March 30, 2020

What To Do About The Stanley Cup

How To Salvage the 2020 Stanley Cup

There has been much speculation about how the National Hockey League will figure out a way to award the Stanley Cup in 2020.

Of course, the NHL season was shut down, like just about everything else, in March due to concerns of spreading the coronavirus at mass gatherings.

The truth of the matter is the NHL is at the mercy of multiple health authorities here. Will some teams be able to start up before others? When will players be able to cross the border? Can they satisfy authority concerns by playing in front of empty stadiums? Does the NHL really want to play in front of empty stadiums?

The NHL does not know the answer to these questions, so if anyone tells you they do know the answers, don’t trust them. All we do know is that the NHL has asked all their member teams for available arena dates for July and August. We can safely assume the NHL already has such dates for September and beyond as they are already preparing for next season. Which is the other thing we know for certain - the NHL wants a full 2020-21 season. And the NHL has a date in mind for the latest they will start the new season. Everything works backward from whatever that date is.

With little else to talk about, many of hockey’s television and media pundits are speculating about a summer of hockey where teams are back on the ice in late June, completing the season in July and completing the playoffs in August or even September. Allow a few weeks for the draft, free agency and training camp for the next season, and we’re right back at it no later than November for the new season.

Assuming the NHL can satisfy all the various authorities to resume play, there is nothing stopping the league from drastically changing the Stanley Cup playoff format. Maybe they reduce the games played - from best of seven series to best of five, or maybe even best of 3? That would make for a lot of excitement, and the NHL will need to capture hockey fans interest. Hockey fans love hockey season, but they also love their summers.

And that’s likely the best case scenario. The worst case scenario - perhaps the more likely scenario - is the authorities get in the way to prevent the resumption of play and the awarding of the Stanley Cup. It just might not be feasible for the NHL to complete the current season while still having a full season next year.

In which case, I have a solution. Let’s just focus on the next season, and return with a bang. We open the new season by giving the spotlight to the ladies. Team Canada. Team USA. The top women in hockey playing in a best of seven series for the Stanley Cup championship, followed by the debut of the new NHL season. Even better, also debut the National Women’s Hockey League.

The failure to complete the 2019-20 NHL season would go down in history as one of the worst things to happen in hockey. Finding a way to award the Stanley Cup to the women in 2020 would be remembered forever in hockey history.

March 12, 2020

Death of Bad Joe Hall And The Last Time NHL Didn't Finish A Season Due To Disease

Though he was just 5'10" and 175lbs, rough and tumble defenceman Joe Hall was one of the most feared players of his time. "Bad" Joe Hall was known for his hard hitting, violent outbursts and sometimes less than clean play.

Hall was born in Staffordshire, England in 1882, but came to Canada as a two year old. He learned to play hockey in Manitoba, playing for teams in Winnipeg and especially Brandon, before cutting his teeth with Portage Lake in the infamously rough International Hockey League in 1905-06. Bad Joe was the baddest of them all, leading the league with 98 penalty minutes. He was also good, very good. He was an all star who scored 33 goals in 20 games.

Portage Lake's challenge request for the Stanley Cup was denied because the team was openly professional. This was a big disappointment for Hall, who opted to return to the "amateur" ranks where he would make similar money, if only under the table.

He did exactly that, vagabonding around various Canadian Amateur Hockey Associations, most notably with the AAA's and Shamrocks, both in Montreal, and the Kenora Thistles, winning the Stanley Cup in 1907.

News of his rocking of opponents soon spread to the National Hockey Association, forerunner to the NHL. Hall joined the Quebec Bulldogs, bringing his mayhem-causing play with him, not to mention Stanley Cup championships in 1912 and 1913. He soon developed feuds with many players, none more famous (or is that infamous?) than that of the feud with Montreal Canadiens superstar Newsy Lalonde.

Oddly enough, Hall was acquired by the Canadiens in 1917, joining his arch rival Lalonde. Any worries of their personal rivalry boiling over were soon dismissed as the two of them became roommates and the best of friends.

However their new found friendship was short as the following season would be Hall's last. During the 1919 Stanley Cup final when he and several of his teammates fell ill to the Spanish Influenza, dieing days later at the age of 36. The Stanley Cup series was abandoned, the only such time that happened in NHL history.

Bad Joe Hall, one of the first English-only speaking players in Montreal Canadiens history, joined Newsy Lalonde in the Hall of Fame in 1961.

March 06, 2020

Henri Richard: Hockey's Most Underrated Superstar

Getting your name engraved on the Stanley Cup is every Canadian boy's dream. Very few achieve this dream. In fact, many of hockey's greatest stars never tasted champagne from Lord Stanley's mug such as Gilbert Perreault, Brad Park, or Marcel Dionne, to name just a few. Henri Richard has his named engraved on the Stanley Cup. In fact, he has his named engraved a record 11 times! Only Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics can match that claim to most professional team sport championships.

When Henri showed up at the Montreal Canadiens training camp in 1955, many speculated it was nothing but a publicity stunt. Bringing in Rocket Richard's kid brother seemed like nothing but a gimmick. It soon became clear that it was not a stunt.

Once told that he was too small by none other than former Montreal great Elmer Lach (Lach was Richard's junior coach) Henri was a creative center who combined skill and leadership to be one of hockey's true legends for two decades.

While many fans expected Henri to be a replica of his brother Maurice, the two were different types of players. Maurice was a powerful monster who struck fear in the hearts of the opposition. Henri too struck fear in the opposition, but with his incredible stickhandling and skill. He was quick as a hiccup, probably an all around better skater than Maurice. He was strong, though not as over powering, and determined though controlled.

Hall of Fame defenseman Fernie Flaman had a unique memory of Henri as well.

"One of the things he used to when he went wide on me was lean into me and actually grab my knee. We'd both go down, and I would get the penalty for holding, because it was impossible to see what Henri was doing! It used to drive me crazy!"

Henri also earned a reputation as one of hockey's most relentless forecheckers of all time.

Great Montreal general manager Frank Selke Sr. agreed with that completely. "I have been blessed with a lot of great stars over the years. But game in, and game out, Henri Richard may have been the most valuable player I ever had.
Head coach Toe Blake had the best view to watch each of these siblings. "The Pocket became a better all around player than Rocket was. But its asking an awful lot of any man to be the scorer that Rocket was. He was the greatest scorer under pressure that I've ever seen."

Perhaps Henri best sums up the difference between him and his more famous brother.

"My brother's biggest thrills came when he scored many goals. I am most satisfied when I play in a close game and do not have any goals scored against me. Sometimes people have asked me whether it helped or hut having Maurice as an older brother. It was not easy, because many people expected me to be as spectacular as Maurice. But I believe it also helped me as well as hurt me. Don't forget, Maurice was a great scorer, and he could get goals that many other players could not get. That helped my passing because I knew that he would always be near the net waiting for a shot. But Maurice never gave me any advice. I never asked him for it and he never really offered it. "

There is no comparing Henri Richard to his brother Maurice. The Rocket is an immortal legend, the image of the Quebecois, the Montreal Canadiens ultimate icon. Henri, no matter what he accomplished, was always the little brother.

And Henri, who was fine with the lack of attention, accomplished a lot.

In fact, most people don't realize Henri was a far more complete player than Maurice, and one of the best two way players of all time. While Maurice was busy scoring spectacular goals, 544 compared to Henri's 358, Henri lasted longer (20 seasons compared to 18), played more games (1256 to 978), scored more points (1046 to 965), scored more playoff points (129 to 126) and, most importantly, won more Stanley Cups (11 to 8).

For a man with his bloodlines and with the good fortune to play in Montreal, Henri Richard knew he was a fortunate soul. But no one worked harder for their good fortune. One of the smallest players in NHL history, he had to overcome his brother's immense shadow, prejudice against his size and a lack of English early in his career. But Henri let his play on the ice do the talking for him.

Not unlike Toronto's Dave Keon, the undersized pivot faced off against the opposition's top gunner every night. In doing so he was as instrumental any figure in any of Montreal's championships in the 1950s and 1960s.

He was also a leader. Just ask Jean Beliveau.

"Henri was definitely a leader, even before he became captain. His leadership came from his determination on the ice and the fact that he was a team player."

He and Beliveau provided the perfect one-two punch down the middle, much like a modern day Gretzky-Messier, Lemieux-Franics or Yzerman-Fedorov combination.

Henri was one of the last greats from Montreal's Original Six glory years to retire. Before he did, he was named captain and had a great impact on many of the young stars that would lead the Habs to glory later in the 1970s, most notably Guy Lafleur.

February 16, 2020

Another Gretsky? And This Time It's Spelled Right

In my 45 years as a sports fan, I have never seen an athlete quite like Wayne Gretzky. His name is synonymous with greatness, dominance and classiness unlike almost any athlete in any sport.

For an athlete of such rare stature, his name is also frequently misspelled. Heck, he even played a game with the New York Rangers with his GRETKZY emblazoned on his jersey. You'd think everyone would have had his name down by that late stage of his career.

But by far the most common misspelling was GRETSKY. And it drove me nuts. I'd see fellow elementary school classmates spell it that way. Often with the S backwards to top it all off.

