December 3, 2010

Hypocrisy of NHL on Full Display with Latest Non-Suspension to Glencross

The NHL has to learn from its mistakes one of these days... at least you have to hope. But, until that day comes, we should enjoy the ride that is the Colin Campbell experience.

Calgary Flame Curtis Glencross got nailed with a fine on Friday, two days after he delivered a cross-check to the face of Vancouver Canuck Keith Ballard. In all honesty, it was pretty tame stuff, but when one looks back to how Glencross’s teammate Olli Jokinen got hit with a three-game ban for a similar infraction on Phoenix Coyote Wojtek Wolski, just a few short weeks ago, one wonders just what is going on in Campbell’s head.

With all the rumours and vicious innuendo being spouted online and in the mainstream media about him recently, one would think that Campbell would be extra vigilant in his decisions so as to escape any unwanted second-guessing. But it would seem that Campbell is not one to back down from his apparently God-given right to make weird-ass decisions. As such, it’s easy to imagine that he made this latest one out of sheer principle as if to say “no blogger, no scandal, no fake artist on earth can influence how I do my job”, which is actually kind of a noble thought... that is if his uninfluenced decisions weren’t so laughably nonsensical.

I’ve written before that the league’s decision to suspend Jokinen, who was a first-time offender, three games was somewhat of an odd choice, but I tried to rationalize it. But there’s little way to rationalize this latest incident... maybe because Jokinen was the third man in an altercation between Wolski and Niklas Hagman and Glencross was just exercising his right to smash in the face of a guy who was directly in his? That right there means a difference of three games? So, by that logic, if I got into a barfight and then did my opponent the decency of stabbing him in the front rather than from his side, I’d be able to buy my way out of trouble? Good to know... if only Campbell was my local police commissioner anyway.

What’s most puzzling is that Glencross is not a first-time offender. In fact, and this is where it gets good, he got suspended for a blind-side hit to the head of New York Ranger Chris Drury once upon a time. When was that time? Oh, in November of last year when he felt the overwhelming need to use his shoulder as a battering ram on an unsuspecting Drury’s head, an act that resulted in a three-game ban in its own right.

Think about that for a second... Glencross blind-sided Drury, with a shoulder to the head and got suspended, before the Marc Savard-Matt Cooke incident, before the rule came into effect, before Campbell told everyone how much he wanted to suspend Cooke, but couldn’t for lack of a rule in the rulebook. Huh???

Is it just me or is Campbell really not making life easy on himself? I don’t know if he’s just naturally confrontational and likes being the object of everyone’s attention, but this is getting ridiculous. Obviously, he didn’t mean for it to become public knowledge that he’s a potty mouth and takes an arguably unhealthy interest in plays involving his son, but, in this instance, he could have done the easy and the right thing and given Glencross three games, prevented himself any scrutiny, and put all this behind him. Instead Glencross gets nothing, people are forced into comparing Jokinen and Glencross’s suspension histories, and, bada-bing, bada-boom, yet another inconsistency in the way Campbell and the NHL do business is discovered.

I’m not going to get into the implications that the NHL really could have suspended Cooke if Campbell really wanted to and just didn’t because he has it out for Savard, not just because saying it in passing is just as good and takes up less space, but also because it’s been said to death before. There’s no point kicking a dead horse. Thankfully, Campbell is still very much kicking himself, meaning he, and the NHL in turn, will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving. Just in time for Christmas, no less.

Respecting the Jersey is a Lot Easier when You Have a Team like the Bruins Do

Of course, this newest Boston Bruins commerical was conveniently released just recently, with the team dismantling the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, but that fact certainly doesn't take away from the Bruins being destined for greatness in one form or another in the near future. With the team already shoulder-deep in depth, Marc Savard is finally back, the team likely has another top-three draft pick coming this summer, and the goalie Pierre McGuire thinks will be the best in the game isn't even getting a whiff of the net with Tim Thomas playing light-out hockey. Of course, no one should put that much stock into what McGuire has to say because when he sees a player he likes he tends to get about as overexcited as a kindergartner hopped up on sugar that sees a brand-new commercial for the greatest toy in the world mere weeks before Christmas. Nevermind that it's made in Finland, has faulty wiring, and has a tendency to flip its lid every once in a while during a shootout gone awry. Still, there's no denying Tuukka Rask is going to be great and the Bruins are well on their way as a team.

