It’s opening night for the Sharks. I haven’t talked much about hockey leading up to the start of the season, mostly because I’ve had other priorities. Didn’t get to camp, watched some pre-season, but I won’t pretend to have studied the league or am remotely qualified to play pundit right now.
So, surprisingly, I won’t for the most part.
The big question if you’re a sharks fan is whether or not the Sharks are better this season, because last season wasn’t quite good enough. I think so, but the difference between where they were and where they need to go is more attitude and experience and chemistry (as well as luck and whether they stay healthy) that it is about “better players” — and so it’s really hard to judge until we see how the season plays out. In any event, this isn’t a question that’ll be answered in October or December, but in March and April.
But I like the moves Wilson has made. More importantly, I like the fact that he wasn’t afraid to make moves, wasn’t tentative, and didn’t make minor tweaks and hope for major improvements. I really like the Burns acquisition, not just because I really like Burns, but because it’ll help keep Boyle from wearing out.
I think the west is shaping up to be a three and a half team race: I will stand up and say the Sharks should win the west and the sharks should go to the stanley cup final. I think Vancouver will fight them hard for this; I always think Detroit will have to be reckoned with, and the LA Kings worry me. There are another five or six teams a step behind that make the west very competitive, and any one of them can get on a streak and knock off the favorite. It’s going to be lots of good hockey.
In the east, I don’t know the teams as well, but what I’ve seen of Pittsburgh impresses me. Boston is going to have to fight through the Cup Hangover problem, and I’m not sure they can repeat. The Rangers may well be turning into a good team, finally. And Washington has scary talent but hasn’t shown my much yet. I think Philly picking up Bryzgalov solves their big problem, at least this year, and they’ll make some noise. But I’ll pick the Penguins coming out of the east, and it’ll either be Pittsburgh or Philly winning the eastern conference.
A few other non-game notes on hockey this year.
I’m loving what I’m seeing out of Shanahan and the changes in rules and rule enforcement so far. I was a big proponent of “first, double the length of all suspensions” to get the attention of the players. He hasn’t done that, but the new suspensions are a good step in that direction. I see that this new direction has already pissed off Mickey Redmond and Don Cherry, and to me, that means the league is definitely doing the right thing; will it have the willpower to keep at it? I think it has, and I think this means we finally have a generational shift in power among the hockey governors that understand that Don Cherry hockey is not going to drive this sport into the future. Let’s hope the luddites don’t drag it back again.
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Oh, a quick open letter to a man I respect greatly for what he does, when he doesn’t piss me off for what he is:
Dear Don: Please. Retire. It’s time. you’re embarrassing yourself. More importantly, you’re now embarrassing the game and the players you pretend to respect. So let them ride you off into the sunset in glory instead of disgrace, because if you don’t, you’re going to end up saying something that will taint your legacy forever, and I don’t want to see that.
But you won’t, so the circus on hockey night in canada will continue until you finally say the one thing you shouldn’t, and you leave on someone else’s terms with ridicule. Which is a shame.
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With the opening of the season, a few reading suggestions
- Kukla’s Corner is the best place to get a wide view of hockey and the league, with writers on each team and on many subjects around the sport. It’s a great place to get a broad survey of what’s going on without having to track down 93 different news feeds. It’s also where Laurie is writing on goalies this season.
- If you are a Sharks fan, you should be reading Working the Corners, the blog of beat writer David Pollak (and his trusted sidekick backup writer Mark Emmons). David knows and loves the game, knows the Sharks, and has created a nice dialog with the fans here on his blog and gets beyond the 300 words a night summaries we used to live with back in the “old days” of traditional newspapering.
- Tom Benjamin has been writing about hockey online longer than Laurie and I have, which says something. He knows the game very well and reading his blog will make you think about the game and teach you about it. It matters not one bit that I disagree with him on many of his opinions, his views are still something you ought to be paying attention to and then making up your own mind about. It looks like he’s starting the season in good form as he takes apart Cherry’s fighting rant better than I could. Read him, he will teach you.
