Olympics, Burrows and More Playoff Mail Bag
|THE CANADIAN PRESS|
|Alex Burrows gets a high-five for his play so far in the playoffs.|
Part of what is making these Stanley Cup playoffs interesting is the backdrop of the 2010 Winter Olympics. You can bet Steve Yzerman and his Olympic crew are taking special notice of those who play well in the most difficult time of the year. Already a youngster like Jonathan Toews is serving notice that it will be awfully difficult to keep him off Team Canada as is the dynamic duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim.
Ducks defenceman Scott Niedermayer is clearly demonstrating he’s got miles left on his chassis, and just when you thought Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were going to all but eliminate themselves from consideration with another disappointing spring, the Sharks beat the Ducks to stay alive in their Western Conference series.
But how about Alex Burrows of the Canucks? Going into the season he wouldn’t have been on anyone’s list, and now it seems likely he will at the very least be one of the 40-plus players invited to Canada’s pre-Olympic camp in August.
Burrows’ second goal of the game Tuesday night ended St. Louis’ surprising season, but his skating, his dogged play, his ability to annoy the opposition and his growing offensive abilities should put him on Yzerman’s list with the selection of the Canadian team still eight months away.
Now for some extra questions in our daily playoff mail bag:
Q: Damien, After viewing the Calgary/Chicago game Tuesday, my wife turned to me and said, wow, that was a great game. She is university educated, somewhat of a pacifist who dislikes confrontation of any sort, except with me of course. Keep in mind she has witnessed bench clearing brawls first hand when I played, which was one reason she stopped coming to games when we were dating. This being said, in addition to the fact she was cheering for Calgary, she was into the emotion of the game actually vocally cheering goals, which is most certainly out of character. At the end of the game a cross check from Burrish on Bourque really had her puzzled. “How can he let him do that” she asked. “Why are his (Bourque’s) teammates not going after him”? After a brief scrum ensued, emotions became heightened with apparent “trash talking” directed at Iginla further fueling the already ignited fire. Guess what though, no outright fights. In fact the refs were running around with 13 seconds left obviously making threats of formal litigation followed up by expulsion from the league if anyone stood up for themselves and actually dropped the mitts.
Although it would seem that you are on the anti-fighting band wagon, I cite this game as well as the recent Lucic incident as a sign of things to come. People who sit in armchairs, and say that hockey has no need for fighting, do so at arms length from knowledge and understanding of the game. The truth is that emotions run high and lines are crossed. When this happens, what lessens the tension buildup is a fight. It seems now though players have turned to using sticks in place of fists. Voila, we have turned our game into the “New Improved European version". Understanding and having been in the thick of these, I can say, rational goes out the window, tunnel vision ensues with one purpose, to go after a player on the opposition. If not with a fist, then it will be a stick, a skate, a water bottle or anything else you can get your hands on. Barbaric, perhaps, but it is reality.
Damien, given all this, if you were playing, someone came up and gave you a stick to the face that exerted pain and you knew was most certainly on purpose, what do you feel is the proper way to deal with it? Take a stick and try to gouge out someone’s eye, stand up for yourself, send the message you won’t take it and drop your gloves, or hope the league saw it, gives the player at least a 3 game suspension. Remember, you have 3 seconds to make a decision!
S. H., Mississauga
A: A couple of points. You make it sound as though stickwork in the NHL, or stickwork in the playoffs, is some brand new thing. How long have you been watching this league? The most vicious stick-fight in the history of the NHL between Wayne Maki and Ted Green took place almost 40 years ago. Stick-swinging duels used to be common place. To suggest this is somehow a brand new reaction to other factors in the game is not only ludicrous, it shows a complete ignorance of the history of the game.
Second, you state that fights “lessen the tension buildup.” On what basis do you make this claim? If that was the case, Todd Bertuzzi would never have clubbed Steve Moore into pre-mature retirement, given that Moore had already fought earlier in that game. I can give you many examples of fights increasing ugliness in games.
All of this said, if you are suggesting the referees appear to be losing control of what is happening in these playoff games, I would agree with you to a large extent. There appear to be little or no repercussions to those who use these post-whistle scrums to get cheap shots in, and that’s a shame. League officials have the ability to use their clout to cut down on this nonsense, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. That’s what would stop it, not having more fights. Fights have never stopped violence in the game, in my opinion. They have only made it worse by creating precisely the environment that you complain about, which is an atmosphere of vigilante justice in which players act outside the rules in the pursuit of some warped sense of hockey morality.