By the way, wouldn't it have made sense to have Terry O'Reilly land a few punches after he gets soaked, just for added comedic effect? Maybe that's just me and my sick sense of humour.

Brown Should Wear Number 2, Because He Is the Sh**

Here is Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown doing his civic duty by taking out the trash in the form of Florida Panthers defenseman Dennis Wideman. Of course, he promptly disposes it on his team's bench, but that's beside the point. It's true. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything and, in this case, apparently become a garbageman (sorry, sanitation engineer) or, if you want to get technical, hurt people for a living. Of course, hurt people legally. See the things he can do when he's actually doling out clean hits and not blindsiding people like he did the Minnesota Wild's Antti Miettinen a few months back?

If You Needed any more Proof that Smith Is not the Goalie Tampa Thought He Was when They Traded for Him...

Let the jokes begin. For example, Mike Smith is sooo bad that Andrew Raycroft now has his job with the Dallas Stars. There are others, but nothing really exemplifies his suckiness as much as the video evidence from last night's 8-1 Boston Bruins bouncing of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here is Dennis Seidenberg making him look like the plug he is. Smith ended up making 17 saves on 22 shots, further lowering his save percentage (but just barely) to .872 on the season. His goals-against average got a boost as well to 3.57.

Admittedly Dan Ellis wasn't any better last night, making just seven saves on 10 shots once Smith got the hook. Of course, it should be pointed out that Raycroft now has his job in Dallas as well, with Ellis once playing one game for the Stars in 2003-2004. Still, Ellis is signed beyond this year and Smith is going to be an unrestricted free agent, likely destined for a coaching job in some backwards golf-hungry island nation in the South Pacific that thinks the point of hockey is to score less points than your opponent. Because you know what they say: Those that can't do teach, and are named Mike Smith.

So, goaltending remains the one glaring position of weakness for the Lightning that hasn't had a name in net since 2003-2004 when Nikolai Khabibulin helped to lead the team to the Stanley Cup. The only conclusion to be made in regard to who has the inside track to the starting job in Tampa? Soon-to-be UFA Jean-Sebastien Giguere, of course... the dude that now has Raycroft's job in Toronto. It just makes sense.

Refs Give Raycroft, Stars Victory in Spirit of Holiday Season

Dallas Stars goalie Andrew Raycroft has been through enough, don't you think? He has essentially gone from the best up-and-coming goaltender in the league (Calder Memorial Trophy-winner in 2004) to a washed-up has-been that wasn't even able to stay on with the Toronto Maple Leafs, despite tying a team-record 37 wins in 2006-2007. Sure, he sucked in "earning" those wins, but it seems to me that, looking at Toronto's situation right now, the Leafs would gladly trade off some their actually competent goaltending for a few victories every now and then (and they could add in "defenseman" Mike Komisarek as a gesture of goodwill while they're at it). Now he's resorted to becoming the Mike Sillinger of goaltenders, going wherever a back-up is needed and then quickly cutting tail and running out of town out of fear of being discovered for the charlatan he really is. I mean, he does share a nickname with Ray Emery. Riding on his coattails will only get you so far.

In any case, it being near Christmas and all, I can kind of see why the league would want to throw some charity his way. That charity came in the form of a disallowed goal for the Washington Capitals on Thursday night that saw referee Dan O'Rourke waive off what would have been the game-tying 2-2 goal with less than 10 seconds left in the game due to supposed goalie interference on Alexander Ovechkin. In truth, I can kind of see why O'Rourke would make the call he did based on his vantage point, but the truth of the matter is Stars defenseman Karlis Skrastins should really not have been given the benefit of the doubt, because he's just that clumsy of a blue-liner. A career +/- of -40 (should be -41 after last night) will reveal as much. It's a case of O'Rourke needing to know just who he's dealing with, and that includes Raycroft. Wouldn't the real Andrew Raycroft give up that critical goal late in a game? Why yes, he would. And perhaps five more up to that point.

