We hear all the time that the playoffs are a different beast. Well they are. The other night in game 2 of the St-Louis /Chicago series we saw just that. It’s not the first time and certainly not the last time that harsh words were uttered, but it certainly gives an insight to the stuff that goes on in the world of professional sports especially in the battle ground.
I wanted to write about this right after I had first heard the comment, but wanted to sit back and listen to people’s thoughts. What they think of the situation…. Which is probably pretty common. Hockey is watched by kids, housewives, accountants, doctors, and many other occupations where intimidation or getting the edge, doesn’t apply. I understand how some people react when they see Lucic spear Dekeyser in the %&$#@. I understand that people are irritated when players slash other players where they are hurt… thus the upper and lower body injuries. And certainly understand when a banged up and staggering Backes is taunted with the words like “Wakey Wakey”.
If this was an office and someone slipped, I’m sure I would think it was peculiar and idiotic for another worker to utter the same words…because it would be. The person could have a serious concussion and why would anyone want to mock that. I would probably think the same thing if a woman was an erotic dancer…. and a coworker started to mock the guy about his wife’s profession of choice. Makes perfect sense. This is just plain WRONG.
The world of professional sports is different, plain and simple. I’m not excusing it, but I am explaining it. Lets start with the locker room. The normal office doesn’t require you to shower with each other 2 times a day. It doesn’t have you lying half naked on tables while people work on you to make sure you are healthy. You aren’t pushed to physical limits and put in a WIN at all costs mentality since you were old enough to cross the street by yourself. Not only are the playoffs a different beast but, the mentality and profession are as well.
I played in the NHL for 15 years and have said some of the nastiest things that you could ever imagine. I have talked about wives; I have ripped on mothers, brothers, sisters…but never kids. Off limits. I once told a player in a playoff series that if he needed the extra 10 dollars from the lap dance that I would give it to him…. yes she was a stripper. And yes, he took a penalty on me. One time in Philly Randy Burridge told me if Paul Coffey crosses the red line in warm-ups 1 more time to break his ankle. The next lap, Paul skated over the red line and I swung and chopped down the tree. My goal was to get an edge and I would do anything to get it. I wanted the Eric Lindros and Scott Stevens to chase me around, to draw a penalty and let the likes of Lafontaine, Jagr or Sakic to score. It was about winning. It was about getting the edge. Always was and always will be.
What happened the other night was terrible. Not what was said, but the actual hit. Seabrook was suspended and will pay the price of not playing and helping his team. Keith said something that he does not regret. Might he have to pay the price for that? Probably. I know I would make him pay but at the right time. A slash to the back of the knees or a chop to the wrist… who knows. The fact is There is a lot of hatred and compete level in the playoffs is off the charts. Any edge will be used whether it’s right or wrong. Obviously there is stuff that you just can’t do but guys will push the limits every time. As much as the St-Louis Blues will complain and say it was bush league or just plain wrong, they probably have the nastiest trash talker in the game today. Steve Ott says things that I’m sure you would not approve of. He whispers in guys ears, saying the nastiest things and sticks his tongue out, begging you to punch him in the face. All for the EDGE… All to WIN! AND I LOVE IT!
The league knows that this kind of behavior happens. They know locker rooms are very different from the normal workforce. And they know guys will do anything to win. Suspensions are handed out to those who try and hurt people. Not to those who hurt people’s feelings. Disregard Sean Avery’s “sloppy seconds” reference because that was just stupid and for a show.
In the end, these are the days I miss. I miss the competition of the playoffs, I miss the insults, I miss the bruises knowing I was in a war. I miss the facewashes from sweaty gloves to my face and I miss people ripping on me. Lord knows they would have some ammunition right now. That’s the game I love!
Fact is, Hockey playoffs are a different beast and for good reason. It’s a WAR and one every GREAT athlete loves. There will continue to be the nastiest of things said and things done that the common person can’t comprehend. I understand that. I really do. Jack Nicholson said it best in a Few Good Men. YOU DON’T WANT THE TRUTH BECAUSE YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! But that’s the TRUTH!
