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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Captain of Inconsistency

Here's a fun quote, this came from an interview back in 1997:

"I think the referees have done a good job of calling boarding. Unfortunately
some players continue to show a lack of respect for each other and we have not
gotten rid of it. That’s frightening. Boarding is the one hit that makes me wake
up at night in a cold sweat."

Who was the man that said this? It's the guy who also, more recently, said this:

"Our view of the hit is there shouldn't have been a suspension. The player
wasn't injured. He finished the game. Got a couple stitches, which would have
been preventable if his helmet was properly attached. Again, that's not a shot
at Detroit...I think at no point is Holmstrom's face facing the boards. At no
point is Chris delivering a hit towards the boards, a dangerous hit. He's coming
in to finish a check at a 45-degree angle. Rob Niedermayer steps into the
player, pins him, you get a high finish."

Of course, the source of both of those quotes is none other than former NHL head of discipline and current general manager of the Anaheim Ducks, Brian Burke. The latter play in question is this hit on Tomas Holmstrom in Game 3 of the Campbell Conference Western Conference Finals.

Burke is of dubious distinction here. While being the czar of punishment for Gary Bettman and the NHL, Burke was a tough but fair guy for handing out suspensions and other punishment. Being that he's a guy that clearly approves of the rough and tumble side of the NHL, Burke was the right guy to have in that position because he kept the NHL from being too wussy and judging by the first quote above, he obviously understood what the big issues and problems with guys were. In fact, from that interview ten years ago, there was another aspect of the game that he was concerned about:

As head of officiating, what do you see as the biggest problem facing
the NHL right now?

We have teams that think whenever they lose,
the officiating cost them the game. That is absurd. When we ourselves, and
independent people, assess the officiating in the NHL it rates very highly.
Teams that lose tend to point a finger at the official rather than shouldering
the blame for having the wrong people on the ice or for their players not
showing up. Frankly, a lot of it we find very annoying. It’s embarrassing for
the league for no reason because our officials do an excellent job overall. I guess I’m in the minority because when I was a manager and my team
lost, I usually figured we got beat.

Emphasis added on that last line is mine because it stands out in a huge way. Now I understand that when you're the GM of a team, your job is only to put together the team and try to assemble all the right parts so that your team can win the Stanley Cup. When you're not coaching the team you can't really control the actions on the ice. That said, given how the Ducks have acted in games they were about to lose and stepping up with the chippy play and even dirty play in some cases (as it was with Pronger and Rob Niedermayer's double-team shot on Holmstrom) many teams use the excuse that that's their way of getting them fired up and motivated for the next game, to keep their aggression up and send a message.

Really? That's smart?

That's the excuse Jarome Iginla used after his Calgary Flames were similarly getting trounced by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of this year's playoffs and opted to go goon instead of sucking it up, taking it back into the dressing room and using that loss as motivation to come out and go crazy in the next game. That worked out so well that Calgary lost in double-overtime thanks to Karma scoring the game winner.

Strike that, it was Johan Franzen.

What these teams and these guys don't seem to realize is that whether it's because of the influx of foreign players, Mike Babcock's coaching influence, lack of a true enforcer or a mix of all three - Detroit doesn't fall for these tactics. Anaheim was able to pull this stuff on the Wild in Round 1 and it worked perfect. Derek Boogaard, for as much as I love the guy, shouldn't be seeing much time on the ice at all during the playoffs. Of course, Anaheim made sure to put guys like Brad May to their best use by having them go out and sucker-punch a non-fighting, non-aggressive Swedish defenseman in Kim Johnsson and knock him out for the deciding game in the series.

If Detroit happens to get out to an insurmountable lead tonight perhaps Nick Lidstrom should have his head on a swivel - you never know when the Ducks might be looking to get themselves fired up for the next game. After all, it's only the NHL Conference Finals - that alone isn't enough to get your blood flowing and your adrenaline pumping anymore.

1 comment:

Matt P. said...


Have to agree with you. It's alarming that teams are willing to sacrifice a lower echelon guy if they're able to temporarily or even permanently disable their opponent's star player. Briere was leveled on the way to making a change by, of all people, Alex Ovechkin. The result? Ovechkin received a $100 fine. Briere nearly lost his neck.

I suppose this is natural. With enforcers the odd man out in the faster NHL, this sort of activity will continue. My only question is, what happens when Sid and Alex are targets? Does Bettman get on the crusade when one or both of these guys get hurt?