Monday, June 4, 2007

Fun while it lasted

As I write this post, the Sens have just lost Game 4 to the Ducks. Final score 3-2.

So yeah, the series is pretty much done, but never mind that. Instead, I'd like to call for a moment of silence for the new NHL.

For if there is a single team in the NHL that symbolizes precisely the opposite of what the so-called "new NHL" was supposed to represent, it is the Anaheim Ducks. League leaders in fighting majors. Second only to the non-playoff Florida Panthers in points earned via overtime loss or shootout loss. A whopping nine roster players with double-digit goal totals during the regular season (Ottawa had 12, Detroit 13, and Buffalo had 10 - including three 30+ goal-scorers). A single player - Teemu Selanne - with regular season totals that surpassed the point-a-game plateau.

And yet. Playing a punishing defensive game - call it the "new trap" and making liberal use of their elbow pads and shin guards (it is pure chance that Ray Emery hasn't been decapitated yet), the Ducks are on the cusp of winning the Stanley Cup.

I am loathe to begrudge individual Duck players like Jean-Sébastien Giguère, Rob Niedermeyer and Teemu (Honorary Jet-for-Life) Selanne. They deserve their moment in the sun.

And the Ducks are undeniably winning by playing the game within - albeit on the very edge - of the boundaries of the rules as they are being called.

But that's the problem, isn't it?

Observers have already noted with resigned amusement the lack of scoring during these playoffs. Only three of the top ten playoff scorers have produced at or above a point-per-game clip - and they all play on the Sens' top line. The Ducks have had far more penalties called against them than the Sens, but they have also had far fewer called against them than they could have. Not unlike the 1970's-era Flyers or the Devils and Panthers of the mid-1990s, the Ducks have painted the league into a corner, daring on-ice officials to call a penalty, leading with the elbows, crashing the opposing goaltender with impunity, and then daring the officials to call another one.

And what will we see next year? We'll see 29 teams falling over themselves to sign that 20-goal scorer with size, speed, and sandpaper, and abandoning that noble experiment of smaller, skillful forwards that left the likes of Montreal, Edmonton, Nashville, Minnesota and Detroit on the outside looking in. John Muckler will be pilloried once again for letting Zdeno Chara walk, never mind that Chara proved nothing this season except that he was entirely incapable of leading the Bruins out of the darkness.

I had to laugh as I watched Don Cherry and Brett Hull yacking on the NBC broadcast 2nd intermission show about how fighting is great, the instigator rule sucks, yada yada yada. And y'know what? They're right. Fred Shero coached his goons to 2 Stanley Cups. And Scotty Bowman and the Habs broke their hold on the Cup by...out-gooning them. This has always been the way in the NHL: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em then go out beat 'em at their own game.

But I ask again. Is this really what they had in mind?

I've had enough. I'm watching the Bulldogs. There's a really exciting story being written down in Steeltown. You might want to check it out.

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