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What We Learned: Why Stanley Cup Final critics are idiots

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

 

The way the sport of hockey is played these days opens it up for a lot of purists who are coming out of the woodworks to protect the game from something or other.

Players are just short of calling each other out in the media. They're diving all over the ice. More worryingly, they're playing with a reckless abandon that has left dozens of head traumas and other serious injuries in its wake. And people are understandably fed up.

They look back to the halcyon sepia-toned days of the true heroes of the sport. Gordie Howe navigating through an angry sea of Canadiens to win a Stanley Cup, and Wayne Gretzky skating like a water bug from one end of the rink to the other, seemingly without tiring. Those, they say, were the good ol' days.

And if those were the good ol' days, these, by definition, are not. The current Stanley Cup Finals has been a perversion of the sport so many people around the world love. That this type of sideshow gimmickry is being played for the grandest trophy in all athletic competition shows that hockey has sunk to new lows, and that the continual descent may be irreversible.

But the counterargument, of course, is that anyone who believes this series somehow diminishing the sanctity of the game is an idiot.

(Coming Up: Boston media blows Luongo's comments out of proportion; Aaron Rome defends Horton hit; Ray Bourque looks back; Jackets jettison former captains; choose what Carolina Hockey Bieber wears to the NHL Awards; Ducks cut ticket prices; Atlanta ownership bid; The Fast and the Subban; signing Drew Doughty; buying out Sheldon Souray; Bryzgalov fallout; and a rather elaborate Danny Briere trade idea to the Leafs.)

Critics say one of the contributing factors for this new NHL culture is that teams actively peddle violence. Big hits sell just as much as big goals, and highlight packages now show a greater proportion of slugfests and punishing checks than they do the displays of skill so often associated with the game's golden age. This only eggs on would-be tough guys, tricking them against their will into becoming actual tough guys.

The game has always been the game. It's faster now. Players shoot harder. They're better trained. They are in far better shape. Fundamentally, all the people waxing poetic about how hockey has slowly transformed to some obscene parody of itself only remember things as they were at their absolute best. It makes sense, too. The NHL or anyone else trying to make a buck off hockey has no vested interest in showing anything but highlights of dizzying skill, rather than the wanton thuggery that prevailed for much of its formative years as a major North American sport.

That whole notion fails when you actually watch a game from that era. The tough guys of those days were far, far worse than those of today. Anything even the hardest of the modern heavyweights does to menace opposing players pales in comparison with the way Tiger Williams or Dave Semenko used to manhandle anyone who even looked at them or their star players cross-eyed.

One of the greatest teams ever assembled was the Boston Bruins of the early 1970s, and they didn't call them the Big Bad Bruins because they were abnormally tall, petty vandals. They combined their almost inconceivable skill level with a unique ability to beat the living hell out of people, and the 1960s and '70s were far more littered line brawls and bench-clearers than modern Trevor Gillies-type horror shows.

The reason today's hockey is conceived as being so much worse than it was just a few mere decades ago is the culture. Tim Thomas is now praised for trying to remove Alex Burrows' shin from the rest of his body. The Sedins have been diving faster than Luongo's career save percentage in Boston. Where oh where does the lack of respect for hockey end?

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This stance ignores that these have actually been some terribly entertaining contests, in their own ways. The nail biters in Vancouver have been thrilling displays of defensive hockey (and goaltending gaffes, I suppose), and the Boston blowouts were riotous, electric games.

Hell, this series is an improvement even from the six-game borefest of last year, which always felt like a foregone conclusion, specifically because these teams seem to not like each other. Outside the whole "Pronger is gay" puck-stealing nonsense, there was very little in-game animosity.

When teams don't like each other, the quality of the hockey they play gets better. That's just how it goes.

To be fair to the critics, I have very little basis for comparison between today's Cup Finals and those of the mid-'80s. I've only seen highlights of the latter, and those weren't dissected 24 hours a day on the NHL Network and TSN like they are now.

Maybe everyone I perceive as having been a talentless thug was actually good enough to have been a David Krejci-type skill player if only they'd had the inclination to do so.

Maybe those cementheads treated each other with the utmost respect after pummeling their opponents' nose cartilage into a fine paste. But probably not.

What harrumphing old guardians of the game who pine for the grainy, lo-res days of their youth don't remember is Howe — and every player of that era — slashing and hacking at every opponent foolish enough to come within an arm's length of them. As they cluck their tongues in disbelief and disapproval, they can't quite recollect visions of Gretzky writhing in faux-pain on the ice like an epileptic earthworm every time someone even brushed against him.

And it's only because they choose not to.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks had a season-ticket drive over the weekend where some seats had prices cut by as much as 33 percent. Those who bought seats got a Teemu Selanne lithograph, a tour of the Ducks dressing room, and a complimentary leg-stomp from Corey Perry.

Not-Atlanta Non-Thrashers: A business group is now trying to buy the Thrashers, the Hawks and their arena for $500 million (though the bid will be adjusted when the Thrashers inevitably leave town). The Spirit group that drove both franchises into the ground bought all three items for $250 million in 2004. Talk about failing up.

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Boston Bruins: Lots of righteous indignation that Roberto Luongo had the unmitigated temerity to suggest Tim Thomas occasionally. Gives. Up soft goals, because he gets himself out of position so often. "Luongo called the reaction to his comment 'blown out of proportion.'" By the BOSTON media? Nooooo.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are inviting some kid you've never heard of named Chris Bradley to a rookie combine. He's ranked No. 22 out of the top 25 draft-eligible USHL players.

Calgary Flames: The Calgary Flames are in the news for something they last did in 2009. No, not "make the playoffs." As you might remember, the Flames and their families somehow got H1N1 shots before most of the city's less physically fit residents. I don't know why this is coming up now.

Carolina Hurricanes: Readers of Seventeen Magazine have the chance to pick the suit that Jeff Skinner wears at the NHL awards show later this month. That's not even a joke. They can really do that. Creeps everywhere must be so excited right now. (I assume that's who reads Seventeen, and not girls who are actually that age.)

Chicago Blackhawks: In praise of the "Chicago Model" of drafting defensemen. Between 2002 and 2005, they drafted eight defensemen who have played at least 150 NHL games, and only three were taken in the first round.

Colorado Avalanche: Now 10 years later, Ray Bourque looks back on his winning the Cup with Colorado, but still fails to mention the knife he stuck in Boston fans' backs to get it.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are about to let three former captains — Ethan Moreau, Chris Clark and Craig Rivet — walk in the summer. The shocking news, though, is that Ethan Moreau, Chris Clark and Craig Rivet ever captained an NHL team.

Dallas Stars: The Stars don't need a crazy owner to win. No kidding. Might wanna start with a half-decent team and go from there.

Detroit Red Wings: If Ken Hitchcock doesn't get a head-coaching position in the league this year, he might ask Mike Babcock for an associate's job. He has a long and easily demonstrated patience for dealing with European players, after all.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oil might buy out Sheldon Souray's contract. He has a $5.4 million cap hit and $4.5 million salary for this coming season, which is hilarious.

Florida Panthers: Will Tomas Vokoun return to Sunrise for another season? For his sake, I sure hope not.

 

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings might try to make a big signing on July 1 if they don't have Drew Doughty locked up by then. Hey, guys, guess what: Re-signing Drew Doughty for the rest of his career is the best signing you could possibly make!

Minnesota Wild: The general belief is that the Wild won't announce their new coach until right before the draft so everyone in the State of Hockey is distracted when they fumble yet another high pick.

Montreal Canadiens: PK Subban showed up at the Grand Prix of Montreal and it started raining. That kid has no respect for the sport of auto racing.

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Nashville Predators: Carrie Underwood says that marrying Mike Fisher has helped her become a "sentimental weenie." Please use the space provided to make your own jokes about Mike Fisher's game: ________________________!

New Jersey Devils: The Devils will probably file for arbitration with Zach Parise, which makes sense because the one thing you want to do with your 27-year-old two-way superstar is really piss him off before you try to get him to sign a big contract at below market value.

New York Islanders: BD Gallof reports that the Isles have not yet finalized their third jerseys for next year, but are leaning toward a black one with orange letters. In other words, the ugliest jerseys in the NHL. Can't wait. Can never have enough black third jerseys in the league.

New York Rangers: It's official: Former first-round pick Chris Kreider will be returning to Boston College for his junior year, and not jumping to the pros. Having seen Kreider play many times, I think it's because he has learned that there are a lot of body checks thrown around in professional hockey, and he wants no part of anything like that.

Ottawa Senators: Sens fans excited the AHL team won a Calder Cup? Don't be, says this article which describes the many ways in which winning in the minors did not in any way translate to success in a league people actually care about.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers trading for Ilya Bryzgalov's negotiating rights shows their "commitment" to the goaltending position. What a laugh. The article actually says, "But at least the Flyers are trying."

Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes have three ways to tackle the Bryzgalov-shaped goaltending hole they now face: trade for a young kid with high upside, sign a free agent or acquire an older goaltender who doesn't fit, salary-wise, with his current team. Or to put it another way: "Cory Schneider, Tomas Vokoun, or Michael Leighton."

Pittsburgh Penguins: Oh no, they might knock down a decrepit old building that no one uses; how terrible!

San Jose Sharks: Apparently a lot of people who visit the essential bookmark Capgeek.com have been checking to see how much it would cost the Sharks to buy out Dany Heatley, which is so awesome.

St. Louis Blues: Nikita Nikitin signed a one-year deal to stay with the Blues, so that's like 100 RFAs they've re-upped before TJ Oshie, who they clearly hate.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning: One of the Bolts' top-two priorities in the offseason is re-signing Eric Brewer. Yes, really.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Who will the Leafs re-sign in the offseason? Probably almost everyone who played even a few games for them, according to this. Except Giguere. That guy sucks.

Vancouver Canucks: Aaron Rome says he doesn't "understand" why the league suspended him four games. To be fair, neither does Nathan Horton, but only because he now has to lie down when someone talks to him too loudly.

Washington Capitals: Bruce Boudreau gave a lecture over the weekend on how to successfully overhaul a team's system. I don't know where he gets off talking about the success part. No, I'm just kidding, he's a good coach.

Gold Star Award

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Once again, when there's only one goal in a whole weekend, it gets really easy to narrow down the candidates. Hooray for you, Roberto Luongo.

Minus of the Weekend

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Hey, has anyone seen the Bruins top line? I thought they had a game scheduled for Friday night but apparently I was wrong.

Play of the Weekend

Hey, it's Max Lapierre hi.

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User "reinjosh" has an idea to jumpstart the Leafs' offense.

To Toronto:
Danny Briere

To Philly:
Tyler Bozak
Luca Caputi
Koriban Holzer
Jeremy D'Amigo
Toronto 2011 2nd round pick

Love it.

Signoff
If you don't open that door, I'll tear you up like a Kleenex at a snot party!

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can email him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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