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What’s Happened To The Montreal Canadiens?

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In 1993 the Montreal Canadians sat atop the hockey world as NHL champions for the 24th time after the beat Wayne Gretzky and his Los Angeles Kings in five games.

At the time they were the most storied franchise in sports holding more titles than any other franchise and a history that is only comparable with The New York Yankees in terms of legendary.

19 years later the Habs have gone from powerful to a punch line.

They’ve watched the Yankees win five titles reaching 27 total, and when I mean watch they have literally been in the backseat or on the side of the road watching them pass by.

It started with the infamous Patrick Roy trade to the Colorado Avalanche, which birthed a mini dynasty in Denver, and has since morphed into a smorgasbord of futility that has been rarely viewed in French-Canadia.

They’ve missed the playoffs 6 times in the last 19 years, in the previous 80 years they had missed the playoffs 7 times…7!!

They’ve had one trip to the conference finals, one division title, eight different coaches and not a lick of consistency behind the bench or on the ice.

The city that was home to some of the games greatest goal scorers and game breakers like Maurice Richard and Guy Lafluer hasn’t had any punch in their lineup since the late 70’s or so it would seem. Their last scoring champ was Lafluer in 1978, the last winner of the Norris trophy was Chris Chelios in 1989, last MVP was Jose Theodore in 2001. More on goalies later.

They’ve gone from great names who came through in great situations to relying on Scott Gomez to do their heavy lifting (ask the Rangers about how that goes).

What happened? When did the Yankees of hockey become the New York Mets? The Habs have gone from kings to jesters. The team that was feared by feared by many in the league are very close to becoming a doormat.

They used to own the Boston Bruins, their primary rival, they’ve lost two straight playoff series to them including a 2-0 lead last year. The Maple Leafs, who were in the same position last year are battling for a playoff spot and could appear in next years Winter Classic. The Red Wings have overtaken them as the standard for excellence in the NHL. It doesn’t make any sense.

Lets go back to the Roy departure for a bit. Roy was the face of the Habs after his remarkable burst onto the scene as a 20 year-old wunderkind who lead the Habs to a win in the 1986 Stanley cup over the Calgary Flames. His Conn Smythe performance earned him a place in Canadiens lore and he carried it with him into the 90’s which included another masterful performance in the team’s last Stanley Cup win in 1993 over The Los Angeles Kings.

Then 2 years later during an 11-1 beatdown in Montreal at the hands of the Red Wings, Roy was pulled after giving up nine goals on 26 shots. Stormed off of the bench and as he walked by Habs president Pat Jablonski he said “It’s my last game in Montreal.”

Four days later he was in Denver to begin a great run with the Colorado Avalanche and the Habs haven’t recovered since.

Ever since Roy’s departure not only have the Habs struggles on the ice but in net as well.

The franchise that brought us legends like Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Roy hasn’t come close to producing another great in net since Roy’s departure.

The fans in Montreal have been treated to the likes of Mathieu Garon, Cristobal Huet, Stephane Fiset and Jocelyn Thibault.

And yes I know Jose Theodore did win a Hart Trophy and a Vezina but Theodore was more fizzle than sizzle, hence why he lost his job to Huet.

Recently Montreal has been trying to sell itself on Carey Price who has had more ups and downs than any young goalie should ever have. His career has mirrored the luck of the Canadiens as of late, some games he looks like a Vezina candidate, others he looks like a career backup.

You can’t solely place the blame on Price, especially this season. Without him in net Montreal has only won 2 of it’s 17 games. His offense boasts only 3 ten goal scorers and is ranked in the bottom half of the NHL.

It’s been an abysmal wreck and it’s led to Montreal’s last place standing in the Northeast division even after two straight playoff appearances where it looked like Montreal was on it’s way back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Who’s to blame? The organization? The players? The high expectations of the fans?

Recently Mike Cammelleri lashed out at his Habs teammates for developing “a losing mentality”… he was rewarded by being traded to the Calgary Flames and was browbeaten in a French newspaper who’s headline read “One Less Loser.”

Yikes!

In Cammy’s defense what should he have said? He’s a leader, if you’re not playing well you deserve to be called out for it. What does it say about an organization when it trades a guy for giving an honest and truthful opinion about how his team is playing?

