New Year, 2006 Ed.
TFP Columnist Greg Wyshynski presents his year-end awards
(including The Worst Player of the Year), and explains why
2006 was the year when hockey fans decided not to take it
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- The hockey fan in me wishes the
preamble to my obligatory snark-fest of year-end awards
(see the end of the column) could focus on what
the NHL considers to be reasons to rejoice.
Faster play. More scoring. Parity to the point of
parody. Young stars who will carry this league on their
shoulder pads (under their form-fitting aerodynamic new
jerseys, naturally) for the next two decades.
The hockey cynic in me knows better than to swallow that
sugar-coated dung. It used to be that the league was
broken; now, regretfully, it's the game as well.
Two years of rules tinkering have left the NHL with a
baffling, damaged product — tentative where it should be
explosive, passive where it should be physical, tedious
where it should be tantalizing.
left players wondering what they're allowed to do, what
they're allowed to say, and when body-checks and
slapshots will be banned for safety's sake.
It's a game that would have left fans reaching for the remote
control to change the channel, but that would assume the
majority of them could find VERSUS or HDNet in their cable
universe to begin with.
Yet the tide is turning. It's no longer an issue that the
casuals are not coming to the arena or watching on television
— it's that some of the diehards aren't, either.
In the end, 2006 may be the year when we've all decided just
not to take it anymore.
At this point, the cliché would be to use Howard Beale's "I'm
as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" rant
from "Network" as a rallying cry. But for hockey fans, it's
not about being mad — it's more like exhaustion.
We've spent the better part of the last two decades defending
our sport against hateful hordes of non-believers and outright
adversaries — in the media, on the Web... hell, in our own
offices and living rooms.
only do we have to battle those boobs who make remarks
like "I didn't realize they still played hockey," but
we find ourselves fighting to keep a flicker of the
game we love alive before focus groups, marketing
firms and the unending avarice of the men charged with
protecting and promoting hockey extinguish it.
biggest mistake we, as hockey fans, made was not
holding the owners and players more accountable for
stealing a season from us during the lockout.
were just glad to have the game back. But the
honeymoon is over. The alarm clock has sounded.
Cost certainty? The only certainty is that watching this game
is costing more every season.
Only now do we also realize that the pendulum on offensive
play has swung too far away from what we loved about the
game... which, last time I checked, wasn't powerplays and
pirouetting midgets skating through the crease unabated.
Now they're talking about enlarging the nets... how long
before the NHL features three pucks and a game without the
unwelcome hindrance of goaltenders?
Luckily, there is a cacophony of voices all condemning the
current product, with its dispassionate play and physical
timidity; when Kevin Paul Dupont, John Tortorella, Stan
Fischler, Don Cherry, Allan Muir and Larry Brooks are on the
same page about anything, hit the panic button and cue the
Bat-signal because something is amiss.
But it's not just the media championing the cause. Only now do
we realize that the fans have some influence; that the fans
have some say, the fans have some power when they decide
they're not going to take it anymore.
We laughed at the league for those insipid samurai commercials
after the lockout; now we have funny, appealing ads that
center on personalities who actually play in the NHL.
We resented the all-star balloting format, so we've nearly
voted a journeyman defenseman with no points in 22 games in as
a starter; think they'll change that process next season?
And hey, did you notice in the new realignment plan floated by
the NHL that the number of playoff teams remained at 16?
That's because when they floated the additional post-season
berths about a year ago, the fans raised hell — and the league
cowered when it heard them.
In 2007, we'll be faced with more problems, from realignment
and relocations to skin-tight jerseys and even tighter rules
enforcement. Raise hell of you don't like them, on the blogs
and on the message boards and in the stands. And keep raising
hell until the league corrects not only its most recent
mistakes (hello, overtime format), but also its lasting ones.
Like acknowledging that having a few more teams in Canada
isn't a mortal sin after The Great American Footprint
Experiment has failed.
Like acknowledging that VERSUS, with its empty promises and
disappointing coverage, has become SportsChannel America Part
Deux and that the league needs a new cable home in the U.S.,
pronto (though not necessarily ESPN).
Like dropping the instigator penalty, a move that would serve
as a coded message to disenfranchised diehards: "Friends,
please be advised that you can start watching hockey again."
I don't think I'm alone when I say I'm proud to be a hockey
fan, but not all that proud to be an NHL fan these days. My
father's the same way. This Christmas, my sister and I kicked
in and purchased a Devils road Ken Daneyko jersey for him as a
gift. He can't relate to a lot of these current players. But
Daneyko? He can relate to a blue-collar guy, who overcame his
shortcomings with undeniable heart; one who, from his fists to
his fortitude, embodied what it was my father loved about the
My dad didn't take off his New Jersey new jersey for the
entirety of Dec. 25th; he was a 59-year-old man morphed back
into a 12-year-old fan on Christmas morning. Perhaps he was
happy to spend a day in Ken Daneyko's NHL instead of wallowing
in the miseries of its current broken model.
Perhaps by not taking it off he, like so many of us, just
decided not to take it anymore.
