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September 15, 2018

Pucks On The 'Net

Time to throw a few pucks on the 'net about the week that was in hockey:

- Emotional. Classy, Tasteful. Inspiring. These are just a few of the words I can muster up to describe the scene on national television this week as TSN broadcast the Humboldt Broncos return to the ice and their tribute to the victims, survivors and responders of their horrific bus crash last April. Some people believe all of hockey worldwide and all of Canada mourned for Humboldt, which is true. But I come from small town Canada and while that allows me to better understand perhaps better than some how the community of Humboldt continues to reel and heal from all of this, it is completely unfathomable to me what all has happened. Hockey needs to be a big part of the healing process, because it is places like Humboldt where the true heart of hockey is found.

- Erik Karlsson is traded to San Jose for a whole bunch of not much. Colorado celebrates the most as they own Ottawa's first round pick, which is likely to be a high lottery pick. That's where none of this makes sense. Apparently owner Eugene Melnyk has mandated the rebuild, perhaps out of financial necessity, going back several months. Okay, so trade off all your best players for futures - that's one thing. But why trade your first rounder away if the management knows the mandate ahead? Even with that done, Ottawa still had a choice of giving Colorado either their 2018 or 2019 first rounder to Colorado. They kept their 4th overall pick in 2018 to nab Brady Tkachuk - a nice piece of the puzzle going forward for sure. But knowing both Matt Hoffman and Erik Karlsson would be traded, and then getting nothing much in return, ensures the fan base will be infuriated with you. The fans will eventually buy into the rebuild, but it's a lot harder without the hope of that top draft pick next summer. Instead of hoping for Jack Hughes, every loss is a reminder that Colorado may end up with him, and Ottawa with nothing to start that rebuild. It's just a clown house in Ottawa these days.

- San Jose has to be re-energized with the arrival of Karlsson and also the return of a healthy Joe Thornton. With Karlsson and Brent Burns on the blue line, the Sharks should have a Norris trophy winner on the ice for most of the 60 minutes each and every game. They're both offensive wild cards who play the game unlike pretty much anyone else in the league. San Jose will either redefine hockey hockey is played with this two-some, or they will learn struggle because there is only one puck on the ice. Burns and especially Thornton and Karlsson all want to be the guy with the puck, especially on the power play. They have until playoff time to get all the wrinkles out.

- Henrik Zetterberg was forced to retired due his back injuries. He will join countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin as Hall of Fame locks in 2021 when their three year waiting period is over. I say locks because it seems no other serious candidates are retiring this year. I'm assuming Pavel Datsyuk and Jaromir Jagr are going to play in Europe this year, otherwise they become the immediate locks, with the Sedins likely having to wait a year.

- Tyler Seguin signed a whopping 8 year, $78 million contract extension with the Dallas Stars. Maybe I have not watched Tyler Seguin enough. I know he has all the skill in the world and has a good resume, but he's a guy I must be guilty of not appreciating enough. Because I'm not sure I'd give him that kind of money or build my team around him.

September 13, 2018

When Was Last Time You Saw The Golden Goal?

Yesterday we relived some of my youth by talking about the 1987 Canada Cup.

We talked about the famous winning goal - Gretzky to Lemieux

And, of course, you can't talk about that goal without comparing it to the dramatics and importance of Paul Henderson's famous goal in 1972:

"There is a generation of hockey fans who have grown up not having seen the 1972 Summit Series," said tournament head Alan Eagleson. "But the 1987 tournament bridged that generation gap. It was that good. To a new generation it will be their 1972 series."

That generation gap was again bridged in 2010, when Sidney Crosby scored the dramatic Golden Goal to give Canada Olympic gold on home ice at the Vancouver Olympics, completing the epic trilogy of Canadian hockey greatness.

I would like to show you it, but it is really hard to find on YouTube. And how many times have you seen Crosby's famous goal since 2010? Almost never. Why? Because the crooked International Olympic Committee owns the broadcast rights. And apparently if Hockey Night in Canada or NHL.com ever wanted to use it to celebrate hockey greatness, it would cost them a ridiculously prohibitive amount of money to do so. Instead this great moment in hockey history is reduced to the same one or two still images, or more likely just ignored altogether.

