Crackdown is crucial

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

On the eve of the new National Hockey League season, fans everywhere are pondering the impact of the new rules and the crackdown on obstruction.

The coach of the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, John Tortorella, says the latter is much more important than the former.

ESSENTIAL

He sees the crackdown as essential to the league's success, and believes that if the standards slide, the game will suffer.

His Lightning won the Cup with a fundamental style change -- away from the trap to a game built on speed. Tortorella feels this is the style of game fans want to see.

"I think the key for the league getting faster is to allow the best players to be the best players," he said.

"It doesn't come into any of the rule changes that are going on. It comes into the interference, the enforcement. It comes into the new standard.

"I think what has happened to our game -- and it's not any one person's fault -- I think the culture of our game has changed and allowed it to get to this point where all the tugging and holding and grasping has taken our best players out of the game.

"I'm not blaming the referees. I'm not blaming any one particular facet. It's our whole game. If we can allow our best players to be our best players, then the guys who can't keep up will fall by the wayside, and that's when our game is going to have its speed back."

It is a popular theory that the NHL is watered down, but that theory has been opposed in this space for a long time.

Lack of talent is not a problem in the NHL. Too much talent is a problem. There are no weak players to be exploited, so parity develops.

Parity and dilution are not the same. Tortorella agrees.

"I know there's a ton of talent that keeps coming into this league," he said. "But we don't show it because there's a lot of cheating going on.

"People are trying to stay in the league and do whatever they can to try to keep their position. I call it cheating. It's cheating and it has to stop."

But now comes the first serious test.

The exhibition season is over and now the results matter.

"I think crunch time is going to be when we start our regular season and there are 10, 12, maybe 13 penalties a team," Tortorella said. "We've never gotten over that hump and that's the hump we have to get over.

"I think all coaches are trying to teach right now to make this work, but it could get ugly. But we have to get by that ugly hump and get on the other side of it and not stop, because we all adjust to anything that comes into our game when there has to be some adjustments.

'Players will adjust. Coaches will adjust. Teams will adjust. But you have to force the issue. The hump is the big thing in my mind."

Can the players and coaches get over that hump?

Tortorella hopes so, but he's not sure.

"It's easy to say, 'I'm not going to argue; I'm not going yell, I'm not going to do this,' in the summertime when the season isn't being played," he said. "But it's something we have to do.

"It's a hard thing not to do, but the coaches have to try. The general managers can't be calling at 12 o'clock at night. You can't be yelling at the supervisors, because it's just a chip-down effect.

HE'S RIGHT

"I'm proud of (being in the NHL). I know I'm proud of it. If we're thinking about the game, then we have to work at it. I'm not going to say it's going to be completely out of our repertoire as far as yelling and screaming, but we have to temper it somehow until we get this game back."

He's right, of course.

But it remains to be seen whether others in the league see the wisdom of Tortorella's ways.


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