THE 2006 HAPPY PUCKING NEW YEAR AWARDS
OK, I've climbed down off the soapbox. Here are some random
awards for the calendar year 2006; hopefully you'll enjoy most
of them, and you'll be offended by a few of them:
OF THE 2006: I was going to give this award to Alexander
Ovechkin, for upsetting Sidney for the Calder, becoming the
biggest thing in D.C. since President William Howard Taft, and
bringing enough physical dominance and undeniable charisma to
the game that it's a miracle Vince McMahon hasn't stolen him
away yet. But then I made the mistake of having the winner of
this award determined by an Internet vote... so
GOALIE OF THE 2006: Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary. His 2.07
GAA in the first season back from the lockout might be the
most underrated stat of the year. Sure, he's got a solid
defensive team in front of him, and there's a bit of a system
at play here. But when you've been a cheerleader for Martin
Brodeur for as long as I have, those facts don't stand in the
way of praising a true star between the pipes.
TEAM OF THE 2006: The Buffalo Sabres are hockey's best
story right now. A franchise that has faced ungodly adversity
— from near financial collapse to Brett Hull's skate to a slew
of post-season injuries that may have kept it from the Cup
last season — is now a must-see team, and one of the league's
only examples of the successful marriage between high-flying
offense and blunt force.
THE BEST THING ABOUT THE SABRES NEW UNIFORMS: Having
the numbers on the right shoulder, if only because it
decreases the ad space for the NHL when it starts NASCAR-ing
THE WORST THING ABOUT THE SABRES NEW UNIFORMS:
ANNOUNCER OF THE 2006: John Davidson. How many times
have we sat watching a game, listening to some blowhard
criticize a team and thought, "You think you're so smart? You
try running one!" Now J.D. has his chance, with amounts to a
blank canvas. The only regret here is that St. Louis didn't
select John Buccigross, who would have immediately changed the
team's name from the Blues to the Hair Metal.
BLOG OF THE 2006 (tie): KuklasKorner.com and
OffWingOpinion.com. Both Paul Kukla and Eric McErlain have
changed the face of hockey blogging, turning entertaining Web
sites into fully-staffed, must-read daily visits. They've also
landed some pretty plum gigs — Paul with NHL.com, Eric with
NBCSports.com — and have championed the rights of the
alternative media to become credentialed members of the press
box. Kudos to both on an outstanding, and eventful, year.
BEST TRADE OF 2006: The Edmonton Oilers acquiring
goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the Minnesota Wild in exchange
for a first round pick and a conditional 3rd round draft pick.
This one worked out for both sides in a big way, as Roloson
back-stopped the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals and the Wild
turned that first-rounder into Pavel Demitra from the Kings.
THE WORST TRADE OF 2006: The New Jersey Devils
acquiring defenseman Ken Klee from the Toronto Maple Leafs in
exchange for winger Alexander Suglobov. Klee became the
biggest traffic pylon not found on the Jersey Turnpike in his
24 games for the Devils. Seriously, Suglobov could turn out to
be a popcorn vendor for the Leafs and they still would have
gotten the better of this deal.
THE PLAYER ON MY FANTASY TEAM THAT IS CURRENTLY GIVING ME A
MIGRAINE: C'mon Ales Hemsky... Five stinkin' goals and 17
stinkin' assists? That's five points away from being Joni
Pitkanen, and at least he's gotten me 42 PIM!
THE LOUGANIS AWARD FOR MOST SUCCESSFUL DIVING: The
Carolina Hurricanes, who managed to win the Stanley Cup even
though they received a 4.8 from the Russian judge.
DEDICATED HUSBAND OF THE 2006 (tie): Chris Pronger,
Anaheim, and Kevin Federline, Hip-Hop Nation.
MOST WELCOMED RETURN: Ted Nolan, back from exile to
return the New York Islanders to respectability. The magic
he's worked with Alexei Yashin would make Harry Potter hang up
MOST UNWELCOMED RETURN: The ESPN Retreads. Darren Pang
on NBC, Brian Engblom on VERSUS... new places, same
THE JEREMY ROENICK AWARD FOR FOOT-IN-MOUTH DISEASE:
"The league is having a very strong sophomore season," --
Bernadette Mansur, NHL Senior VP, Communications, to the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch and relayed by Larry Brooks of the New
York Post. As Brooks said, "These suits think hockey began
when they broke the NHLPA, instituted the hard salary cap and
introduced the Sixth Avenue League."
JEREMY ROENICK AWARD FOR FOOT-IN-MOUTH DISEASE (RUNNER-UP):
"I don't think there is anything wrong with going and having a
nice dinner, having a beer and watching the hockey game. I
don't know why everybody is trying to create a stir or create
a controversy." -- Jeremy Roenick, Phoenix Coyotes, after
deserting his team and leaving the arena for a local
restaurant following a game-night scratch in December.
And finally, the one you've been waiting for:
THE WORST PLAYER OF 2006: Dan Cloutier, goalie, Los
Angeles Kings. Hate to pile on the poor guy, but the only way
he could have had a worse year in L.A. is if he changed his
name to Michael Richards. Limited to just 13 games in his last
season in Vancouver, he was traded to the Kings and promptly
became the most terrible goalie in the NHL: 6-14, and a 3.98
GAA that ranked him last among 42 goaltenders. This after
signing a $6.2 million, two-year contract extension before the
Now that Garth Snow has made a few good trades, there's no
denying that Cloutier is the biggest goaltending punchline in
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, and the Senior Editor and Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.