1972 transcended the game due the political climate at the time. In terms of just what happens on the ice, 1987 may have been the greatest hockey ever played. But Crosby's Golden Goal 2010 - with all the pressure Canada faced on home ice - may truly have been the most iconic moment in Canadian hockey history, but it's legacy has been completely smothered by the greedy IOC.

Not only does a generation of hockey fans not get to enjoy it, but the moment is lost forever. Future generations will have their own great hockey goals and victories, but the generation gap is now broken.

The IOC is doing no one any favors with their ridiculous policies that do nothing to advance sport. Let the great moments in sporting history live on, and maybe the Olympics will be relevant again.

September 12, 2018

Reliving My Youth: 1987 Canada Cup

For many Canadians the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union is the single greatest hockey tournament, perhaps sporting event, ever. Due to the political and cultural differences, and the dramatic ending, it is unforeseeable that anything could rival 1972. 

However, the 1987 Canada Cup did rival it. While the Cold War was thawing, the drama was almost equal to 1972. And unlike 1972, the tournament was filled with great play on the ice. In fact most will agree that the 1987 Canada Cup highlighted perhaps the greatest hockey ever played.

"I don't think you'll ever see better hockey than what was played in that series," said Wayne Gretzky. "For me, it was probably the best hockey I've ever played.:

I recently pulled out my DVD set and watched the final game again. Though I have maybe a three dozen games or so archived on DVD, I rarely watch them. But I like to pull out the 1987 game from time to time. Maybe it's to relive my youth as much as relive hockey history.

The 1987 Cup not only had the greatest player of all time in his prime, but many others as well. Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov also were at the highest points of their incredible careers. The series also saw the rise to prominence of a young Dominik Hasek, as well as the elevation of Mario Lemieux to Gretzky's stratosphere.

The round robin went pretty much as expected. Canada and the Soviets finished 1-2 with Sweden and CSSR narrowly edging out the Americans for the final playoff spots. The Soviets handed Sweden a 4-2 loss and Canada downed the Czechs 5-3 to set up the greatest showdown in history.

The best of three series went the distance and thrilled fans world wide. All three games ended with the same score, 6-5, which was the identical score of the final game of the eight-game 1972 Summit Series, which saw Paul Henderson win the game for Canada with just 34 seconds left.

1987 was the longest series since 1972 between the two nations. The three games dripped with intrigue and drama. The Soviets shocked the Canadians with a 6-5 overtime win in game one in Montreal.

In the second game in Hamilton, Ontario, the Canadians assumed a 3-1 lead but watched it vanish. The game went into overtime which required a Mario Lemieux tally in the second over time period to force a third and deciding game. Some have called that second game the best game ever played.

In the third game, which was also played in Hamilton, the Canadians fell behind early 3-0 and 4-2. But, by using grit, determination and skill, they rallied in the second period to take a 5-4 lead, which the Soviets would erase in the third period, setting up the last minute heroics.

Late in the third period, Dale Hawerchuk was out to take an important faceoff in his own zone. Hawerchuk won the draw from Valeri Kamensky and tied up the Soviet center. Mario Lemieux got the puck and pushed it ahead to Wayne Gretzky at the blueline. Breaking across center ice with Lemieux and Larry Murphy trailing, Gretzky swooped in on Igor Kravchuk, and goaltender Sergei Mylnikov.

Gretzky, who led all tournament scorers, fed a perfect pass back to Lemieux, who led all tournament snipers, at the top of the faceoff circle. "I had lots of time," said Lemieux, "more than a second. The top shelf was open and I just put it there." For the next minute and 26 seconds, Team Canada would kill time by defending their zone, knowing they were seconds away from being crowned winners of the greatest series in hockey history.

"There is a generation of hockey fans who have grown up not having seen the 1972 Summit Series," said tournament head Alan Eagleson. "But the 1987 tournament bridged that generation gap. It was that good. To a new generation it will be their 1972 series."

September 11, 2018

Stevie, Why?

Oh wow.

Steve Yzerman steps down as GM of the perennial Stanley Cup favorite Tampa Bay Lightning on the eve of training camp. He will honour the final year of his contract by staying on as an adviser, but will not commit to the organization beyond that at this point.

The question begging to be answered is: Stevie, why?

At this stage we have to take him at his word and he wants to be with his family more. Although you have to wonder why he wouldn't have a long term contract to remain with the organization in place upon this announcement.

It seems clear to me that the organization could not get Yzerman resigned and feared he is leaving the organization at the end of the season. Couple that theory with the need to retain Julien Brisebois - the new GM and long considered GM candidate - especially with French markets Ottawa and Montreal in disarray. The organization could not risk losing both.

So what is next for Steve Yzerman?

The immediate thought is Detroit. Could Yzerman be returning to the organization he starred with on the ice? They are in a rebuild, though GM Ken Holland, Yzerman's mentor, is still in place. The Red Wings likely would have made this move by now if this was really happening.

Fact is Steve Yzerman is so highly regarded as a manger that he could work wherever he wants to. Stepping down in Tampa Bay while still on the cusp of accomplishing the final goal of winning the Stanley Cup makes no sense unless it's Detroit. He is forever a Red Wing regardless where he works off the ice.

I have to wonder if the prospective Seattle ownership group has made a play here. If not, they should.  The challenge of building a team truly from the bottom up - not to mention Yzerman's ties with Seattle CEO and president Tod Leiweke - could entice him.

One day we will find out the whole story. Probably someday relatively soon.

September 10, 2018

A Rare Win-Win In Vegas?

As NHL teams ready for training camp, fans were treated to a big trade on Monday. Montreal traded captain Max Pacioretty to Vegas for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2nd round draft pick.

It could be a case of both teams winning this trade.

Many Montreal fans like to rip GM Marc Bergevin, but he did pretty well in this deal. He had to - he's likely out of a job if Montreal misses the playoffs again this year.

Bergevin traded a pending UFA for a top pick in Nick Suzuki, a 2nd round pick and Tomas Tatar - a serviceable replacement for Pacioretty. He comes with term, too, and is cheaper than Pacioretty. There have been far less returns for pending UFAs, so Montreal did okay in moving a player they clearly wanted to move.

I like that Bergevin kept the bigger picture in mind and kept the future as the focus. Chances are Bergevin will be gone before Suzuki becomes the difference maker he needs him to be.

Vegas seemingly couldn't make a bad move in their inaugural season, but fact is they made probably the worst deadline trade last year in giving up all those to draft picks to get Tomas Tatar. Tatar was supposed to be their big add for the playoffs, but he ended up as a healthy scratch far too often. George McPhee righted that wrong in moving Tatar for Pacioretty, though it cost them more futures in Suzuki and the draft pick. Kudos to McPhee for having acquired all the draft picks in the first place to be able to afford to make it happen.

Of course, Pacioretty is no longer a pending UFA after signing a four year, $28 million extension already with the Knights. Vegas has lots of salary cap space, but that's still a very big ticket for an aging player coming off of a bad year.

"Patches" should have a rebound year, though. He could nicely fill James Neal's spot. He has a good history with coach Gerard Gallant. Re-energized by the pace the Knights play the game at, he should fit in nicely for 25 goals, maybe more.

It looks like this deal could be a win-win for both teams. Only time will tell.

September 09, 2018

The Kid Who Was Better Than Gretzky

The World Juniors are always great entertainment for hockey fans. At least here in Canada the Christmas-time tourney is the most anticipated event on the hockey schedule outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

These kids are some impressive in the way they handle the immense pressures they face. The media and fan exposure, especially when the tournament is held in Canada, is unlike anything most of these kids have ever encountered. Then there is pressures from coaches and national federations. And, oh yeah! NHL and other scouts are judging their every move, and therefore greatly impacting their lifelong hockey dreams.

Not often enough are the pressures of youth and junior hockey stars face brought to the forefront. Even midget level kids and below are often targets of on ice bullies, hazing teammates and unrelenting parents, sometimes their own. Teenagers are pressured into leaving their home, often move 100s of miles away, to pursue an unrealistic NHL dream or at least a US college scholarship. If they are really good, they have to deal with growing distractions from NHL scouts and agents, pressuring coaches and physical trainers, pesky media, and outside interests.

