Kukla's Korner Hockey
By George James Malik
The Red Wings’ open practice revealed a myriad of small details about the players’ tendencies, the team’s work ethic, and in Saturday’s case, the astonishingly long shadow cast by an injury of unknown severity, but there is one fact you must know about the Wings’ transformation from a Bowman-era team to Mike Babcock’s team, and it can be summed up in one word: crisp.
I saw two practices last season, and they were very herky-jerky in terms of pacing. Babcock had to stop his drills regularly to either explain himself again or to admonish players for their lack of hustle.
The giggling, hot-dogging, and joke-cracking that form the groundwork for any practice remain, but once Babcock, McLellan, and MacLean explained the next 90-to-180-second drill, the boys got “professional” fast. Hustle like there’s no tomorrow, skating your brains out while doing a simple cycling drill? Check. An innate understanding of not only the technical aspects of what’s being asked, but also the expectations of the coaches in terms of fit and finish? You bet.
By George James Malik
According to Ted Kulfan, one defensive game begets an NHL catastrophe:
Why, oh why, does the NBC (and Versus, for what Versus is worth) continue to force the Red Wings vs. Avs on everyone in the nation? WHY!!!! It’s only a heated rivalry worth watching, apparently, in the opinion of NBC. Nobody is left from the rivalry. The Avs aren’t even a playoff team. The Avs aren’t very good. The talent level on both teams isn’t close to what it was during the glory years. But it doesn’t seem to matter, apparently, to NBC. It wants to keep showing the outdated video of the fights and blood and gore of years long gone by. But, the present day games stink. And, it gives would-be fans another excuse to not watch.
With all due respect, it’s one game. One game that’s less than scintillating does not a disaster make.
The Avs are a thin team this year. The Wings played a defensive game—while taking 41 shots on Theodore—because at least five Red Wings played through a vicious flu bug. The Avs and Wings’ players regularly state that while they don’t want to punch each other’s lights out, they genuinely feel a rivalry still exists between the two teams, fueled by fans and the teams’ historical rivalry.
By George James Malik
Competition Committee founder Brendan Shanahan held court before the All-Star Game’s skills competition on Tuesday, and the Human Quote Machine made an interesting comment regarding the league’s crackdown on goaltending equipment:
“The goalies are going to hate me for saying this, but I think we failed a little bit with the goaltenders and streamlining their equipment,” said Shanahan, one of a handful of players on the NHL’s competition committee.
After the lockout, the committee pushed the league to downsize goaltender equipment by about 10 percent. But Shanahan—and others—aren’t so sure the changes had the desired effect.
“So much of the focus was on the width of their pads, and it’s really about the upper body,” Shanahan said. “You want to make sure these guys are protected.
“But I just don’t understand how a cop can walk down the street in a bulletproof vest and look normal, yet our goalies have to look like lacrosse goalies, or Michelin men, to stop a puck.”
By George James Malik
Last weekend, Brett Hull reignited the cry for bigger nets. On Tuesday, Mark Cuban discussed combining U.S. and Canadian TV ratings to promote the league. Wednesday and Thursday, the hype about the NHL’s “Uniform System” gave way to a “first look. At the All-Star game, the GM’s and Board of Governors will probably agree to disagree on scheduling adjustments—and they’ll talk about a few topics that will undoubtedly be “leaked” to the press to gauge public opinion.
Wednesday, Bettman will deliver his once-traditional All-Star break “State of the Game” speech, and all, undoubtedly, will be well in the commissioner’s opinion. The league will be declared healthy, though Bettman will grouse about so many teams pushing the upper limit of the salary cap. He’ll claim that the dismal TV ratings both north and south of the 49th parallel aren’t worrisome, and we’ll hear a classic case of denial; Bettman will claim that he never told fans that ticket prices and salaries were irrevocably intertwined before the lockout. Bettman’s a believer in pushing the game forward; empty seats, horrible TV ratings, and a league-wide malaise are just “details.”
With all due respect to the NHL’s more fan-friendly policies, Chairman Mao seems to forget that you can’t make a Great Leap Forward when your foundation’s sagging.
By George James Malik
Hockey players and fans are probably the most reflective sports people on the planet. We play and follow the fastest sport this side of jai alai, a game whose intrircacies and subtleties can break the simplest 2-on-1 down into a hundred events, all happening at the same time. We’re unbelievably perceptive, reflective, and sensitive as a rule.
There are no perfect games, for both fans and players, because goals are usually the result of one team capitalizing on the other’s mistakes. As a goaltender, every shot that gets by me is a learning experience (I apparently have quite a bit of learning to do ), and every difficult save helps me refine my technique.
