Hockey is a pretty fun game. It may not be as popular in the United States as a sport that features cars driving in a circle, but millions of people watch and play it, and that has everything to do with it being a lot of fun.
If the game wasn’t fun, there would be no fans and players. If there were no fans and players, there would be no hockey. You don’t have to be an advanced statistician to understand that formula.
That seems to have been lost on people either within the game or just outside the game in the past few days. With three lockouts in 18 years, it’s not really news that the NHL considers fans to be afterthoughts, but it’s become evident in new ways this season.
Recently retired hockey player Mike Modano addressed one of the sport’s biggest concerns Monday: the scourge that is players celebrating a goal by skating past their bench and high-fiving their teammates. It’s a brave stand and we should all thank Modano for having the courage to voice his opinion.
This link will take you to a photo of what Modano did after scoring his first goal as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. He had “been there before” 558 times during what will soon be a Hall of Fame career but still went down the bench to high-five teammates after his goal. Hopefully he is mailing a check to the NHL to pay for the fine he clearly feels he deserves.
This push to get rid of high-fiving teammates after a goal started in St. Louis this season when Brett Hull quashed it from the Blues’ celebrations and is very likely why Modano is suddenly voicing his displeasure about the vile act of camaraderie.
Unlike Modano, Hull is employed. He is the executive vice president of the Blues, so when he says players should stop celebrating in that fashion, they stop. This story details how the change came about with help from other former players and has a headline that should induce such forceful eye rolls that they will require a trip to a hospital emergency room.
“That came from a few gentlemen who used to play here,” (Blues captain David) Backes said. “They felt like the going through the line thing was a high school, college type of play.
“It’s one of those things where you didn’t really think about it. It’s just the way it was when we got here, the way it was in college, what we did in high school. I think this is a unique thing that maybe we can change the trend a little bit — score the goal, congratulate each other and let’s go do it again.”
The big takeaway from that quote is Backes never thought of it. No one did—because it’s about as worthy of thought as an opinion from a retired player about being classy (like back when he played, even though he did the exact same thing). It’s also the type of suggestion that makes you wonder how much the Blues are paying Hull for franchise-altering decisions like that one. But when your boss wants you to stop doing something, you stop doing it.
And who decided that type of celebration isn’t classy? What's wrong with including the guys on the bench in a celebration? Maybe those guys put together some great shifts before the one that led to the goal and the guys on the ice want to show their appreciation. It could be the classiest celebration in sports.
It’s a high-five, people. No one is dunking a football over goal posts after scoring a touchdown. No one is spending five seconds at home plate admiring the flight of their home run. No one is swinging from the rim after an alley-oop jam and screaming in the face of the guy he just posterized.
If you want to do all that stuff, go for it. It's sports. They are supposed to be fun to play and watch. The only thing sillier than grown men making millions of dollars for playing a game is retired players getting upset with how those millionaires decide to react after scoring. Maybe you should direct your attention to the brain injuries in the sport. Hands touching hands are not quite as big a problem as shoulders and elbows touching heads.
Modano and Hull aren’t the only ones losing sight of what matters. Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins seemed to drop the ball Monday too.
After the Oilers were slaughtered 6-0 at home by the St. Louis Blues, a fan threw his Ales Hemsky jersey to the ice. It’s an understandable reaction. The Oilers have been very bad for a very long time, and perhaps that fan had seen enough.
That’s not how Eakins saw it.
It doesn’t matter why Eakins said it. What matters is the coach offered harsh words for a fan who has been suffering through seven years of Oilers ineptitude and showed it in a meaningful and harmless way. If you can’t get your players to play better, throwing a fan under the bus isn’t the answer.
Then there’s Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. With HBO’s 24/7 program following the teams up until the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, there are documentary cameras recording their every move. It’s undoubtedly a stressful, uncomfortable situation for everyone, but it’s a unique program designed to service current fans and attract new ones.
But on last week’s episode, Babcock and Carlyle tossed the cameras from their locker rooms. Babcock ejected them between periods of a blowout loss the Ducks while Carlyle threw them out after the Leafs’ loss to the Panthers. Babcock told the camera people to “get the f**k” out, less than two weeks after saying he hoped he didn’t do anything on the show to embarrass his family.
