News and views Â– OK, mostly views Â– as the NHL Conference finals draw near:
Â• Had an interesting discussion with a former NHL head coach a couple days ago. The subject was the precipitous drop in scoring between the regular season and the playoffs.
After noting the tendencies of his fellow coaches to have their teams sit back and trap Â‘till they can trap no more, the coach and ex-NHLer Â– who shall remain nameless, lest he incur the wrath of the disagreeable Â– raised a notion that sends some in the hockey world into fits of apoplexy.
Â“What do you think about making the nets bigger?Â” he asked me.
Â“I don't think any idea should be off the table,Â” I said.
Â“All I know is, if they replaced the current nets with the bigger ones (the league) tested a couple years ago, I'd bet you most fans in the stands wouldn't be able to tell the difference,Â” he said. Â“But with that extra bit of room to shoot at, it would make a big difference to shooters.Â”
Â“And if that didn't result in more scoring?Â” I said.
Â“Then I'd shrink the goaltending equipment even more than they already have,Â” he said. Â“I know the league wanted to reduce (goalie) pads to 10 inches, but they ran into complaints from (prominent goalies) who worried about getting injured. But they've got to do something. (Goalies) still look way too big out there for my liking.Â”
I don't disagree with either point the coach made. However, the ultimate problem remains the defense-first philosophy employed by too many NHL bench bosses.
Until there is a movement at the league's highest levels to play entertaining hockey regardless of how it affects any particular team's chances to win, scoring will remain secondary and the NHL will continue its disappearing act from the average sports fan's radar.
Â• Okay, he won't win any safe driving awards, but on so many levels, you've got to love Ray Emery. The Senators goalie quickly is turning into one of the NHL's best interviews Â– and he understands that answering questions without clichÃ©s shouldn't cause players to worry about angering the opposition or their fans.
Â“I hope they do,Â” Emery said when asked if he was prepared to have Sabres fans boo him to high heaven for saying there wasn't much to do in Buffalo. Â“I love that stuff. It kind of keeps you on your toes when you've got people screaming at you for 60 minutes.Â”
How refreshing Â– a player who doesn't mind the fans expressing themselves, even if it is at his expense.
Â• Contrast Emery's stance on the fans with that of Oilers assistant coach Craig Simpson, who, when asked whether he'd be willing to experiment with 4-on-4 overtime in the playoffs, told Sun Media this:
Â“I think it's nonsenseÂ…once you get past that certain point of exhaustion, the play might suffer a bit, but it's not about the fans at that point (emphasis added). It's about the players' will and wanting to win for each other.Â”
Excuse me, Craig? It's not about the fans? That's the attitude that inspired nothing but apathy among casual followers during the 2004-05 lockout.
With apologies to the players, who certainly are the stars of the show, it should always be about the people paying the freight.
Â• He might not be a Brian Burke-like quote factory, but Toronto GM John Ferguson is a tremendous human being and class act. So it isn't much fun for most of us in the media to see the man strung along by Maple Leafs ownership this off-season, with only a one-year contract extension to his name and hounds baying at his heels.
Here's how I think the Leafs' situation will play out over the next few months: (1) No more years added to Ferguson's deal; (2) The Leafs lose 10 of their first 15 games to start the year, all but burying their playoff hopes right out of the gate; (3) Bowing to a media and public outcry, Ferguson is replaced before Christmas.
I don't like making that type of prediction, but so long as the convoluted ownership structure at Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment remains as it is right now Â– with too many cooks and only one pot Â– you'll continue to see the same kind of piecemeal, cart-before-the-horse moves that put Ferguson into power in the first place.
Â• Speaking of the Leafs: Am I the only one who sees the positives in them pursuing goalie Niklas Backstrom (if the Wild can't re-sign him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1), or another high-performing UFA to challenge Andrew Raycroft?
Yeah, I know that would make Raycroft, who rakes in $2 million a year, a high-priced backup, but Ottawa is doing the same thing with Martin Gerber this season. And look where the Sens are.
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