The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/06/12 at 10:19 PM ET
The Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor is on a crusade, as he always is when he writes about hockey. Whether he’s talking about concussions, fighting, prescription drug abuse, the nature of the game or his technical area of expertise in its “Canadianness,” and tonight, it’s no different. MacGregor took an interview most Wings fans have yet to hear, from assistant GM Jim Nill on Ottawa’s Team 1200 (even I can’t find it in their archives), speaking about the fact that it’s not just Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement that has the Wings reconsidering whether the tam should be built upon a blueprint of puck possession hockey played by sometimes smaller but always more skilled players.
MacGregor says that Nill all but “choked” on the air, admitting that the past season’s worth of an obstruction crackdown slipping into nothingness and playoff series where five skaters play goal without goal pads, one plays goal with pads, and concepts like “forechecking” and “backside pressure” have given way to trying to score the first goal and then playing soccer on skates for the rest of the game:
“Our heads are spinning,” Nill conceded.
The Detroit Red Wings are hardly alone, given the jaw-dropping gap between the way hockey was played in March and the way it was played in May. Last weekend, Wings general manager Ken Holland, Nill and the Detroit scouts gathered to discuss what Nill called “The No. 1 topic:” What sort of game will the NHL be playing when the league starts again for the next season?
Puck-possession teams – you know, the ones everyone picked to be in the Stanley Cup final – seem distant history today. The Vancouver Canucks and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two eye-candy teams for those fans who prefer speed and skill – fell in the first round. San Jose fell. Detroit fell. What kind of team do we want to build on? Nill asked. And not only in the draft, but over the summer as Detroit, a team with enviable cap space, looks over the available players in free agency. Bigger? Stronger? And what style of play should we play? Skill? Shot-blocking? No wonder heads are spinning.
The hockey gods were kind this spring when even they, with their well-known love of mischief, decided it was time to put the New York Rangers out of our misery. But even so, shot-blocking, collapsing around the goaltender, chip-out, dump-in hockey is all the rage in the NHL – and causing rage among fans who naively believe that if NHL hockey is to have a financial value, it should also have an entertainment value.
As well, recent playoffs have argued eloquently that there is one rulebook for the regular season, one for the playoffs, and even one that gets thinner as the playoffs grow longer.
The NHL might argue that penalties were actually up slightly in these playoffs, but that point holds little or no ground against empirical evidence that transgressions, both called and not called, go way up. Officials, to a baffling extent, pop their whistles in and out of pockets, as if they themselves are as confused as the rest of us. It’s not just penalties, but even the definition of something as simple as icing has been lost. And as for what rights goaltenders and players have around and in the crease area, don’t even start.
For all the above reasons, it is heartening to know that it is not only executives like Nill and Holland who are concerned, but GMs as a whole. It took a year-long owners lockout in 2004-05 before the NHL decided it might be a good idea to tighten the nuts and bolts of this potentially magnificent game. This time, whether there is a lockout or a strike or labour harmony come fall, they will gather to tweak matters in August.
MacGregor, ever the champion of bombast, says that the game is “desperately in need of help,” and for once, this fan of puck-possession, up-tempo hockey where the smaller, more skilled guys are encouraged to play like Nicklas Lidstrom or Pavel Datsyuk instead of a shot-blocking, dump-and-not-chase robot has to agree with Mr. MacGregor.
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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.