Couple of thoughts on things now that the lawyers are packing their rhetoric and hopefully going home for a very long time.
Players: Please don't apologize. Just play. Hard. Every night. That's what the fans who are still paying top dollar want, expect and most importantly deserve after this fiasco.
Coaches: Please don't apologize. Rather, use you energy and smarts to come up with styles of play that take advantage of the talents on your rosters and make the game as wildly entertaining as possible. Let's not coach to the smallest common denominator and churn out crummy gameplans designs to slow and obstruct and take away the elements that make hockey a great sport. This is what the fans deserve after months of watching lawyers speak for the sport.
There is so much to talk about after the start of another frenzied free-agency signing period. But first things first.
As in talking about the imporant stuff first.
Send some prayers, best wishes and positive karma Brett MacLean’s way. His was the most shocking hockey story of the past week or so. You would never imagine a 23-year-old pro athlete experiencing a “cardiac emergency” as MacLean did last Monday night while playing hockey. But these things do occur to young athletes with often tragic results.
As someone who is one-year-plus recovery from a heart attack, let me tell you it is no fun and a scary, scary time. But unlike MacLean, I’m an old guy, so it is more expected in my demographic neighborhood. But a 23-year-old athlete? Makes me shudder.
But there is good news. MacLean is said to be improving.
The feeling was akin to seeing you favorite team overachieve throughout the playoffs and then the hopes are dashed in overtime.
There is shock. There is disbelief. There is an overwhelming sense of sadness.
But then the first pair of hands begin to clap, and slowly, but surely, the scattered slaps are joined by more and more, building into a crescendo that roars like a freight train.
That’s how we will eventually look back at Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement announcement. We all knew it was coming. It was inevitable. After all, you can’t play hockey forever, although if there was any one player who might have pulled it off, it was Lidstrom.
Lidstrom’s decision to retire is a gut punch to Red Wings fans everywhere. I mean the man played the highest caliber of hockey for twenty years ... 20 years! It is truly mindboggling. The stats are mindboggling—264 goals, 878 assists, 1,142 points, 263 playoff games, 1,564 regular-season games. But the statistics are mere numbers when you consider the man called “The Perfect Human.”
The news out of Detroit that Nicklas Lidstrom had retired from the NHL Thursday after 20 season had an impact in New Jersey, where the New Jersey Devils’ contingent of Swedish players, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson, veteran defenseman Henrik Tallinder and goalie Johan Hedberg, all shared fond memories of the wondrous defenseman.
“He’s been an icon in Sweden for so long,” Tallinder said. “I mean, two decades is a long time playing in the best league in the world. The things he has accomplished are remarkable. In my eyes, he’s the best Swedish player we’ve had over here. No offense to (Peter) Forsberg and (Mats) Sundin. Just with four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies, that says it all, I think.
“For me growing up, he wasn’t my biggest idol because I was a little bit too young,” Tallinder laughed. “But once he started to make it in this league, I mean, who doesn’t look up to him? He’s an icon. Everybody wants to be like him, play like him. Offensively, defensively, you name it, he does it all.
“First time I played against him? ... I can’t remember that, but we were probably playing Detroit and we were probably—how do you say—getting killed by them. But just watching him play, you would describe it once, it’s like a symphony.”
Who is going to win the Stanley Cup?
Let me be the first to say “Damned if I know.”
This has been such a wild, weird and wacky tournament that to suddenly state I know what’s going to happen would be the height of folly.
But I will say with certainty that my good friend Frank Marrone and I will not be exchanging pleasantries for the next couple weeks.
Frank is a brilliant web producer I helped recruit to NHL.com years back. But at the time, I didn’t realize he bled purple (opps, back to black and white now) until I saw his cube all decked out in everything Kings. Strange choice for a died-in-the-wool New Yorker, but I suspect Frank is actually a wannbe rapper.
He isn’t going to be sending me any forget-me-nots either, knowing the admiration I have for Jacques Lemaire and all things New Jersey, which starts with Bruce Springsteen and then moves on to hockey.
Frank and I already have hurled a few verbal brickbats at one another via Facebook, but aside from that, I doubt either one of us really knows what’s going to happen. OK, Frank thinks it will be a sweep for the Kings. As for me, sorry, I got nothin’.
“This has spiraled from out of control to total chaos. Do we really need a player to die on the ice for this insanity to stop?”
