Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Steve on 12/28/07 at 03:10 PM ET
You know, it’s very difficult to define what hockey necessarily was in 2007. There are so many futile, diverse opinions that I find it fails me to even try.
I feel these stories will do a pretty good job.
10. The NHL’s Rap Sheet
Ryan Clowe’s the most recent alcohol-influenced problem the league has had to deal with in what was a quite inebriated 2007. While they ranged in seriousness from the Staal Bros. drunken bachelor party, to Mark Bell’s uncomfortable legal situation, the NHL might want to do itself a favor and start wrangling in the amount of drinking their players do, at least during the season when they can try to control it. We’ve lost at least one would-be current player (Dan Snyder) and two former athletes (Keith Magnuson and Steve Chiasson) to drinking too much, and driving while intoxicated. The NHL has a lot of problems, but beating it into the heads of their millionaire athletes to call a cab at the end of the night should be (one would think) one of the easier ones to solve.
That’s wasn’t the NHL’s only legal trouble in 2007. We have to count Sean Hill’s positive test for performance-enhancing drugs (Though Hill took two separate polygraphs and passed the test, he didn’t know how the substances got in his body) in there. Don’t forget, though we’d love to, that the Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi incident somehow has managed to get uglier, with coach Marc Crawford now being somewhat implicated in what has been a longer drawn out case than Teemu Selanne’s retirement decision. Oh, and Jiri Tlusty became the NHL’s Vanessa Hudgens. But I think we can all agree to erase that one from our memories, right?
9. The Preds stay in Nashville…For Now.
The Nashville Predators were an exciting team to watch on the ice during the 2006-07 season with veteran talent such as Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott and Kimmo Timmonen, young talent such as Martin Erat and Shea Weber, and the big bertha of trade acquisitions at the deadline: Peter Forsberg. Somehow, they were more exciting off the ice. It all began once a deal to sell the Pittsburgh Penguins to blackberry boy Jim Ballsillie fell through when they couldn’t make him promise to keep Sid the Kid, Geno the Giant (That nickname for Malkin WILL stick. If you all know what’s good for ya’.) and the Penguins in Pittsburgh. He then turned his attention to Nashville. Well, not necessarily Nashville. He turned his attention to Hamilton, Ontario and the idea of moving the Preds there.
He even sold season ticket reservations, and was quite successful in doing so. But the NHL planned to keep the Preds in Nashville, and it appears they may be stuck there for now, or still there thankfully depending on your viewpoint. Nashville hasn’t had a problem selling tickets…with the common folk who walk up and buy the tickets. But unless the business community of Nashville and Tennessee step up for the Predators, they’ll be off somewhere, as just recently, a report came out that claimed the Predators were underneath the number of tickets sold needed to keep their lease in tact to prevent a move. But Nashville remains a hockey town at the end of the year. The question is…for how much longer?
8. UFAs in Big Markets
I don’t mean to sound negative, but what was the lockout for? Look at the list of top UFAs and where they went
Scott Gomez - NY Rangers (7 Years, Cap Hit - $7.3 Million)*
Chris Drury - NY Rangers (5 Years, Cap Hit - $7 Million)
Daniel Briere - Philadelphia (8 Years, Cap Hit - $6.5 Million)
Kimmo Timmonen - Philadelphia (6 Years, Cap Hit - $6.3 Million)
Brian Rafalski - Detroit (5 Years, Cap Hit - $6 Million)
Jason Blake - Toronto (5 Years, Cap Hit - $4 Million)
Ryan Smyth - Colorado (5 Years, Cap Hit - $6.2 Million)
Scott Hannan - Colorado (4 Years, Cap Hit - $4.5 Million)
Paul Kariya - St. Louis (3 Years, Cap Hit - $6 Million)
This was the year that people realized that regardless of what limit the league puts on what teams can spend, the teams that want to spend the money will find the dough they need to pay who they want to pay. However, the salary cap has enabled smaller market teams (San Jose, Calgary, Ottawa) to resign their stars, and build their teams. Look at the division leaders right now anyway, you have three fairly small (New Jersey, Ottawa, Carolina) and three big market (Detroit, Dallas and Colorado) at the tops of the standings. It doesn’t matter how much you pay, but who you spend the cash on. That’s what the NHL has turned itself into, and I think we can all live with that.
7. Rise of the Bloggers
From the biased opinion department (Gosh that sounds Stan Fischler-esque doesn’t it?) hockey continued to lead the online revolution of coverage for events. Other than Ron Paul, who has figured out how to use the web to it’s advantage besides the NHL? Nowhere is this more apparent than the fervent, opinionated and always well-intention hockey blogosphere. Canucks Corner, NHL Fanhouse, Off Wing Opinion, On Frozen Blog, Battle of Alberta and Battle of California are all sterling examples of bloggers (in both the U.S. and Canada) using their media (Because as we all know…media = singular, medium = plural!) advantageously. While most, outside of D.C., didn’t have any inside access, they still managed to keep you compelled with great work. No greater Christmas for the puckosphere came in December when Hockey Night in Canada profiled (In a fair, but very positive) manner the great passion that these writers have for the game.
Let’s not forget some of the great MSMers who are writing terrific, if not hockey-centric, hockey related, blogs. Rich Hammond in LA, Tom Gulitti in New Jersey, and Dan Steinberg in Washington all do a fantastic job with the access they have.