The Habs can’t be coddled like little boys, they are grown men that are wilting under the expectations the come with putting on that red, white and blue sweater. The organization can’t try to hide it or punish people for saying it, it’s right there for everyone to see.

Is this what it’s come to in Montreal? Greatness to mediocrity? The Canadiens are drowning in it and are in desperate need of a raft.

This team needs an identity, a face, a proper direction to be lead in because they’ve been going in circles for nearly 20 years.

The organization that at one time could say that they were on par with the New York Yankees is now lagging behind.

Can they recover? Can they ever find a coach that can withstand the pressure associated with the organization? What’s next for the Montreal Canadiens?

They better have some answers and soon. You can only wallow in mediocrity so long before everyone stops caring and then you become a team of losers.


Thank God Hockey’s Back (NHL Preview)

It's been an offseason to forget in the NHL

If you thought the NBA offseason has been hell then you don’t have the slightest idea about rough. The NHL’s offseason has been a public relations nightmare. The summer was supposed to be about the celebration of the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup after 40 years of futility. Instead every other day there was a tragedy on the ice.

Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the KHL Lokomotiv franchise’s plane crash that killed all passengers aboard including former NHL-ers Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and Brad McCrimmon to name a few cast a shadow of the sport and brought sadness to everyone over the sport.

Add that to the fact that Rangers bruiser Derek Boogaard died towards the end of last season and you understand the somber mood that the NHL might seem to be in.

When looking at ESPN fashion guru Paul Lukas’s annual uniform design review there were less designs for jerseys and more decals and patches for fallen players. It’s like the NHL has become a graveyard instead the coolest game on earth.

If any sport needs to start their season and get back to the brilliant play on the playing surface it’s this league. Ever since the lockout 0f 2004-05 the NHL has been on a roll. The talent on the ice is the highest that it’s been since the mid to late 90’s with the emergence of the Paul Kariya’s, Keith Tkachuk’s and Mike Modano’s of the world.

The NHL has so many great players playing at a high level that it’s becoming hard to keep up with all of them. At first it was the hype of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf. Then came Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler. Now we have kids like Ryan Nugent- Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Tyler Myers and others who are crowding the ice and making noise.

The Bruins are ready to repeat.

It’s not like the NBA in terms of star power but it’s a beautiful thing to watch when the games are flowing. There are great players on every team in the league and most are under the age of 27.  Every night in every city there is a reason to watch a game just to catch one of these young studs whether it’s Drew Doughty in Los Angeles or Jeff Skinner in Carolina. Even with the sports brightest star status still in doubt (Sidney Crosby is still having post-concussion issues) the league is as strong as it’s ever been and is staring one of its most competitive season in decades in the face.

This year there is no real clear cut favorite. Gone are the days of Detroit being the front runner in the league every year, nowadays they’re not even the favorites in their own division. There are 10 to 14 teams that have a realistic chance at winning the Stanley Cup this year whether it is because of their goaltending, offensive prowess or just the fact they have all of the right pieces in place to make a run at the cup.

The right pieces meaning the right balance of youth and experience. In the modern NHL the young teams win championships as seen with the Penguins, Blackhawks and Bruins in the last three years. Yes I know Tim Thomas is old as dirt and Zdeno Chara is no spring chicken, but the work put in by guys like Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand helped this team win the Stanley Cup last year. Unlike in other sports where the older teams win the titles the young ones take the crown in the NHL.

So who has the best shot at winning the crown this year? Well in order…

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Now I know what you’re thinking… who the hell will score goals for them? Their leader in goals had 23 and their points leader scored 50. The Predators are the NHL version of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000’s, they can’t score to save their lives, but no one can score on them. The backline led by Shea Weber along with Vezina finalist Pekka RInne were in the top 5 in goals allowed per game and the teams tough defensive play gave teams fits. If they get two goals a game they could win another 44 games and find themselves fighting for the crown.

BUFFALO SABRES

They can score in bunches thanks to Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Tyler Myers heads a steady backline and Ryan Miller is one the game’s best goalies. They failed to take care of the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs last year but if Miller stays on top of his game they can go very far.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Team Teemu and the Ducks have a shot at the crown.

