Happy Pucking New Year
TFP Columnist Greg Wyshynski presents his Year-End awards,
including the Best and Worst Trades, the Coolest and Lamest
Jeremy Roenick Moments, Hockey Media and Blogs of the Year, and
the revelation of The Worst Player of 2007.
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- From a personal perspective, the top
three hockey moments of 2007 for me:
1. Working with my colleagues at The Fourth Period and
NHL FanHouse during the 24 hours of hockey mania known
as the trade deadline, tracking down hot rumors about
players like Milan Hejduk and Jaromir Jagr only to see
the likes of Ty Conklin and Joel Kwiatkowski become the
2. Partying with the good fans of Columbus for the NHL Draft,
where the fun ranged from an impromptu conversation with Cam
Neely in a city crosswalk to watching an Edmonton
communications suit squirm as I asked Sam Ganger questions
like "Batman, Superman or Spider-Man?"
3. Going to the men's room on Opening Night at the Prudential
Center in Newark to send a few fluid ounces back to sea,
looking down at the urinal and observing the New Jersey Devils
logo professionally etched into the metal top of every
flusher. As a Devils fan, I've never felt more at home in my
So that's Wyshynski's highlights. What about the rest of the
League, the media and the hockey world? Here are some random
awards for the calendar year 2007... Hockey Gods willing,
there's something here that will offend you.
THE 2007 HAPPY PUCKING NEW YEAR AWARDS
HOCKEY MAN OF THE YEAR, 2007: Rocky Wirtz, Chicago
Blackhawks. Without having had the benefit of growing up in
Chicago — what I lack in Windy City sports savvy, I gain in
intestinal clarity having avoided 30 years of late night
char-dog runs — I didn’t really understand the violent vitriol
hurled towards the late Bill Wirtz. That was, until I read
Mark Weinberg’s “Career Misconduct,” a soft-cover takedown
that listed every sin, slander and guilt-by-association that
touched generations of the Wirtz family. I understood Wirtz to
be a curmudgeonly, misguided owner whose business practices
had effectively killed hockey in Chicago; this book revealed a
level of scorn and hatred from Blackhawks fans that rivaled
the kind Bush receives from long-hairs with Kucinich buttons
driving hemp-powered Volkswagens.
So when Bill
Wirtz passed on at the end of September, it was a surreal and
seminal moment for the franchise and its faithful. Fans who
had been openly wishing for his death were suddenly faced with
its reality, and reacted with understandable confliction. Some
celebrated, others cringed; WirtzSucks.com, one of the owner’s
harshest critics, was re-christened as the meeker
Blackhawkzone.com after Dollar Bill’s death.
Rocky Wirtz took the reins of the organization fully
understanding the emotions his late father stirred in
Blackhawks fans and hockey’s low standing in Chicago’s sports
landscape. What was unexpected was how boldly and
unapologetically he’d approach the damage his father had done.
He began lifting the long-standing television blackout on
Blackhawks’ home games in Chicago, with a promise to
completely eliminate it next season. He hired John McDonough,
a marketing veteran with the Cubs, as his new team president.
They reached out to Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, installing
them as goodwill ambassadors for a franchise that needs it.
I can’t conceive of the level of humility a son has to have in
order to address the blatant sins of his father; whatever it
is, Rocky Wirtz seems to have it.
presence of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick
Sharp, Brent Seabrook and Dustin Byfuglien certainly
changes the karma of this team more than anything
Rocky Wirtz has done. But he’s facilitating this
renaissance where his father would have crushed it;
he’s making the right moves where his father would
have made the cost-effective ones.
Even Weinberg, the most caustic critic of the late
Dollar Bill, is cautiously optimistic.
“The Blackhawks are back, but a generation or two of
young fans are lost, and they aren't coming back
easily,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “You can thank
Bill Wirtz for that, and you can undo that by hiring
JEREMY ROENICK MOMENT OF 2007: Retiring with a text
message to a reporter, and then signing with San Jose and
tallying his 500th career goal with the Sharks. Now that’s
LAMEST JEREMY ROENICK MOMENT OF 2007: Telling DRAFT
Magazine that his favorite beer is Bud Light. The tequila shot
of NHL players worships at the alter of the Nik Antropov of
THE PLAYER WE LOVED TO HATE IN 2007: Sean Avery, New
York Rangers. Although I wouldn’t mind being reincarnated as
his fingers. Or Mike Comrie’s, for that matter.
THE PLAYER OF 2007: Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks.
Played stellar defense in the Stanley Cup Finals, while Chris
Pronger was busy taking more cheap shots than Lisa Lampanelli
at a Friar’s Club Roast, and earned himself a Conn Smythe. And
then he became the hockey equivalent of Curt Flood for the
lazy veteran, blazing a trail for other self-centered
superstars of an advanced age to miss training camp and a few
worthless months of the regular season while teams kept their
lockers clean and their cap space handy.
A cute Brett Favre “will he or won’t he?” debate quickly
morphed into an annoying Roger Clemens messiah complex
routine; I half expected Niedermayer to suddenly appear in the
owner’s box at the Pond, turning watered-down beer into wine.
As bad as Niedermayer came off in this situation, he deserves
one man’s gratitude: Andy McDonald, who will find himself in
the playoffs at the end of this season rather than with the
BEST HALL OF FAME PERFORMANCE: Mark Messier’s tear ducts.
Seriously, watching him work the room during induction weekend
must have been like watching Michael Stipe after cutting the
world’s largest onion.
HOCKEY MEN MOST IN NEED OF SOME TIME IN A COZY UFC OCTAGON:
Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe. Although I’d be worried about
Burkey, if K-Lowe fights like a man who’s just crazy enough to
give Dustin Penner $21.25 million for five years.
HIGH-STICKING MAJOR OF 2007: Chris Simon, New York
HIGH-STICKING MINOR OF 2007: Jiri Tlusty, Toronto.
THE GOALIE OF 2007: Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks.
I give Bobby Lou this award out of charity. First, he’s the
throw-in when Florida and Vancouver pulled off that
blockbuster Lukas Krajicek trade. Then he’s voted by the fans
as the starter in the NHL All-Star Game, but no one gives a
damn because Rory Fitzpatrick missed the cut by 23,000 votes
and the game was on Versus. Then he wins a quadruple overtime
game in the playoffs, but fails to make the one extra save
that would have tied him with Ron Tugnutt and Kelly Hrudey for
the most stops in a postseason game (73). Then he stops 60
shots in a double-overtime elimination loss to Anaheim; a game
in which Luongo missed the first few minutes of OT because he
was allegedly back in the locker room doing a Jeff Daniels
impression from “Dumb and Dumber” on the commode. Then he gets
nominated for the Hart and the Vezina, and comes home with the
same number of awards as Wade Belak.
I say this as a Marty Brodeur acolyte: Roberto Luongo is the
best keeper in the NHL right now. If the Rangers don’t trap
the Vezina for Lundqvist, it’s Luongo’s to lose. But beyond
charity, he gets The Goalie of 2007 because he had the sack to
stand up to the NHL’s change-whores and proclaim that he’d
quit if the league expanded the size of the goals. Whether he
meant it or not, it’s nice to hear a player say “’nuff’s
enough” with the changes.
CHUCK WEPNER “WE GOT A BLEEDER!” AWARD: David Koci,
Chicago Blackhawks. Decided to fight Zdeno Chara, and came
away looking like he just went 20 minutes with Cactus Jack in
a barbed wire cage match. Z’s still waiting for an apology
after Koci had the nerve to allow fragments of his skull to
become lodged in the folds of Chara’s knuckles.
EXECUTIVE MOST FAMILIAR WITH THE UNDERSIDE OF A BUS: John
Ferguson, Jr. of Toronto, after being tossed under one by MLSE
President Richard Peddie, who called Ferguson’s hiring a
THE BEST THINGS ABOUT XM HOME ICE: The news-making
commentary and informative banter between E.J. Hradek and Don
LaGreca on “NHL Live,” which has become mandatory listening
for any American hockey fan; the continued comedic charm of
Jim “Boomer” Gordon, whose laid-back delivery at times
obscures his often-brilliant insight; and the occasional
spell-binding moment when Phil Esposito will let his guard
down and let us into his treasure trove of slightly scandalous
stories about hockey’s golden years.
