Grinders: the superstars of the NHL
Good bye highlight reel all-star, hello working class hockey hero. Rory Fitzpatrick is not what you would call an NHL All-star, but you wouldn't guess this from the amount of votes Fitzpatrick is amassing. Fitzpatrick is second for Western conference All-star defensemen, just a mere 19,000 votes behind Scott Niedermayer. Fitzpatrick's sudden rise in fame comes thanks to Steve Schmid, a Sabres fan. Schmid watched Fitzpatrick's performance at the Canucks Super Skills Competition and was struck with inspiration. Schmid explains, "Rory came to mind because of his prowess in the Canucks' skills competition, where he had the most accurate shot (Fitzpatrick hit the four targets on five shots)." From there Schmid played out the idea on HFBoards (Hockey's Future) and claims that people within the forums urged him to make a website. And that my friends is what they call history. Vote for Pedro shirts are now being replaced by Vote for Rory shirts. Not only are players throughout the league left scratching their heads, even Fitzpatrick himself is left feeling a little unsure, "I don’t know how to take it yet,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think it’s kind of funny. All the guys (on the team) are having fun with it.” If Fitzpatrick is not taking himself seriously, why would anyone else? Schmid isn't necessarily trying to make this about Fitzpatrick, rather, he is attempting to make a statement about the state that the game of hockey is in today. He is trying to get Gary Bettman to reassess the voting system for the All-star game, "the initial thought was to get a hard-working underrated guy into the All-Star game, kind of an underdog,” Schmid said. "The general consensus is that Rory is the perfect representative for all the players who work hard 'behind the scenes' and never get any recognition. Myself and many others view the All-Star game as an exhibition for the fans. That said, the fans want to see Rory Fitzpatrick...simple as that!" Clearly Schmid is trying to show Bettman that the game does in fact belong to the fans. Instead of taking the same classic highlight players every year, perhaps this All-star game will be a little different. Perhaps the new face of hockey is one that recognizes the grinders and the hard workers, as well as the top goal scorers. And that is an NHL that I would like to see and an NHL All-star game I will wait for with baited breath.
Recent talk has been fixated upon the fate of Mario Lemieux's precious Pittsburgh Penguins. Currently, the Penguins call Mellon Arena home. Lemieux and the Penguins have been caught in a whirlwhind debate with the city and officials over funding for a new arena. Mellon Arena is the oldest and smallest arena in the NHL and the fate of the Penguins lies upon the much needed backing of the city for a new arena. With prospective buyers backing out, the Penguins fate looks dim. Jim Balsillie withdrew his offer to buy the Penguins once Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL made contractual arrangements to prevent Balsillie from relocating the Penguins. The Penguins also had an offer from Isle of Capri Casinos to build a $290 million arena next to their casino but their slots licence was denied. The city of Pennsylvania is offering a Plan B option which they provided for Pittsburgh's other professional teams the Steelers and Pirates in 2001. The Plan B option entails that the state will kick in $7 million with the Barden group providing $7.5 million a year for the next 30 years. But this means that the team itself will also have to chip in for the new arena. The Isle of Capri offer appears to be the best that the Penguins may get, a chance to remain within the city and to have a new arena built for free. Lemieux has stated that the Penguins are off the market for now and that relocation will not become an option until all others fail. It appears that Kansas City, Houston, and Winnipeg may end up being viable options if all others fall through. The Penguins lease on Mellon Arena expires at the end of the '06-'07 season and after that it is anyone's guess where the Penguins will call home.
Phoenix: Veteran Graveyard?
This year has seen a lot of speculation suggesting that Gretzky may in fact be mortal. A canadian superstar in the NHL, a gold medal Olympic coach, and a four-time Stanley Cup Champion. But it appears that this NHL season holds a twist for Gretzky. Since the last Olympics in Turin and Canada's fall from gold, Gretzky has seen some rough times. Throughout these times not many have doubted him. In light of Phoenix's poor performance this year -last in the entire NHL with a mere 6 points- people are beginning to suspect that Gretzky is human after all. Perhaps some of the blame for the team's 3-10-0 record can be placed upon trades made in the pre-season. Acquiring Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan, and Georges Laraque. With Phoenix last in their conference in the 05-06 season with 81 points, it is a wonder that managment did not acquire any scoring power. The only good acquisition made was getting Yanic Perreault as a free agent in October. Perreault is turning out to be a great fit for the Coyotes. What boggles my mind most is why management picked up Roenick, Nolan, and Laraque. While each of these players was once great in their own accord, none can save the Coyotes from floundering back into last place this season, which seems to be exactly where they find themselves. The only theory that comes to mind with the Coyotes' acquisitions is a sort of player loyalty. Perhaps Gretzky felt sympathy for these men. Men who were once excellent players, but not since 2000 have Nolan and Roenick seen great stats. Could Gretzky be attempting to give these players one last chance at glory? Is this why Dallas took Eric Lindros? Perhaps Phoenix does not care about winning anymore and has adopted a new game plan: give the ol' veterans one last shot to prove themselves. Turning Phoenix into a Veteran Graveyard.