 

Once upon a time the Habs had more titles than the New York Yankees after raising their 24th Cup in 1993. Ever since they’ve been one big roller coaster, which has included numerous changes in net and on the bench and they haven’t had a real identity for a long time. Now they seem settled on Carey Price who came through big for them last year shaking off an up and down 2009-20 season that had him on the bench in the playoffs. This team isn’t too loaded with playmakers but it gets the job done with guys like Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri as well as dark horse Norris candidate P.K. Subban patrolling the blue line. They can make a run as long as they can hold onto a lead unlike how they did last year against the Bruins.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

I don’t care what they do in the regular season anymore. I don’t care if they win the Pacific division, if Joe Thornton scores 200 points and Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture score 90 goals. This team should’ve won a Cup by now and their time is running out. If they don’t get it done this year then they never will.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Is Ilya Bryzgalov finally the answer in net for the Flyers? He better be. The Flyers let go of fan favorites and team leaders Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to clear space for Bryzgalov. Sure they acquired L.A. Kings power forward Wayne Simmonds (who Flyer fans will love) and Brandon Schenn  (who from preseason reports looks like a beast) but you don’t replace Richards toughness and Carter’s skill overnight. I’m still not a fan of either trade but if the Flyers get back to the finals then it proves that maybe I really don’t know anything about hockey.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

I probably jumped the gun last year in making them Stanley Cup favorites, but they are close. Acquiring Richards from the Flyers gives them a much needed veteran presence in the locker room and they have Doughty, Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar flying around and making things happen. The only question is will Jonathan Quick be their full time net minder or will it be Jonathan Bernier?

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Without Crosby the Pens had 98 points last year and took the 4th spot in the East (without Malkin also) so once Crosby comes back how do you think this team will fare?

(This Crosby injury by the way is really bad in both a game play and P.R. sense for the NHL. The league needs Crosby on the ice because he is the NHL. Crosby is the league’s most recognizable face and its best player. The league needs him on the ice as much as it needs Ovechkin. When Crosby is on the ice the game changes. He is the best passer and best scorer in the league and can change a game at the drop of a hat. If the Pens had him healthy in the playoffs they may have hoisted their second cup in three years. Once healthy the Pens once again become the league’s scariest team and might be the best team in the league… once he comes back.

His injury is the reason why Brendan Shanahan has been so harsh when it comes to physical play. This isn’t like the NFL where Roger Goodell is turning the game into flag

40 and still going strong.

football, the suspensions that “Shanaban” is handing out are necessary in order to change the culture of the game and protect the players. After the injuries to Crosby as well as Nathan Horton and Marc Savard it has become clear that the league needs to crack down on these types of hits. Hopefully it discourages this type of play and quick. Because if Steven Stamkos gets a Crosby type of injury then the game will really be in trouble.)

DETROIT RED WINGS

I mean when are they not a player for the Cup?

Also let’s pay homage to Nicklas Lidstrom. This is probably his last season in the league and it looks like he can play another five. At age 40 Lidstrom is still better than most of the defensemen in the league and is probably the front runner for his 8th Norris trophy. What he did in replacing the irreplaceable Steve Yzerman as captain in Detroit and leading them to another title in addition to all that he’s done in his career has to put him in the top 10 players all-time right?

NEW YORK RANGERS

I probably just jinxed my team putting them in the top 7 and I’m probably overvaluing the acquisition of Brad Richards (which will help immensely) but after watching this team play together for two years I think that they will contend for a title this year. The Rangers youth movement has been a huge success with Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky leading the way. The Rangers are a tough team that is defense driven but can score goals when needed. They just needed more consistent scoring and a veteran to get them over the hump. Enter Richards. Richards was a member of John Tortorella’s 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning championship team and is one of the game’s best scorers. His presence will help Marian Gaborik get back to scoring a ton of goals, should push Cally and Dubz to the 30 goal mark and should keep the Rangers ship steady in those late months. I’m saying they’ll win it all, but they will be a serious contender.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Hey Bruce Boudreau, you don’t get it done this year then you may want to update your resume.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

The thought of Daniel Sedin taking four shots to the face and Roberto Luongo falling flat on his face in key situations is still fresh. If they didn’t get tougher this offseason then they’ll be done in a hurry.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The trades after the title killed their chemistry for the first half of last year. Once they got it going they looked like a machine. The key is Corey Crawford in net. We know Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp will score, but the reason they were able to turn things around was because of Crawford’s play in net. He is primed for a breakout year and the Blackhawks are looking at a return to the Cup.

