A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Guest Column: What is Too Much?

Nathan Skytta pops back in to give us his thoughts on blows to the head in the NHL.

Since the early days of the National Hockey League, the sport has been known for its intensity and its feistiness, but since the turn of the decade, the intensity in hockey has increased dramatically. There comes a point in time when the league has to draw a line between right and wrong.

On Feb. 21, 2000, Marty McSorley, while playing for the Boston Bruins, swung his stick with three seconds left in the game and hit Donald Brashear, who fell backwards and hit his head on the ice and sustained a Grade 3 concussion.

During a Sunday afternoon game on March 7, this year, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke hit Boston Bruins Marc Savard in the head with a shoulder check. Savard sustained a concussion and has not skated since. He is missing key games for his team as they fight for their lives in the NHL playoffs and yet, Matt Cooke is able to play for his team in the playoffs. Something is just not right about that, and the NHL commissioner’s office needs to set forth rules and regulations when it comes to blow to the head.

Hockey players are becoming faster, more skillful and bigger, and there is no way the equipment provided can protect the players from the vicious blows and hits that their body takes during a game. As it is now, there’s a higher risk of injuring a player by blindsiding them against the boards or even while they are skating across center ice.

An unwritten rule in hockey is that a player is not supposed to skate through the center of the ice with their head down. Doing this may lead to a crushing hit from an opposing player or a turnover — both things a player carrying the puck would prefer not to happen.

Right now, there is no rule in hockey that says hits to the head are illegal, but many players have been fined and sometimes suspended for their rough play. This punishment hasn’t stopped players from putting an opposing player into the boards.

The NHL needs to implement a rule against blows to the head before it’s too late and before someone gets permanently injured from a cheap shot.

Marc Savard was carried off on a stretcher after being hit in the head by Matt Cooke.

Out of the four major sports, those being the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL, the NHL need the rules for blows to the head the most. In the MLB, if a pitcher purposely throws a pitch at the head of an opposing player, odds are they will be ejected and suspended for at least one start.

In the NBA if a player hits an opposing player in the head, odds are they will be suspended as well — just ask Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics, who is missing game two of the NBA playoffs because he elbowed an opponent during an altercation.

In the NFL, the league has done everything possible to make the helmets as “concussion-proof.” Hits to the head in the NFL, especially on a quarterback, are illegal and can cost a player some dough and some time off the field.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association need to sit down, clearly look at the risks of blows to the head and realize that they are putting the player in danger every time a player is against the glass fighting for a loose puck. Yes, big hits are good for the game and get the fans out of their seats and onto their feet, but what the NHL needs to figure out is what is too much.

Currently, there is a temporary ruling that allows the league to punish players for hits to the head on unsuspecting players, but that only lasts until the end of the season. The league needs to be stronger on the punishments. Cooke was allowed to return to the ice after a two-game suspension for his hit to the head of Savard, but Savard has not played since. The suspension process needs to be changed in order to make the player think about hitting an opponent in the head.

If a player purposely hits an opposing player in the head, have different suspension lengths like the MLB has for steroid users. The first time a player hits an opponent in the head, or even up high, suspended him for two or three games and fine him a certain amount.

If that does not teach a player to control his antics on the ice and he hits another opposing player, then suspend him for fifteen or twenty games and have him meet with the commissioner and the league before returning to the ice.

If the player then commits the actions again, then suspend him for the rest of the season.

Hits to the head can be not only career-threatening but possibly life-threatening as well. Detroit Red Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja missed almost the entire regular season, and a year of hockey, after sustaining a concussion during the 2008-2009 hockey season. It took Lilja almost an entire year to recover completely and to regain the strength and courage to step foot on the ice again.

Who knows if the hit that Savard took will end his career or not, but if the league had a concrete rule about hits to the head, then maybe Savard could be helping his team right now in the playoffs and not wondering when he will be able to play again.

The NHL needs to sit down and clearly look at all its options. Do they want the game to continue on the path it’s on now and have the chance of a player getting injured, or do they want players to have to suffer the consequences of blind-siding an opponent? The NHLPA is fully onboard with implementing rules that involve hits to the head. Now the NHL needs to get on board and come up with something before it is too late.

–Nathan

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April 19, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Column: It’s a Goony World Out There

Nathan Skytta graces us with his presence yet again! This time, he talks about the importance of “goons” in the hockey world and presents us with a list of some of the best.

Whether you support it or not, fighting is part of hockey, and it is going to be part of hockey for seasons to come.

