Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
Further CBA negotiations are looming but the prospect of an NHL season still remains very much up in the air. But the question too few are asking is whether or not that might be a good thing. Here's a rundown of the reasons we don't miss NHL hockey.
The league and players' association will meet again tomorrow for another half-hearted attempt to save the season. But that brings up the inevitable question: do we even want a season at this point? Well, my answer would still be yes but the NHL is clearly far from perfect (certainly this unnecessary and protracted lockout should convince anyone who may have believed otherwise) and it's easy to romanticize the league when our memories of it grow fainter with each passing day. So in vein of Laura's excellent post on the subject over at Habs Eyes on the Prize and in "honor" of the 28 Sharks games that have thus far been cancelled, here are 28 things I don't miss about NHL hockey.
If there's an ultimate upside to this lockout, it's that we don't have to see Corey Perry's stupid face take to the ice six times this year. Perry is one of the dirtiest irritants the league has to offer and the fact that he's the best all-around winger in the Western Conference and seemingly always manages to score crucial goals against the Sharks just makes it worse. If we're lucky, the entire season will be cancelled, Brian Burke will sign Perry as an unrestricted free agent and the Sharks will never have to deal with him again.
These need to go the way of the illegal two-line pass. Institute a defensive zone faceoff wherein the infracting team can't change any of its players but don't send someone to the box for flipping a puck into the stands. I understand the logic behind it and I'm all for the Niclas Wallins of the league getting weeded out due to their inability to make a simple breakout pass but games shouldn't be decided by something this frivolous. Games should be decided by shootouts.
Seriously though, the outcome of a hockey game should be determined by something resembling hockey. "Skills" competitions that involve about as much relative skill as a coin-flipping contest shouldn't be deciding playoff races.
Uninformed opinions about the Sharks
Patrick Marleau has no heart! The Sharks are a bunch of chokers! Trade Thornton and Boyle to Columbus for Matt Calvert! After years of repeatedly picking the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup and repeatedly looking foolish, much of the mainstream media seems to have done a 180 in recent seasons, overcompensating for their past optimism by resorting to pretty bizarre and unfounded criticism of San Jose. There was certainly a lot to dislike about the team's performance last season but most commentators set their sights on completely undeserving targets.
Red Wings fans
I'm certain there are thoughtful, intelligent, respectful Wings fans out there who were aware of what a puck was even before 1997. I just haven't met any.
Angry calls for the Sharks to bring Jonathan Cheechoo back
It usually doesn't take more than a three-game losing streak in November for someone to suggest the Sharks never should have let go of Jonathan Cheechoo and that Doug Wilson should be on the phone with Cheechoo's agent as soon as possible negotiating a contract.
Televised games from Anaheim, Edmonton or Colorado
Maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine but the lighting at the Honda Center, Pepsi Center and Rexall Place (along with some other arenas like Madison Square Garden, United Center and the Saddledome) translates pretty awfully to broadcast television. Even in high definition, games in those venues can be hard to watch.
That one commercial for Bowlmor Lanes
I'm sure David is a decent enough guy to have a beer with and he was a solid hard-nosed, crease-clearing defenseman in his playing days. But Goc almighty is he the absolute worst intermission analyst CSN (or its Bay Area sports broadcasting predecessor, FSN) has ever hired.
The Sharks' penalty kill
It's no secret that the Achilles' heel of the Sharks has largely been their penalty kill for two years running, with the team finishing 29th in efficiency last season and 24th in 2010-11. So it has to be seen as a positive that we have so far been spared the visual of a lone penalty killer struggling to cover both point men while an out-of-position Shark between the hashmarks allows a cross-ice pass to be one-timed past Antti Niemi.
People yelling "SHOOOOOOOT!" for the duration of a power play
To be perfectly honest, these people might be smarter than we give them credit for since a team's shot rate on the power play tends to be the most stable predictor of man-advantage success. Of course, that doesn't mean they aren't still annoying as hell.
Overpriced and terrible arena concessions
Paying $7 for stale nachos served with cheese that resembles a mixture of hydraulic fluid and yellow food coloring is something I can live without, thank you very much.
It's much easier to list the TV analysts covering hockey who aren't terrible than the ones who are but Mike Milbury is a particularly interesting case. He's a pretty ubiquitous presence in NHL media these days despite the fact that his playing career was completely underwhelming yet was still exponentially better than his tenure as an executive, where he left behind the legacy of possibly being the worst GM the league has ever seen. And yet his take on the game is one that needs to be shoved down our throats between periods, apparently. The worst is when he's trotted out on Hockey Night In Canada's Hotstove despite apparently having zero inside information. He also kind of looks like Jim Belushi.
Racism, sexism and homophobia
The extent to which the hockey community has embraced the You Can Play project is heartwarming but when we still have the Sedin twins referred to as "sisters" derogatorily, when racist slurs are still flung at black players by the fistful through social media, and when anti-gay language is still used liberally on the ice, in addition to the structural issues that foster a league that remains overwhelmingly white, it's clear that there's still a ways to go for the NHL to excise intolerance and adapt to the diversity of the modern world.