December 2, 2010

Kings Crown Sturm as Kovalchuk Reduced to Role of Court Jester in Jersey

"If I hear someone compare me to Kovalchuk again, I'm going to lose it."
Calling Marco Sturm the poor man’s Ilya Kovalchuk would be a little unfair, seeing as the two couldn’t be more different as players:

One’s production this season has been non-existent, while the other has been injured. One will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, while the other will be an unrestricted free agent only by the time the moon is safely colonized. One has never reached the 100-point plateau, while the other, well, hasn’t either, but was never expected to to begin with.

So, while Sturm does make less money than Kovalchuk (a salary-cap hit of $3.5 million versus one of $6.67 million), it isn’t because the Boston Bruins, the team that signed him to his current deal, are any poorer than the New Jersey Devils. They’re just more sane.

In any case, Sturm’s not necessarily any less of a player than Kovalchuk. In fact, one could make a good case that Sturm is actually more valuable than Kovalchuk. I mean, wanting to carry the puck all the time to the point that it becomes like an extra appendage is all nice and good, but you do need actual teammates every once in a while and Sturm’s hit is much more manageable in that regard. That he joins a team, the Los Angeles Kings, already rife with young talent, following a trade with the Boston Bruins on Thursday, speaks volumes as to just how well this deal will work out for L.A.

So, no, general manager Dean Lombardi doesn’t get the superstar scoring winger he had envisioned signing this summer and instead gets a solid depth player that will probably fit in better with the team, perhaps as a second-line left-winger.

When healthy, the Kings have a glut of top-six forwards, and when Sturm is finally able to hit the ice and come back following his knee injury, the Kings will be a better team... a good team. L.A. has lost four in a row and has dropped to two points out of a playoff spot, but Sturm in theory will serve as a much needed injection of energy and life into the line-up, unlike Kovalchuk, who has acted like an incubus (minus the catchy alt-rock choruses) in New Jersey, helping to suck out whatever life the ever-boring Devils might have had left after years of playing defensive-style hockey to death.

"A king, maybe, but not of rock n' roll"
Considering just how badly the New Jersey Devils have imploded, Lombardi may just be thanking his lucky stars (and Lou Lamoriello) that he had to settle for Alexei Ponikarovsky and Sturm. If settling means not signing a lifelong commitment with a player whose definition of the word “pass” is what he does when checking “have a team mortgage its future by signing me to a 15-year deal” off his to-do list... well, let’s just say the Kings are most definitely gladly getting drunk off their asses as we speak and looking to drive down to Las Vegas the next person with female privates that walks in the Staples Center doors for an impromptu wedding ceremony. That Lombardi kind of looks like Elvis Presley is just gravy.

Not only that, but, since this move is a cash-dump by the Bruins, the Kings are not really giving up much of anything of value in return. Reports have a conditional draft pick going to Boston, which likely means, unless Bruins management has suddenly switched places with that of the Detroit Red Wings, there should be few concerns that L.A. is giving up the next Henrik Zetterberg in the trade.

The deal is expected to be made official later today and, for a team that has been waiting since July 1 to put the finishing touches on the contender they were thought to be entering this season, it likely can’t come soon enough. It would bring an end to a saga that has had about as many twists and turns as a Kovalchuk-led rush down the ice. He’s got mad skills, no doubt, but so does a serial killer on the loose. Kings fans can thank God New Jersey’s his latest victim and not L.A.

... And on the First Night of Hanukkah the Florida Panthers Gave to Me...

I think the Florida Panthers are taking this whole stereotype of Jewish people migrating down South to retire a little too far... I mean it's not like droves of Jews are showing up to their games, let alone anyone else. In any case, the Panthers will be celebrating the Jewish festival of goal lights, apparently, next Tuesday in a game against the Colorado Avalanche by giving away, wait for it, wait for it... kippahs!

