The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/15/12 at 01:09 PM ET
I was writing this as a comment in Paul’s post noting that the Red Wings established a new NHL record by recording their 21st home win last night versus Dallas, but I am very regrettably paid to talk (I think fewer bloggers like to hear themselves talk than one might assume, and I’m one of those, “Blah blah blah, give me news, self!” people), so here goes:
If we’re going to talk about historical asterisks attached to the Wings’ achievement, I thought that Mike Babcock spoke very eloquently about the record when he told reporters that the league is so different from it was when he broke in as a coach 10 years ago, and would be so different ten years from now, that it’s pretty much impossible to take a historical achievement out of its context without ignoring that the game is constantly evolving and that its rules are constantly changing, shootouts and their “loser points” included.
Fox Sports Detroit Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond also duly noted that going into Philadelphia in the Broad Street Bullies era meant cases of the “Philly flu” for teams that knew they were in for a literal beating, and this tidbit from “Razulu’s Street might remind us why the Bruins had a competitive advantage over their opponents in terms of massive rule changes which changed the fabric of the game:
1928-29 - forward passing permitted in defensive and neutral zones and into attacking zone if pass receiver is in neutral zone when pass is made. No forward passing allowed inside attacking zone.
Minor penalty to be assessed to any player who delays the game by passing the puck back into his defensive zone. Ten-minute overtime without sudden-death provision to be played in games tied after regulation time. Games tied after this overtime period declared a draw. Exclusive of goaltenders, team to dress at least 8 and no more than 12 skaters.
1929-30 - Forward passing permitted inside all three zones but not permitted across either blue line. Kicking the puck allowed, but a goal cannot be scorer by kicking the puck in the goal.
No more than three players including the goaltender may remain in their defensive zone when the puck has gone up ice. Minor penalties to be assessed for the first two violations of this rule in a game; major penalties thereafter.
Goaltenders forbidden to hold the puck. Pucks caught must be cleared immediately. For infringement of this rule, a faceoff to be taken ten feet in front of the goal with no player except the goaltender standing between the faceoff spot and the goal-line. Highsticking penalties Introduced Maximum number of players in uniform increased from 12 to 15.
December 21,1929 - Forward passing rules instituted at the beginning of the 1929-30 season more than doubled number of goals scored. Partway through the season, these rules were further amended to read, “No attacking player allowed to precede the play when entering the opposing defensive zone.” This is similar to modern offside rule.
Any historical record is both inexorably tied to its place in time and is irrespective of its moment in terms of the game’s rules and evolution.
My best example of that is this: who knew that goalie pads stuffed with plastic foam instead of deer hair and felt—the, “Oh, pads are too big” comment tends to ignore the fact that guys were wearing 15” wide pads and gigantic blockers in the 80’s—and the adoption of butterfly-style goaltending would put an end to the era of Hull and Gretzky scoring 70-90 goals a year?
Now one could very well argue that we’re witnessing a regression of the game from one relatively free of obstruction to a clutch-and-grab, play-for-overtime/the shootout league of parity in the standings from start to finish due to the possibility of extra points, the proliferation of immediate video scouting via digital video recorders and computer programs which break down opposing teams’ tendencies in real time?
Hell, I’d also argue that we’re talking about an NHL whose “parity” is as much the result of player development which has rebounded from the dilution of 21-to-30-team expansion, and that advances in sports medicine, nutrition, fitness training and skill development from childhood on mean that 4th-liners, 5th and 6th defensemen, back-up goalies and AHL call-ups are perhaps in better shape and are more talented than ever.