Watching Michal Handzus skate
Anyone who reads this blog probably knows I'm not the biggest fan of Michal Handzus. I was wary when Doug Wilson signed him to a two-year contract (with a no-move clause no less) and his performance last season cemented my opinion that adding him to the team was a mistake. Thanks to this lockout, though, the most we'll have to suffer through is 48 more games of Handzus out of position or dragging ass to exit the defensive zone.
If this labor dispute was instead between owners and referees and resulted in Bettman pulling a Roger Goodell and calling in the replacements, would anyone even notice?
Complaints about officiating
I don't mind a good conspiracy theory but when literally every fanbase across the league believes NHL officials have a personal vendetta against their team, it becomes a tad grating and ridiculous. Thanks to the lockout, those tin foil hats have now been repurposed towards figuring out how many puppies the secret cabal of rich owners (let's call them the Illuminat-eh) is going to kill next in a Satanic sacrifice to prolong the work stoppage.
Atrocious arena music
I'd rather not be bombarded with Top 40 drivel or cookie-cutter hip-hop every time I step into a hockey arena. I realize that might make me sound like some strange combination of a crotchety old grandpa and Brooklyn-dwelling hipster but my ears really don't need to be subjected to sounds as musically diverse yet uniformly awful as LMFAO and 80's cock rock in one sitting. I'm also consistently puzzled by the logic behind song selection. Do the Ducks, Islanders and Flyers realize that their goal song "Bro Hymn," aside from being terrible, is about a guy who died in a car accident and another one who drowned in a beach pier?
The league's disciplinary process
While Brendan Shanahan represented a step up from Colin Campbell as league disciplinary czar, it was much in the same way Nikita Khrushchev was a step up from Joseph Stalin—still bad, but with mercifully less genocide. Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey style suspension sentencing still reigns supreme, while sensible disciplinary action remains the exception and not the rule.
Which reminds me: Raffi Torres
As much as I actively despise the likes of Perry, Steve Ott, Chris Pronger, Brian Campbell and others around the league, I'd never actually wish for an NHL player to be seriously injured in any way. Except for Raffi Torres. Fuck this guy. I hope Douglas Murray scatters his entrails across the ice next season.
Watching the Sharks lose a game they dominate
This was a frustratingly common occurrence down the stretch last season. The Sharks would dominate puck possession, outshooting and outchancing their opponent by a substantial margin, before losing courtesy of a bad bounce or blown coverage. Somehow this is harder to stomach than games where the team flat out doesn't show up so at least we've been saved from the heartache so far.
While charities like Defending the Blue Line provide an extremely valuable service to military families whom the U.S. government has failed miserably, the marriage between hockey and military culture is often far more insidious. Soldiers descending from the rafters during the national anthem, players in camo warm-up sweaters and logos that resemble fighter jets primarily serve to promote a pro-war agenda and stoke support for military intervention, particularly in the sport's younger and more malleable fans. This sometimes also goes hand-in-hand with the nationalism that pervades mainstream hockey commentary (Europeans are lazy and enigmatic unlike those good ol' Canadian and American boys). Canadian band Propagandhi explained the problems surrounding this best in their musical address to Ron MacLean and CBC's Coach's Corner.
Fourth lines skating against one another
It's always frustrating when legitimately talented players (like, say, Worcester's Tim Kennedy who is currently 4th in AHL scoring) are kept out of the league in favor of grinders and goons due to some antiquated notion of role player quotas in successful team building. Never is this more blatantly on display than during the tacit gentleman's agreement between NHL coaches to almost exclusively deploy their fourth-liners only when the other team's fourth line is on the ice, leading to a few minutes per game of boring, low-event hockey.
The neutral zone trap
Speaking of boring hockey, the trap has been somewhat modified into more interesting incarnations in recent years but it still largely exists to de-emphasize skill and puck movement. Of course, it's likely even more abundant in other hockey leagues so the NHL being locked out does little to limit the impact of this scourge of monotony on the game.
Antti Niemi starting every game
I'm probably a bigger Niemi fan than most and think he's an above-average NHL starter signed to a good deal but even I don't think he should be overworked to the extent that he has been in his two seasons as a Shark. Todd McLellan finally has a competent backup in Thomas Greiss and should really use him more often whenever the league returns.
With the league's expanded interconference schedule, in addition to the requisite two games in Western Conference cities like Detroit and Columbus, more Sharks games in recent seasons have started at 4PM on weekdays which is annoying for those of us with jobs or class schedules who don't trust the outside world enough to rely on a DVR recording remaining unspoiled.
I don't mind one or two of these a season and they've definitely been less frequent occurrences for the Sharks in recent years, but there's something unsettling about watching hockey during lunch.
Seeing as it doesn't even include a mention of the Los Angeles Kings banner-raising ceremony that never was (and never will be, as long as this lockout continues), this list is clearly far from complete. What are some things you don't miss about the NHL?