December 7th … A Night To Forget
I woke up this morning to twitter and re watched the series of events from last nights Bruins-Pens game. I automatically had a reaction to the senseless acts from James Neal and Shawn Thornton, but wanted to see if sleeping on it and reviewing them again would soften my stance. The answer is NO.
Lets start by reviewing the facts and events that happened. 15 seconds from puck drop, Brooks Orpik absolutely lambastes an unsuspecting Loui Eriksson. Could it have been a penalty? Maybe… On another day, another arena, another ref probably, but it wasn’t. Orpik is a big hitter and timed what he thought was a perfectly clean shoulder to chest body check. I tend to agree. Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton do what good captains and great teammates do…They stand up and challenge Orpik for concussing one of their star players. Many feel that you don’t have to answer for clean hits but those are mostly from people that never have laced em up or have never played at the level that these guys play. Big hits are a part of the game. So is intimidation and defending teammates. So I love what Boston did in defending Eriksson early on.
As the game develops it becomes apparent that there will be scores to settle and I’m not talking about anything with a red light. Brad Marchand is a Rat. Trust me I know. It was my nickname for 15 years. He is very good at it. He trash talks, uses his stick behind the play and will do anything to get an edge or piss someone off. My guess is he did something to Neal earlier or behind the play to get Neal. Something we didn’t see. I’ll say what we aren’t supposed to say. He probably deserved the knee to the head. A play that was very easily avoided even for a 6 year old learning to skate let alone an elite player vying for a spot on an Olympic team. I know I deserved a lot of the slashes, punches, eye gauges, that I received. I also loved it because it meant I was doing my job and usually putting my team on the pp which gave us the edge.
James Neal who I respect as a player and a person deserves more than the suspension he is going to receive. He will have a hearing with Brendan Shanahan, head of NHL player safety Monday but will receive a max of 5 games because it is an over the phone hearing. This was exactly the kind of play we are trying to get rid of even if Marchand probably deserved it. My guess is that because Marchand never left the game and wasn’t seriously injured Neal will receive 4 games but to me the act was far worse than that. In my opinion it’s a hit to the head, with a knee none the less, and little remorse after in post game comments. If I were handing the suspension out it would be 10 games.
Shawn Thornton is a great teammate. I played with Shawn in Chicago. I fought him when I was with Dallas. I continue to talk to him years after I retired, for in game insight, interviews, and because I really think he is a great guy. To me he epitomizes what I think a tough guy in the year 2013 should look like. 1- very tough 2-team 1st 3-play valuable minutes 4- honorable. Saturday night he exemplified a lot of what I love about him. Stood up for a teammate. Tried to put the team 1st but honorable was NO where in sight. What Thornton did was disgusting. He wanted a fight and wanted to make Orpik pay for hurting one of their stars. He wanted to show everyone that Boston will not be bullied and that there is a price to pay for hurting one of theirs. I love that mentality and always will. Sue me!! That’s who I am. Once Orpik was obvious in showing that he wanted nothing to do with fighting, that’s where it should have ended. Instead Thornton took it upon himself to slew foot, knockout, and continue to punch away at a defenseless player. Could he have hurt him more?? Yes. He could have dropped his gloves and inflicted more pain but fact is Orpic left on a stretcher after refusing to engage. Not something we ever want to see. Whether you think the Orpik hit was late, or to the head, or just plain too hard, what happened to him must be dealt with and dealt with severity. Actions speak louder than words. Thornton was apologetic after the game and rightfully so. Doesn’t matter. We talk weekly about a new incident, usually ones of stupidity, and this is the perfect spot for the league to send a real message. A real message to me is 15-20 games.
I mentioned earlier that I woke up to twitter. Some dm’s from players, some from fans, and some from just idiotic people that probably live in their parents basements as 30 year olds. Krys Barch asked ‟Do you feel Orpik would think twice about running Eriksson if the instigator rule were in place? Fear as a deterrent”.
I really feel that the game is better with the instigator rule in the game. I do feel that it makes players think twice before doing stupid things and holds players more accountable. Having said that I played with Darius Kasparaitis and he would blow your knee out, elbow you to head, or knock you out without any hesitation. He was willing to be jumped and pummeled as a result. I played with the same mentality and used the rule to my advantage. I knew if I ran around and played on the edge that I could get players to lose control. There are times that I turtled but only to put my team on the pp. I fought when I wanted and ONLY when I wanted but it ended up I liked it a lot too. So the answer Krys is that I think Orpik still would have run over Eriksson and Thornton still would have taken it to the extreme.