Reflective fans and players translate into a steady stream of rallying cries for change, especially at the NHL level. Given that we’ve got a commissioner whose bases for staging a lockout were “stretches” of the truth at best, owners who’re equally willing to say “Thank You, Fans!” and then jack up ticket prices, and a game that’s doggedly determined to sell itself in markets where hockey is a foreign sport at the expense of its core, in the words of the Roaming Gnome, “All is not well!”
Add in a schedule that most fans dislike, concerns about the crackdown on obstruction and the strict instigator rule sapping passion from the game, the post-honeymoon wake-up by smaller-market fans to the realization that a capped system has nothing to do with allowing teams like Buffalo or Edmonton to “keep their own players,” mediocre TV exposure south of the 49th parallel, and this week’s worries that the “new” NHL jerseys will look like college football jerseys instead of the tried-and-true hockey sweater, and things seem downright gloomy.
By George Malik TSN's Darren Dreger delves into the recent accusations that the NHL's crackdown on obstruction has weakened:
Over the past few weeks a number of NHL coaches and managers have observed what they call a "shift" in how the game is being called. Some are being even more specific by saying less is being called now than prior to last month's general manager's meeting where the topic was openly discussed. The brain-trust inside the NHL's hockey operations department grimace at the mere suggestion the league is backing off the standard. Statistically, penalties have declined marginally compared to last year and so has goal scoring, by less than half a goal. Is this a big deal?
By George Malik: I just don't get it. The Red Wings just installed a beautiful set of LED displays on their scoreboard, finally updating the video system after using big-screen TVs for almost fifteen years. You'd think that the organization would utilize that scoreboard to at least show some replays, or maybe tap into the rink's Center Ice package to show some highlights from around the league. It can't be that difficult to call down to the Fox Sports truck and ask, "Hey, can we see that last play on the board?" Right? Wrong. The scoreboard rarely shows replays. In the instances of controversial calls, reviewable goals, and even hard hits, fans attending games may as well bring an AM/FM radio with them, because the in-game production crew spends its time telling its rink-side camera crew to do crowd shots. Little kids dancing? You bet. Uncomfortable shots of fans who are told to "make some noise" but are unenthusiastic? Yes, indeedy. Awkward pauses, with the cameras pointed at an empty rink? Of course! It can't be that hard to splice into the Fox Sports feed to show replays on a regular basis. Yes, when we're talking about controversial hits, borderline penalties, or reviewed goals, showing those replays might get the crowd incensed, which steps on the NHL's toes ever so slightly, but isn't getting the crowd worked up the entire point of having that big video screen?
By George Malik The "head-shot" debate has turned into the latest gripe-fest between those who believe that hockey is becoming a "soft" sport every time a physical blow is made illegal, and those who want to prevent injuries. Both sides of the argument generally have put forth thoughtful and considerate arguments (relatively speaking), but they're also using the debate as the latest battle upon which the very fabric of the game and future thereof depends. Come on now, let's be honest. When the commentators get involved, it becomes a contest of power and a gripe-fest. The hockey establishment and its representatives in the radio, TV, print, and online media try to proffer their arguments into gains in terms of power and influence; an element of "stewardship of the game" remains, but we all try to look after our own interests when we argue with one another. In this case, it's the "old school" against the "new school," and that old school's got a hundred years of history behind it, so the case of blows to the head has become a fertile battleground for both parties. Let's cut the rhetoric out for a moment. Let's talk about the physics involved instead.
By George Malik: As one peruses the Forbes report on NHL franchise values, something stands out immediately--21 of the league's 30 teams made less than $5 million in operating income, and most barely broke even--before taxes. The Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils lost over $5 million apiece, and yet their teams experienced 21% and 19% increases in value, respectively. Why? Larry Brooks, love him or hate him, was right about one thing: the NHL's owners don't get make their financial hay from gate receipts and operating profits. It's all about equity.
By George Malik: When the GM's meet in Toronto later today, they're going to discuss potential rule changes as they canvass the GM's for their opinions as to why both attendance and ratings are down this year. They'll toss around the usual crap that GM's do--bigger nets, letting more penalties go to bring "passion" and "intensity" back, according to some pundits, mandating wood sticks and/or visors, etc; in other words, they'll look at the easy changes, the tweaks that don't require much forethought, any idea what players want, or what fans would like to see changed.
About Kukla's Korner Hockey
Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
Email Paul anytime at email@example.com