NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presents the Stanley Cup to Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Random thoughts and plots on hockey topics both Stanley Cup-related and otherwise:
• I’m a day late in making my now-annual plea to the league to stop its commissioner from presenting the Stanley Cup to the captain of the championship team, but anybody who saw Gary Bettman’s raspberry reception on the ice Wednesday in Philly knows what I’m getting at.
I’ve been a fervent advocate for a new presentation plan for the past few years not just because Bettman is a mortal lock to be booed – like a Wall St. financial regulator – each and every time he awards the Cup.
Indeed, Bettman’s predecessors were jeered to high heaven when they had the job. And unless the league wises up and makes Hello Kitty its representative of team owners, Bettman’s eventual replacement will be sonically abused with an equal amount (OK, maybe not an equal amount) of gusto.
However, when you consider other options that exist for handing over the Cup – having the captain of the Cup-winning team from the previous season do it, or giving the task to an NHL Hall of Famer – the current routine can only be seen as a ponderous paean to a power broker’s ego.
Is there any circumstance, at any other time of year, in which the Cup triggers deafening boos from those in its presence, the way it did Wednesday night? Of course not – so why should that happen during the trophy’s most public and glorious moment?
It shouldn’t. Free Stanley!
• It’s something I’ve said for months now on THN Radio, but the Cup final confirms it: our expectations of goaltenders are too high and don’t recognize the profound effect the NHL’s rule changes have had on the league during the past five seasons.
This is not to suggest either Antti Niemi or Michael Leighton would have been Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy had they played in the Dead Puck Era. Time may reveal this year’s Cup final goalies to be greater than they are today, or as fortunate passengers standing on the shoulders of Mike Richards and Duncan Keith.
But what their springtime success really shows is at long, long last, a team can earn an NHL championship by overwhelming the opposition with offense.
Let us not forget, both the Hawks and Flyers roughed up and ran over some highly regarded netminders – including Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Jaroslav Halak – en route to the Cup final.
The fact is, with post-lockout rule changes, an improved approach toward the officiating of the game and the whittling down of goaltender equipment, the NHL has taken aggressive, proper steps to limit the amount of impact a goalie can have.
And as the toll of those changes ripples across and down through the hockey world, we’ve got to give the guys who comprise the last line of defense a little leeway in drawing that last line a little further back.
• There’s been an awful lot said about Chris Pronger lately, but rarely have I seen anybody admit another truth about the Flyers defenseman: namely, that he is a hugely intelligent guy – and deep down, a bit of a softie – who has experienced a huge number of changes in his NHL workplace during 17 years, yet has thrived regardless.
Here’s what Pronger told me in January about the many changes he’s seen in the all-around expectations of NHLers:
“In the ’70s when (Flyers GM Paul Holmgren) was playing, you could do whatever you wanted – on and off the ice,” Pronger said. “When I came into the league, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted on the ice, but you had to watch yourself off the ice. Now, you can’t do anything on the ice or off the ice.”
Pronger also talked about how society has changed in his time in the public spotlight.
“Do you ever see the media write about the times players visit hospitals or do charity work that the team doesn’t even know about?” he said. “No, those type of stories aren’t what the media are interested in.
“The connotations are always negative now. Society has developed this negative bias to everything – within the media, within social culture – whereas 15, 20 years ago, people wanted to believe the best. They wanted to believe in someone’s character and give them the benefit of the doubt. Now you have to earn it.
“That’s today’s culture and society. You have to live in it, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.”
• Saw where soon-to-be free agent NBA superstars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson are scheduled to have a “summit” in which they decide where to play next season – and I wondered whether something similar could take place in the NHL.
As THN staffer Ryan Kennedy reminded me, such a scenario already has happened when Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya worked together to play together in Colorado. But if four or five supremely skilled young NHLers did the same thing, I think we’d see a more passionate reaction from the league.
My guess? Bettman would step in, deem the meeting to be “an unauthorized competition committee” in violation of the collective bargaining agreement and attempt to place it under the control of GMs.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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