I said that I received dm’s from players that they are shocked at what I said. People close to the situation. That Marchand deserved it. Plays like a rat and coming from me I am a hypocrite. I take serious offense to that. I have often said that I wouldn’t or couldn’t work for a team because I need to be honest and truthful and working for teams doesn’t always allow you the ability to do that. I have made mistakes in my life and I don’t judge people differently because I understand where I was and if you were in my shoes you might understand. Either way I deserved to be punished for my actions at that time. I also played on the edge and sometimes over, but also played in a different era. We got away with more, and the rules were more lenient. It doesn’t make what I did right but I also learned what was acceptable and what was not. I have also said it over and over that the game has never been better. The players were never more talented than they are now but, there has never been as much stupidity in our game as there is now! Brendan Shanahan has to send a message. One that will not be brushed under the carpet or not leave a mark. That Krys Barch will be the biggest deterrent.
It’s December 3, 2012.
I spend my days reading, writing and consuming each hour with everything lockout related. I go to great lengths to learn what other people are thinking, whether by updates on Twitter, logging onto TSN.ca, skimming Yahoo, ESPN or grabbing from countless other publications. I love hearing what hockey lovers, (terrible term- get over it), have to say but I don’t always agree with the views I come across.
The shredding truth is that none of it matters - we have absolutely no say this time.
If I’ve learned anything over the past decade, it’s that more often than not- compromise wins.
That may be the case here, boys.
There IS a deal out there that makes sense for everyone involved.
I can get into numbers, but that can get boring even to the most dedicated fan, and if you’re reading this blog – you probably already know them anyhow.
Are the numbers important?? Absolutely- but it should be easier than that. Take the ’04 lockout for example. We’re not talking cap or no cap; this is two entirely different philosophies - apples and oranges, ladies.
For kicks- let’s take into account that revenues went from 2.1 billion to 3.3 billion since then and player’s salaries, on average, rose by roughly 1 million dollars.
At least that battle made SENSE for the owners to fight to the bitter end about because it was about commanding monetary control across the board.
I didn’t agree with then union boss, Bob Goodenow, and made that explicitly clear behind closed doors. In any interview, I supported the union in what we were trying to do; I thought that we should have a cap. We could have possibly had that deal, maybe even a better one- but more importantly, we wouldn’t have lost a season.
In the end a deal was struck. One that may have destroyed the players, but also, one that paid off because the game grew, the cap grew and like always, owners and GM’s found ways to take a great deal and spin it in the players favor.
Fast forward to now. Again, we are no closer to a deal than we were in 04’ at this time. The difference is, I truly feel that there is a deal to be made as opposed to last time when I thought nothing would get done. That’s probably why in ‘04 I was about 10 lbs. overweight by January when everyone thought the season would begin.
Most veterans never thought this. Now that I am no longer a player, and certainly not an owner, I try and look at it from both sides. I talk to players daily and I have friends in management. I know that there are owners that want a deal ASAP but that they are not unified. I also know there are players that want a deal to be made just for the money, and if you’ve ever played hockey, you know that’s not the driving force of a true hockey player.
Somewhere in the middle is where the deal needs to come from. If you take the Jeremy Jacobs of the NHL out of the negotiations and the few players that are under the thumb of Donald Fehr, there are some people that agree that the middle is where it should be.
I, personally, think it’s absurd to think players don’t deserve the money that they have been given. To watch the owners shell out hundreds of millions of dollars on contracts to players, then ask them to give it back is ridiculous, comical even. I’ve heard fans, and yes, even players laugh at some of the deals that have been dished out, but that is all on the owners. They want to be competitive and no matter what system they have in place, they will begin the next day trying to find ways around it. That’s the nature of the business.
Don’t blame Brandon Prust for making 2.5 million a year as a 4th liner. Don’t blame Scott Gomez for pulling in almost 8 million per season. GM’s and owners gave this money out and we all laughed, but it will happen again. At one point, everyone signed off on these deals and for that reason I really believe that the make-whole needs to be made better by the league if we are going to get something done.
