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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Half Way Home to the Downfall of Hockey...Again

ESPN Page 2 columnist Bill Simmons makes it a semi-habit to pick on the NHL when either the downfall of the league is imminent or the Bruins do something so colossally stupid that it causes even the former fans in Boston to take notice.

Recently in his latest basketball blog on Page 2 he mentioned how the NHL is perilously close to an Anaheim-Ottawa Finals that would make the league want to turn a gun on itself. Now since Simmons isn't exactly hockey-savvy - he has a very good point although not for just the ratings reasons.

Ottawa most of this season has been a team that adapts, a shape-shifter if you will. Put them against a run-and-gun team like Buffalo and they'll pick up the pace and go for it. Put them against a non-offense playing team like New Jersey and they'll 'D it up just the same and wait for their opportunities to score on the power play all the while setting the game of hockey back to the mid-1990s.

Now I won't come out here and say that Detroit has to make the Stanley Cup Finals for the betterment of the league, but what I will say is that the league will have to take a very hard look at itself and its officials once again should things continue the way we've seen them and Anaheim jumps into the Finals again to ruin hockey. You might remember, if you're unfortunate, that Anaheim and New Jersey co-conspired to single-handedly destroy the NHL in 2003 with their epically boring seven-game series to see who could trap the best.

In the nearly two complete seasons since the lockout and rule reinforcement we've seen teams whine and complain and bitch and moan about how there were too many calls and that there wasn't any seeming rhyme nor reason to what was being called. What they didn't realize was that there was a rhyme and reason for it - they called everything.

Of course, what happens when you go from not calling anything and letting all sorts of cheating go to calling everything and allowing divers to dictate play is that people still aren't happy, the flow of the game is horribly disrupted just the same and no one is happy except for the guys pumping home power play goals at a ridiculous rate.

So what have we seen in the playoffs to this point? Erratic penalty calls. Obstruction and interference making a dynamic comeback to the game without being called regularly and an even more dramatic rise in make-up calls on questionable hooks and trips meanwhile boarding has apparently been wiped out of the rulebook completely - at least during the Buffalo-Ottawa series it has.

So whose fault is this? Is it the players and coaches for playing this way? Yes, absolutely. I've yet to see teams like Buffalo and Tampa Bay revert back to the old way of playing defense - when the opposing team dumps into the zone and the defensemen, rather than go after the puck themselves, stand there facing the attacking player and look for ways to pick them off or deviate them from their course. That, of course, is textbook interference - hitting a player away from the puck while making no effort to play the puck yourself. The teams I've seen revert back to this style of "hockey" this post-season greatly outnumbers the teams that have been playing hockey the traditional way - and that signifies a HUGE problem.

The problem comes from the seeming lack of interest from the NHL Front Office with Gary Bettman and from the Head of Officials, Stephen Walkom. Supposedly, the officials are kept under strict lock and key with the head of officials and league offices - keeping track of what they call as well as what calls they've missed and what they can do to do better to make sure the integrity of the game stands up and that the rule reinforcements are upheld.

This leads me to wonder: What the hell happened? Where did this go? Obviously if things were still under a strict watch, these problems wouldn't continue to happen and the referees would be there to warn teams that if that play continued, the parade to the box would start and wouldn't end until they decided to start playing actual hockey.

This leads me to believe and theorize that in an effort to make sure games stay "streamlined" and keep a decent flow to them, Bettman and Walkom have looked the other way while teams go back to this neanderthal style of "hockey." After all, the majority of the games played in the Eastern Conference haven't had this problem and while the games in the Western Conference on the whole have been abysmal, even in spite of the close scores (remember, close scores don't mean the game was played at a good pace) the tried and true hockey fans are located in the East in Canada and the Northeastern U.S. The fans that do exist out West are either Canadian fans that will root for their teams no matter what style of hockey is being played or U.S. teams that have been weaned and gotten all of their success playing this rotten way so they don't know any better.

Sound stupid? Just wait - if we do get an Anaheim-Ottawa Cup Final, and God help us if Anaheim wins, look and see what style of play is adopted by teams that are looking to get into the playoffs and then watch how NHL Officials both on the ice and in the front office react to it. The sound of crickets will be deafening - because after all, teams in markets that haven't won before finding success is GOOD for the NHL no matter what the ultimate price to pay is.

Pardon me while I roll my eyes and continue to throw darts at the photo of Gary Bettman.

Speaking of boneheads - Chris Pronger spoke up about his suspension.

Chris Pronger spoke with the media for the first time about his one-game suspension for forearm clobbering Tomas Holmstrom in the head from behind. To save you the trouble of trying to put your own brain to use to decipher what he said, here's the hitlist of gems from everyone's least-favorite caveman defenseman:

"The league should make its own calls and not be pressured into anything by
the media, and more to the point, the Canadian media."

Interesting here that Pronger decides to go after just the Canadian media on this one as it appeared that all hockey media decided that Pronger had delivered a cheap shot. Perhaps Chris is just still a little bitter about how his departure from Edmonton was handled after last year.

Poor muffin - try not allegedly knocking up the local beat reporter next time.

"I think inconsistency in the refereeing has been there all season, let
alone in the playoffs. All you've got to do is look at our games against
Detroit. You could bring in other series. The referees have been very
inconsistent from series to series, from game to game and from team to team.
As you witnessed, (Thursday) night was an absolute joke. But that's neither
here nor there. It's over with. I just hope going forward we're going to be
on a level playing field."

Well see, here we have some common ground at least. And Pronger is right, the officiating in that game was a joke...more Ducks should've found their way to the box. Just feel lucky that you get to keep interfering and have your teammates get away with sucker-punching other teams' best defenseman and have other guys instigate fights by pulling another man's hair. Pick up your purse on the way out, please.

Pronger added that he did not intentionally hit Holmstrom in the head, and
the contact happened partly because he is 6-foot-6 and Holmstrom is 6-foot-1.
"Of course I'm going to hit him in the head," Pronger explained. "He's quite a
bit shorter than me. It's just law of physics."

OK really, who let Ron Burgundy into the room? Now I have friends who are as tall as Chris Pronger and I'm about the same height as Tomas Holmstrom (I've got an extra inch on him actually) and I'm pretty sure that if my taller friends were to check me into the boards, their hands and forearms wouldn't go flying directly into the back of my skull unless they were, you know, trying to hit me in the head on purpose. How tall does Chris think he is really? Eight feet? Nine feet tall? That's about the only way that kind of argument holds up - that is, unless of course, that Pronger always hits guys up high and he just misses clobbering the shorter guys in the head because they're not tall enough to get connected with.

Chris, you're in southern California now, perhaps signing up for a class at UCLA, USC or even Hollywood Upstairs Medical College (alumnus Dr. Nick Riviera) might be in order to really explain physics to you. What a moron.


T said...

what, you post this and forget to mention the bruins logo change? loser.

Hockey Joe said...

I would mention that except that is only a rumor right now - when/if that does happen, expect it to be teed off on promptly because the hate the Bruins management has for their fans is incredible.