BOSTON BRUINS

With Richards the Rangers can contend.

 

Okay, your city won its 7th title in all four major sports in 10 years… now go away. That wasn’t really analysis more like I’m sick of Boston and its championship reign.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

No one, and I mean no one will stop them from scoring goals especially of Ryan Getzlaf stays healthy all season long. The Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan line is the scariest line that the NHL has seen in a while. They can all go for 50 goals and 100 points and they make it easy. It helps when your 40 year-old second line winger can still get you 30 goals and 80 points to help back you up. I don’t know what fountain of youth Teemu Selanne has been drinking from but he needs to share it with others. However it always comes back to goaltending and Jonas Hiller decides whether I’m right about this team making the Cup finals or not. With him in net last year they would’ve won the pacific division. In that period in between before Ray Emery almost saved them the Ducks could’ve scored 10 goals a game and it wouldn’t have mattered because they still would’ve lost. Hiller’s health means so much to this team because they have no real second option behind him. It also doesn’t help that he is one of the top 6 goalies in the league. This team’s title hopes hinge on him, if he’s healthy then put them down for a June reservation. If not, then it’s another first round exit.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Yep, I just picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. They have a 41 year-old goalie, I don’t know if their defense can stop the puck from going in the net and Vinny LeCavalier is still possible trade bait… and I don’t care. This team could’ve made the Stanley Cup Finals last year if not for a road game 7. This year I think Stamkos and company won’t fade late in the season like they did last year, which ultimately cost them home ice. They are settled in net and Roloson is a big game goalie who knows how to win also they can score with the best of them. Steve Yzerman put this team together in his image and if that’s the case then I have no doubts that they will be tough enough to get to and win the Stanley Cup.

The first puck is set to drop in a few hours and I’m more than excited. After a long offseason with so much tragedy and heartbreak it will be a welcome relief to see some of the best players in the world on the ice and making magic happen.

The league deserves some good news and good times after a few months of so many bad ones.

ATLANTIC- RANGERS

Stamkos is ready for a run at Lord Stanley.

NORTHEAST- BRUINS

SOUTHEAST- LIGHTNING

EC PLAYOFFS- CAPS, HABS, SABRES, FLYERS, PENS

ECF-  LIGHTNING- BRUINS

CENTRAL- BLACKHAWKS

NORTHWEST- CANUCKS

PACIFIC- DUCKS

WC PLAYOFFS- SHARKS, KINGS, PREDATORS, RED WINGS, BLUES

WCF- DUCKS- BLACKHAWKS

SCF- DUCKS- LIGHTNING

HART TROPHY- STEVEN STAMKOS

VEZINA- HENRIK LUNDQUIST

NORRIS- NICKLAS LIDSTROM

CALDER- RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS

SELKE- JONATHAN TOEWS

JACK ADAMS- JOHN TORTORELLA


A Poem For The Bruins Misery

The Bruins are in deep trouble after Montreal took two in Boston.

To Whom It May Concern, the Bruins of Boston

Your run at Lord you are certainly costing

Losing two at home to a familiar foe

That has owned you since the Richard Brothers long long ago

Down 2-0 heading back to Montreal

How can we not expect you to do anything but fall?

You have scored 1 goal and given up five

If not for Tim Thomas you would barely be alive

Carey Price has turned away all attempts good and bad

And Milan Lucic performance has been very sad

The crowd favorite who had a breakthrough year

Has made little noise and has his own fans in tears

I hate to bring this up but lest we forget

You’ve lost six straight playoff games I’m sure you’d like to forget

That devastating meltdown last year against the Flyers

That you seemed to let go and let build a fire

But dogs lets face it those losses still fester

And this team right now is one big mess sir

Chara is injured the crowd wants Julien fired

Is this the East’s three seed that was chasing the cup it desired

Is this the rugged bunch that knocked opponents around?