But I would often see it in newspaper articles and I have even seen it in early 1980s book spelled Gretsky. I assume these authors wrote the original manuscript in crayon and good copy-editing caught the backwards S.

Maybe I'm just an anal speller. Or maybe its the Scrabble player in me. I quite enjoy Scrabble. And though it would be an illegal word, I don't think there'd be any better play than GRETZKY on a Scrabble board. (I actually came close once. I believe I had GRZKY all on my rack but couldn't do better than that.)

So now, 20 years after he left the ice, Wayne Gretzky is one of the most celebrated athletes ever. And, much to my amazement, it seems everyone knows how to properly spell his name.

Then comes this news from ESPN:

That's right. There another Gretzky in hockey. Only now the spelling GRETSKY is correct!

It seems this Gretsky, not unlike Wayne's brother Brent who briefly played for the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning, is more there as a publicity stunt than as a true hockey prospect. He's a 23 year old rookie in the KHL. He hadn't scored a single point in his eight games played, but fans love the name and voted him in to the KHL All Star Game. 

Do read the ESPN article on Slava Gretsky, the "other" 99. It's a fantastic read. Even Wayne loves the story and is rooting for the kid. He talks about his family origins back to Belarus and wonders if he might actually be related to the newest KHL celebrity. Wayne also talks about how the name Gretsky became Gretzky when the family first came to North America. 

February 12, 2020

Sedins Honoured In Vancouver

It's no secret that I am a big fan of the Sedin twins, two of the most unique and talented players in the history of the game. I am very lucky to have had a front row seat over the years.

Their creativity was as thrilling to watch as a Pavel Bure rush through the neutral zone. Their game featured subtlety that true hockey fans appreciate. They did not have massive speed or brawny force. No, they were intellectuals on the ice. No change that. They were artists on the ice.

It still baffles me that any questioned their toughness. To any fanwho ever did that, I immediately would question their knowledge of hockey. And still do. Because these guys were as tough as they were creative.

Tonight will be a special night in Vancouver. Soon to follow will be their Hockey Hall of Fame induction.

February 08, 2020

Canucks, Linden Need To End Estrangement

Trevor Linden returns to Rogers Arena and the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, though it seems his relationship with the franchise remains very frosty.

Linden was let go as President of the franchise in 2018, after a weak four year run on the job. Though owner Francesco Aquillini suggested the split was amicable, it seems that is far from the truth. Linden, the fan's favorite son, remains estranged from the franchise.

Now Linden's removal as President is perfectly justifiable.  Perhaps Linden should never have been placed in this position to begin with, as he seemed over his head as a raw rookie in such a demanding job.  That's bad on Aquillini.

The bottom line is the results weren't there. The results have been much more favorable since he left? Coincidence? Maybe. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes' arrivals have fast tracked the Canucks rebuild faster than anyone could have imagined.

There have been rumblings that Linden was perhaps too involved in the rebuild process, and wasn't letting GM Jim Benning do his job with enough autonomy. The President is supposed to be the great over-seer of everything, but can not be a micromanager. He is to set the vision and keep the ship on course. But he does not have to be involved in every player transaction.

Of course we will never know how the inner workings of the management structure really worked. Had Linden had the benefit of Petterson and Hughes' arrivals he'd probably still be there. But since he left Benning and the Canucks have seemingly touch a lot of right buttons.

But Linden is not there. And like Pavel Bure, the Canucks greatest superstar, Linden is estranged from the franchise. That's never good.

Part of this estrangement is on Linden himself. He needs to be that franchise icon. Not for Francesco Aquillini. Not for the Canucks. Not even for himself. He needs to be what the fans want him to be. He will always be the fan favorite, but he has to give the fans what they want for that to happen.

That starts on Monday night when the Canucks celebrate their greatest players this week with Markus Naslund, Stan Smyl, Linden, no Pavel Bure, and now the Sedin Twins. Bure is a different cat, but hopefully this is the beginning of the healing process for Linden and the Canucks.

January 30, 2020

Player Feuds

The Battle of Alberta lived up to it's billing last night, as the Calgary Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in a shootout.

But all eyes were on Zach Kassian and Matthew Tkachuk as they looked to settle their differences. The two did fight in the first period and otherwise were well behaved.

This is good for hockey. Hockey needs villains, and both Kassian and Tkachuk fit the bill.

It has reminded me of several great rivalries in the past.  I'm thinking of Eric Lindros and Scott Stevens. Ulf Samuelsson and Cam Neely. Louis Sleigher and Jean Hamel. And of course, the not so great. I'm talking Todd Bertuzzi of course here. Maybe that's where I should include Claude Lemieux and Kris Draper too.

What is your all time favorite player vs player feud?