Owners gave the players a few things, and now free agency- at a younger age- is huge. Players are in for the big payday a lot earlier than they used to be. Players coming out of entry level deals are given crazy amounts of money to lock up for years, which makes older, proven guys that much more valuable.
You and I know there are a lot of complicated issues. Revenue sharing, length of contracts, pension plans etc. but there is a deal to be made because they are talking the same language. It’s called “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!”
I really think in a perfect world, the NHL has to make better on the “make whole” and by better I mean A LOT better. Having talked to the players, I don’t think that they will crumble on this one. They feel that in 2004 they gave and gave, and they did, or rather - WE did. I think 14 year deals are ridiculous. I think that young guys make way too much money and way too early. I think that GM’s can’t control themselves and will always overpay if there is a way.
I am not on one side or the other, but I really feel that they both have to give more than they are because right now, everyone is losing; players, owners, businesses, fans, and most importantly “the game”. I really hope that Tuesday brings some hope to the process, but in no way am I holding my breath… It really doesn’t matter who is in that room, they are all instructed to act, but have the same brainwashed, sound byte philosophies as their leaders.
I think this is more fluff than anything but I hope I am wrong. We truly have the best game out there, with the best athletes, supporters and fans. This really shouldn’t have been this hard to figure out, I’m guessing you agree if you’re reading this- so to help calm you, how about you buy a nice Matt Barnaby sweatshirt until I have better news for you.
Don’t lose hope.
I refuse to.
A few weeks ago I was in Toronto for a charity event with the likes of Kelly Chase, Darcy Tucker, Brad May, and Wendel Clarke. It was great getting caught up and we spent time trading old war stories, but most of all, we talked about youth hockey.
I believe in BURNOUT, but not in the sense of too much time on the ice or playing too many games. I believe if a kid wakes up in the morning and truly wants nothing more than to go the rink, who are we to say NO? I believe there are a lot of kids that it is a part of their DNA and that they would rather play hockey than do anything else. I was that kid. I couldn’t wait. A perfect Saturday consisted of a game with my South Ottawa Warrior team, heading to a clinic or buddies for street hockey, to play with my brothers work team late at night and come home to a taped late night game of the western conference. I looked at it the same way Rob Ray looks at food. Couldn’t live without it.If your kid is the type that loves the game, loves playing but likes to do other things just as much - that’s ok. This is where knowing your kid is very important. I have known many that have pushed and made their kids go to the rink or train when they simply wanted to do something else. This is what I believe BURNOUT actually is. Every kid is different and there is no ‘correct’ path - but it is essential that you listen to your kid. The fallacy that your kid won’t make it because he didn’t do this camp or missed a day of training simply isn’t true.Adrian Aucoin I believe would be entering his 17th year in NHL if it weren’t for a lockout. I remember him as a peewee teammate and an average player. Great kid, and probably our 5th D man. Adrian was a kid that liked the game but also played other sports and loved being with his friends. He had a great family that let him do what he wanted to do and supported him no matter what he was doing. At the time I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to play on 3 summer hockey teams, run to clinics and skip dances to play hockey. It just didn’t make sense to 13 year old me - no kid could be like this and actually make the NHL - no way he is going anywhere. Well I guess that’s what being a kid is, we really don’t know much. Just look at Adrian - he’s done just fine.All in all I guess I look at it way different now that I’m a parent and a coach . I have a kid that is hyperactive- just like I was. He wakes up and NEEDS the rink. It makes him happy. There are the odd days where he says “Dad, I’m going to play with my buddies today instead of going to open skate” and my response is always “Awesome buddy, I can get some stuff done around the house”. He will never BURNOUT because he loves it and I don’t force it.
For those kids that love the game, but also love doing other things, support them because if you push and push them to be something they are not - that is where you will run into what real BURNOUT is.
NCAA v. Junior Hockey
There isn’t a day that goes by without someone asking me, “Which do you think is better: NCAA or Canadian junior hockey? You would think by now that I would have a definitive answer, and I do, but it is a very complex one.
