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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Scribe ODs on hockey, submits rambling report

Further proof TV rots minds

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It can be exhausting work plopping down in front of the big screen every night, stuffing your face with products not listed in the Canada Food Guide and settling in for hours upon hours of Stanley Cup playoff hockey.

(And, yes, getting paid to do so IS a dream gig).

Still, a lot of random thoughts and strange rants can work their way through a dude's brain as all this riveting drama unfolds in front of bleary eyes. Consider this a collection of ideas/observations/questions from a man with a short attention span...

 

-- Is there a more compelling individual story in the NHL playoffs right now than that of Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith?

Just to condense this fascinating tale, Smith was drafted by Dallas, traded to Tampa, then put on waivers in 2010-11 and -- unclaimed by any NHL team -- sent to the AHL. He was signed by Phoenix this summer after Ilya Bryzgalov left for Philadelphia and has been nothing short of amazing all season. In fact, he's been so good some are saying he should be in the discussion as a candidate to tend goal for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

This week The Toronto Star caught up with a goaltending coach Smith had as a youngster -- Jon Elkin in Mississauga -- and he said this of the Coyotes' star when he was 16:

"I mean, he was a good athlete. He moved well. He looked great. He had everything -- except he couldn't stop the puck. It's kind of a problem when you're a goalie. His five hole and his glove were pretty well gimmes. There were a lot of holes there -- put it that way."

And Elkin's take on Smith now: "It's an amazing story. He's not even a long shot. Nobody even considered this guy as a first-string guy. If you ever said he was going to be a National Hockey League player, they probably would have committed you to an asylum or something."

If you love underdogs and long shots, you've got to love Smith's tale.

 

-- Do we read anything into this at all: half of the eight teams left standing in the NHL playoffs have Americans as captains: Dustin Brown, Los Angeles (Ithaca, N.Y.); Zach Parise, New Jersey (Minneapolis, Minn.); Ryan Callahan, NY Rangers (Rochester, N.Y.) and David Backes, St. Louis (Blaine, Minn.).

The others, just FYI: Shea Weber, Nashville (Sicamous, B.C.); Shane Doan, Phoenix (Halkirk, Alta.); Alex Ovechkin, Washington (Moscow); Chris Pronger, Philadelphia (Dryden, Ont., currently injured.)

-- A good question posed by Eric Tulsky of Broad Street Hockey: as good as Daniel Briere (106 points in 104 games) and James van Riemsdyk have been in the playoffs, 'are you mad at them for not bothering to play their best in the regular season?'

-- As much as Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning is a spectacular player, can he really be a legitimate MVP candidate if the team he's on didn't even qualify for the Stanley Cup derby?

-- Great counterpoint by the CBC's Elliotte Friedman to the suggestion the Vancouver Canucks will be handcuffed by Robert Luongo's contract -- 10 years remaining, the next six at $6.716 million per -- if they decide to move him: Jeff Carter and his 11-year deal has been traded twice in the last eight months (by Philly and Columbus).

And how weird would it be if Luongo ended up in Tampa, where the Lightning didn't see enough of Mike Smith to keep him?

-- How clever is this? Fans in Ottawa chant "Alfie" at the 11-minute mark -- the jersey number of Daniel Alfredsson -- to honour their beloved captain. And at Madison Square Garden Rangers fans now count down to the eight-minute mark before breaking into a raucous 'Ovi Sucks!' chant.

-- A fact that can't make current NHL coaches on the bubble feel too comfortable: three teams still fighting for the Cup fired their coaches this season -- Ken Hitchock, St. Louis (replaced Davis Payne); Dale Hunter, Washington (replaced Bruce Boudreau) and Darryl Sutter (replaced Terry Murray). Hitchcock is even a coach-of-the-year finalist.

It seems teams who make these difficult decisions are quick to pull the trigger and when they do, that means coaches with proven resumes are next in line. That likely means guys like Marc Crawford might soon be working another bench.

-- Does the play of Eddie Pasquale in St. John's -- he was named to the AHL's All-Rookie Team and was spectacular in their first-round victory over Syracuse -- have an impact on the Winnipeg Jets' decision on whether to bring back veteran netminder Chris Mason, an unrestricted free agent on July 1? Teams always want to get younger, but Mason brought a leadership presence to the room that doesn't show up in his statistics. I'm not saying, I'm just saying...

-- Upon further review, three defencemen who are much better than we thought: 1. Keith Yandle, D, Phoenix (seven assists and a plus-7 in eight playoff games); 2. Slava Yoynov, D, Los Angeles (so solid and just a rookie) and 3. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix (averaging 26 minutes and 23 seconds of ice time).

-- Now that Chris Kreider is playing so well for the Rangers, it's easy to see why the club didn't even blink when his name was mentioned in the Rick Nash rumours at the trade deadline. The former Boston College star, who just turned 21, is going to be a star.

-- Excuse me while I drop all the rules of journalistic integrity and cheer for two good guys from Winnipeg coming back from injury: New Jersey's Travis Zajac and Alex Steen of St. Louis.

-- And, finally, yours truly hasn't tried them yet so, admittedly, this question needs some extensive research... keep seeing these commercials during the playoffs for 'all meat' chicken wings. If they are boneless, wouldn't that make them chicken fingers? Poultry/fine dining experts please weigh in here.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2012 D3

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