Fighting in hockey is on the decline and has been since the mid-1980’s. Fans today see less than one fight a game, partly because of the two-minute minor for instigating which can be assessed to the player who starts the fight. Fighting is not the same as it was during the “Gretzky Era,” but it is still around and is much needed to protect the stars of the league.

Now, what non-hockey fans don’t understand is that it’s not the stars of the league that fight (with a few exceptions of course). There are players today who get paid to protect their star teammates and get paid to stand up against the other teams “antagonists.”

Yes, some players do let their emotions get out of control, but if you have ever attended a hockey game where a fight has broken out, you’d see the fans jump out of their seats and cheer on their players.

Tiger Williams was a surgeon of fisticuffs.

Even the players on the bench of the teams support their teammate — usually with a simple tap of their stick on the side of the bench. The “goons” gain the respect of their teammates and fans by being the protector of the star athletes.

They give it their all to prove to the other team that if they want to attack the star players, then they are going to have to mess with the tough guys. The goons in the NHL have earned a spot in the sport, and that’s what makes the NHL different than any other sport.

From the 1950’s when fighting in hockey included stick swinging and bench-clearing brawls, to nowadays, goons have earned their right in the history of hockey. Players like Tie Domi and Tiger Williams made their money not by leading the leagues in goals or assists, but by punishing the other team with strength.

They made sure others did not attack the smaller players of the league. Here’s a top ten list of goons:

10. Red Horner

9. Donald Brashear

8. Tie Domi/Marty McSorley

7. Stu Grimson

6. Gordie Howe

5. Clark Gillies

4. Terry O’Reilly

3. Joey Kocur

2. Dave Schultz

1. Tiger Williams.

This list is just a basic idea of how the times have changed. Ever since the lockout in the NHL in 2004, the NHL has required more speed and more skill than ever before.

For the first time in hockey history, the bigger the player, the less likely they are to get big contracts. Players such as Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk will flourish for years to come because they are fast and have more puck-handling skills than players such as Brashear and Todd Bertuzzi.

Tie Domi legitimized the old saying, "It's the size of the fight in the dog."

The goons in the league have had to improve their skill with the puck instead of sitting on the bench and waiting for the chance to start a fight.

There are players in the league that have a mixed combination of both size and agility, though. Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are two stars that have brought their teams from the bottom to the top of the league.

They’ve done so by using their force and strength but also by flying past their opponents and putting the puck in the back of the net. The more skills a player has and the faster they are, the more ice time they will get.

Hockey nowadays requires speed and skilled hands, but power and strength will always be a necessity in the sport of hockey. So, for those who think goons have lost their place in hockey, you have lost your mind. Hockey would not be the hockey it is today if it wasn’t for those goons who spent their careers doing their best to protect and preserve the star players.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 63

Quite the weight-off-the-shoulders game for the Sharks as they finally defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout. Detroit still wins the series 3-0-1, but the importance of this victory can’t be overstated enough.

Let’s be honest here. Detroit is going to make the playoffs. Yes they’re ninth right now, but come on, it’s Detroit. They will slide into the playoffs and maybe even go on a tear to claim the fifth or sixth spot. Regardless, they are a potential first-round matchup for the Sharks, and losing all four games to Detroit would have been catastrophic. The team already lacks confidence against the Wings as is, and losing here would have surely meant a first-round sweep had they met.

The victory didn’t come without fierce battling and lots of physicality. Detroit didn’t want to give up his undefeated streak against the Sharks so easy. How about 52 shots peppered on Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Nabby stopped 50 of them. He’s the sole reason why the Sharks won this game. Sensing a trend lately?

Despite getting shutout last night, coach Todd McLellan decided to keep the same players on the ice for the game. Ryane Clowe was extra feisty tonight. Within the first five minutes, he was up in people’s grills looking for something. He found it in the third when he and Jonathan Ericsson decided to tango. Ericsson caught him early, but Clowe finished with some power hooks, an uppercut and a takedown.

The Sharks scored their only two goals in the first period. Joe Thornton got on the board 25 seconds after Detroit took a 1-0 lead. Niclas Wallin got his first point as a Shark on Thornton’s goal.

Dwight Helminen once again played extremely well. He notched his first goal as a Shark, NHL 10 style: Torrey Mitchell stopped behind the net, skated out, passed across ice for Helminen who one-timed it in the open net. It’s his second career goal, and here’s some food for thought: Wallin assisted on Helminen’s first goal when they were both in Carolina. That goal was way back on November 2, 2008.

Johan, I'm constipated. Punch me in the gut to force it out. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Detroit controlled the second period, and they controlled the third period by tying the game with seven minutes left in regulation.