Q: Hey Mr. Cox,
I hope all is well and I really enjoy your column. I'm hoping you can answer a question on something written about two weeks ago. I apologize, I'm not sure if it was you or one of the other writers. It stated that the Leafs could only have 50 contracts under the CBA. They were at 49. Yet, they proceeded to sign at least three more players. Can you clarify?
Thanks in advance for any assistance,
A: Dean, I was wondering this myself, and here’s how it works. Each team has a reserve list comprised of signed players, unsigned draft choices, so-called “defected” players and suspended players. On that list, each club can only have 50 NHL contracts for a given year. So the Leafs, for example, have more than 70 players on their reserve list, but they are limited to those 50 contracts.
After signing Christian Hanson, they were at 49, and more collegiate signings could have been a problem. If necessary, they had a suspended player named Derek Walser on their reserve list who left the club last fall to play in Russia, and if necessary, the Leafs feel confident they could have got relief from the league if, for example, they’d been able to sign Matt Gilroy and wanted to use Tyler Bozak this season.
They were able to sign several other players – Bozak, Robert Slaney, Alex Berry, Viktor Stahlberg – because all of those players signed for future NHL years. In other words, none of their contracts kick in until July, 2009. So they didn’t count against this year’s 50 allowed contracts. By July 1st, more than 20 Leaf contracts will expire, which will leave them all kinds of room to sign new players.
Hope that helps.
Q: Hello Damien. Given the miserable career playoff records of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, is there any way either one merits any consideration for Team Canada 2010?
A: I think both merit consideration. But I don’t think Marleau will make the team, and Thornton is in tough if only because of the large number of very talented Canadian centres.
Q: More of an observation, than a comment.
Of the 16 teams involved in this years playoffs, Mike Keenan has coached seven of them;
Philadelphia, Chicago, New York Rangers, St. Louis, Vancouver, Boston and Calgary.
Mohamad Azimi, Acton, Ont.
A: And I think I’ve interviewed him at every single stop. Now THAT makes me feel a wee bit old.
Q: Hi Damien, hope you’re enjoying the playoffs as much as I am.
With Mikhail Grabovski soon to be a restricted free agent, do you think there will be any interest in him? I also read that he could use the KHL as a bargaining chip. If "Grabo" bolts to Russia while an RFA, do the Leafs receive any compensation?
Also, CuJo has said he may not be quite ready to hang them up. Do you think CuJo's career rests with Jonas Gustavsson? I'm not sold on there being much outside interest in him.
Thanks. Keep up the great work.
A: Thanks for the questions, Dave. Okay, I don’t think there’s going to be an offer sheet out there waiting for Grabovski. He just doesn’t, in my opinion, fit the profile of those who have been pursued in this way before, whether it was Dustin Penner, Ryan Kesler, Tomas Vanek or David Backes. That he might use Russia as a bargaining chip wouldn’t be a surprise. NHLers don’t have much other leverage. I’m guessing if he tries to do that seriously the Leafs will wish him well and ask him to contact them when he wants to play in the world’s top league again. And no, they would receive no compensation should he head to the KHL.
And on Cujo, he’s not coming back to the Leafs. Period. They don’t want him. It has nothing to do with Gustavsson.
Q Brian Burke's quest to select a guy like John Tavares or Victor Hedman doesn't make sense when there are such talented kids out there i.e Ryan Ellis and Taylor Hall, ranked where Burke would have no trouble getting one or even both these guys.
I’ve been watching the OHL play offs and these two young guys are the heart and soul of their team while it looks ( my opinion ) like Tavares' heart doesn't seem to be in this series.
Walter Bakema, Windsor, Ont.
A: Thanks, Walter. For starters, Hall isn’t draft eligible until 2010, and he’s the early favourite to go No. 1 in that draft. Ellis is indeed a talented defenceman, but he’s undersized and it would be a gamble for any NHL team to take him in the top 10, let alone at the Leafs No. 7 slot or higher. I’m hoping he proves everyone wrong, ‘cause I like little guys who make it, but the NHL is a nasty, unfriendly place for defencemen his size.
During the playoffs, Damien Cox is answering your questions daily. Click here to submit a question.
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