Kukla's Korner


A Class That Embodies The Real Lesson

You could see a great many stories about the Senators today, from their unfortunate status as the most penalized team in the League (SENS), Murray’s desire to add at least a player (HC), the Oilers who Heatley kept in Edmonton rolling into town (OS), and Emery’s first game hosting ‘a team he used to play for’ (OC).

But, after last night’s Hockey Hall of Fame inductions, perhaps a little more reflection on the organization would be diligent.

Hull, Leetch, Lamoriello, Robitaille, and Yzerman entered the Hall and esteemed company as one of the most slam dunk classes of a long while. But it makes you wonder, would someone like Alfredsson have a shot someday? How long until a key part of the organization is seen as one of the best in League history?

How do you wind up with a player like Steve Yzerman? From the Ottawa Citizen, we almost did.

What seems heretical today — the idea of Yzerman being traded — was very real in 1995. Fans in Ottawa remember how he could have joined a young Ottawa Senators franchise, but Yzerman and the Wings opted to re-commit, with a now-famous strategic transformation engineered by head coach Scotty Bowman.

Bowman believed if Yzerman could shift to a two-way, defensive game, the rest would follow. What also followed were three champagne seasons for Detroit — 1996-97, ’97-98 and ’01-02 — cementing Yzerman’s place among the legends of sport in Detroit.

“I know I wasn’t a natural-born leader,” Yzerman said Monday night. “I was moulded into a leader of the Detroit Red Wings by my teammates, by my friends, my coaches, everyone. So I stand here representing all of you.”

Sometimes it just happens; the Wings originally wanted to draft Pat LaFontaine, locally born and raised, but the Islanders ‘forced’ them to pick the slight Steve Yzerman instead. On their hands they had a player who piled up 155 points one season, and yet they felt at one point that perhaps Alexei Yashin might pair well with Sergei Fedorov and lead them to the promised land. Supposedly, Ottawa wanting the Wings to pick up more of Yashin’s salary in the trade, then still allowed, helped convince them to reconsider. They would never regret it.

Scotty Bowman took Yzerman’s offensive production, 1.34 points per game through the end of the 94-95 season, and told him that sacrifice was needed for real success, that two-way play, the cohesiveness of the team, and their play all over the ice was what mattered. Imagine telling a player who scores 110 points this season that he should give up on that, and cut it down by a third; Steve wound up producing 0.91 points per game in the subsequent seasons, but gained Stanley Cups, Olympic gold, and countless other accolades.

Brian Leetch wowed with his back-end prowess, playing in 1205 games and notching 1028 points. But even though he was a defenceman-small six feet, Gretzky still recalls that he didn’t play that way; “Just a consummate professional, as good as he was offensively, he wasn’t scared to go out there and be physical with guys like Eric Lindros. The man was just a true professional, and that’s what it’s all about. He was a fun teammate to be around, and I’m very happy for him and his family.” (NP) Robitaille was once derided as being slower than a zamboni, but his father said “All I know is when there’s a loose puck, you seem to be first on it every time,” and until Ovechkin is late in his career Robitaille’s 668 goals will stand as the NHL record for a left wing.

Brett Hull didn’t sit on his accomplishments either, from the Ottawa Sun,

“I got traded to St. Louis and my first full year I scored 41 goals,” he said. “At the end of the year I had my meeting with (Blues coach) Brian Sutter and I was expecting to get the big pat on the back and a ‘Way to go, kid. Really great.’

“But he ripped me from stem to stern, telling me: ‘You have no idea how good you are, how good you can be. Your potential is to the moon and I’m going to make you realize that.’

“I guess I could have taken it a couple of ways but I took it as: ‘Here’s a guy I have a lot of respect for and if he thinks that highly of me, then maybe I should believe in myself.’

Every one of them was presented with a challenge, and they all sought to overcome it, the end results speaking for themselves. With the exception of Hull’s infamous Cup-winning goal for Dallas, most of the endless offence these four supplied becomes a blur, and in any game they could only supply it for 20-30 minutes and only on half the rink. Get a guy like Yzerman to buy into a rounded system and he’s effective on twice the ice. Get them to buy into taking on a leadership role with the team, and they’re effective on the bench, in the locker room, and at every practice, making the team better.

Build them into full players, and you can have 30-second moments that impact a lifetime and a career, from the Edmonton Journal,

“I remember when I was seven years old and living in Hartford, I would go and watch the Whalers practise ... one day Gordie Howe came over to the boards, grabbed some snow on his stick and dumped it all over my head,” said Roenick.

“I thought it was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me. Then Gordie gave me a wink. For those three seconds, it was just me and Gordie Howe and nobody else. That stuck with me all through the years, that little exchange between a hockey player and a fan. I tried to reach out to fans the same way.”

A moment like that could be Alfredsson creating a lifelong Senators fan, or perhaps inspiring a kid to become a legend in his own right, or perhaps even just the few games that Karlsson has played with Alfredsson could shape his own young career.

It’s no mistake that Lamoriello was inducted either, as he saw that character and loyalty were essential above all else, and at every level, from ESPN,

Lamoriello has, of course, made blockbuster deals since assuming the helm of the Devils in 1987. But it was interesting to hear him mention the deal to bring Grant Marshall to the Devils in March 2003 as one of the most memorable or noteworthy.

Lamoriello used the deal to illustrate his point that championship teams are always built on the foundation of players who will accept different roles without question. Marshall came from Columbus for a fourth-round pick at the ‘03 trade deadline. He played 24 playoff games that year for the Devils, scoring six times and adding two assists as the Devils won their third Stanley Cup championship.

“You can’t get it done without them,” Lamoriello said of those character players.

Maybe you see some lessons here, see that a merry-go-round of players coming in and out as holes are attempted to be plugged so desperately isn’t really the answer. Detroit still knows the game, letting its youth bear the load as the team struggles early this season, letting them prove their mettle, and bringing onto the team the dedicated players rather than the quick fixes. That’s when you get HHOF acceptance speeches like Steve Yzerman’s, where he recognizes the full family that brought him to this point.

Sure, every player says that he got here because of his parents, his teammates, his coaches, and maybe even his team’s owners. But somehow, you know that Yzerman meant it on a level that rises above cliche, just as he rose in the League and hockey for decades, and will continue to rise still.

Filed in: NHL General, NHL News, NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, | SENShobo | Permalink


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About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net

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