Puck Daddy - NHL

James Mirtle is a staffer at The Globe and Mail and a hockey blogging pioneer. Greg Wyshynski is the editor of Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy blog. The only thing they can agree on is that they disagree more often than not.

"Their debates about hockey and life in general will be published here every Thursday, following this special Stanley Cup finals edition. Here begins rhetorical warfare ...

WYSHYNSKI: So I understand you have a bone to pick regarding the following slice of fried gold from Puck Daddy:

If this were Nashville or Washington, we'd be on the verge of rewriting the rulebook to ensure this sort of defense was banished from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, despite its utter legality. But certain teams are praised for great defense, and other franchises are demonized. Remember: The Rangers play quality positional defense, but the Devils trap. That's just the way it is.

Is there even a debate here? "Left wing lock," "positional defense" ... were labels like that ever created for the Devils, the Panthers or the Wild? Nope. They were trap, trap and trap. Even if you want to argue the nuance in what is or is not a neutral zone trap, the bottom line is that defense-first hockey is defense-first hockey. Certain franchises are seen as dregs who can't win without water-skiing behind faster, better teams; glamour franchises like the Red Wings are seen as reinventing the Winged Wheel when they're just playing force-the-turnover-and-counterattack like the Lemaire Devils did.

MIRTLE: Comparing this year's edition of the Red Wings to the 1995 Devils, or 2000-08 Wild, is utterly ridiculous. Detroit's the highest scoring team in the postseason (3.36 gpg), finished third best during the season (3.04) and had been lethal on the power play all year.

The Wings also had the league's fourth and eighth leading scorers during the season.

The fact is that every team that made the postseason this year plays some variation of the trap, at least when they're leading in a game. That Detroit can be as suffocating defensively as they are and lead the league in scoring?

All you can do is tip your hat to that.

WYSHYNSKI: Oh, but I do tip my hat to that, James. They're an exceptional defensive team. But look back at the 2000 Devils, who were second in the NHL in goals with 251; in the 2000 Stanley Cup finals, you have media like ESPN claiming they're the team that does "all the little boring things that make them tough to beat." Or blogs that say Larry Robinson "won a Stanley Cup as Devils' coach in 2000 employing a tight-checking defensive style which is not conducive to the new NHL 'more goals = more viewers' philosophy."

The fact is that teams like Detroit and Pittsburgh are offensively talented like the 2000 Devils and play the same kind of defensively responsible games. But they're glamour franchises -- through recent or long-term history -- so we read about how their "style of play will certainly be a welcome change after years of watching teams like New Jersey reach the finals by playing boring, cautious hockey. The Red Wings and Penguins are both conscientious defensively, but they're not afraid to initiate the attack." Alexander Mogilny and Scott Gomez were afraid to initiate the attack?

The 2000 Devils may be a special case because Lemaire's teams were, by and large, a little tedious to watch years before that. But you and I both saw Game 2 of this year's finals, and the Red Wings managed to strangle the joy out of not only hockey, but life in general. Valtteri Filppula scored a top of the highlight package goal, and half the viewership missed it because they were mid-yawn. It was tedious, and it was tedious because of the Wings' defense. 

My original point stands: Another team whose roster isn't dotted with Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Holmstrom and Franzen would have been killed for sucking the life out of the finals and not allowing Pittsburgh's stars to shine. Michel Therrien's obstruction whining would have been a call to arms for the referees had this been the Minnesota Wild in the finals instead of the Wings. Detroit, however, gets a pass.

MIRTLE: The thing about the Red Wings is that they're incredibly efficient -- good at limiting chances while getting a ton of their own.

But I honestly can't attribute that to obstruction: Is the answer to upping the entertainment value to call more phantom hooks and holds on players like Lidstrom and Datsyuk, two of the least-penalized stars in the NHL? 

Could you not argue that this is a better skating team than those old Devils clubs, and they are therefore able to limit space without obstructing opponents?

A lion's share of the blame for unentertaining hockey in Games 1 and 2 goes to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were so tepid and limp that the majority of Western Conference playoff teams would have run them over. I've seen some great, entertaining matchups with Detroit this season (heck, whenever the Blackhawks were up), which is something that can't be said for, let's say, Alain Vigneault's Canucks.

WYSHYNSKI: So the case that you're making is that there are entertaining teams that strangle opponents defensively, and there are boring teams that strangle opponents defensively.

I still don't entirely agree, because as much as Minnesota can light a crowd on fire with a speedy offensive counterpunch, they're still going to get the "boring Lemaire trap trapity trap trap" nonsense. At no point has Detroit ever been hit with these slurs, even when they help create one of the single most boring Stanley Cup finals games in recent memory. I think for the majority of the MSM, it's heresy to claim that the team of Fedorov and Yzerman can be as tediously defensive as any garden variety NZT team.

MIRTLE: What's the difference between strangling opponents defensively and plain old good defence? Is there one any more?

I think one of hockey's dirty secrets is that all of the great teams have essentially become trap teams.  I agree with what Tom Benjamin said during the Dallas series - a big reason Detroit is boring is they always turn the other cheek, not that they obstruct.

The Ducks of 2007 were a defensive team, but a tough one with players like Pronger that are easy to dislike.

The Red Wings' style doesn't make them a good fan favourite or a villain.  They're the embodiment of their leader, Captain Boring.

WYSHYNSKI: "One of hockey's dirty secrets is that all of the great teams have essentially become trap teams." And with that, I shall declare victory in the first episode of "Mirtle vs. Wyshynski"! Detroit is one of those dastardly, evil defensive teams that we simply must rid our dear sport of by changing the rules and enlarging the nets to volleyball regulation size! It's just that they're the Wings, so even when they bore, they'll never be booed by their big-market, glamour franchise cheerleaders in the MSM.

Any last words, loo-zer?

MIRTLE: What a warped and wild world it must have been to grow up a Devils fan. I'd take watching these Wings dismantle an overmatched Eastern Conference team over those coma-inducing pre-lockout finals any day.

And I'm not so sure even volleyball-sized nets could save these Penguins - they'd still have to find a way to get their sticks on the puck to score.

Tough way for you to go out in this one; better luck next time?

Big thanks to Stephen Slesinski and The PensBlog for the help with the Mirtle vs. Wyshynski logo.

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