Tonight saw three different games end in a 5-2 outcome: The Canucks loss to the Wild, Tampa Bay ousting the Flyers, and the Islanders over New Jersey. Luongo took a puck to the shoulder in the Canucks loss to the Wild. Referees made a debatable decision that put the Wild's first goal on the board. Originally it was ruled no goal, stating Todd White had kicked the puck in. After review it was determined that White did not kick the puck and it was allowed. By looking at the game footage it looks as though White lifts his foot in order to kick the puck in. After the game White stated, "I didn't think I kicked it. I'm not that good." This goal and a possible injury lead to a lacklustre performance by the Canucks. With Sami Salo missing from the already depleting blue line, and Mattias Ohlund, Kevin Bieksa, and Lucas Kracijek picking up more ice time, there were no fresh legs to help out Luongo. Throughout the course of the game Luongo let in three questionable goals including a slap shot on a penalty shot by Brian Rolston. In other NHL news, the Canadiens whomped the Hurricanes in a 4-0 shutout. Despite the Canadiens taking more penalties and producing less shots, they maintained pressure throughout the game. Thanks to a stellar performance by Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet, who earned his first shutout of the season, the Canadiens were able to avenge the constant losses they suffered to the Hurricanes last season. The Canadiens saw goals from Micheal Komisarek, Saku Koivu, Mike Johnson, and Tomas Plekanec. Other scores throughout the NHL tonight: Buffalo 5 - Boston 4; Florida 4- Toronto 2; St.Louis 4 - Colorado 1; Detroit 2 - Chicago 1; NY Rangers 3 - San Jose 1.
Canucks: My two cents
The Canucks hit the ice tonight in Minnesota versus the Wild aiming to avenge a shoot out loss the last time these two met. The Wild are currently on the top of their division with 18 points while Vancouver lags just behind with 15. The Wild just came off a 4-1 loss to Colorado so the Canucks should be prepared to face a motivated team. The Canucks have won four of their last six and are looking strong. Although it is only the beginning of a long stretch of season, the Canucks have many who have called them a .500 team eating their words. The Canucks are finally displaying a strong work ethic, and it appears that this is the key to success the boys have been lacking all along. Not since their '94 run at the cup with the NY Rangers have fans seen such intensity on the ice. Every battle for the puck is played like it may be a player's last. Even Markus Naslund, who played hurt last season, is finally becoming a true captain. He is not just wearing the 'C' on his jersey, he is finally setting an example. Perhaps this is why the Canucks have been doing so well this season. Naslund has vastly improved his defensive game, which is important within the new system the Canucks have adopted this year. Naslund who was a minus 19 last season is a plus 4 this season. That is a huge improvement. Hurt, Naslund managed to tally 79 points which was his lowest in five years. This year Naslund has managed 11 points in 13 games and if he is able to keep it up, he is well on his way to another huge season. Daniel Sedin is at 14 points in 13 games and Henrik is tied for third with assists in the NHL (13) and is at 15 points in 13 games. The boys are looking good thus far. But one player who does not seem to be living in the limelight this season is Canucks golden boy Trevor Linden. Linden who has never been sat out in over 1,000 games has seen his first benching. In a deal discussed before the season started Alain Vigneault, Dave Nonis, and Linden discussed the likelihood of Linden sitting out the eleven back-to-back games this season. Disappointed but wanting to play Linden agreed. Not only is Linden getting benched 11 games this season he is also seeing a large reduction in playing time. This season Linden averages under 10 minutes per game. Linden has never played below the double digit mark in his 18 seasons in the NHL. Always a fixture on the penalty kill, Linden has only seen 46 seconds of power play time this season. Which is not surprising considering his offensive flair is floundering. Although Linden has never reached an 80 point season his true offensive glory was amassing 25 points in 24 games in the '94 Stanely Cup series. With Linden's reduced playing time, an improvement has been seen on the ice. He looks faster and well adjusted to the new NHL compared to last season and his constant falling behind in the play. Perhaps the reduced playing time, while not good for the ego, is just what the doctor ordered to improve Linden's readjustment to the new NHL. With the Canucks new defensive style of play matching Linden's strong points, it is only a matter of time before Linden's play improves even more. Look to see more ice time and a stronger role on the ice from Linden in the future. With the Canucks 5-3-1 on the road and Chouinard back in his old stomping grounds perhaps the Canucks can teach Jacques Lemaire and the boys of Minnesota a thing or two about how to be a defensive team without playing the trap. Should make for an interesting game if either team can score more than two goals.
Good bye Goons?
Where have all the goons gone? Perhaps they have all retreated to some secret resort where they reminisce over past upper cuts or the first tooth they ever lost. The new face of the NHL does not facilitate an environment in which the goons of the ol' days can survive. It seems that there has been a gradual progression in which the goons have been phased out and replaced by the enforcer, and the enforcer has been replaced by? This leaves me asking, is the grinder in today's game what the goon once was?
The goon was often the character of the team. Loved by fans, hated by opposition. Without them the game has lost a sense of it's identity. Is it just me or does the game feel a little less intense these days? Even the players do not seem as invested in it as they once were. Although I may be lamenting for a more fiery side of the game, I am not sad that the general lack of skill and constant antagonism are near extinct. While fighting may have its place in the game, violence does not.
Today's players still continue to fight as much as they used to. Although they have replaced the general buffoonery that was attached to the goons with a general ability to play hockey. Even Sean Avery scores a goal every now and then. Avery is also solid defensively. The appeal in a player like Avery who averaged 13:40 per game last season and 15:83 per game this season, is that he is not a liability on the ice. He sticks to basic play and he protects his superstars. Avery keeps the other team in line.
Top goal scorers who fight, like Jarome Iginla or Vincent Lecavalier are a rare breed. Lecavalier dropped his mitts tonight, and Iginla is often seen punching someone in the face. This being said, I wouldn't expect to see Marcus Naslund or Peter Forsberg in any sort of scuffle any time soon.
With today's game shifting further and further from its original form it leaves me wondering where today's players will fit in the future NHL. If you had asked Tie Domi a few seasons ago if he thought he would ever become expendable to his beloved leafs he probably would have punched you. Will we be seeing Avery working at our local McDonald's?? I think Wade Brookbank pumped my gas for me last week.