Odd stuff from GMs' assembly line, Stamkos' secret, more notes

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Sure, they moved in the right direction, but just once it would be nice to see something bolder than the typical baby step that this recommendation takes. Enough with the tired excuses about the speed of the game being mainly to blame and the unfounded fear of hitting being demonized. This isn't about hitting. It's about the elimination of head-hunting forays like Matt Cooke's assault last Sunday on Marc Savard.

I'm no pacifiist. I've got my complete collection of Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Hockey DVDs in regular rotation. But the next good argument for the validity of the head as a target will be the first. It doesn't need to be part of the game.

The league managed to eliminate bench-clearing brawls and Sean Avery's arm-waving tactics with ruthless efficiency. They could do the same with head shots if only they wanted to. At this point, it's clear they don't. To suggest otherwise at this point would be disingenuous.

But while that fluff job of a rules proposal occupied most of their time in Florida, the group did spitball a couple other ideas that might have an impact on how the postseason plays out in the future.

Islanders owner Charles Wang offered up a proposal through his GM Garth Snow that would see the top seven teams in each conference earn their playoff berths as they do now, but open the final seed to a Thunderdome-style sudden death tournament among the remaining eight teams. The single-elimination format would add seven games to the schedule, starting with the eighth-place team playing the 15th seed, 9 vs. 14, 10 vs. 13 and 11 vs. 12, with the winner in each bracket advancing. The team that won its three elimination games would earn the playoff berth and the right to face the team that had finished first in the conference.

No doubt this concept (described as "nutty" by one attendee) held some appeal for the weak sister clubs that would love a chance to wash away 82 games worth of, um, inconsistency with a three-game winning streak (and maybe fatten their coffers with an extra home sellout or two). But the scope was a little too grandiose to succeed.

First, it would have rendered the regular season all but meaningless. Every slump, be it four games or 40, would have lost its gravity with the knowledge that all a team really needed was to be on a roll during the first week of April in order to have a chance at the Stanley Cup.

Just as important, a pre-playoff tournament would have been a logistical nightmare. Think: the selling and refunding of tickets, travel arrangements, building availability, etc. There's also the issue of timing. If everything fell into place, the play-ins would take six, maybe seven days. What are the 14 teams who already punched their ticket supposed to do during that time?

A couple days to cool their heels while resting aching bones might sound nice, but disrupting their rhythm seems like an onerous penalty on the most deserving squads. And the Cup final is already close enough to July. Does anyone really want to stretch the season any further?

Truth is, Wang's vision didn't stand a chance, but a case can be made for an NCAA-style, one-game play-in between the eighth and ninth-place teams, either on an annual basis or simply when the two were deadlocked in the points race. A single game wouldn't place an undue burden on the schedule and the extra date would make for a nice boost to the bottom line of the eighth-place team.

Too much tinkering for the purists? Maybe...but remember: hockey is in the entertainment business and the potential for an extra Game Seven-style scenario wouldn't hurt interest down the stretch. And hey, everybody likes a Cinderella story.

This might be worth revisiting in the future, especially since the GMs clearly have playoff seeding in mind. One concept that did pass muster, or at least, was passed along for review by the competition committee, was that the first standings tiebreaker should be changed from most wins to most regulation/OT wins.

That's not an insignificant shift because it essentially diminishes the value of a shootout win, one of the most significant elements of the post-lockout NHL.

Consider that the Florida Panthers wouldn't be on the verge of a ninth straight season without a playoff appearance if that rule had been in place in 2008-09. The Panthers and Canadiens finished in a tie for eighth with identical 41-30-11 marks. Well, almost identical. The Habs earned seven of their wins in the shootout, while Florida won just three. Under the new proposal, they would have advanced to play the Bruins. Instead, Montreal's 2-1-1 head-to-head mark gave them the edge.

The recommendation is interesting, but like the headshot wording, it seems like a half measure. There may be some GMs who despise the shootout and want to get their pound of flesh, but they're smart enough to recognize that it's not going away. If they wanted to diminish its value in a real sense, they should simply do what's been proposed since it was first instituted: make it literally worth less by giving three points for a regulation win and two for a victory in OT or the shootout. Or they could simply get rid of the loser point.

But that would make too much sense, right?

Alright, so as far as comebacks go, this was more Old Dogs than Pulp Fiction. Still, the return of Chris Chelios makes the struggling Atlanta Thrashers a team worth watching down the stretch...if he can keep a roster spot. Based on his debut, and the slumping fortunes of the team, that's no sure thing.

The 48-year-old Chelios played just 13:14 on Thursday, the fewest minutes of any Thrashers defender, but that was enough time for him to be actively involved in both Columbus goals. R.J. Umberger's attempted back door pass glanced off the stick of Chelios and through the wickets of Johan Hedberg to give the Jackets the early lead. Tough break, but that's probably happened to Chelios a couple dozen times during his 25 NHL seasons.