The first night of Hanukkah was last, so eight candles later would bring us to Wednesday, making it pretty evident that someone in Florida can at least do some basic addition despite the gaping hole in logic that seems to befall the entire organization as a whole. Does anyone there really think that people are going to show up to a Panthers game because they can pick up a kippah, the top of which will be graced with the team's logo? If so, they probably don't realize the true meaning behind the glorified tea cozy (director Guy Ritchie's words, not mine). Jews wear kippahs to remind themselves that God is above them. Having the Panthers logo on top of one kind of sends the wrong message, not because it's as if to say the Panthers are gods (I don't think anyone would think that... EVER), but because it's incredibly cheesy.

Anyway, what's doubly confusing about this whole giveaway is that the Panthers don't exactly have any Jewish players on the team to properly leverage the promotion. A simple google search would reveal just a handful of Jews in the NHL: The Montreal Canadiens' Mike Cammalleri and Jeff Halpern, Chicago Blackhawk Marty Turco, the Minnesota Wild's Eric Nystrom, Vancouver Canuck Tanner Glass (maybe), Toronto Maple Leaf Mike "Not Dustin" Brown, and, of course, the Swedish contingent of Dallas Star Nicklas Grossman, New Jersey Devil Johan Hedberg, and Detroit Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg. Just kidding about those last two, but Grossman is Jewish according to reports. Of course, come to think of it, Cory Stillman might be, along with superheroes Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc.

Not that the Panthers should have felt obliged to give away anything for the holidays, but kippahs do beat gelt. The team does admittedly need every gold-covered chocolate cent it can spare, unless this whole gimmick is just its way of reaching out to commissioner Gary Bettman, which would explain a lot. He's been due for retirement for the past 17 years.

Happy Hanukkah and Holidays. Peace.

Raymond Scores Every Which Way Against the Flames... Well, Pretty Much all the Canucks Do

Wednesday night marked the second-career hat trick for Cochrane, Alberta-native Mason Raymond, who comes from a town that's so fast-growing, they're apparently running out of first names. All due respect to the one, whom non-hockey fans would assume was actually named Raymond Mason, something just seems to click when he's in his backyard, with his first three-goal game coming in Calgary against the Flames as well in December 2009.

The hat-trick helped pace the Canucks to a 7-2 victory, a score that doesn't really do justice to the game, which was relatively close after two periods (3-2, with Vancouver holding a 24-14 edge in shots), but then again you don't get scored on four times in the third period without doing a lot of things badly. In the Flames' case, the main thing was showing up at all, which really seems to a recurring problem of theirs of late unfortunately.

Raymond added an assist for a career-high four points, but it was the way he scored his goals - one coming shorthanded (a real beauty), one coming on the power-play, and one coming at even-strength - that must have made the night really special.

As for the Canucks as a whole, things seem to be meshing at the right time (is there ever a wrong time, really?). They've got depth at forward (Raymond's presence helps to prove it, as does that of Raffi Torres, Manny Malholtra, etc.), at defense (to the point usual number-two defenseman Keith Ballard was a healthy scratch earlier this season), and in goal (back-up Cory Schneider could start for several teams right now), making them Canada's best chance at a Stanley Cup. Just don't tell Montreal Canadiens fans, though. They might just riot out of sheer principle. Hell, they're likely to riot at the drop of a hat.

December 1, 2010

A Day Later: the Robbery that Shocked the Hockey World...

Rest in Peace, Pat Burns (1952-2010)
By now, everyone has heard of the scum of the Earth that stole from Pat Burns’s widow after the hockey legend’s funeral on Monday. But now comes a genuinely classy gesture by the Montreal Canadiens, who have offered their support, with team spokesman Donald Beauchamp relaying that the Habs will help to raise funds for the arena being built in the Eastern Townships of Quebec that will bear his name.