Guys who can’t keep up have 4 or 5 young kids in an AHL that’s become a league of players in their early 20’s (those guys who stick around into their 30’s but aren’t quite good enough to gain full-time NHL employment tend to head to Europe these days) waiting to take their spots and slot into their salary cap hits more affordably than their older peers (who haven’t been training like Kris Draper since they were 11), too. Does the cap play a part in things? Sure, especially in the case of a cap floor which forces small-market teams to invest big-market bucks in players (see: the Florida Panthers), but the fact that the Jamie McLennans, Daniel Tkaczuks and Justin Bournes of the NHL find themselves either having to take the Kyle Wellwood jaunt to a jog with the wild dog packs of Moscow or hanging up their skates to get into more stable employment positions speaks to the “parity” of pools of players…
In any case, I think that Babcock’s right—the league is a remarkably different place than it was ten years and nine NHL seasons ago, both immediately because of and irrespective of the lockout’s rule changes in terms of on-ice rules and off-ice business practices, and we have no real clue what the league’s going to look like when players like Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk are more highly likely to fulfill the final years of their “lifetime contracts” than any player signing a ten-year-plus deal was to play into his 40’s during Babcock’s 2002-2003 rookie season.
Getting more Red Wings-specific, do we think that the fact that the Joe’s aged much more in its 33 years than I have in my 34, yielding “springy boards” the Stars constantly referred to prior to the game, while speaking from locker rooms that are so spartan that they’re right out of the 80’s before taking to what is unusually superb ice these days in front of a crowd whose representatives are probably more highly-steeped and “closer” to the ice than two or three tiers of suites and pesky things like occupational and public health and safety rules would allow, never mind what the NHL might do to remedy that knurled and knotted wood visitors’ bench, probably slightly “sticky” levers on the visitors’ bench doors and that delightful stale-beer-and-peanuts funk emanating from the lower bowl?
The Joe is intimidating because of its quirks, its age and its uniqueness, and it’s hard for me to believe that the Wings’ next rink will age fast enough to get away with, “Oops, we just got a call about lead paint and asbestos warnings, we have to repaint the visitors’ locker rooms and remove those drop ceilings while playoff rounds are in progress!” or, “Darn, our boards are so old, we’ve got to reinforce them with new plywood every four months…Hmm, I wonder whether this might change the way the puck bounces off the Meijer sign…” maintenance issues which may or may not aid the Joe’s inherent changes and advantage in terms of varying levels of opponent discomfort induction. The Joe looks, feels, smells and its ice surface, boards and glass play different than any of the cookie-cutter rinks around…
And the fact that the Red Wings both prefer to not make the kinds of radical changes in terms of half-roster turnover, coaching or especially their blueprinted style of play and draft strategies yield a team that’s almost too predictable to figure out because the puck possession system that Scotty Bowman authored, and blended with the skill level the Russian 5 brought to town, has become as effective and yet as difficult to fundamentally defeat as the butterfly style of goaltending has been to overcome in terms of the physics of low shots meeting goalies who can splay their legs across the bottom of the net to stop ‘em. Babcock might preach iterations of the same damn style over and over again, but it’s also clearly a system of play that the Wings’ highly-skilled and carefully-drafted and developed players have been able to perpetuate to an innervating extent.
How frustrating is it to play against a team when Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom are playing upon the same damn systemic foundations that Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman and, well, Nicklas Lidstrom were establishing fifteen years ago, but they remain much just as effective, relentlessly efficient and relentlessly patient, during play and after the whistle, seemingly unintimidated and undeterred regardless of whether Ken Hitchcock’s teams are playing Columbus’s 5-man red line stack or the Blues’ revival of the late-90’s Stars’ forecheck ‘em into oblivion style, or regardless of the hours and hours of video that Barry Trotz utilizes trying to find cracks in his opponents’ games that he can exploit on an every-night basis?
Same thing, same thing, same thing, lug the puck up ice, let the defensemen do the work of affording forwards the time and space to slither into trapping teams’ seams and skate forward while backing off aggressive defenders, carry the puck into the offensive zone, loop back, loop back, pass pass pass and then fire pucks in front with Wings forwards’ butts in front of goalies’ faces. It keeps coming and keeps coming and there’s nothing that opposing coaches or players can do to truly stop the big red machine over time.
Long story long via insomnia, a record is both a record is a record in the NHL, and at the same time, every record is completely tied to its time and place in history, and it’s a record which is worth celebrating on its timeless and especially Red Wings-circumstantial merits. 21 straight home wins is certainly going to be all but impossible to match by anyone save perhaps a Red Wings team 10 or 20 years from now.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.