So we head into overtime. Oh prevent offense, how I have missed thee. The Sharks took their prevent offense to another level by taking a penalty with two minutes to go. By some divine intervention they were able to kill it off.

In the shootout, Nabby stonewalled all three Detroit shooters. Patrick Marleau, the Sharks’ third shooter, won it.

How sweet it is. My health has deteriorated throughout today, so this was a great temporary remedy to the constant sniffing and overall feeling of crap.

Mickey Redmond – the worst analyst in hockey

If you’re unlucky enough to get a Detroit broadcast, listen to this guy talk. How many things can he get wrong? Let me count the ways:

1. Saying Jimmy Howard made save of the first period when clearly Nabby’s sprawling blocker was.

2. Calling for interference when there was nothing there.

3. Saying Thornton should continue playing with no emotion and should not play angry.

4. Stealing Darren Pang’s phrase, “Holy jumpin’!”

5. Called Kent Huskins, Huselius for five minutes.

6. Saying Rob Blake takes a lot of shootouts for the Sharks (I don’t think he’s taken one).

7. If he says “look out” one more time, I will go off.

Obviously he only has this job because of his past playing in a Red Wing uniform. Shame. Someone else agreed with me too. Check out the #22 comment on David Pollak’s blog.

Stat Pack

Nabby has the worst winning percentage against Detroit since 1980. With this win he’s now 8-17-0-2 against them. Terrible.

The Sharks lost the faceoff battle 51%-49%. I think they’ve lost it a couple times against Detroit. I don’t understand how they can be so dominant in the circle, but lose faceoffs to a team who isn’t that great at them time after time.

San Jose led in all four Detroit games, only garnering one win.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 26  DET 34; Scott Nichol led with five.

Thornton started getting angry at Detroit when Datsyuk and Cleary kept being annoying pests. He threw Cleary down with one arm, which was hilarious. Need to see more of that, but we won’t.

San Jose goes to Buffalo for a game with the Sabres on Saturday. It’s the last game before the Olympic break.

–Ray

February 12, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 58

Quite the activate-Edmonton-Oilers-mode game for the Sharks, and when they activate that notoriously awful mode, there’s only one team they could have faced — the Detroit Red Wings. Yep, you guessed it. Another Sharks loss to the Wings; this time the score was 4-2.

You know Sharks, why even bother playing this team? Why? Why do you even put your skates on or even wake up the morning of these games? You know you’re not going to try. You know you’re going to blow it. Just stay home. Bring up the Worcester Sharks to take your place, and let’s see what happens.

What’s the worst that could happen? A 10-0 loss maybe? That’s about as good as any other Sharks/Wings game has been for San Jose. It’s utterly ridiculous.

I was so ecstatic to see Sharks broadcaster Randy Hahn post a blog in which he stated it’s time for the Sharks to start gearing up for big games like this. Stop with the “it’s just another game” BS, because I got news for ya — it ain’t workin’!

Anyway, I guess Joe Thornton saw my video about him before tonight’s game because he played a lot better (only two giveaways). He scored the Sharks only two goals; both came in the first period on rebounds.

But then once again, the Wings scored four straight goals to win the game — just like they did in that 4-1 whooping earlier in the season.

I’ve run out of things to say about these Sharks/Wings games. What more can you say about this crap? I guess I’ll go the referee route for fun.

Ever notice the Wings struggle all year, but when the Wings play the Sharks, some switch turns on. The Wings get all the crucial calls and any Sharks power plays are negated. It’s truly inconceivable how bad refs are in these games. Tonight the Wings had double the power play time and took advantage of it. Two of their four markers came on the power play.

I believe I can fly...I believe I can suck incredibly (From SJSHARKS.com)

When the Sharks pulled their goalie at the end and received a power play, it was short-lived of course. God forbid San Jose EVER gets a chance to come back! Oh me Oh my! We refs can never let such a thing happen.

And they didn’t. Thornton got called for goalie interference. There goes that chance down the toilet. Thanks for playing Sharks.

So on top of not putting effort into games (maybe refs are the reason) and getting awful calls, the NHL should ban Sharks/Wings games. There truly is no point in them.

Let’s get to individuals now, and I’ll start with injuries. Dan Boyle missed yet another game, and it’s turning into one of those annoying “game-time decision” fiascos that always ends in a scratch. Do us a favor and put him on long-term injured reserve. There’s no point in playing him until after the Olympics. Let him rest. Let him play for his country. Move on.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed the game as well, which left a giant defensive hole on the Sharks blueline. So with two defensemen out, that means two had to be called up. Jason Demers and yes, my friends, our favorite little pinata — Derek Joslin.

