Of Dead Pucks, History and Tears
With all due respect to the world's best hockey player, if Sidney Crosby is really surprised about the leeway allowed by game officials to the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, he hasn't been watching these playoffs or the NHL very closely.
This is how the Bruins play, and how they've played in the post-season (at least when they've been most successful) for the past three seasons, and this is the style of hockey that is most blessed by NHL authorities these days.
The drop in the standard of rule-calling in recent seasons has contributed to the drop in goal-scoring, producing Dead Puck Era II with the usual excuse-makers and apologists making the same excuses and apologies as was the case prior to 2004. If one suggests an endless procession of 2-1 games isn't particularly enthralling, one is told to like it or watch something else, and the conversation gets only dumber from there.
The NHL game isn't designed for the Crosbys, David Krejcis etc. It has once again fallen into the hands of the lowest common denominator as a failure to take care of the game has again shown itself to be the Achilles heel of Gary Bettman and his long tenure as czar of the NHL.
It's up to the great players to wade through the muck and try to produce the odd moment of creativity and skill. They are treated as interlopers, rather than as the unique talents they are.
It won't change anytime soon, not with the NHL in denial once more. The players can do something about it if they like through the competition committee or they, including Crosby, just have to accept it.
Interestingly, so far in the post-season the only team that has had any real success playing through Boston's tough, uncompromising brand of hockey has been the Maple Leafs, who came up with three wins and another 58 minutes of winning hockey before falling apart in the final 90 seconds of Game 7.
What Phil Kessel was able to do against Zdeno Chara, Crosby and other Penguins might have to learn how to do. Crosby must've seen Milan Lucic illegally hurl Carl Gunnerson into the boards in the dying moments of that Game 7 victory without a penalty call, so he knows NHL authorities have essentially abandoned the players to their own devices.
But those who mocked the Leafs for being unwilling or unable to physically confront Chara and Lucic might want to answer this question; what Ranger or Penguin has been able to accomplish either task since?
In the wake of winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, the Blackhawks had to dump a number of bodies for salary cap reasons, the most significant of which was the unique Dustin Byfuglien.
Byfuglien, of course, was then a forward and an unmovable force on the front lines. The only real comparable these days would be Lucic, who like Byfuglien, occasionally has to be coaxed to playing at his highest possible level.
Not surprisingly, the Hawks couldn't replace Byfuglien, who is now a defenceman in Winnipeg, and with that as a contributing factor, couldn't win the Cup in the two succeeding springs.
Bryan Bickell isn't Byfuglien. But he's doing a pretty good impression of the big fellow, and that's a key reason why the Hawks, who teetered on the edge of elimination last round, are in great shape today to make it to the Cup final.
The 6-foot-4, 230 pound Bowmanville product is in range of matching his regular season goals output with his playoff output. At 29 years of age, Bickell is having the springtime of his career, and earning every bit of it with his battles in front of enemy goalies.
Interestingly, like Byfuglien, there's a pretty good chance Bickell could be moving on even if the Hawks with the Cup. After making $541,000 this season he's UFA this summer and you can absolutely bet that some team - we all know the usual suspects - will give him outrageous dollars this season on the free agent market even with the cap going down next season.
Good for him. But if that happens, the Hawks will be on the search for another big body.
Can't really imagine why anyone would object to Masai Ujiri cleaning house with the Raptors. Indeed, with the foolish decision to keep Bryan Colangelo around peering over the new GM's shoulder, it's probably the strongest statement that Ujiri could make that he's in charge and considers nothing built or acquired by Colangelo to have any sacred value.
Ujiri has a unique opportunity to take this thing down to wood and rebuild it, which might not be music to the ears of Raptor fans who are hoping for a playoff berth next season.
A step back may be needed to construct a new foundation. Fewer wins next season may be necessary to open the possibility of success later, a choice that would not have been open to Colangelo.
Don't really care who won the "friendly" at BMO Field on Sunday. What mattered was all those people paying all that money to watch a women's soccer game in Canada, something that would have been unthinkable even two or three years ago.
It was an event, it was a spectacle, at least by Canadian soccer standards. Too often people deride women's sports by saying they'll never been as big as men's sports, and certainly that's the case for the foreseeable future.
But people who don't invest in history never learn the lesson that its always a mistake to assume the way things are now are the way they will always be. Sunday was a day to imagine a time when women's sports, soccer in this case, might occupy an entirely different places in our sporting universe.
Sunday showed the emotional highs and the lows, and the tears for very different reasons, of two veteran athletes.
Early in the day, 31-year-old Tommy Robredo became the first man in almost 90 years of tennis to win a third straight match after trailing two sets to none when he knocked off Spanish countryman Nicolas Almagro.
Robredo, back as an elite player after sinking to No. 470 in the world last year after a difficult series of injuries, sank to the Roland Garros dirt after his remarkable win over the 11th seeded Almagro and burst into tears. As the crowd cheered him on, he couldn't stop the flow, undoubtedly the product of years of trying to get back to the highest levels of the game as it roared on without him.
For 40-year-old pitcher Ramon Ortiz of the Blue Jays, the tears flowed for a very different reason.
Ortiz appeared to blow out his elbow in the third inning against San Diego on Sunday, and couldn't control his emotions on the mound as the Jays training staff attended to him. He's had a hard enough time just sticking with the Jays this season despite all of their injury problems, and undoubtedly the thought of having to go through surgery and then rehab and then hope a team will take a chance on him again was too much for Ortiz to handle.
It was sad to watch, the final hopes of an athlete seemingly destroyed with one fateful throw.