'Twas a time when mid-April meant the NHL mattered. Now instead of playoff rounds, we have rounds of meetings as the moribund league struggles to reinvent itself, an undertaking that has me peeking through my stubby fingers.
Thorny labor issues aside, all sides agree the puddle of mud that is the NHL game surely needs sprucing in the form of more goals. Some of the ideas that have been floated make sense (eliminating the red line, widening the blues lines, actually enforcing obstruction rules). Others make me cringe (bigger nets, overtime shootouts, streamlined uniforms).
Personally, I'm not keen on watching the Flying Spidermen turn arenas into red light districts, and while there's no need to let goalies wear a mattress on each leg, restricting their ability to play the puck behind a net that is 13 percent bigger feels like arena football territory. Why not just blindfold the poor sods and add a three-point shot?
Okay, I'm hyperventilating. My nightmare scenario is Gary and the Governors trying to cure the NHL's myriad ills by ordering an extreme makeover designed more toward attracting a wider audience than wooing back the devoted one it had. After all, it was the mad chase for a wider audience that helped get the NHL into this mess.
Fortunately, there is solid support in the league for the formation of a competition committee made up of GMs, coaches, players and zebras to address the on-ice product. With so many options on the table, it seems that input from devoted fans would be valuable in sorting it all out in a way that will preserve tradition and the league's status as the best in the world. After all, hockey fans are the ones who must courted and pleased first.
"The product is horrible," writes Alexander Xenopoulos of New York City. "Every year we hear how they will call penalties! Bull. If they did, teams like the Carolina Hurricanes would get pummeled by ultra-talented teams. They had to allow the game to become the way it is for the sake of parity. I'd rather watch MLS than the bush-league NHL."
Meg Taylor of New York City: "I'm a traditionalist. I enjoy the red line. I DO NOT WANT an average game to have a 7-6 score. Some of the best games I've ever seen have been 1-0 affairs. I don't want a shoot-out. The league is bloated, with too many teams, too many overpaid players who aren't worth their salaries. Some flashy system with a big bulging net will lead to more goals, but not more interesting ones, and will do nothing to affect the kind of game that's played, only the score."
I'd love to see the NHL forget the bells and whistles and simply adopt the Olympic game with its wider rink. It's traditional yet it favors good stuff like speed, passing and positional play while making that stultifying trap crap more difficult. It's attractive and familiar to European and Russian players and it would help Americans and Canadians by not forcing them to make major adjustments for international tournaments. The most common argument against it is that a bigger rink sacrifices precious seats, but at this point the NHL will return to barns full of owls, so how much is there to lose?
What do you think? What kind of game would you like to see?
Before Boston's home opener, the Fenway faithful was asked to observe a moment of silence in honor of the late Pope John Paul II and Dick "The Monster" Radatz. What do you think the odds were that those two would one day be joined in the same breath? I not-so-fondly remember the hulking, 6-foot-6, 230-pound flat-topped closer from when I was an unwashed urchin. He was always stalking in from Boston's bullpen to blow away my beloved Mickey Mantle. Definitely an unforgettable character and superb closer, but hearing The Monster memorialized with The Pope just struck me as one of life's amusing coincidences.
I always marvel at the breathtaking array of injuries that sideline this current generation of buffed, chiseled, and exquisitely tuned major league ballplayers. This one takes the early lead for Injury of the Year: Dustan Mohr of the Rockies went on the 15-day disabled list after straining his left calf during his team's victory celebration. As the Rocks charged the field after Clint Barmes' two-run homer gave them a 10-8 win over San Diego in their season opener, Mohr tweaked his calf while jumping out of the dugout. In the words of a Little Rascal, "Re-mark-a-bull!"
Two more readers submissions of the best games they've ever seen in any ol' sport:
Game Three of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals in Raleigh, N.C. I watched all 5½ periods with my dad and a good friend. Up and down in our seats until the wee hours of the morning, and then the oldest man on the ice iced it, 3-2. Thank you Igor Larionov [age 41] for one of the greatest memories. Afterward, it seemed like all of the Red Wings fans in the place got together outside the main gate and celebrated as the Hurricane fans shuffled out silently. -- Chris Goodrich, Montague, Mich.
Aug. 9, 1966. Sandy Koufax pitched against Denny Lemaster in front of a capacity crowd in Atlanta. Felipe Alou led off for the Braves in the bottom of the first with a homer. In the fourth, there was a two-hour-plus rain delay, but both Koufax and Lemaster, who had a no-hitter going, returned. Jim Lefebvre broke up the no-hitter with a homer in the 7th, tying the game 1-1. With one out in the 9th, Eddie Mathews hit a homer off Koufax to win it, 2-1. I was 12 and went to the game with my dad. I'll never forget Koufax trudging off the mound after Mathews hit the homer, which went down the right-field line. That was the year Koufax won 27 and retired after the season. -- Greg Kuhl, Kansas City