Joslin lack of hockey intelligence is ground-breaking. Position error here — DET goal — position error there — DET goal. I looked up ole Derek on Facebook (you have to login to see), and he indeed has one. You can peruse his pictures, and you’ll find some interesting photographs. Two that stick out are him and his friends peeing on a building and the other is him and his friends peeing off a boat. Class act that Joslin. Urine-filled lakes coming to a city near you.

Half-Full

I think it’s been a few years since Detroit has won the season series against the Sharks. The one time the Sharks owned the series is when Detroit later knocked them out of the playoffs. Maybe it’s the reverse this time around? Hope so.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 26  DET 24; Scott Nichol led with seven.

Will some media member just go around asking every coach and player, “Why the hell can’t you beat the Red Wings? Seriously what is your malfunction?” But noooooo. Let’s be politically correct and boring. The fans want to know it, so ask it. Simple.

The Sharks now embark on a six-game road trip leading up to the Olympics. It starts Thursday when the Sharks go to St. Louis.

–Ray

February 3, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NHL 2008-2009 Predicted Final Division Standings

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Atlantic Division

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Southeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Central Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northwest Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Pacific Division

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lace ’em up: The 2008 NHL season begins Saturday

Lace up your skates and hit the ice — it’s hockey time.

Ron Cortes/MCTPittsburg Penguins’ Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal by Ryan Malone during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The NHL season starts Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic, with the New York Rangers taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning. This season begins after numerous offseason signings and trades that are sure to shake up the standings. Will the Detroit Red Wings repeat? How will the local teams, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, do? Which team is the dark horse? Which team will tumble into the depths of last place? Those questions will all be answered.

Following their Stanley Cup Finals victory, the Red Wings decided it would be best to sign another sniper — Marian Hossa. Surely, this will keep Detroit in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but things will not be as easy this year. Goalie Dominik Hasek finally retired and defenseman Nick Lidstrom is one year older, as is Chris Chelios. Age has always been a factor for Detroit but they are winners in Hockeytown. However, the Central division, which Detroit is a part of, has been retooled and looks very formidable for the defending champs.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the team to watch in this division, and in the whole NHL. With their two young stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both could be sophomores or juniors with us here at Virginia Tech), Chicago could easily challenge Detroit for the division crown. Its defense has been bolstered with offseason acquisition Brian Campbell, bringing offense to their blueline. The question mark for Chicago is its goaltender, Cristobal Huet. If he can match his second half of last season with Washington, Chicago will be in tremendous shape.

Let’s head back east and take a look at the defending Eastern Conference champions — the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens lost quite a few players in the offseason, namely Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and, of course, Marian Hossa. This is going to hurt them this year. They are in one of the most difficult divisions in hockey, the Atlantic.

Philadelphia is the main opponent for the Pens. There was not much movement by the Flyers except a huge contract extension for young franchise man Mike Richards. The past year allowed Richards and Briere to gel, and let Braydon Coburn break out into a top defenseman.

The Rangers lost a lot with Jaromir Jagr going to Russia. All of that experience and scoring is now halfway around the world. The pressure now solely rests with centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, both entering their second year in Madison Square Garden. The Rangers front office did help the loss of Jagr by bringing in Markus Naslund and blueliner Wade Redden. It will be a three-team race for the Atlantic title, but all three will end up in the playoffs. That means the Devils are out.

We will stay in the Eastern Conference and look at the Southeast division, won last year by Washington. Alexander Ovechkin proved again why he is one of the best players in the game, every bit as good as Sidney Crosby. There is a problem for the Capitals, though — the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa yanked Barry Melrose away from ESPN to be head coach, and with a slew of signees things look bright for the Lightning. This is the dark horse for the NHL. It would not be surprising for them to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, if they can sure up the goaltending.

Wrapping up the east is the Northeast division. Montreal goalie Carey Price, said to be the second coming of Patrick Roy, proved his worth last year. The Canadians dumped some useless salary and are still attempting to bring in will-he-or-won’t-he free agent Mats Sundin, your Roger Clemens of hockey. They should finish first in the division.

Montreal’s archrival, Boston is going to turn some heads this year. Barring any more injuries, they will be contenders, along with Ottawa and Buffalo in the division. Ottawa is going backwards, and Buffalo is at a stalemate. Now is the time for Buffalo to make its move. Watch for a big trade deadline deal for the Bruins.