Where’s Shawn Thornton’s toughness to energize the crowd?

Where’s Nathan Horton’s offense and Bergeron and Krejci?

Is this really a weak team that lack’s a tough psychy?

You’re down 2-0 headed to the Bell Centre

Where a hellacious crowd awaits ready to end ya

If the Bruins want to come back in this series Milan Lucic has to step up.

They’ve seen Lafleur kill you and Roy and Koivu

Fact is that Montreal likes to annoy you

They’ve been better for so long and yeah they know it

Their na-na-na hey-hey’s definitely show it

P.K. is baling and so is Cammalleri

And Hal Gill and Gionta are making life scary

If you lose tomorrow you’d better mail it in

Because unlike the Flyers there’s no chance you’ll win

7 straight losses 3 to your rival

It’s enough to make Don Cherry act suicidal

My advice is man up you play in Boston

Where the Red Sox and Pats and C’s win often

Channel Bobby Orr and Terry Reilly

Offense step up and defense play wisely

Timmy stand on your head you’re this team’s only hope

If you play like you did Saturday then there’s no hope

2 in the first 2 minutes 20 seconds

Do that again and you’ll see an early exit

Chara get healthy, Ryder step up

Lucic get your head right and turn your game up

They call you the next Neely and if this is true

Then tomorrow you’ll turn Carey Price into stew

Do all of these things and you’ll see another day

If not then you’ll have wasted these last 6 months away

Another offseason to sit back and wonder

How another weaker team put you six feet under

So as you await a must win game 3

Put away last year’s Flyers misery

If you don’t then by Thursday you’ll hear an old Montreal cry

Na-na-na-na hey-hey-hey goodbye!!!!!


Make Or Break For The Washington Capitals

These playoffs have to be different for the Washington Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin and company should watch old footage of the 90’s Philadelphia Flyers, the early 2000’s Sacramento Kings, the mid 2000’s Philadelphia Eagles and the early 2000 New York Mets. Why you ask? Because they all have one thing in common, they all couldn’t get over the hump.

The Kings never could beat the Lakers, the Eagles never pushed themselves to a championship level, the Flyers always fell short and the Mets teased, exceeded and then failed. Washington, you’re next.

Honestly I shouldn’t care. As a homer I hope desperately that my Rangers will oust the Washington Capitals and begin a Stanley Cup march. Yet the Capitals are so much more intriguing of a storyline.

The Caps roll into the playoffs as the league’s hottest and most dangerous team. In January they were 6th in the Eastern conference and trying to figure out how the new defensive style that Bruce Boudreau implemented this year.  Now they are the number one seed after snatching it up from slumping Philly in the last two months of the year. After a 6-0 beat down by the Rangers in late February, the Caps went 16-4 the rest of the way and find themselves as the current favorite to win the Cup.

Playoff exits have been too early for the Caps.

Boudreau’s system turned out to be more than successful as the Caps finished in the top 5 in GAA and number 2 overall in penalty killing even though they were a middle of the road offensive team. Alex Ovechkin sacrificed the most of any other player as he finished with career lows in goals and points, as did Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.

Even though the Caps weren’t lighting the lamp as much, they were winning at a higher rate and stifling opponents at the same time.

Now comes the hard part.

Sure all of this worked in the regular season and they benefitted from Tampa Bay’s drop off thanks to their younger players hitting a wall. However, the postseason is a different animal, and it’s one that the Caps haven’t been able to tame.

Last year the Capitals were number one in the entire league and were barely even challenged during the regular season.  Once the playoffs hit they began pummeling the Montreal Canadiens and led the series 3-1 thanks to a 17-goal outburst in three games. Yet they lost the series because Montreal shut them down on offensive and Mike Cammalleri was able to find the net frequently even though the Habs registered 70 less shots than the Caps in the last 3 games.

Couple that with their lackluster showing in game 7 against Pittsburgh the previous year and getting ousted by the Flyers in the year before that and the Caps are in must win mode.

This team cannot afford a third straight early round exit as the Eastern Conferences number one seed. If not for the Rangers inability to score in 09 then the Caps would have been eliminated in three straight first-round series. The Caps have to win and win impressively if they want to avoid the stigma that currently sits in front of them.

And you know who it starts with.

Alex Ovechkin has to shake off his down year and be the force that he once was in this series. He has to be physical; he has to charge Henrik Lindquist at will, he has to be 60-goal Ovie instead of this version.

For the Caps to win it all Ovechkin has to score more.

Yes the Rangers are more physical, more rugged and like to slow the game down even more than Washington, but Ovechkin has to break that cycle. If this becomes a defensive struggle then the edge will go to the Rangers simply because that’s how the Rangers have always played and it’s a style of play that benefits them. The Rangers have no Ovechkins, no Alex Semin’s, no big-time playmakers that can change a game. Hell they don’t even have Ryan Callahan who will miss the playoffs because of a broken leg suffered from blocking a shot (by the way, the Rangers lead the league in blocked shots as well as hits).

What they do have is one of the best defensive pairings in the league in Marc Stall and Dan GIrardi. They have a ton of young, big, physical forwards that love to grind it out and wear a team down like Brian Boyle and Artem Anisimov. The Rangers almost beat the Caps two years ago in the same  1 vs. 8 scenario, but were undone by their lack of goal scoring. This year the Rangers outscored their opponents by a larger margin than the Caps… and they’re an 8th seed.

Hence the reason Ovechkin, Semin and company have to get going. If they don’t speed the game up and make the Rangers play at a faster pace then the Caps will have another summer of what if’s. questions and doubts.

Do I think the Caps will win the series? Unfortunately yes. Sure the Rangers owned them in the regular season but that doesn’t matter now. The Caps are red-hot and look better than any other team has at anytime during the year. They are on a mission to quiet the naysayers and doubters and finally get over the hump and they finally have the system and players to do it.

However, we said this about Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, about Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid about the Legion Of Doom and Carlos Beltran. Are the Capitals really ready to take that next step? Or are we watching the same old story with different characters? Beginning Wednesday we’ll find out.


The Truth About Hockey Fights

Nothing like a good old-fashioned hockey fight.

If you have a problem with fighting in the NHL, get over it.

Fighting is a part of the league like dunking is in basketball, like homeruns are in baseball. It’s a necessary evil that can used for motivational advantages, intimidation and all out fun and intrigue.

Hockey is the only sport in the world where the players police themselves. There are secret rules and codes in other sports about retribution, revenge and get back. In Hockey it’s out in the open. Got a problem with a player’s over excessive behavior? Send a goon out. Your team lacks energy? Throw your fists up. Someone going after your best player repeatedly and you’ve had enough? Pop him in the mouth.

In the NBA you get suspensions for pushing a guy too hard for coming down the lane over and over again, same in major league baseball when a batter starts raking and a pitcher gives him some sweet chin music. The NHL says you got a problem you deal with it. Unless you go Todd Bertuzzi on someone then you sit for a few games.

It’s been well-known since the inception of the sun dial that fighting and hockey go hand in hand. However, now in the year 2011 fighting in hockey is now looked down upon and thought of to be stupid.

On Pardon the Interruption this past week, hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon debated the recent brawl between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. Wilbon stated that the league should be ashamed of themselves for allowing brawls like that to continue and that the league should get rid of it for good. Former Habs Goalie Ken Dryden has been trying to get fighting removed from the game for years because he feels that the game is better without it. After the regular season in 2009 NHL GM’s got together to discuss the possible elimination of hockey from the sport.

Thank god they voted against it.

Hockey fights aren't brainless, there are a multitude of reasons for dropping the gloves.

As much as I love Dryden and Wilbon and Kornheiser they should all be beheaded for even thinking about banishing fighting from the sport. I understand that hockey has a new fan base and that American sports have been wussified to no end (hi, Roger Goodell and David Stern) but come on, enough is enough.

You can’t hit QB’s anymore, you can’t bruise a guy for getting into the lane and you can’t brush back batters for standing on the plate, at least give us the satisfaction of grown men defending their keep on the ice.

Hockey more than other sports prides itself on toughness. You see guys like Duncan Keith pulling out his teeth to stay on the ice and contribute in the playoffs last year and Steve Yzerman years ago playing on a torn ACL to lead the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup. Hockey players love being tough guys. It’s like they were born to give up their bodies for torture and pain just for fun.