6. Detroit Still Dominates
Mike Emrick often jokes during telecasts and conference calls that the salary cap applies to everyone, except for Detroit. We often chuckle when he says this, but it’s eery how the Red Wings just keep on winning, and most of the credit goes to Ken Holland. He kept Datsyuk with a big extension, made sure Nick Lidstrom will wear the winged wheel for the rest of his career, and turned Matheiu Schneider’s loss into a Brian Rafalski signing. He’s got Henrik Zetterberg in the not-so-distant future, but I’d put my money on Henrik sticking around in Detroit, too.
All that, and don’t forget, they shook off the stigma of being early-round losers to teams from Alberta this season, advancing to the Conference Final and playing pretty well with the champion Ducks of Anaheim. This Red Wing team just seems to have a window that extends from now ‘till 2020 the way the organization just keeps rebuilding itself. They continue to be the league’s best-run franchise.
5. Rebirth in Big Markets
While the Detroit fans love their team, let’s face it…the lockout hurt some big markets. Colorado, Los Angeles and Dallas continue to struggle to fill the seats every night, but at least in two cases are working hard to get back to their pre-lockout glory. But i want to focus on two cities that are in the midst of a renissance in the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers. Save the Hawks for later, but let’s gloss through what the Rangers have done. After winning their first playoff game and series in 10 years over Atlanta, they pushed the Sabres as far to the brink as a six-game series can push a team. Literally inches kept the Rangers from winning that series. Then in the off-season, they acquired to bona-fide stars in Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. While the super-team continues to struggle, and Jaromir Jagr has only nine goals, the Rangers have figured out how to play defense. They are built for the playoffs as well as the Wings are built for the regular season. New York, with it’s horrid basketball team, is ready to love the ice game again.
As for Chicago. You could probably suggest that no one cared that the lockout happened in the Windy City, they probably just assumed the games weren’t on TV and the Hawks were still in last. That changed, macabre as it may sound, when longtime Chairman of the Board Bill Wirtz passed in late September. His son Rocky took over, and things have changed on and off the ice ever since. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have become the Western answer to Sid the Kid and Geno the Giant (Go with it!) and have already generated considerable buzz in a market that loves a winner. 3,000 folks stood out in the cold to meet the two teen Hawks recently. Rocky Wirtz’s policy of changing everything his father did wrong has helped considerably. He hired marketing genius John McDounough from the Cubs, welcomed back all Hawk alumni (Already naming guys like Hull & Mikita ambassadors) and created a general goodwill never quite seen on the South Side. With all 82 games expected to air on TV next year, the Hawk Revolution is certain to be televised.
4. Right Upside the Head
Hits to the head continued to be a problem in the NHL this year. Going back all the way to Chris Pronger’s shenanigans in the playoffs, continuing through all the Flyer suspensions, and it seems almost every night there’s a debate on HF Boards as to what the length of some poor fourth liner’s suspension should be.
Let’s face it, the respect from player to player is clearly deteriorating in today’s NHL, and it’s something that needs to be corrected before someone gets killed, because believe me, it’s looking like that’s what it’ll take to stop the boarding, hits from behind, and flagrant elbows we’re seeing in today’s game. It’s maybe the only flat-out unattractive portion of today’s game in my opinion. It’s the one thing that I would look at as a casual fan and say, “Wow, that’s just dirty. How can I be a fan of something like that?” I don’t know if I have an answer for that question.
3. Throw Away Your Television
That’s apparently what NHL fans did en masse, as only a tiny fraction of them continued to tune in to national broadcasts on NBC and Versus. While all news is not bad (Versus continues to trend up in key demos and overall viewers), the NHL had it’s greatest slap in the face yet when NBC dropped coverage of a playoff game at the end of the third period heading into overtime. While I feel network television is important, I think we can all agree that the NHL needs to find a way to just avoid this kind of conflict in the future. There was no reason not to air that game at 1 P.M. Eastern Time, or even Noon. Hell, just put the game on in primetime on Versus. It was the NHL’s fault in my view. They knew what they were getting into. The NHL continues to make every wrong turn it can on the road to TV nirvana.
2. My Name is Sidney
Let’s focus on a positive: 2007 was the year lovin’ Sid the Kid became officially hip. While Alexander Ovechkin’s general good will and sudden emergence at times overshadowed Crosby and even painted him as the villain in the “rivalry” between the two during their rookie years, Sidney started, as the kids say, “manning up”. He almost single-handedly led that Pittsburgh team to a division title, and was the main reason they even qualified for the playoffs (Unless you think Michel Therrien is the second coming of Scotty Bowman). He also suffered his first battle scar, and it was a biggie: He played the final month of the season, plus the playoffs, on a broken foot. If that’s not hockey street cred for 2006-07’s MVP and leading scorer, I don’t know what is.
1. California Love
Welcome everybody to the wild, wild west. The Golden State welcomed it’s first Stanley Cup Champion in the 2006-07 Ducks, and the pacific time zone’s first since the 1910s. The Ducks built their championship through the brains of Brian Burke, who modeled this team the way he wanted to a ‘T’: They were skilled at forward and defense, they had youthful exuberance and veteran leadership. They could outscore you, and then beat you up and take your lunch money. They were perhaps the league’s best champion since the Wings back-to-back Cups in ‘97 and ‘98. In fact, they took the fewest games to win Lord Stanley’s chalice since those Wings teams.
Afterwards, Scott Niedermayer would take a sabbatical until December, Teemu Selanne still hasn’t made a decision, and the Ducks have struggled from a Cup hangover. But I have a feeling this team will find what made them champions by the time April rolls around, and be a legitimate playoff threat. For anyone who might doubt it, heed the warning of what a once-famous California rapper said, “My only fear of death is coming back reincarnated.”
*salary cap numbers sourced at nhlnumbers.com
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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.
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