We would have [taken] care of business. But we're a different team than they are."
That's certainly true. Saturday night, Ryan Miller probably wished he played for them.
1. Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff's response to Gaustad's "embarrassed' comment? "He was on the ice." Last season, Taylor Pyatt was KO'ed by Deryk Engelland, who he probably shouldn't have been fighting in the first place. None of the Coyotes did anything about it and head coach Dave Tippett tore into his players. "Never seen him so angry at us," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. Clearly, Ruff feels the same way.
2. Ruff refused to talk to reporters Sunday in Montreal, saying "[bleep] the media." It's easy to make a big deal of this, but here's a dissenting opinion: It's not even 24 hours after an emotional game where his goalie was run and his players did nothing about it. Ruff is usually very good to deal with. Everyone is entitled to a bad day.
3. Another example. In the last four seasons, I've covered 35 Montreal playoff games. Before 34 of them, Montreal's head coach, be it Guy Carbonneau, Bob Gainey or Jacques Martin, met with broadcasters. The one exception? Game 3 against Boston in 2009. Gainey was hiding that Mathieu Schneider and Alex Tanguay wouldn't play. If it's one in 35 (and for that reason), you have to understand.
4. From one of Oren Koules' friends: "He learned his lesson ... He will be a much better owner this time around."
5. Was the support for the Flyers' 1-3-1 delay a direct shot at Lightning head coach Guy Boucher? Asked Lightning GM Steve Yzerman about that on Friday and he said: "I don't think so." But I wonder. Boucher's had a meteoric rise to the NHL. He had a great first season, getting to within one win of the Stanley Cup final. There were a lot of stories about his innovative style, on and off the ice. Is there some professional envy?
6. Yzerman is not pleased because he doesn't want it becoming a distraction. But he fired off some great lines. Asked if he was worried about another team trying it, he said: "Go ahead. We won 2-1." Then, he came up with an absolute classic when asked about re-alignment. He prefers a setup where all teams play home-and-home every season. "Every fan should get a chance to watch Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. And with all of you guys talking about the 1-3-1, every fan will be dying to see it."
7. The best thing about the controversy? It eliminated all the talk about Chris Pronger wearing a visor. By the way, you know that Pronger just loved ragging the puck that night.
8. Those Fedor Tyutin/Evgeni Nabokov trade rumours were insane. Tyutin's part of the solution, not the problem, in Columbus. Here's what happened. After Thursday's loss to Chicago, the team asked Tyutin and Kris Russell to stick around. We all know now Russell was traded, so somebody assumed Tyutin was gone, too. The Blue Jackets actually asked Tyutin to stay in case they needed to talk to Nikita Nikitin, who they got for Russell. Nikitin doesn't speak much English.
9. Word is that Nabokov has not been asked to lift his no-move clause. And Garth Snow told Hotstover Eric Francis that there isn't a lot of interest. I still think the Islanders want this three-headed goalie monster to go away.
10. One NHL GM: "There are a lot of us who don't like our teams." It's hard to make trades, though, with so many not wishing to add salary. Will be interesting to see what happens when all of them are together for meetings Tuesday.
11. Curious to see if anyone at the GM meetings brings up icing. One coach said: "I don't know what icing is anymore." Hybrid icing is on the agenda (and, even after the Taylor Fedun injury, there's some doubt it has enough support), but this is more about what kind of play determines if icing gets waved off.
12. There will an update on re-alignment. It's more of a governors' vote than a GM issue, but many of them are governors. Curious to see how this goes. Wrote last week I'm hearing the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh situation is settled. Also heard that one of the ideas is re-seeding the teams when they reach the Stanley Cup semifinals. Instead of it being West versus West and East versus East, there is a proposal to have the highest-seeded team facing the lowest and second versus third. Don't know how much support there is, though.
13. When Predators GM David Poile gets back to Nashville, he'll meet with Neil Sheehy, the agent for Ryan Suter. Don't believe anything is imminent, but do think some more serious concepts will be discussed.
14. Kyle Turris' agent, Kurt Overhardt, is based in Denver. When the Coyotes played there on Nov. 2, he met with GM Don Maloney. Neither side was revealing specifics, but don't think there was much harmony. If Turris doesn't sign by Dec. 1, he can't play this year.
15. Joe Nieuwendyk is one of the best draft stories ever. Cliff Fletcher has admitted that, in 1985, he wanted to take a goalie with the Flames' second-round pick. With three teams selecting in front of the Flames, all of the keepers on his wish list were still available. New Jersey took Sean Burke 24th and Vancouver grabbed Troy Gamble 25th. That left one goalie (Kay Whitmore) who Fletcher liked, and, of course, Hartford took him 26th. With no one at that position remaining on their list, the Flames took Nieuwendyk. I love that.
16. It's amazing to hear how many people consider Nieuwendyk their best teammate. Mats Sundin is one.
17. Brett Hull on Eddie Belfour: the best big-game goalie I ever played with.
18. Judging from the leather jacket Belfour wore at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night, the Hall of Fame blazer is probably the only suit coat he owns. But the symbolism is incredible, a real window into what made Belfour so successful against some very long odds.
19. Leafs president and GM Brian Burke will be added to the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee.
20. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson's not the biggest guy around, but his arms look really powerful. Said he did a lot of gymnastics work during the off-season (rings, beam) to improve his strength and balance. "They're pretty strong," he said about Olympic-level gymnasts. Never heard of anyone trying that before.
21. First 11 games, T.J. Oshie of the Blues had a goal and four assists. Last five games, it's four and two. If he didn't get it going, he was looking at a new zip code. Wouldn't be surprised if he was made aware of that.
22. A rival executive on Anze Kopitar of the Kings: "Growing into a superstar ... Their best player, by far."
23. Several opponents note that Los Angeles really misses Wayne Simmonds. "He was an really important player for them," said one.
24. Each year, there is at least one player who wins the Stanley Cup and follows up with a nightmarish season. It's usually because the compressed summer doesn't give him enough time to heal from injury. Last season, that guy may have been Kris Versteeg of the Flyers. Versteeg had a horrible 2010-11, battling two sports hernias, but looks so much better now.
25. Stephen Weiss on July 1 as the Panthers completely remodelled their team: "I was out of cell phone range, so when I came home, my phone went crazy. It was like Christmas, getting a whole bunch of new presents."
26. Scottie Upshall on Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen: "He's like having an extra captain out there." You can see the difference in this team. Mentioned in one of last year's blogs that Dineen despises divers. He's told his players he will not tolerate it.
27. Also making a difference is Glen Gulutzan. Said one opposing coach: "They're fast and they never stop skating." As the Stars went through their Eastern swing, several different people (players, coaches, GM) raved about Jamie Benn. They really don't see him often and were very impressed. Benn went 129th overall in 2007. If you re-did that draft now, where does he go? Second after Patrick Kane? Third after Kane and Logan Couture?
28. Maple Leaf fans rolled their eyes after last week's 5-1 loss to Florida when Jonas Gustavsson said: "It's just one of those nights where we don't get the bounces. Everything just hit the post and deflects and bounced back and forth. Overall, I felt pretty good." Mike Weir was like this, too. He'd blame "spike marks" for bad putts. When you struggle with confidence, some sports psychologists suggest you deflect blame so as not to crush yourself.
29. How can you tell P.K. Subban's really arrived? Teams are attacking the Canadiens defenceman much more aggressively. Opponents are sending two players after him when he goes back after the puck. They're hoping to pressure him into a mistake, deliver a big hit or simply force him to give it to someone who doesn't handle it as well as he does. (Looked like Subban hurt himself trying to check Jordin Tootoo in Nashville.)
30. Can't possibly explain how much my heart aches for the family and friends of Kyle Fundytus, a 16-year-old Edmonton boy who died Sunday morning, hours after a puck hit his neck during a game. There were moments of silence for him yesterday at various local rinks. Condolences and best wishes to everyone affected.
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