Of course, the arena stands to benefit the welfare-addled border town of Stanstead, Quebec, but it also stands to serve as a long-lasting tribute to an eventual Hall-of-Famer. The 30 autographed jerseys that were stolen out of his widow Line’s car were meant to be sold at a charity auction, with the proceeds going towards the construction of the arena, slated to be completed in 2011. As such, not only did the low-lives steal from Burns but essentially from a good cause as well.

What’s really sad is no one should truly be surprised. Maybe at the stupidity of the act, but not at the indecency of it. After all the press the incident has received, these incompetent thieves, who evidently wouldn’t know right from wrong if they were driving a NASCAR race backwards, are now stuck with the jerseys without the ability to peddle them. No memorabilia store, reputable or not, will ever touch them, not just out the ethical obligation to call the police if they ever turned up, but because carrying them would risk ruining their reputations in turn.

So, now, these losers, who should have known this was going to happen after they made the conscious decision to rip off such a high-profile and well-respected family, are stuck with the jerseys and whatever else they stole. They also can’t do much else other than hide away the fruits of their labour in a closet until the day they die out of fear of someone they know and love seeing it all, being able to put two and two together, and realizing what big douches they are.

As for the day they die, not only can it not come soon enough, but when it does finally arrive, those jerseys will be discovered eventually, besmirching what one can expect are already somewhat ruined names. Because, let’s face it, if you steal from someone like Pat Burns on the day of his funeral, it likely isn’t the first time you’ve done something shady.

In any case, the fact that this went down in Montreal, a city that has earned a classless reputation in recent years for not being able to even win with grace, rioting if the Habs so much as score on the power play in the playoffs, puts that much more of a bitter taste in your mouth. No one expected this to happen, but now that it has you have to just groan and question your faith in humanity, especially if you’re a Montrealer, knowing how much Burns contributed to the franchise, earning a 174-104-42 record as the team’s head coach over four seasons.

As such, good on the Habs for doing what’s right. It’s a real shame that they have to, though. It’s a bigger shame that, as dumb as these criminals undoubtedly are, they’re probably smart enough not to be caught, brought to justice, and made an example of for all other hockey “fans” in the city to see.

If You Needed Further Proof 'Gagne' Is French for Win, here You Go

It's not that the Tampa Bay Lightning's Simon Gagne's return to action on Tuesday was so great that it's got everyone cheering (although it was a pretty decent performance overall). It's that his season up to that point was so bad. I mean, his two points last night effectively doubled his offensive output up to that point. Wait... that's not right. Tripled? Huh. My mind must be slipping. What multiplied by "Zero points" yields two?

Indeed, his game-winning goal and his assist on Ryan Malone's game-tying goal in the second period were his first two points of the year in seven tries. Of course, here's hoping he keeps it up and is able to put the past and his neck injury behind him, because no one wants to look at the salary dump that brought him to Tampa (for defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick) as a win for the Philadelphia Flyers... except maybe Walker's parents.

In any case, his breakthrough performance on Tuesday was made possible by Martin St. Louis, scoring the 3-3 game-tying goal with less than 10 seconds to go in the game. As such, in a sense, it was also made possible by the Toronto Maple Leafs and their inability to win games this year. Still, good on Gagne for finally getting it going.

Datsyuk Makes Justin Braun Wish He Was a Part of the Braun Family Business

Of course, Braun is now owned by Procter & Gamble and so San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun couldn't go back to Germany and make razors even if he wanted to after being embarrassed by Detroit Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk last night. His actually being from Minnesota might also have something to do with that.

Then again, there's no shame in being beat by a wily veteran who tallied three points total (the goal and two assists) in Detroit's 5-3 win on Tuesday. For his part, Braun had an assist and now has three points (all helpers) in his three games with the Sharks. He may just very well end up being this year's Jason Demers (out with an upper-body injury), who was last year's Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who had done his best emulating the original one-year-wonder in San Jose, Matt Carle in 2006-2007, who is actually doing relatively well playing for the Philadelphia Flyers right now after a short-lived nightmare of a stint in Tampa Bay.