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A couple of words on the off-season. The hockey world lost some people in tragic ways with Derek Boogard and Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, and before that Tom Cavanagh’s suicide. It’s brought to the surface some issues that have been around for a while but can now no longer ignored or swept back under the carpet the way Don Cherry tried to with his bullshit. The information about the analysis of former player Rick Martin’s brain, which showed clear signs of CTE makes it clear this is not a new problem for the league (and is not a problem specific to hockey, either, since football and boxing also have this issue to deal with, and when baseball takes a close look at catchers, I’ll bet you’ll find some of them, will suffer from it as well).
In the Don Cherry world, hockey players are gladiators and fight the glorious fight for our entertainment — and when they can’t, they go offstage and get replaced by a new gladiator.
In my world, I have real problems enjoying a sport that leaves those entertaining me this damaged; it’s tough enough to see what ex-players deal with in terms or orthopedic challenges later in life, but now we’re talking about damage to the brain; permanent damage that affects their lives and how they interact with life.
I first wrote about concussion issues in the NHL back in 2003 and I’ve talked about it a number of times since. It’s a bit sad that it’s taken the league eight years to get this serious about dealing with head injuries, but I also understand that the medical science of understanding all of this is just catching up to the problem as well.
And it looks like the league really is taking this seriously, and I hope they find some solutions. The changes I see this year are a good start. It’s going to take the players some time to retrain themselves, so I hope the league keeps it up and doesn’t back off under the inevitable whining of the Cherry Cabal.
I struggled during the off-season with the idea of being entertained by people who will end up like Derek Boogard and Wade Belak; whether it was Jay More or Paul Kariya or Sydney Crosby or Nick Kypreos, watching these players struggle simply to have a life while fighting to recover from serious concussions made me wonder whether I wanted to continue as a fan of the sport. I now think the league is on the right track — I won’t pretend we have all of the answers, but we seem to have started, and are helping the players learn and understand. I watched an interview with Matt Cooke on the TV last night, and Cooke has been the poster child of “what we don’t want in the league” for years — and he honestly sounded like he understands and gets that it’s time to change his game. time will tell, but if it got through to him, I think the league will sort this all out.
This isn’t something simplistic “fix it now” solutions is going to solve. It doesn’t help to “fix” the game by screwing it up. Those people are just as wrong as the “leave it alone” crew. I feel like the league now has the right people and the commitment to figure it out, and I think the tragedies of the last year has the players attention. It’s sad that we needed to lose some good people to get this kind of focus on the problem, but in reality, that’s human nature. I do hope the league keeps pushing on this and figures out how to keep the game what it is — while making it as safe as possible for the people who entertain us by playing it.
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One final note; as I’ve mentioned a few times, Laurie and I gave up our season tickets after 20 years; a combination of wanting to back off and go to fewer games and not wanting the hassle of syndicating them. We’ve talked a few times about it to make sure we had no regrets, and we don’t. Going to the arena 35-37 times a year was turning into an obligation, not an entertainment. Tonight we’ll be sitting on the couch watching — the last opening night we missed was season 1, because we didn’t convert to full season until year 2.
A lot of hockey — we’re well over 700 games attended in the last 20 years, when you count in road trips and our jaunts through the WHL and BCJHL and the year with the Spiders where we did 30 Sharks games and 35 Spiders games in one season (THAT was a lot of hockey).
It’s definitely nice that the season is firing up. I’m ready for some hockey. But I also find it nice that I’ll be watching it from the couch and not worrying about the drive and parking and turning 3 hours of hockey into six hours of expedition. We’re talking over what games we want to see this year. Still not decided, but we probably won’t actually get to the arena until January. Or maybe sooner — we’ll see how it goes. But definitely, just because we’re not butts in seats 35 nights a year doesn’t mean we’re not as interested as we were. it’s still the sport that we love…
So, shall we drop the puck already?