And all this before they graduate high school. Oh yeah, education, that all-too-often forgotten about demand.

When you think about it, it is amazing as many of these kids make it as far as they do. For many, the game ceases to be fun.

You have to wonder for every Wayne Gretzky who thrived in these conditions, how many other great hockey players quit early or burned out.

The answer is many. Take for example Bob Goodish.

Goodish was a superstar youngster who played against Gretzky from ages 8 through 16, from peewee hockey to the OHA. Goodish was a 6'0" 195 lb defenseman at age 14, a can't miss prospect that Gretzky will tell you was the best youth player he ever played against.

In an interview with Mike Brophy for the book Total Gretzky, Gretzky said this of Goodish:
"I can always remember my dad saying, 'Play like (Goodish) and you'll play in the NHL. He had everything; he had speed, he had hockey sense, he had size. In peewee he was probably a better player than me."
Now that is saying something. He later called Goodish the best minor hockey player he had ever seen, with Paul Reinhart a close second.

Goodish would join the OHA's London Knights, but would soon fizzle out. His undistinguished junior career got him no interest from the NHL draft, only a training camp tryout offer from the Colorado Rockies. He turned it down, heading off to university instead. He got a degree in business, and became a stock broker and mutual fund salesman.

In the same Brophy article, Goodish said:
"I was a victim of junior hockey. A lot of people took the fun out of the game for me, the way they treated people. The coaches, the managers, the owners, they're in it to make money. I understand that. The thing is, (we were) just kids."
There is no doubt in my mind that some kid, somewhere quit the game as a teenager because it no longer was fun for him. I have no idea who that player was, but his unfulfilled destiny was to become the greatest player in the history of hockey.

September 06, 2018

The Straw That Stirs The Drink In Toronto

There is a lot of hype surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs as the 2018-19 NHL season starts. There always is in Toronto, but this time it is very warranted.

Of course the Leafs landed the biggest unrestricted free agent signing in league history this past  summer when they secured superstar John Tavares. He joins a team full of emerging young talent, most notably fellow centerman Auston Matthews.

But the player I most enjoy watching is 21 year old Mitch Marner. He is a rare player who has some Gretzky in him, which, trust me, is not something I get to say very often. Connor McDavid might be the only other active player who I would say that about right now.

The boyish Marner's slender frame should not allow him to thrive in the NHL, but thrive he does. Like Gretzky, Marner's lack of size and strength is a non-issue because he is such a slippery player, rarely taking a hit. He has superior awareness and instincts on the ice, and is a natural playmaker
surrounded by shooters, ensuring he will become one of the league's elite players.

That emergence should happen in it's entirety this season. Everyone believes he will be a natural fit on Tavares' wing at even strength. Plus he is the star that stirs the drink on the Toronto power play. He will be setting up teammates and collecting a lot of power play assists.

While everyone is talking about the Leafs powerful one-two punch at center ice with Tavares and Matthews (and let's not forget Nazem Kadri, who might be the best third line C in the game now), I believe Mitch Marner is the most dynamic player on the rising Leafs juggernaut.

Oilers Bringing Back The Blue

Maybe I'm old school - or just old. But in my opinion the best Edmonton Oilers jersey ever is their classic blue with the orange and white trim. That's the jersey Gretzky and company wore. That is the jersey Connor McDavid should wear, too.

He will in 2018-19. The team has announced the jersey will return for selected games as part of the franchises' 40th anniversary of being in the National Hockey League.

The Oilers wore the blue jerseys from their entrance in the League in 1979-80 through 1996 then again from 2008-17. Edmonton went to its orange jersey for home games last season, and that will remain their primary jersey. It's not a bad jersey, but I still think it should be the third jersey.

McDavid and the new Oilers won't get to wear the classic blue jersey too often, though. The Oilers will wear the blue jerseys for home games against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 29, the Calgary Flames on Dec. 9, Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 31 and Vancouver Canucks on March 7.

Now if we can only get McDavid to put on Gretzky's matching blue skate blades....

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