The lesson in all of this is this: Braun needs to get the hell out of San Jose as soon as possible, preferably on his way to Philadelphia, whose state of Pennsylvania coincidentally has a huge German population. The other lesson: Datsyuk eats rookie defensemen for breakfast.

November 30, 2010

Fleischmann Wants what Mauldin is Smoking

It didn’t take long for the Colorado Avalanche to try and make up for Chris Stewart’s stupidity-induced forced four-to-six-week vacation (link here). On Tuesday, the Avs sacrificed some of their blue-line depth for the greater good... although “good” is relative when talking about forward Tomas Fleischmann, whom they acquired from the Washington Capitals for Scott Hannan.

Fleischmann, who was the Capitals’ number-two center, had been a healthy scratch recently. It’s the second move in as many days for the Avs, who traded prospect Colby Cohen to the Boston Bruins for defenseman Matt Hunwick on Monday, thereby giving themselves the extra body needed in order to deal away Hannan, and potentially relegate Ryan O’Byrne to the press box where he belongs. At least that must be the master plan once regulars like Adam Foote (leg) and Kyle Cumiskey (concussion) get back to normal. Also injured for the Avs are Daniel Winnik (knee), T.J. Galiardi (wrist), Peter Mueller (concussion), and goalie Craig Anderson (groin).

"Kind of summarizes my season so far, don't you think?"

As such, aside from the perks like the huge salary, no one should really want head coach Joe Sacco’s job right now, trying to fit a bunch of square pegs into round holes and keep his team winning against all odds. The team’s forward lines now shape up like this:

Kevin Porter, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk
David Jones, Matt Duchene, Greg Mauldin
Cody McLeod, Ryan O’Reilly, Brandon Yip
David Koci, Philippe Dupuis, ?

Look for Porter to get demoted a few lines, maybe move to the other wing, and for Fleischmann, who also plays left-wing, to take his spot alongside Stastny. Porter has gone four games without a point, while Fleischmann is on pace for a 33-point season after scoring a career-high 51 last season. However, unless you’re in the porn industry, beggars for bodies can’t afford to be choosers and the Avs are so desperate the move today probably prevents them from having to coax Darcy “Chicken” Tucker out of retirement... and that’s something considering the amount of farmland and chickens ready for the, ahem, tucking around Denver.

Still, there’s little denying that Fleischmann had been the beneficiary of increased defensive focus on the Caps’ top line. With no real top line to speak of, it remains to be seen how this experiment will work out until Colorado’s injury concerns subside.

Of course, it could end up favouring the Avs, with the opposition due to get about as confused as Sacco regarding his new lines. I mean Greg Mauldin scoring four points in a game would throw anybody for a loop... including Mauldin, who’s probably on such a high right now that his lightheadedness has little at all to do with being in Denver (well, maybe something to do with all the pot in the city). All this taken into account, the benefits, if any, are due to be of the short-term variety, especially with Fleischmann slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The trade is a band-aid on what is quickly becoming an epidemic in the Mile High City for a team that by all accounts should start to plummet in the other direction any day now.

Currently an eighth seed in the Western Conference, the Avs deserve credit for exceeding expectations for the second-straight season. However, all good things must come to an end, right? Just look at Fleischmann.

Crosby Has a Little Pronger in Him

Obviously at 6'6", 220 pounds, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger is not a little anything, which makes one wonder just how he would fit in the diminutive Pittsburgh Penguins captain, who is just 5'11", 200. Still, bad and dirty jokes aside, there's little denying that Sidney Crosby did his best dirty-player impression last night, taking out Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers with an undeniable slewfoot on Monday during the Penguins' 3-1 win.

No word yet on the length of suspension Callahan has coming his way for clearly getting in Crosby's way, but it will most likely be a long one.

Even 'No Way Jose' Can't Shut the Door on the Offensive Dynamo that Is the Calgary Flames... Shocker

If there was ever one team to help the Calgary Flames out of their most recent funk (one victory, in a shootout, in their last five games) during their season, the Minnesota Wild, blessed with the great goaltending of one Jose Theodore, was it.

