Trade rumors are swirling around Kris Letang. (Photo by Francois Laplante/NHLI via Getty Images)
Greetings and thanks for your questions (whether I included them in this current mix or not). I hope you all enjoy a safe and happy summer – and I hope you’ll also keep submitting inquiries for the mailbag.
Is it just me or do the Penguins seem to be falling apart at the seams? There's speculation around James Neal, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury, Pascal Dupuis, Paul Martin and a slew of bottom-six forwards. Are the Penguins stable going forward? And who do you think needs to stay and go this summer?
Timothy Ryan, Lindenhurst, Ill.
It’s far too early to start worrying about the state of an Eastern Conference playoff finalist. Yes, rumors of Letang’s future and contract demands are troubling and worries over Fleury’s play will continue right up until the Pens trade him or the 2014 playoffs roll around. But I don’t think Neal and Martin are going anywhere and when you have the reigning GM of the year in Ray Shero, you’re in very good hands.
I do think they’ll likely the services of Dupuis, but that’s more a function of the perpetual movement of complementary players like him under a cap system than it is an indictment of Pittsburgh’s direction. The bottom line is this: barring some unforeseen disaster striking Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins will make the playoffs again and have another shot at a deep playoff run. That’s about all you can ask for in the modern-day NHL.
Okay, so NHL owners got these compliance buyouts to save them from their past mistakes... what will they come up with next to try to fix their mistakes and have they really learned a thing as you see these new long-term contracts being offered?
Scott Coring, Welland, Ont.
What we’ve seen with the buyouts of Ilya Bryzgalov and Vincent Lecavalier is an example of what many people (me included) argued in the most recent lockout: you can talk about full parity all you want, but the reality is owners can never be fully protected from themselves regardless of how hard they try.
From that perspective, it was not at all shocking to see the NHL have to amend the collective bargaining agreement this week to prevent teams from trading a player to another franchise that would amnesty his contract, then allow the player to sign a new deal with the team that traded him. Once again, the CBA gets signed and almost immediately, players, agents, GMs and owners look for ways to gain an advantage. That is the way it always has been and will be.
It’s not fair to speculate on the specifics of what owners will be looking for in the next CBA, but here’s a safe bet: they’ll try to further restrict the rights of players in the name of parity and “competitiveness” (read: profit) and they’ll be prepared to lock out the NHL Players’ Association again to get what they want. In a way, it’s tough to blame them for doing so; the manner in which fans rushed back to the league this past year gives owners no fear of a backlash.
Will the NHL schedule an All-Star Game next season, since it was cancelled this year? If so, will they get back to playing conference vs. conference rather than the ridiculous game they have played the last two All-Star Games? Thanks.
Lloyd Kern, Ambler, Pa.
There will be no 2014 All-Star Game because of the Sochi Winter Olympics. (This is the same pattern that was followed after the 2004-05 lockout season; there was no all-star game in 2006 due to the Torino Winter Games.)
To be honest, I don’t think there’s any format that can make the All-Star Game more exciting. The whole notion of the event made a lot of sense in the days before satellite TV and NHL Center Ice; fans in any NHL city barely saw star players from one conference, so it was a thrill to have the cream of the crop in one arena for one night.
However, now that we can watch all players every night of the season, there’s no inherent value in assembling the best of the best to play a game that has little similarity to the regular season product. You can make it Conference vs. Conference, Europeans vs. North Americans or old players vs. young players, but at the end of the day, all players realize there’s no sense in bashing the other all-star team’s brains in for no reward other than fleeting spotlight and bragging rights.
The NHL is the only professional sports league I can think of that, once the final rolls around, puts the rule book away and allow teams to maul, attack, and interfere with each other until only one team survives. Now that the playoffs are over, the league will again start talking about player safety and “protecting our stars.” Why can’t they show a little consistency in how they officiate? If they really want to protect the stars and encourage skill, why put the whistles away in the playoffs?
Kalvin Membrane, West Bloomfield, Mich.
I’m in full agreement with you, but anyone who pays close attention to the NHL should know by now that this is a league where logic and consistency goes to die. The officiating double-standard is undeniable, yet owners and league officials – the people who have the real power to effect immediate and meaningful change – usually hide behind meaningless tropes like “it’s a man’s game” and “let the players decide the game, not the referees.”
That type of thinking leads to a watering-down of the entire product and should be discouraged wherever possible. But it is so deeply ingrained in the pro hockey culture, it will take years to change the minds of the game’s gatekeepers. I continue to hold out hope that will eventually happen, but I’ve also seen enough to know change at the NHL level happens at a glacial pace. Look at how long it took the league to make visors mandatory. That was a no-brainer, yet it took many players having their careers curbed/affected before NHL people woke up to the real dangers and stupidity of allowing players to choose to wear eye protection.
The league’s officiating standard is a much bigger issue than visors ever were, so I expect it will take many more years of this nonsense hamstringing the game before significant change is effected.
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