I played junior hockey in the early 90’s. I was an average student and hockey was my life. I attended classes but my real focus was on becoming a better hockey player, not a doctor or a lawyer. I would go to class but skip out early, train or work on my skills on the ice. If I put half as much work into school as I did in hockey, I could have been a really good student. I guess if I had hands like Mario Lemieux or if I skated like Pavel Bure, I would’ve scored a lot more but ummmmm I didn’t.
Every parent, especially in the U.S., dreams of a college scholarship. Let’s face it—college is expensive. My math isn’t great but four years at roughly $50,000 a year is roughly $200,000 after tax dollars. That’s a lot of money you can put toward a lot of family needs or save to prevent being in debt for the rest of your life.
NCAA hockey is very good. I recommend it all the time to players. The college experience I believe cannot be duplicated, especially if you have the chance to play at a top school like B.C., Michigan, North Dakota, etc. I feel that playing in front of students, alumni, and the atmosphere that the big programs have is second to none. Most kids, particularly in the U.S., have dreams of playing for certain schools. If they have that chance, they are not only deserving but also very lucky to be able to play great hockey and get an unbelievable education. Hockey is very important but the travel and the reduced game schedule (roughly 40 games) makes school a lot more manageable.
Canadian junior hockey, whether it be OHL, WHL or QMJHL, is a much different beast. Your first focus is on hockey. Junior hockey is the best league for amateurs in the world. The game is just like the NHL—very structured, extremely physical and a much tougher grind considering you play almost a 70-game schedule as opposed to 40 in the NCAA. The players are younger but most top prospects come from junior so the level of play is very high. Unlike when I played junior, teams are much more strict in terms of attending classes and doing well—still make no mistake, hockey is the primary focus.
Although I think both are great options, I do think that a certain player can help or hurt their status, thrive or fail in an environment or simply make a better or worse decision for their situation or career, depending on which they choose. I believe if your son is a very good player or perhaps even a great player (with low pro chances), who is a good student, NCAA is definitely the right and only choice. I think that these kids will truly excel, get a first-class education and still can develop into an NHL player. At least, he will have saved themselves and/or their parents, $200K+ dollars.
If your kid is a top prospect (and every parent should know this by about age 16-17), and wants to be an NHL player, you should definitely be bringing your kid to major junior. I believe that it prepares them the most for the professional game. Like I said earlier, the grind, the physical play and the pressures of playing Canadian hockey are different than anything else for kids this age. I believe you become a more complete player and are much more prepared for the next step. Most top prospects get a school package to ensure that they don’t give up a great education in case they don’t develop as planned.
I recently gave advice to a family friend who had to make this exact decision. After researching for months on end and providing the family with my opinions, I made a call to someone from TSN who I respect as much as anyone in hockey. His response was, “If he’s as good as you say, he should be playing in the OHL. If he wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, go the NCAA route.” After he put it that way, it just confirmed what I had already thought and I encouraged this particular family to go with the OHL, which they decided to do.
Both are great options and you can’t go wrong with either, but I truly do believe the decision isn’t as hard once we collect and analyze the player and individual.
2012 Free Agency - Crazy Day
July 1st is a big day—let’s face it! For a Canadian, it means party time and for a hockey player whose contract is up and who is a UFA, it means “show me the money.” I was only a free agent once when it counted and it was a great feeling. It was similar to now as there was a lockout looming, but the money was still there. I had just finished my third year with the New York Rangers and a brief stint with the Colorado Avalanche and was coming off a good year where I scored 16 goals. I knew I was going to get a raise and also get a chance to pick a place where I wanted to play—either because the money was great or to play on a team that had a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
I couldn’t have had made a worse decision. I took the money ($1.75M per year on a 3-year deal). I actually thought I would earn between $2 and 2.5M, but was very happy with where I was. There was one other offer that I did consider and it was a four-year deal with Colorado for about $300,000 less per year.I really listened to my agent,when I should have been stronger. Other teams were in the mix but wanted to wait until the lockout was over before they committed. I wanted to play let’s make a deal right away.