To be honest, the 10-12-2 Flames' season thus far has really seemed like one big downward slope with a few forgettable peaks interspersed throughout, a little too coincidentally like Death Valley. In any case, two quick goals, by Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, helped to pace the Flames to their victory, a 3-0 shutout by Miikka Kiprusoff over Minnesota on Monday. Alex Tanguay was the only Flame to earn points on each of the goals, which were scored 18 seconds apart, marking a new personal record for him. He previously could only play consistently well for spurts of five seconds at a time at most. Good for him.

The team record for the two fastest goals is actually four seconds, with Doug Gilmour and Paul Ranheim scoring four seconds apart (tying an NHL record) on October 17, 1989. Unfortunately for the Flames, after their Stanley Cup victory the spring before, it's been mostly downhill for the franchise overall, with a brief respite over the last few years, with the team becoming a legitimate contender only to miss their window of opportunity Thankfully for the Flames, Theodore seems to be servicing teams 24/7 through his, which has seen more customers than a Tim Hortons drive thru over the years.

Even the team's leading goal scorer, Cal Clutterbuck (I am not making this up, he has seven goals to lead the Wild), could not get anything going with one of his classic hard bodychecks.

Thankfully, the Wild get a chance to redeem themselves on Friday, at which point it's safe to assume the Flames will be mired in yet another losing streak.

November 29, 2010

Stewart Sacrifices His Body, a Lot of Brain Cells for Avalanche

"This is indeed as good as it gets for me."
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment in the fight on Saturday when the Colorado Avalanche’s Chris Stewart broke his hand on the Minnesota Wild’s Kyle Brodziak’s face, because, well, there are a lot of moments from which to choose. He really did do a number on Brodziak to the point that the latter may actually be considered good-looking now, but the fact remains as much aggression as Stewart was able to let out he’s still probably hitting himself right now in one way or another.

Stewart has yet to be confused for one of the game’s elite-level players, but the way his career was progressing there was a definite case to be made that eventually some ignorant, maybe half-racist hockey fan seeing him holding an equipment bag outside the Saddledome after an away game would mistake him for Jarome Iginla (for the record, Stewart is half-Jamaican and Iginla half-Nigerian). He’s actually following in Iginla’s footsteps more than anyone would care to admit considering Iginla is somewhat famous for his tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Vincent Lecavalier during the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals.

Stewart’s bout represents just the latest time this year that stars have opted to drop the gloves (although, all the offense in the world to him, Brodziak wouldn’t know what to do with such a label if it was handed to him, printed-out, laminated, with a safety pin already attached and step-by-step instructions how to stick it onto his shirt; he would probably just prick himself and pass out due to the blood loss).

Anyway, earlier this season, Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby fought Dallas Star Matt NIskanen, and before that Detroit Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk fought Anaheim Duck Corey Perry. New Jersey Devil Ilya Kovalchuk also dropped the gloves, against Washington Capital Mike Green, but that hardly counts seeing as Kovy just mistook Green for his oversized paycheque that was trying to get away.

I’ve never really subscribed to staged fights and the need some players may feel to give fans a show. I don’t see how fighting, a legitimate way to unleash some built-up fury on an opponent taking cheap shots on your or a teammate, has been perverted to the point that some players are able to make a living based solely on how well they risk their bodies in order to try to shift momentum in a game as well as their ability to goad more valuable players into taking five-minute penalties.

As such, to see Stewart square off against a lesser player, when his team was leading no less, doesn’t really speak to his leadership abilities, but more so to his lack of intelligence. While Stewart may have had this injury coming to him, Colorado fans definitely do not deserve to see their team’s leading goal-scorer go down with an easily preventable injury. Stewart makes his living with his hands and the risks in such a situation definitely outweigh the one potential benefit: proving he was better than his opponent. Newfslash: Everyone already knew it. Now, after the fact, we’re not so sure, but, heading in, definitely. In fact, unless you’re any one of the other some 700 players in the league not on Brodziak’s team of plugs, chances are good that you’re better than him. So says studies done on the subject, anyway.