Plus we as fans idolize it. We cheer when guys drop the gloves and pummel each other in the name of honor and team, we never forget guys that give their bodies every shift and every minute just to make a single play. Primary example are my New York Rangers. There are no Crosby’s, Ovechkin’s, Lidstrom’s or any other noteworthy superstars on this team, instead it’s a hit, grind and hustle team that is among the leaders in hits, shorthanded goals and penalty killing.

It’s the most enjoyable team we’ve had in years and even though we don’t score a lot I wouldn’t trade Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal for anything.

Ask most hockey fans, sure we love the stars of our team, but the faves are the Kris Drapers’, Andy McQuaids’ and George Parros’ of the world. The tough guys and the grind guys who really make wins possible.

Find me a Rangers fan that doesn't like Brandon Prust... I dare you.

Fighting and hard play are part of the game. However, there is a difference in how you let that aggression play out on the ice and toughness turns into an all-out mess.

Look at the two brawls last week between the Habs & B’s and Isles & Pens. Both were the talk of the league and sports highlight shows last week but had different meanings in terms of the way that the code of fighting should be played out.

The Habs & Bruins are long time Original Six rivals. They’ve had heated battles going back to the 60’s and 70’s that have left a mark on the history of the game. In the Bruins 8-6 win last Wednesday a series of brawls broke out that were more than entertaining. Tough guys like Travis Moen, Scott Thornton and others threw down a few times letting their emotions run over into a fury of fists on the ice. Even goalies Carey Price and Tim Thomas appeared to scrap for a little bit even though both weren’t trying to throw punches at each other.

As crazy as it seemed with both penalty boxes flooded with players and both benches bare by game’s end, it was a good brawl in the context of the game.

Everybody that threw down did it with respect. No sucker punches or cheap shots, just guys looking at each other and dropping the gloves for a few minutes then taking their seats in the sin bin. Wilbon said the league should be ashamed, I say hell no. it was old-time hockey with no dirtiness. Two teams who are fighting for their division that won’t back down from each other and letting each other know that they’re not going anywhere.

Then you have the mess that was the Pens & Isles brawl. The back-story to this is that the last two games were super physical matchups with the last one having Maxim Talbot handing out rough hits and Brent Johnson sending Rick DiPietro to the injured reserve with one punch.

Enforcer challenging a goalie... that's a no-no in the code.

(Side note: how badly has DiPi’s career gone? He was once the future of the franchise, now he’s a verb for getting knocked the **** out. Even Tim Thomas said the no one wanted to get “DiPIetroed” between him and Price. In case you were wondering Isles fans, yes he’s still got that 12 year, 62 million dollar contract under his belt. You may now send Garth Snow hate mail.)

With that in mind the Isles took the physicality to the Pens but took it too far. Matt Martin’s cheap shot on Talbot brought back memories of Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore. Trevor Gillies elbowed Eric Tangradi then as he crumbled to the ice Gillies tried to fight him then taunted him as he left the ice. Enforcer Michael Haley challenged goalie Brent Johnson while skating towards the penalty box… it was a ton of dirty hockey. The Isles were so hell-bent on revenge that they went to no end to make sure it happened. The result was a brawl that was really something the league should’ve been ashamed of.

Thankfully the long arm of Colin Campbell acted and acted fast suspending Martin, Gillies and Eric Godard who left the bench to protect Johnson, and fined both teams. Unfortunately the actions of the league didn’t sit well with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux who said that he was embarrassed by the league’s actions and that he might not want to be a part of the league if this is how they deal with incidents like these.

Lemieux was wrong. The league acted accordingly on all counts. The Isles were in the wrong and were punished harshly for their actions. If Lemieux had problems with dirty play and too much fighting then he should look in his own backyard first.

The Penguins lead the league in fighting majors and penalty minutes and they harbor Matt

Mario Lemieux chastises the league for allowing dirty plays to continue... yet employs this guy.

Cooke who has a reputation for being overly dirty. Cooke has given players concussions and put more players in danger with his overly-aggressive play including the blindside hit of the Blue Jackets Fedor Tyutin that got him suspended for four games. For Lemieux to criticize the league for not handling matters in the right way is silly and he needs to get his facts straight before speaking up again.