I chose Chicago and was never so excited to start this new venture in life. It was a great city, a new team and I also knew that Dale Tallon was going to do great things. He signed other veterans such as Cullimore, Brown and Lapointe. This was a new era and I was going to be a big part of it. Not so fast “big boy” (John Davidson quote). We had a miserable year losing a lot and for a guy that feeds off the fans, there were none in the building. The United Center + empty seats = boring. I started to think that I had it pretty good in Colorado but I had made a decision and I really believed it was going to get a lot better. Dale kept on telling me how good Toews was and I was all in. The next July 1st was a reality check. Dale called and told me he was buying me out of the last year of my deal saying only that they were going in a different direction. Dale was very professional, honest and I always appreciated that. A few days later I signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Stars and a year later retired.
July 1st is a crazy day for everyone—it’s a day when GM’s overpay because they don’t have to give up anything for a player they really want. It’s a crazy day for players because they are receiving offers that are much more than they ever dreamt possible. It’s also a crazy day for fans because there’s excitement of what your team may look like a day’s end. This is a day where not only star player get paid, but also average players and even (yes) tough guys. This is never going to change and please never blame the player for accepting money that seems way out of whack. It usually doesn’t take long for fans, GM’s, reporters to ask the question: “How is this guy making this kind of money?” I call July 1st Bobby Holik Day. I was with the New York Rangers when Bobby signed a 5-year $45M deal and remember saying, “Wow, this is nuts!” Bobby is a great guy and leader and a proven winner, but this is insanity. Bobby probably had the best quote I’ve ever heard. He said, “Barny, if I am your third line center, we win the Stanley Cup. If I am your first line center, we do not make the playoffs.” Needless to say, we never made the playoffs as a team. If I had to do it again, I would have chosen the better fit, Colorado, or waited for a different team, maybe the Philadelphia Flyers, a team I always wanted to play for. I probably would have made more in the long run, had a better chance of winning a Stanley Cup and certainly would have had more fun.
July 1st is a fun and exciting day with a lot of decisions that affect the rest of your life, but they are not easy ones. I hope everyone makes the best decision.
Winners and Losers of 2012 Draft
Edm-Yakupov can’t miss, electric forward
Mtl- Galdenyuk-finally a top center
Buf- Addressed biggest concern-size in the middle with Grigorenko and Girgensons
Nyi and Columbus for embarrassing themselves with the offer and for not accepting
When I look back at the NHL draft, I have two thoughts. One is joy and excitement for all of the young kids who are trying to take their games, skills and passion to the next level. The second is all the disappointment that comes along with not being drafted—it can be demoralizing and just an awful thing to go through.
I was drafted in the 1992 NHL draft 83rd overall (4th round) by the Buffalo Sabres. I thought I would go a little higher, but thought it was very close to where I should have been drafted. The questions I faced were, “Will he play the same way with the big boys and run his mouth, fight and act as if he owns the ice?” I knew deep down that I would, but those are what the critics had to say.
In junior, I went last overall in the 23rd round. The janitor and I would have been the only two left in the building, had I stayed in the draft. I left during the 20th round when teams started passing up selections because of the cost of bringing people to the camp. I left Montreal that day with my brother Brent (my biggest supporter), crying and thinking my career was over before it started. He consoled me the two and a half hour ride home, but I had never been so hurt. Having been cut from Bantam and Midget was hard, but this was embarrassing. The next day I was congratulated, and I said, “for what?” My friend had told me I was the last pick in the draft and I did not believe him. I was so excited, yet now I was the last player that was selected.
This isn’t a feel good story where I tell you I overcame the odds, made junior, proved scouts wrong and ended up in the NHL for 14 years. This is about me as a parent of a 14 year old who I would never put in the draft setting unless rated very highly. Those kids all get picked, just sometimes at a little lower place than expected. I have been through two drafts and while my NHL draft was one of my greatest memories in hockey, my junior draft was by far one of the worst. After this last week, we see all of the glitz and the glamour of all of the top kids being selected, but what we don’t see is the heartbreak of the kids who were not selected.
Being a parent of a hockey player where the junior draft is two years away and NHL draft four years away, I hope that he will take my advice: Play 18 holes of golf, take a little lunch break and hopefully receive a phone call later that day realizing that he has an opportunity to continue his playing career. If he’s anything like me, no matter if or where he’s rated, we will be sitting in some arena, praying for his name to be called.