Thank you, thank you, thank you: It’s back
I am wearing a hockey sweater on a day when it reached 90 degrees in Vail.The sun is not setting until 8:30 p.m. and the only melody I have in my head is the theme music to “Hockey Night in Canada.”Da-da-DA-DA-duh.Yeah, it’s still baseball season – the Giants aren’t out of it yet – and football’s on the way – the Niners’ quest for 0-16 begins – but the NHL is back.And now for the primal scream – YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSS!I don’t have to watch the NBA ever again. It’s nothing against basketball. I love covering high school hoops, but the NBA is as about as exciting as watching the grass grow. College basketball? Wake me up for March Madness.No more winter boredom.
Slap shots, wristers, kick saves, hard checks, power plays, Lord Stanley and Don Cherry rants are back. I’m almost excited to see Barry Melrose on the tube. I’m that delirious.Some thoughts on the lockout and the season to come:The players– Since this is a family newspaper, I cannot accurately describe how badly the players lost during this lockout. This was an unparalleled disaster in sports-labor history. The players lost a year, completely lost on the salary cap, giving ground from earlier offers and will see their salaries tank like a tech stock during 2001. I’ll play Donald trump right now. “Bob Goodenow, you’re fired.”– With a $39 million salary cap, more than 400 players become free agents. This is what we call a buyers market. Yes, cap-heavy teams will be able to buy out some players and not have that money count against the cap, but you better get a new NHL yearbook to figure out where everybody lands come October.– So, what happens to the Avs? Colorado gets some help because Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya were gone already. But how do you keep Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg (if he’s coming back), Adam Foote and company together for less than $39 million? Pierre LaCroix’s got some work to do.– Teams that were fiscally responsible before this whole mess are going to come out this offseason in much better shape. Of last year’s Frozen Four, the defending champs, Tampa, Calgary, and yes, my beloved San Jose Sharks look strong. On the other side of the spectrum, the New York Rangers, Colorado, Toronto, Philadelphia and Detroit will be shedding players like crazy.– Congratulations to Pittsburgh. If there was a team out there that needed a phenom like Sidney Crosby, the Pens were it. Let’s not have any Mario Lemieux comparisons, but the kid will breathe some much-needed life into the Steel City. Frankly, I’m surprised the NHL didn’t pull a “Patrick Ewing,” where the Rangers “magically” would have won Thursday’s draft lottery to get hockey going again at Madison Square Garden.
Rule changes– The most important one is enforcing obstruction. Yes, folks, we’ve heard this one before with it not coming to fruition. It must this time. The game must free up its superstars from the clutching and grabbing to show their talents. Enforcement of this rule is going to be a critical step toward bringing the fans back.– One rule change stinks – shootouts to break ties during the regular season? Wrong. You do not decide a baseball game with a home run hitting contest. Why decide a hockey game in a similar way? Ties are a part of hockey. ‘OK, we’re even tonight. See you next time, you hoser.’ That’s especially true because teams are playing eight games against each divisional opponent this year.– Everything else is fine by me. The NHL should have been allowing two-line passes a long time ago. Tag-up offsides is back. Cool. Cutting goalie pads by 11 percent is overdue. It’s time to get back to 5-3 games, instead of 2-1 contests.– Also, an instigator in a fight gets an automatic misconduct and one-game suspension. Good. Fighting does have its place in hockey, but goons don’t. There is a difference.
Will they come back?– Yes, hardcore loonies, like me, will be ready Oct. 5. They’ll be back with the six Canadian franchises. It’s in the blood, no matter how much fan resentment there is. They’ll be back in Denver, Minnesota, Philly, New York (the Rangers, that is), Boston, Detroit and St. Louis. These are hockey towns.– It will take time in California and most of the South, except for Tampa, where the Lightning will finally get to raise its banner. — Just as important as obstruction enforcement will be a national TV contract. NBC will be showing a few regular season games and Games 3-7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but that’s it. The NHL really botched it with ESPN, where the league had a good setup with lots of games and NHL 2nite. The NHL should beg, plead and pray to get back in ESPN’s good graces. If that doesn’t work, the NHL has to hook up with another network to get about three national games per week on the air, and they shouldn’t even bother negotiating on the money side of things. Exposure is the key.– Pucks, pucks and more pucks. Every player in the league should be required to chuck 20 pucks (preferably autographed) into the stands during each game. Players should be outside the arena before each game, meeting and greeting the fans and, yes, signing more pucks, sweaters, caps and programs. Outreach is tremendously important right now. Actual player-fan contact will go a long way toward mending fences.– There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s not something one of the greatest games in the world cannot overcome. Game on.Chris Freud is the sports editor of the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado