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December 28, 2007
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 deadline "stunners."

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 entire life.

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.

 

The 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 John McDonough.’”

COOLEST 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 pimp.

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 beer?

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 Ducks.

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 Islanders.

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 mistake.

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 bands.

THE BLOGS OF 2007
: Let’s split these up into different categories…

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 read FanHouse even if I wasn’t paid to write there. (But it suuuuuuuuuure helps! Goodnighteverybodytrytheveal!) Paul Kukla’s site has added more live blogging and commentary to its usual collection of hockey news from around the world.

INDIE BLOGS: 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 around them.

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 sound?”

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...
 


Greg 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 History" is now on sale.
 

 

 

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