Back out west, we find the Northwest and Pacific divisions. In these two, you will find some of the best goaltending and defense in the NHL. It’s all about hardnosed hockey here, with the occasional sprinkling of offensive firepower in San Jose and Detroit. The Northwest division lost a lot of talent and players shifted around to teams in the same conference. Anybody can win the Northwest — it’s that simple. Every team has a solid defense backed by exceptional goaltending.

The Pacific division is home to a perennial regular season powerhouse, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks’ problems come in the playoffs, and that is why they fired their coach Ron Wilson last year and brought in one of Detroit’s assistant coaches, Todd McClellan, to give the team a new, winning attitude. This coupled with the addition of a revamped blueline — Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich — means the pieces are once again in place for a deep playoff run.

The Stars and Ducks are going to give the Sharks everything they can handle, though, especially with goalies like Marty Turco and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Anaheim did not make any huge moves in the offseason, and Dallas lost a few key players from their Conference Finals run. That will not stop them from competing though. Both teams have superior coaches.

With all of that said, this looks to be another fantastic hockey season. More and more fans are tuning in and attending games, bringing back the love for hockey in America. It is truly a great and exciting sport. There is nothing more emotional in sports than seeing players lift the Stanley Cup after a strenuous eight-month journey. That journey begins tomorrow.

– Ray

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dissecting the Blue Jays

This Blue Jays team as of late has shown the MLB what it can really do once it gets rolling. It was necessary for GM J.P. Ricciardi to fire then manager John Gibbons. He had shown the Jays’ potential but could never really activate the potential when need be. So it was time for a change. Former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston replaced him and had a goal of a .500 record before the All-Star break. Toronto came close but did not achieve the .500 mark, but the message had been sent. The Blue Jays could come back into the AL Wild Card Race.

The Blue Jays lead the MLB in ERA with 3.55 and complete games (13). Ace Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett have been carrying the work load combining to pitch 437.1 innings and a combined 412 strikeouts. Unfortunately, their records have not really shown that with Halladay being 18-11 and Burnett 18-10. Still, the long innings these two pitch have helped to craft a very young bullpen still getting the hang of things. The only big name in the ‘pen is B.J. Ryan and has converted 30/34 save opportunities with 57 K – a solid season coming off Tommy John surgery. So, if you have pitching, you should be able to win games, right?

Well, let’s look at fielding, which was a problem for the Jays last year. After bringing in a slew of NL players in the offseason, the Jays are 6th in fielding percentage at .986. The defense is good, the pitching is fantastic. And the have a great offense already don’t they? With Rios and Wells? Not exactly…

Here is the struggle for Toronto: Offense. You can’t win games if you can’t get runs. Halladay doesn’t get you 5 runs for throwing a complete game, so the offense has needed to step up. Unfortunately, it has a little too late. Toronto is batting .265 on the season, good for 14th in the majors. A big problem has been missing ad that is a big bat in the lineup. Without Frank Thomas to protect young Rios and Wells, there have only been 117 homers hit out by Jays players: 25th in MLB.

Let’s focus a little bit more specifically on the offense. Believe it or not, there is not one Blue Jay that has 20 HR. The closest is Alex Rios with 17. Pitiful. Unacceptable in this day and age of the long ball. GM Ricciardi MUST address this in the offseason. If it means giving up a young pitcher or two, do it. You have got to manufacture runs. Keep in mind though, the Blue Jays have been bitte by the injury bug a lot this year, which they have the last two years. Only 3 players have played over 106 games (Overbay, Rios, Scutaro). Rios has been the money man for the Jays though, leaving me wondering if the Rios for Lincecum deal would have went through in the offseason if the Jays could do anything offensively. Rios has hit the most home runs, hits, doubles, and stolen bases. He can’t do everything though. He has got to have help. OF Vernon Wells just has never been the same since that huge deal a couple years ago.

There has been hope though! The last 30 days, the Jays are 4th in batting average, 4th in hits and the top 10 for most hitting categories in the MLB. They can do it. As much as I hate saying wait until next year, Jays fans, we are going to have to. Ricciardi will lose the big Burnett salary and hopefully can bring in some serious hitters, while keeping the main core of pitching together (Halladay, Marcum, McGowan, Litsch). Perhaps maybe bringing in a good arm or two for the bullpen. Maybe the slogan next year will be “Not the Rays, it’s the Jays!” Boston continues to get old, and the Yankees are a complete mess. It could very well be the Rays and Jays becoming the new Boston and New York. Now, wouldn’t that be something?

-Ray

September 18, 2008 Posted by | Baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment