NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A serious lack of respect

Playoff hockey reveals general disregard for safety, sanity

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It's such a great read, once you pick it up you don't want to put it down.

It is the Stanley Cup, of course, and that's one of the best advertising lines in a long time.

This year's edition has been compelling, whether you love or hate the results. There are heroes and villains, rising stars and major flops... and floppers, too.

With the big event, the Cup final -- it's only the "finals" if you are among the unwashed south of a certain border -- about to begin, it's a good time to purge the system of some issues that have been eating away at the general playoff experience.

Things I'm sick of

1. A lack of respect. I fully expect the NHLPA and its members to just tuck tale and retreat to the corner when the subject of respect among players comes up in the months ahead. There are sportsmanlike players still in the game, but their numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate. Or maybe the players, when asked about respect, will just pull a "Tortorella" and ask for the next question.

2. Mixed messages. Hand passes are allowed by the defensive team in its own end. Falling on the puck continues to be given the green light, too. Not shooting the puck over the glass, though. So which is it, NHL GMs? Do you want more offence or less? The 30 men who are "guardians" of the game worry me deeply when they can't make up their minds on these items, and even more when they have the power to make head contact illegal but simply won't.

3. Excuse-makers. Many have bowed out more gracefully, but players on the Phoenix Coyotes were embarrassing on Tuesday, including captain Shane Doan. His condescending post-game rant could be forgiven if his track record were just a little better. Doan, though loved by many teammates, Coyotes fans and reporters, is a repeat offender who often makes himself sound like a saint. And he frequently says dumb things, like when teammate Martin Hanzal was suspended during the Phoenix-L.A. series, saying Hanzal "had no choice," but to run Dustin Brown into the boards from behind. Stick up for a teammate, by all means, but a captain ought to be smarter.

4. Bad commercials. If colleague Ed Tait gets to rant about chicken wings and such, then surely I can blow a gasket about moronic ice cream commercials that nauseate. What would you do... for a case of divine intervention delivering food poisoning to those responsible for such a waste of air time?

Things that merely disappoint

1. Brendan Shanahan. The NHL's vice-president of player safety is dangerously close to going to the higher list. No games for Shea Weber in Round 1. Just one game for Martin Hanzal for his horrific back ambush of Dustin Penner in Round 3? I liked Shanahan's muscled-up approach last fall, but the players sense every weakness and they are back to their old tricks, taking advantage of every situation.

2. Dustin Brown. He's off the higher list and now here for the time being, but he's a dangerous, reckless player that his teammates love and every opponent loathes. Brown's a head- (and other-) parts hunter who will do anything to win. That makes him a good captain in many minds. As an aside, it's amusing to hear "experts" criticize Jets captain Andrew Ladd as a leader when he takes a few reckless penalties of his own.

3. Blue paint. Another issue for the GMs, one supposes, but how hard can it be for game officials to let the goalies do their work inside the crease. I laugh every time CBC analyst Craig Simpson opens his mouth on the subject, given that he was one of the worst offenders of all time. It's pretty blue and white on this matter, the way the rules are written, but not called near enough.

4. Extra goalies. No all-star goaltending votes that anyone's aware of for the likes of Karl Alzner or Anton Stralman and others who just love to get into the crease and do their butterfly. NHL coaches must conduct these behind-the-goalie drills in secret. You'd think a defenceman would want to defend and leave the goaltending to those more qualified. It's likely just a street-hockey instinct that just never goes away but if the NHL wanted to increase scoring, it might consider banning defenders, as well as attackers, from the crease.

There's plenty right with NHL

1. Reborn coaches. I applaud Ken Hitchcock, the coach-of-the-year favourite for the transformation in St. Louis, however much I didn't care for his post-firing meddling in Columbus. I'm more happy for Darryl Sutter and Peter DeBoer. Sutter's wisdom has clearly sparked the Kings, while DeBoer's touch in New Jersey at least makes one wonder why he didn't even merit an interview in Winnipeg.

2. Dale Hunter. Never thought I'd say this, but I admire him for his decision to walk away from the Capitals. He, more than most, knows what it takes in the NHL and clearly, directing whatever's going on in Washington isn't for him. It takes a pretty strong person to walk away.

3. I have been able to see some of NBC's work in the playoffs, and I can't tell you how much I hope that TSN Jets can cajole Brian Engblom into more work next season.

4. Game pace. This is the evolution of the sport, and yes, there are many side issues like icing and head hits, but the players and teams are something to behold with the speed and quickness it takes to succeed today.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2012 $sourceSection0

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