By Stu Hackel
Our post on Friday (Does conformity hurt the NHL?) was well-read and it inspired numerous comments from readers. A few respondents saw the fact that the Canadiens' P.K. Subban is black as the reason for the friction between him and other players. Others felt that his being a healthy scratch for three games had some sort of racial component to it.
Race has not been the issue here. In truth, what has angered players like the Flyers' Mike Richards and others is that Subban is a rookie, and one of the NHL's traditions has long held that rookies must pay their dues. It's a bit vague, much like the fighters' code, but the basis of it is that players see it as a privilege to play in the league, and veterans frown on newcomers who haven't yet gone through enough hockey wars treating those who have without the appropriate measure of respect. One supposes that means if once you've been through the wars, you can drop the respect, as Jody Shelley of the Flyers did to Adam McQuaid of the Bruins on this icing call on Saturday...
...and Shelley was given a two-game holiday without pay by the NHL today.
But getting back to the rookie aspect of it, to demonstrate how pervasive this thing has become, I offer this play from Friday night. The Oilers-Lightning game ended during a postgame skills competition in which Edmonton rookie Linus Omark, playing his first NHL game, did this little spin-o-rama at the beginning of his attempt...
...and won the game with it by beating Dan Ellis.
Well, the reaction from Tampa Bay revealed the depth of feeling toward rookies who are perceived as showing up veterans.
"It's embarrassing for him," said Ellis, who is probably a little embarrassed himself. "You come into a league, a respectful league like this, and you try a little move like that. It's not a very classy thing. That's just the kind of person he is."
Ryan Malone called it "a [expletive] joke."
Steven Stamkos, who was a rookie himself not long ago, said, "I didn't think it showed a lot of respect in this game. I mean, you don't see Crosby or Ovechkin doing that and they're the two best players in the game. [Omark's] a creative player, he's got good skill. I'm not taking that away from him, but it didn't really have any implication on his moves, so I don't know why he did that."
"I think it was a little bit overboard," Simon Gagne said. "It's okay, you make a nice move if you want to, you're allowed to do it, but you don't need to do those little things before. It's a line that you're not allowed to cross, and he did it on this one....You don't need to do that spin-o-rama. You come into the league, it's your first game. It's not something a guy who has been in the league 10 years would do. You don't see a guy like Sidney Crosby doing that."
"It's not something I'm going to comment on, but I can tell you the players will remember it," said Lightning coach Guy Boucher, whose no comment was hardly a no comment.
And even in the Edmonton camp, Edmonton Journal writer Jim Matheson, who has been around the Oilers since the Gretzky era and knows the scene well, wondered if, "Behind closed doors, maybe (Oilers coach Tom Renney) was saying, 'Young man, it’s not a great idea to show people up.'”
Matheson has more on the reaction to that goal today.
Not everyone felt so antagonistic toward Omark's attempt. Members of the rival Flames were okay with the young Oiler's flashy move. And any number of writers and bloggers have chimed in with their thoughts, among them Larry Brooks of the New York Post and Sean Leahy on Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog, who connected the Subban controversy to the Omark goal.
(And, btw, Subban confesses he now feels somewhat disoriented and less confident after his three games of watching the Habs from the press box. That should get the phones ringing on Montreal call-in shows.)
But it shows again the ongoing tension between the game's traditions and the thrust toward the creative, new and innovative, which was the point of our Friday post. As for Omark's spin-o-rama, I don't have a problem with the move as much as I do with the tie-breaking procedure in which he executed it. When he does it during a game with players checking him, whether he's a rookie or not, I'll be more impressed.