—NHL player agent Allan Walsh’s Tweet after Raffi Torres’ hit on Marian Hossa
Forget for a moment that there is no way the NHL is going to win the public relations battle stemming from what we have seen thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hockey’s critics have more cannon fodder than could be hoped for to marginalize the sport once more.
Think back to the black eye the sport got after the Devils and Rangers opened a game with three inconsequential fights in a regular-season game. The sport took a beating over that. Now, we have seen real chaos in these playoffs from the Torres hit on Hossa to the ugliness of the entire Penguins-Flyers series to God knows how many others, take your pick. In Tuesday’s night’s New Jersey-Florida series, one that has actually been pretty tame, the Panthers’ Sean Bergenheim looked like your average pro wrestler when he took a hit from Anton Volchenkov and then bounced back off the boards to target the head of the Devils’ defenseman, who had fallen to the ice. Bergenheim got two minutes for roughing, a pretty light sentence when the intent was readily apparent.
Can’t say I remember as many intriguing first-round matchups for the Stanley Cup Playoffs as we are seeing this spring. By my count, there are four western Conference teams and five in the East who can make pretty good cases to enjoy a long spring this time around and some of the matchups are really pretty interesting to be sure.
Let’s start in the West.
Vancouver (1) vs. Los Angeles (8)—This is pretty short and sweet. Just don’t see the Canucks stumbling this early on. In many cases, it’s easy to say “throw out the regular season standings”, but here the numbers don’t lie. Canucks win this in a sweep.
St. Louis (2) vs. San Jose (7)—Always have been a Ken Hitchcock admirer and this may be his best coaching job in turning the Blues into a Western Conference power. Solid goaltending and attention to detail defensive detail still can take you a long way in the playoffs, and the Sharks just haven’t impressed me. Blues take this in six games
The news that George Malik posted on Gordie Howe Thursday was like a shock to the system. After all, we’re talking about “Mr. Hockey” here, a man who played into his 50s and who always was tough as nails. Talk about making the rest of us question our mortality! If something like dementia can impact Gordie Howe, cripes the rest of us are in sorry shape!
Over the course of my time spent as a newspaper, magazine and web site writer and editor, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Gordie and Colleen Howe and it is no exaggeration to say I enjoyed every moment. When you spent some time with the Howes, you knew you were in the midst of hockey greatness, but what made it so special was there were no aires, no PR flaks pushing people away. You were with regular folks, and you always smiled.
Here are a couple of examples.
Look, goalies always have been a tad “different, so is it shocking that Tim Thomas opted not to visit the White House the other day with the Boston Bruins? No. And truth be told I could really care less if Thomas went or not. I’m fairly certain the rest of the Bruins players, coaches and staff enjoyed what had to be a special day. Regardless if you’re a Democrat, Republican, independent or whatever, it must be pretty cool to get a special tour of the White House and meet the President.
And I’m also pretty sure President Barack Obama didn’t give a tinker’s cuss if Tim Thomas was there or not. He has far bigger fish to fry than to worry about a recalcitrant goaltender.
But what happened to the concept of taking one for the team? And what of civility in general?
Thanks to freedom of speech in the United States, an awful lot of us have been able to make livings in journalism and everyone can make his or her opinion known. So I’m all for Thomas speaking his mind. And his thoughts about the government are not without merit or discussion. Here is his Facebook statement.
Never let it be said that John Tortorella sugar-coats anything. The New York Rangers’ coach has his way of doings things and the rest of us can damn well love it or lump it.
Gotta love someone with the courage of his convictions in a world loaded with political correctness. And Tortorella put his convictions right out there for all to see Tuesday night after the Rangers blanked the Nashville Predators.
Madison Square Garden Chairman James Dolan made a very, very rare appearance among the media hordes after the game to praise GM Glen Sather and proclaim the Rangers “pretty close” to winning a Stanley Cup.
For the edgy Tortorella, this was not the message he wanted his players to hear. He preaches a day-by-day, game-by-game approach and doesn’t need his players resting easy knowing the big boss thinks things are hunky dory.
So, as Dolan left the podium after sharing some wisdom, Tortorella didn’t waste any time basking in the glow of the chairman’s words.
“Right now, up to this point we’ve done a pretty good job — we just have to go about our business,” Tortorella said.“Like I have my owner up here talking about a Stanley Cup. That’s a bunch of bullshit. We need to take one game at a time.”
Get that, Dolan?
About Iced Coffey
Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.