Hopefully Stewart’s hand heals correctly, all that will be lost will be a month or two of playing time, and he learns his lesson: not necessarily that he’s paid to score, but that fighting just for the sake of fighting is a pointless exercise best left to the guys whose jobs actually depend on it. If he continues down this road, he may just end up in that latter group.

"Damn. Missed the helmet."

Stewart has actually been in 15 regular-season fights, so he’s not new to the experience of sacrificing his body for his teammates, the feel of fist on the flesh of a Kyle Brodziak... hell, he may even like it, but, if he has his sights on continuing to be the star he’s been this year and last, he’ll find that true sacrifice comes in the form of holding back for his team and sticking to what he does best. He fights well, but he’s a better player. Last time I checked, few people use the word “player” to describe enforcer/tough-guy/monster Derek Boogaard... Fewer still to describe Brodziak, but that’s admittedly maybe because so few actually know who he is.

Does Anybody Else Think Ondrej Pavelec Came out of the Hospital a Bionic Man?

Considering Atlanta Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec suffered that strange fainting spell just a few minutes into the season, it's hard to put together a worthwhile before-and-after comparison between his quality of play right now and in the lead-up to what one can only described as one of the most bizarre incidents to ever take place during a hockey game. However, we all do know that he played reasonably well last year in posting a save percentage of .906, in finally giving the team the chance to rid itself of its overextended ties to the often-overweight Kari Lehtonen.

This year, Pavelec not only has a .949 save percentage (you read that right, but funny enough that's only good enough for third-best in the league in what is shaping up to be the year of the goalie), but also a 1.62 goals-against average, which is half of what his GAA was as recently as last year. Indeed, playing goal for the Thrashers has traditionally claimed the self-esteems of even the cockiest goalies out there, meaning not even P.K. Subban's brother, Malcolm, a goalie in the OHL, would be safe... just putting it out there.

So, taking all that into account, what Pavelec has been able to accomplish this year, essentially streamlining at warp speed even the most optimistic of forecasts regarding his career's outlook (the team did sign Chris Mason for a reason), has been nothing short of incredible. It's all the more incredible considering he may just consider himself to be lucky to be alive at this point.

Oh, and he's making just $850,000 this year, so any actual Six-Million-Dollar-Man references would be  inaccurate... although just a tad premature considering the way he's playing right now has him down that road eventually.

Big Buff's Big Night against the Less-Big, Bad Bruins

It's not often that I'm wrong (or at least it's not often that I admit I'm wrong), but in this case it's clear that when the decision was made to move Dustin Byfuglien seemingly permanently to defense the Atlanta Thrashers knew what they were doing. At the time it was clear to me that after he scored 16 points in 16 games in the playoffs last year, starting with the series against the Vancouver Canucks, he was made to be a power forward. Clearly he's much more versatile than anyone outside the Thrashers was willing to admit. 

While proof to that effect has come all season-long (25 points in 24 games to lead all defensemen, including nine goals (also first) and five game-winners to lead the entire league), the exclamation point on his case for league-wide respect and superstar status came on Sunday night when he netted one goal and three assists for a season-high four-point game. It wasn't a new career-high, but it did tie his current one, as he had two goals and two assists in a game in 2008-2009 as a Chicago Blackhawks against the Minnesota Wild. The season before, he had a hat trick and one helper against the Phoenix Coyotes one game, as well.

It's getting to the point where anybody who ever doubted him is in turn doubting their own judgment, because it's there's no way around admitting that this guy, given the ice time, can put up big numbers. From a personal standpoint, he's singlehandedly forced me to do a lot of soul searching. Of course, I found none to speak of, but can still give credit where credit is due. I don't think he will ever win the Norris Trophy, for the same reason that Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green won't, but never before could people speak of the two in the same sentence without giggling uncontrollably. Of course, the fact that people call him Buffy maybe contributed to that, which is another good sign. Tough as she may be, no one wants a nickname based on a female television character. Big Buff suits him better.