SUN Hockey Pool

Strachan on hockey

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

With the playoffs around the corner, shootouts soon will be put on the shelf for a few months.

But don't expect a bunch of overtime games stretching into the fifth and sixth periods, as has been the norm in recent seasons.

The National Hockey League's on-ice officials have been given the message and they have embraced it. There will be no deterioration of the strict anti-restraint standards that were imposed during the regular season.

As a result, once the playoffs start, you'll see the same type of officiating you've been seeing for six months. That means you'll see as many power plays in overtime as you see in regulation time. And when that happens, the goals will come.

There'll be a few complaints from coaches and general managers who lose on an overtime power-play goal, but for the most part, they're on board.

The GMs asked for rule-enforcement of this nature and they built their teams accordingly. At least, the ones who were awake did.

When the officiating complaints come, they're more likely to concern calls that were not made. A coach or GM can accept losing on an overtime power play, albeit begrudgingly. But he'll be furious if he feels that a similar infraction by the opposition was not called.

The referees are aware of this and that's another reason why the regular-season standards will be maintained.

One of the expected side effects of this development is that there probably will be some new faces in the group of referees selected to work in the late stages of the playoffs.

In the past, this honour always has gone to the most senior veterans, but this year, that may change. Some of those veterans have had trouble adjusting to the new standards, and will therefore be dropped from the rotation once the conference finals begin.

THE REAL RECORD

In all the talk about Alex Ovechkin's great season, it is often mentioned that he won't be able to break Teemu Selanne's rookie record of 132 points.

Technically, that's accurate. But the NHL of an earlier era was run no more sensibly than the NHL of this era. After the merger with the World Hockey Association, (which was really a takeover but was called a merger to keep anti-trust lawyers happy) the NHL decreed that no WHA player could be considered a rookie.

As a result, when Wayne Gretzky started the 1979-80 season as an 18-year-old, he was ineligible for rookie awards.

Gretzky scored 51 goals and added 86 assists that season for 137 points.

Today's NHL governors could overturn that earlier ruling if they wanted to do so. After all, it's just a matter of a change in the record book -- a change that would compensate for the lack of common sense from their predecessors.

It was a monumentally stupid decision to make an 18-year-old ineligible for rookie awards since he couldn't have played in the NHL any sooner. The league has a rule prohibiting players under 18.

But the NHL has always taken a cavalier approach to its record book. That's why there are never any asterisks, even though the circumstances under which the records were set are in a state of constant flux.

Selanne, by the way, came to the NHL after fulfilling his military commitments in Finland. In his record-setting season, he was 22.

SING THE SONG

It appears that yet another American trend of dubious merit has made its unwelcome way to Canada.

For years, anthem singers at American hockey games have used the original score in a purely advisory capacity. But in Canada, our national anthem always has been treated with respect and sung the way it was written.

This season, however, variations have been creeping in, the ultimate indignity being inflicted at the Air Canada Centre last Saturday when O Canada was sung by a group that hit the original notes only by pure coincidence on the way to yet another perpetration of atonal discord. It's the national anthem, not some pop refrain. The next thing we know, they'll be doing a rap version of O Canada.

CBA NUISANCES

Even though Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bob Clarke was never in favour of a salary cap, he has come to accept the collective bargaining agreement. Not that he has much choice.

But even so, Clarke still has trouble with some of the provisions that he feels are unnecessary.

"They still have some things in there like the 50-man-under-contract thing," Clarke said. "Where we got stuck this year is that we had three guys under contract who wanted to play in Europe.

"So we let them go to Europe because they can make more money over there, but they take up three spots on our 50-man roster. We'd like to be able to somehow, if these guys decide to play in Europe, get them off our list. It stops you from signing free agents. It stops you from making trades."

Clarke also has problems with the size of his NHL roster.

"I don't have any idea why you have a 23-man roster," he said. "If you've got a $39-million cap, who cares? If you want to carry 30 players and you can keep it under $39 million, who cares?"

And one more thing.

"After the trading deadline, you've got four call-ups. What is that all about? What do you care how many guys I call up as long as I'm under the cap?"

Clarke is of the opinion that the CBA is more intrusive than it needs to be.

"There are so many small rules that infringe on what you want to do that could be taken right out without affecting anything," he said.

QUICK HITS

The many fans of former Leafs coach Pat Burns will be pleased to know that the old curmudgeon is doing well. He appears to have run his record against cancer to 2-0 and is living in Florida, spending much of his time riding his motorcycle ... Most of the pre-season promises made by the NHL's officiating department came to pass. The exception would be the crackdown on diving. It's still a form of cheating. It's still blatant. And it's still widespread ... When facing a shootout, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas has an usual starting stance. He stands hunched over with one foot back, not unlike a long-distance runner awaiting the starter's gun, then makes the standard move towards the shooter. "In Europe you can't take your foot off the goal line until the guy touches the puck for the shootout," explained Thomas, "so it was a habit I got into when I played in Sweden. That's why my left foot is on the goal line. If I started with two feet on the goal line, I'd be too far in the net."...The NHL had a good marketing idea when it opened the season with every team in action. Wouldn't it have been an equally good idea to finish the season the same way?


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