Later, though, Chelios made an ill-timed pinch at the offensive blueline that allowed Derek Dorsett to blow past him and set up Kristian Huselius' game-winner. What stings isn't so much that he was beaten by Dorsett, but that he wasn't able to track down the third or even fourth Jacket attacker as they raced into the Atlanta zone before the goal was scored. Sad to say, Chelios looked every bit his age on that shift.

His veteran experience, along with the plus-34 mark he racked up in 46 games with Chicago of the AHL, made Chelios the obvious choice to pick up the slack when Christoph Schubert was injured this week. But with the playoffs slipping away after four straight losses, there's little time for the Thrashers to turn it around. If they continue to slide, it makes more sense to give the job to a promising youngster like Arturs Kulda than to count down the clock with Father Time on their blueline.

Fresh legs for the Hawks

The Hawks may have sat on their hands at the deadline but they should get a big boost down the stretch from the return of Adam Burish. A left knee injury sidelined the 27-year-old winger for the first 65 games of the season, but he made an immediate impact when he returned to the lineup against the Kings on Wednesday with an assist and a fight in his first shift.

Burish not only adds an effective, agitating presence to the third line, he brings a fresh, motivated set of legs to a corps of forwards that boasts the best depth in the West.

Super Stamkos' secret weapon

If the breakthrough season of Tampa Bay's sensational soph Steven Stamkos is any indication, it looks as though Gary Roberts is going to have a very lucrative post-hockey career as a personal trainer.

Roberts, who retired last season from the Lightning with 438 goals on his resume, is credited with developing the program that added 20 pounds of muscle to the 20-year-old's body, giving him the strength and endurance that's made him so effective down low and added some zip to an already deadly shot. Roberts is said to be looking into expanding his practice this summer with a hand-picked clientele that will bring the same work ethic to gym as did Stamkos.

He shouldn't have any trouble lining up applicants. After Stamkos scored his 42nd goal on Thursday night -- a laser from the right dot that sizzled past J-S Giguere's shoulder -- Roberts' prized pupil is just two off the Rocket Richard Trophy pace of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The goal was wasted in a 4-3 OT loss to the Leafs, but it did extend his franchise-record scoring streak to 18 games, during which he's scored 17 goals and 33 points.

Draft gems on tap

American readers with access to the NHL Network might want to join what should be a large crowd of scouts taking in Friday night's contest between the Windsor Spitfires and London Knights. The Windsor lineup includes explosive winger Taylor Hall, the favorite to go first overall in this summer's draft, along with Cam Fowler and Justin Shugg.

Fowler, 6-2, 190 defenseman who starred for Team USA at the World Juniors, is viewed by some scouts as the premier blueliner available this summer. Other bird dogs hint that his stock has dipped slightly below that of Kingston's Erik Gudbransson, but a concentrated effort on physical play over the past couple weeks by Fowler is starting to ease their concerns. Shugg is a likely second-rounder, but the scoring touch (38 goals and 76 points) evidenced this season could convince a team to use a late first on the 5-11 winger.

The Knights' roster boasts a few notable prospects as well, including 2009 Toronto first-rounder Nazem Kadri, Blues' hopeful Phil McRae (33rd overall, 2008) and goalie Michael Hutchinson, a third-round selection of the Bruins.

If nothing else, you've got two bitter rivals lining up in the season's final weekend with a nasty playoff battle on the horizon.

Game time is 7 eastern.

Future of Phoenix is cloudy

I don't have the most sensitive nose, but I think I smell a smokescreen in the lawsuit recently filed by the MHL against former Coyotes' owner Jerry Moyes.

It may be that Ice Edge Holdings, the group that signed a letter of intent earlier this season to purchase the team, is merely holding off on finalizing the agreement in order to avoid incurring the financial hit being assumed by the league during the Coyotes' limbo season. The more likely scenario though is that IEH simply can't get the funds together and won't be able to complete the deal.

The suit, then, is not just a matter of the league trying to cover some of its own losses. It will set up what looks like the inevitable move out of Phoenix.

It's pure speculation at this point, but league officials could use the proceedings to demonstrate how they were essentially forced to buy the club in the wake of the failed Moyes/Jim Balsillie bankruptcy ploy, then spent the season searching for a local buyer while they assumed upwards of $20-$30 million worth of losses they can't possibly be expected to cover indefinitely. Whether they win the suit or not, they've at least made their case in the court of public opinion as they clear the path for a transfer of the franchise.

The timing seems unfortunate considering the success of the team on the ice and attendance figures that appear to be trending upward, but the fact that the league chose not to wait hints at a larger timetable that's been set into motion.