Archive for March 22, 2016

NHL: Looking After the Till

1152 for publication March 18, 2016

Ross Brewitt

Just when I thought the NHL was about to settle down and get on with the Canadian-free playoff rounds comes word from their meetings in Boca Raton, that after ten years, the subject of… ta-da… goalie equipment is on the agenda.

Yep, Mr. Bettman, Commissioner of all things NHL, proclaimed as much Tuesday, and the idea appears to be meeting with favour, including goalies.

But allow me some history.

“Obviously our watchdog of all things, the NHL, is takin’ care of business because up until the present, apparently over the past few years no-one of any significance had noticed the sudden upsurge of “Robocop” outfits for goalies.

          Are we talking oversize jerseys? No, we’re referring to sweaters that could make Dolly Parton look like Ally McBeal. Are we talking facemasks. Nope. What we have is masks rivaling desk-top computers in sheer girth and bulk. How about catching gloves? The “trapper” has given way to a leather bassinet built for twins.

          Let’s not forget chest protectors with those shoulder flaps, Garth “Batman” Snow comes immediately to mind, with a look that seems as if your favourite netminder has jammed his head through a garage door.”

Those remarks in italic were from a column I wrote in 1998, and here we are, 2016, and the present NHL goaltending supervisor feels the timing couldn’t be better.  We can only wonder, amongst ourselves, when the light bulb came on?

Look, it wasn’t Kay Whitmore’s fault that it’s taken the NHL this long to connect the dots. With an active career including Hartford, Vancouver, Boston and Calgary, covering 1989 ‘til 2002 when his retirement came calling, was played in hockey equipment that grew at a 2×4 thickness each season.

Since he came on board he began lobbying the dressing rooms for change. Now, we’ve arrived at this momentous announcement by Mr. Bettman. It has everyone who counts lined up and buying in, from owners, to players, and most importantly goalies.

Even the manufacturers of equipment have been put on notice, nicely, that they must have equipment designed and conforming before the start of the season. The hook? Only then will they be able to sell their equipment within the NHL.

That’s a deadline of September training camps, to meet the downsized specs, produce the goods in the variety of colours and markings preferred by pro-goalies at all levels. But not in Europe, or at least not until the IIHF buys in.

We will also have the goaltenders requiring the new equipment to practice with over the summer and become familiar with before they are dodging missiles fired by forwards and D using those composite sticks. The flexy whippers that make even the weeniest of shooters able to launch pucks at lethal velocity.

And while you’re at it, has any thought been given to the skaters and the equipment they do battle with, as it applies to “shot blocking.” You know the smaller shin pads, lighter pants, smaller jocks, and those featherweight gloves most wear, even the guys who don’t stickhandle so much.

Wanna go hard on safety? Why not on the carpet for any player or official not wearing a visor. They shouldn’t be allowed on the ice just because they like taking un-necessary risks. Especially in this era of high-stick deflections and tips, when the speed and weight of an unseen puck can take out one, or both unprotected eyes, possibly cause a fatality.

These are other “mandatory” safety causes for the NHL to take up, out of the bin of neglect. That, and getting a lot tougher with head hits. To date the fines and suspension campaign shows no signs of being taken seriously or slowing down the frequency of incidents. Like every night.

Be careful Mr. Bettman, you’d hate to envision a terrible aftermath if either catastrophe happened on your watch. You’re the guy I, and others, have cited for not looking after “the game,” challenges that weren’t sexy, like “accounts receivable.”

In fact, this latest plan is the result needing more scoring, not dire safety concerns. But for now let’s just say it’s a commendable start.

At leveling the playing field.

A Good Guy, a Black Sheep and a Black Ace

1151 for publication March 11, 2016

Ross Brewitt

Well, well, what a surprise. Jonathan Drouin, the recalcitrant Lightning Bolt has finally seen the light, and he’s been saved.

After a month of practicing with rink rats, midget teams, and pick-up games he announced he will report to Syracuse of the AHL and end his hissy-fit screech-circus at not being traded by the Lightning’s meanie GM, Steve Yzerman. Seems Yzerman was in the right all along.

It also appears Drouin may have been receiving, and accepting, bad advice. Of course, we’ll never know. Still, anyone with a modicum of intelligence can connect dots.

It’s a hard lesson, especially if you’ve over-rated your contributions, or you’re hard-headed and obstinate. Whether you like it or not, whether it suits your sense of fair play or needs, once you sign a contract and are being very well paid for your rookie services, you have stepped over the line into the world of professional sport.

When you’ve realized every young player’s dream, and are subject to that contract you willingly signed, you belong to “them.” Once there, the team, not you or agents call the shots.

Sure, there once was a time when managers and owners had all the control and the environment to banish players to the minors on a whim. Most of that disreputable conduct vanished the day the World Hockey Association came over the horizon. That would be the day Bobby Hull signed with the Winnipeg Jets.

Until then the WHA was picking off lesser lights, and disgruntled players who were tempted by the money thrown around. But when Hull, one of the NHL’s brightest stars had presented his contract expectations in order, along with his reasonable deadline, the Blackhawks had laughed at his presumption. The Golden Jet boarded a plane forthwith and headed north to The ‘Peg, signing a million-dollar contract the same day.

Today, players with single-digit goal production pull-down millions. I’ve always maintained they have Hull to thank.

The good news out of this fiasco is when Drouin walked away from the Lightning, both he and Stevie Y buttoned down communications. No “he said, he said” in the media. Then Drouin blinked, and agreed to return to The Crunch.

This time even he must understand he may not be back in the NHL this year. But he has had plenty of time to ponder the problem, and understands that if he’s ever to play in the NHL again, he has to be in shape and ready to go.

It’s a hard lesson learned, for any young players who follow. It’s also a step in the right direction.

Now, consider this. Jarred Tinordi of the Arizona Coyotes, is the guy who arrived after the blockbuster trade for John Scott, now playing in Newfoundland, and has been suspended 20 games for failing a drug test. It will cost him over $200,000.

It’s been said the drug test was done while Tinordi was a member of the Montreal organization. I’m not sure, but isn’t that like trading for a Black Ace, without revealing the player’s condition in the negotiations?

Just wonderin’.

Moving along, if you were selecting NHL coach of the year today, who would you settle on, Mike Babcock? Michel Therrien? Hey, what about Washington’s Barry Trotz?

Any coach who can impose his game on Alex Ovechkin, talk him into playing the “team” way, deserves to be rewarded. For hockey acumen, then for his arm-twisting diplomacy.

Yet the question remains, can he impose that will on Team Caps when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin? The annual four-rounds of blood, sweat, and tears, known as the second season, is far more taxing than the first.

When you play one opponent over a max of seven straight each round, tactics change, ice and space get tighter. There’s no room for slipping into previous bad habits. It’s when the game comes down to more than one player.

With 14 or 15 games remaining, and focus on who will be the final 16 match-ups, Mr. Trotz will be resting some players, and trying out others, but his focus will be on adjusting and enforcing “the plan.”

Because successful playoffs often come down to “team” smarts.