I’m not saying teams hold a disdain for fans, but it’s clear they aren't a primary concern for a lot of people despite the fact they wouldn't have jobs without them. Fans are the 2 a.m. booty call the league and teams know will always be there no matter how they are treated.
Ridicule from coaches?
Limiting access to an all-access show?
The fans will always pick up the phone.
They deserve better, though.
Coaches, management and ex-players need to remember their hallowed game is purely an entertainment product. If fans don’t feel entertained, they’ll find something else to spend their money on besides tickets, jerseys and HBO subscriptions.
(If you’d like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.)
If you were GM for a day, which team would you ruin?
This is a very interesting question. As you all know, I am always wondering what I would do to ruin NHL teams to which I have no emotional connections. Whenever I get some free time, I usually spend it fantasizing about going on a job interview in which I would lie to an owner about wanting to have success with his franchise in an effort to infiltrate the organization. Then I could destroy it in one day, because that is something that is completely feasible from the position of general manager because there are no checks and balances with that job.
Perhaps you are asking what I would do if I was General Motors for a day. As far as I can tell, that company lacks a stake in an NHL team, thus making ruining an NHL team from that position impossible.
If GM in this query is George McPhee, clearly the answer is the Washington Capitals for that is where he is currently employed.
I hope this helps.
If we had an inter-sports rules trade, what would you like to see? I think hockey trades "The Code" to baseball because it eats up crap like that for the acceptance of advanced stats. Hockey also trades fighting to the NFL in return for ties after an overtime period (yeah, I essentially traded fighting twice, but this is my hypothetical, so it's allowed.) Basketball trades baseball the shot clock "now pitch clock" for no salary cap etc.
I would trade the NFL’s rule about helmets coming off during play resulting in a whistle in exchange for the NHL’s rule about changing on the fly. I find it very silly that in this day and age with head injuries that NHL games continue when a guy loses his helmet. Either the play should be blown dead or the person who lost his helmet has to skate immediately to the bench.
Changing on the fly would be fun in the NFL. A guy breaks off a long kickoff return down the sideline. A defender way behind the play runs to the sideline and a new defender on the other end of the field steps off the sideline and makes a tackle.
Dave, I read your article today about Brad Richards' comments on suspensions for head shots not showing a decrease in further head shots. Good article.
My question is this, why doesn’t the NHL rescind the instigator penalty? As a former player my thought is this would lessen the head shots because they would be dealt with right there on the ice.
I’m a Flyers fan from their Cup years, so I enjoy a good fight. However, I cannot stand the goon fights or staged fights off the faceoff circles. What I consider a good fight to be is one that comes out of the play where two guys are battling for the puck.
I honestly don’t know how people continue to partake in arguments about fighting. They are all the same and we all know the outcome. It's like owning a Three's Company box set. Abolishing the instigator penalty wouldn’t matter. Fighting doesn’t deter head shots. No one is afraid to fight. No one is thinking about having to fight in the split second before a head shot occurs.
There is no such thing as a good fight. They are a waste of time. If two guys fought every time they were battling for the puck, the game would take 11 hours. Why does physical contact in a sport that allows for physical contact lead to fighting?
Fighting isn’t a deterrent. Let’s just agree fighting is fun for a lot of people to watch and it keeps lesser players in the sport and call it a day.
Did you know that in EA Sports NHL 14 video game, if a player lays a big hit on an opponent, an automatic fight is started between the person laying the hit and a member of the other team. What do you think about "The Code" making it into a video game?
I didn’t know that. I possess a lot of useless information, but not this. At least EA Sports is keeping things realistic. There’s no place in the NHL for clean hits. They need to be punched out of the game forever.
Martin Jones entered Monday's games 8-0-0 with a 0.98 GAA and .966 save percentage. I'd say he's just about due to allow 20 goals on 20 shots. All he has to do is keep it up until Jonathan Quick is back from his groin injury, which should be in a week or two. Obviously this is completely unsustainable, but it doesn't mean it's not fun to watch.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
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