THE WORST THING ABOUT XM HOME ICE: Dwayne Klessel’s daily
rumor-mongering phone-in. Whatever it is about his act that
(allegedly) plays well in print as part of the “Eklund”
character, it doesn’t translate to radio or, as we saw on
Sportsnet at the deadline, on television. There’s a better
chance of Barry Melrose opening up a rib joint in Newark than
something journalistically significant emerging from these XM
segments. It’s like listening to paint dry — if that paint
was, in fact, a witless panderer whose triangulated insights
have the depth of a motel kiddie pool.
PREMATURE ADULATION OF 2007: Mike Richards, Philadelphia
Flyers. Not taking anything away from the kid, who is an
outstanding player. But $69 million over the next 12 seasons
promises something more than outstanding, and I’m not
confident that a player with 21 goals and 45 points in 138
games entering this season has earned that yet. Simon Gagne,
by contrast, had 47 goals and 107 points in his first two
seasons. Had the Flyers inked him to a Richards-like contract
in Year 3, they would have gotten three superstar seasons, one
sub-par season, and two injury-plagued seasons — including
2007-08, which has seen Gagne face the fallout from a
concussion. Ask a Flyers fan about star players and
concussions, and you’ll understand why inking any star to a
12-year deal is a foray into the land of uncertainty (a land
where, I believe, Johan Holmqvist was born).
THE TEAM OF 2007: The Philadelphia Flyers. As hockey fans,
we’re constantly concerned about the integrity of the NHL in
the wake of the still-dryer warm Collective Bargaining
Agreement. Isn’t it comforting, then, to see a team bottom out
for a high draft pick, raid the poor of their limited riches
and rebuild in the span of one summer while handing out
DiPietro-like contacts? While, at the same time, loading up
with more disposable thugs than a villain on the Adam West
“Batman” series? Boy, the more things change…
PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO BE THANKING GOD FOR THE EXISTANCE OF
ISIAH THOMAS, THE NY GIANTS’ PLAYOFF PUSH AND BASEBALL’S
STEROID INVESTIGATION: Jaromir Jagr, NY Rangers, who has
avoided intense tabloid scrutiny despite potentially being
headed to a new career low in goals scored.
MOST ARROGANT MOMENT OF 2007: Jim Balsillie asking for
deposits on Hamilton Predators season tickets before, you
know, actually becoming Nashville’s new owner and, you know,
getting League approval to move the franchise that he didn’t
yet own to Hamilton. The last time someone was this
overconfident before his eventual and spectacular demise,
Grand Moff Tarkin was scoffing at evacuation during the Death
Star’s “moment of triumph.”
MAINSTREAM HOCKEY WRITER OF 2007: David Amber, ESPN.com.
While praising an ESPN personality for their contributions to
the betterment of hockey makes me taste metal, he’s been able
to squeeze out some morsels of personality from the stones
known as NHL players. If it wasn’t for Amber, we wouldn’t know
that Brad Boyes wants to get with Elizabeth Hurley; or that
Ryan Miller is forever cursed because his brother Drew hit him
in the hip with the Stanley Cup; or that Freddie Couples gives
Michael Cammalleri the belly butterflies. Combine those with
some great little Top 10 lists about the League, and Amber
proves you can write a compelling hockey column for ESPN.com
without factual flights of fancy or references to awful hair
THE BLOGS OF 2007: Let’s split these up into different
MAINSTREAM MEDIA BLOGS: Orland Kurtenblog of the Vancouver
Provence and David Staples of the Edmonton Journal. Outside of
Dan Steinberg in the Washington Post,
the “KB” is the best example
of a mainstream blog that’s able to capture the unhinged
spirit of the alt-hockey media without it appearing that
they’re toeing some corporate line. Staples, meanwhile, has
been a keen observer of the NHL on his “Cult
of Hockey” blog, while supporting the burgeoning
“Oilogosphere” with mainstream love.