The league knows what it’s doing. They know what fights are good and bad for the game and try to eliminate what’s wrong while keeping the essence of the game intact. There were no suspensions from the Habs-B’s brawl because none were necessary. The Pens-Isles games was a different story. There are such things as good and bad fights in the NHL and the league knows this and regulates them with great efficiency.

Like em or not hockey fights are here to stay. It’s an integral part of the game that shouldn’t be taken away because of brawls that happen once in a blue moon or because people that watch from afar don’t like them. It’s hockey, its physical and it’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the last bit of raw physicality American sports has left, the last place where tough guys are allowed to be tough. Let’s not ruin a good thing while we got it.


A Letter To Marc-Andre Fluery

Marc-Andre Fluery needs to strp it up tonight.

Dear Marc-Andre Fleury,

Hi Marc, I’m Kevin Anthony Howard. I’m pretty sure you remember my letters to C.C. Sabathia and Lane Kiffin last year when they we’re facing tough situations and they did pretty well after we talked. So I figured after watching you get demolished by a weak scoring Canadians team last night, again, I figured you could use a little talk.

First off just to let you know I hate the Penguins, I’m a Rangers fan, it’s a rivalry you know? So I kind of actually want the Canadians to win tomorrow night at the igloo and send that place to ground in defeat and the fans home teary eyed. Yet not in the fashion that it seems like it’s going to happen in. that being with you being the goat for the eventual loss.

Yeah I know King Crosby just scored his first goal of the series last night, and I know Kris Letang sort of burned you the other night in Montreal and his mistake led to the Canadians knotting up the series, but last night was on you dude. You allowed some soft goals like the Mike Cammalleri back hander, ugly, and that Maxim Lapierre goal where he shook you out of your shoes, uglier.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this in you Marc. No one really paid attention in the Ottawa series, but on the low, you we’re terrible. Games 1 and 3 for you we’re rough to watch especially. I mean you got bailed out by Crosby and Malkin but dude, even you know that that’s not going to cut it especially this year with you all as defending champions and all.

Let’s be real for a minute. Crosby, Malkin and Staal aren’t the only top draft picks on this team. You were the number one pick in the draft in 2003 and the Pens envisioned you as being the best goalie that they had had since Tom Barasso. It was a rough transition to the league but you’ve done a decent job, you made the Canadian gold medal winning team this year, you’ve got a ring from last year and made the finals the year before. Yet Marc, you know as well as I do that you tend to disappoint more than amaze.

Your stats are average, the team actually played better with Ty Conklin in net in 2008 when you we’re injured, and you don’t exactly raise your game with stakes high late in the season or in the playoffs. In the six games you lost to the devils this year you allowed 3 or more goals in every game, against the Caps, 4 or more. That was the reason the pens weren’t a top 3 seed in the first place because of your poor play (which in hindsight doesn’t matter right now because look at where they all are).

With all of that said Marc tomorrow night is your shot. Possible last game in the Igloo, where Barasso won two cups and 300 games, where the Pens turned Pittsburgh into a raging hockey town once the Steelers closed up shop for the season, where Lemieux and Jagr were as synonymous as Jordan and Pippen, where the Pens face elimination and the possibility of being dethroned. This is your shot to come through and prove that that number one pick on you was a worthy one. You can be the best goalie on the ice and carry your team to victory much like your French-Canadian idols Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur.

The season is on your shoulders. You have to stop Cammalleri from continuing his amazing playoff run; you have to be better than Jaroslav Halak who has been putting on his best Mikka Kirprusoff in 2004 or J.S. Giguere from 2003 impression. The pressure is on you more than any other Penguin tomorrow night, much like an ace pitcher in a game 7 in baseball, you have to bring your best stuff in a do or die scenario tomorrow because your team needs you more than ever.

So remember that when the clock strikes seven and the puck is in your corner. You are the number one guy tomorrow night. The pressure is on you to get it done and you better live up to it, or else there are going to be some sour Pens fans come Thursday morning.

Good luck Marc, and remember the reason why you we’re picked number one in 03. Bring that game with you or the Pens are done

Sincerely,

Kevin Anthony Howard