SORTA MSM BLOGS: NHL FanHouse and Kukla’s Korner. I’d
FanHouse even if I wasn’t
paid to write there. (But it suuuuuuuuuure helps!
Paul Kukla’s site has added
more live blogging and commentary to its usual collection of
hockey news from around the world.
The Pens Blog reads like a
Larry King column if Larry King was actually a puckhead on a
meth bender and had considerable Photoshop skills.
The Two-Man Advantage finally
figured out a way to marry blog snark with video content and
considerable access. The boys can write a little bit, too.
REDEMPTION OF 2007: Jarkko Ruutu, Pittsburgh. Hey, it
turns out we actually didn’t want to see the annoying bugger
get his leg get nearly Malarchuked near center ice. Who knew?
BEST REEBOK EDGE REVAMP: The Washington Capitals’ white
jerseys. It’s a sharp, clean look, and an improvement over the
last model, even if the logo still looks like something from
the back of a Japanese Anime DVD.
WORST REEBOK EDGE REVAMP: The Florida Panthers’ white
jerseys. The piping on the front of the sweater makes it look
like the players are skating around with a stereo wire draped
THE BEST TRADE OF 2007: Florida acquires Tomas Vokoun from
Nashville. Yes, the price was a bit pricy for a Predators’
sell-off: a first-round pick in 2008, a second-round pick in
the 2007 draft (center Nick Spaling) and a second-round pick
in the 2008 draft. But Vokoun has mopped up a post-Luongo
goaltending mess in Florida, and is playing well enough where
that No. 1 might not be in the lottery next summer.
THE WORST TRADE OF 2007: Robert Nilsson is nearly a
top-five scorer for Edmonton. Ryan O'Marra is rocketing
through the Oilers’ minor league system. Alex Plante, selected
with the Islanders’ first-round pick in 2007, is a defenseman
of the future. Ryan Smyth has 31.25 million reasons to enjoy
playing with Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny. And the Islanders now
know the price for 23 games worth of a good publicity stunt.
NEW S.A.T. QUESTION OF 2007: “If a puck drops in London
but no one in North America cares about it, does it make a
THE PLAYER ON MY FANTASY TEAM THAT IS CURRENTLY GIVING ME A
MIGRAINE: Every time I look at Miikka Kiprusoff’s Goals
Against Average, it’s like waking up to discover that Jessica
Alba suddenly looks like Mike Ricci.
And finally, the one you've been waiting for:
THE WORST PLAYER OF 2007: Chris Simon, New York Islanders.
I’m actually pleased that the League didn’t ban Chris Simon
from ever skating in an NHL game again. He used his stick to
attack a guy in March. He used a skate to attack another guy
in December. I’m breathless with anticipation to see what’s
next. Braining a guy with his helmet? Firing his gloves like
missiles, in a “Dragonball Z”-like aerial assault? Whipping
some guy Indiana Jones-style with his jock? This guy’s
practically a prop comic; maybe next time, he pulls out a
giant Gallagher mallet and whacks Hollweg like he was a barrel
in “Donkey Kong.”
Hyperbole aside, Simon should never play in the NHL again.
Based on his rap sheet. Based on his clear disregard for his
fellow players. Based on the fact that twice in the same
calendar year, Simon’s actions caused a PR nightmare for the
league, as the mainstream sports media had another opportunity
to demonize hockey thanks to the actions of one lone idiot.
But as we’ve been told time and time again, Simon is a “nice
guy.” He’s a “great teammate.” I honestly wouldn’t care if
Simon goes to work in a homeless soup kitchen after every
game; it’s what he does on the ice that matters, and on the
ice he’s shown to have about as much self-control as Britney
Spears staggering out of an L.A. club at 4 in the morning.
If he’s not the worst, Chris Simon is the most deplorable,
despicable and regrettable player in the NHL in 2007. It’s a
disgrace we might see him again in 2008.
Happy Pucking New Year, one and all...
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.