It might be an extreme exaggeration to say that the National Hockey League’s crackdown on illegal hits is turning the sport into a glorified game of ringette.
Even those of us who love the physicality of hockey understand that such a statement is over the top.
At the same time, with controversies swirling over the league about head shots, Brendan Shanahan’s iron-fist rulings, concussions, and whether fighting belongs in the game, players who make their living slamming their bodies against opponents are concerned that the league is taking too much of a cautious approach.
Indeed, some admit they are turning away from opportunities to play the body because opponents purposely are putting themselves in vulnerable positions to draw penalties.
Count Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck among those who feel that way. Clutterbuck, who will never be mistaken as a candidate to win the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player, knows all about the art of delivering bodychecks, having led the NHL in hits in each of his first three seasons.
Will he do it for a fourth time? Not if the league’s crackdown on boarding keeps causing players to intentionally face the glass in order to avoid contact or to suck the oncoming opponent into taking a minor.
Cluetterbuck admits having pulled up on potential hits this season because of that very reason, a trend he says “ticks me off.
“Guys are abusing the rule in the wrong kind of way and purposely putting themselves in vulnerable positions,” Clutterbuck said.
“You should never turn your back when you know someone’s coming to hit you. It’s the stupidest thing you could ever do. The league’s got to look at this.”
During a game in Ottawa on Tuesday, Clutterbuck snapped when Senators veteran Milan Michalek pulled such a move. Judging by the way Clutterbuck was screaming at Michalek, he was far from happy.
“He turned right into the glass,” a livid Clutterbuck said. “I’m not going to take a chance if a guy’s going to put his numbers at me.
“It’s frustrating, but not frustrating to the point where it’s going to ruin my game. If somebody wants to turn their back, I guess it’s just as effective as me hitting them because they’re not moving forward, they’re not in the play.
“If a hit’s there, I’m going to take it. If it’s not there, I’m not going to take it. I’m not just going to hit a guy because I need to get a registered hit. I’m playing the game to be effective.”
In the end, the best remedy might be for players like Clutterbuck to get accustomed to Shanahan’s do’s and donts.
“It’ll get to the point where I get my timing back and I’ll be a step ahead and those hits are going to be finished,” he said.
Either that, or maybe he might want to get used to playing flag hockey. Hey, they have flag football leagues too, don’t they?
Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that. Please.
DREAD THE SKED
Silly. Headscratching. Stupid.
All those descriptions of the 2011-12 NHL schedule — or parts of it — are applicable here.
Why did the Maple Leafs go an entire week without a game?
Why did the San Jose Sharks have six days off after their season opener until taking to the ice against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday?
“Give me four in four, I don’t care,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “I just want to get some games in now.”
It’s understandable that the presence of two west coast teams, the Ducks and Kings, in Europe to start the season, would effect the sked throughout the NHL. But for a league that desperately needs momentum in the early going, a schedule
like this is not the way to do it.
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
A year ago, Boston fans serenaded Phil Kessel with chants of “Thank You Phil” after a Bruins goal by Tyler Seguin, the player selected by Boston in the first round with the pick acquired in the Kessel deal. Now the Leafs go into Boston on Thursday.
Will the fans be thanking Kessel for winning the Stanley Cup too? Don’t bet against it.
WHAT’S MY LINE WITH BOBBY RYAN
Having combined for 245 points a season ago, you could make the legitimate argument that the
Ducks’ trio of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry is the best line in the National Hockey League.
For his part, Ryan won’t make that proclamation per se. But he does admit the Anaheim trio likely is in the conversation when it comes to being one of the elite units in the league.
“There are so many good ones — the Sedin line in Vancouver, Backstrom-Ovechkin in Washington, and whomever plays with Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh,” Ryan said during a phone interview from Anaheim.
“The good thing is, the coach (Randy Carlyle) is committed to keeping us together this season. That’s ideal because we seem to know where each other is out on the ice.
“One of the biggest differences between our line and some of the other top ones is that we like playing against the other team’s No. 1 line. We view a head-to-head matchup like that as a challenge. A lot of top lines don’t like to do that. “
In order to find out why Anaheim’s Big Quack Attack Line is so successful, Zize Matters enlisted Ryan to break down the strengths of Getzlaf, Perry and, of course, himself. After all, who better to give a scouting report than one of the line’s members.
Here’s Ryan’s breakdown:
C Ryan Getzlaf
“Has a sixth sense where his teammates are on the ice ... He’s so big, he’s great at using his body to shield pucks from defenders ... Sees the ice as good as anyone ... Is effective off the rush or on the cycle.”
W Corey Perry
“The best player in the league within 10 feet of the opposing net ... Has a fierce motor that allows him to win puck battles ... Creates room by drawing defenders ... Like Getz, a big body that can protect the puck.”
W Bobby Ryan
“I’m more of a complimentary player to Ryan and Corey ... I look for seams that those two guys create and try to hit them quickly ... All three of us like to have the puck a lot, which creates potential problems, but we’re working on it.”
SWEDISH MIKE RICHARDS?
According to Kitchener Rangers coach Steve Spott, Colorado rookie Gabriel Landeskog:
a) “has the makeup to be the Swedish Mike Richards;”
b) “unfairly did not get the media attention he deserved;”
c) “will, in my opinion, be the captain of the Colorado Avalanche one day;”
d) “will win the Stanley Cup one day.”
e) “was the most physically-prepared prospect to step out of the draft and right into the NHL.”
If you think Spott is a fan of the Swedish rookie, you’d be right. After having the pleasure of coaching the kid in junior, Spott is not surprised at Ladeskog’s quick start, one in which he scored a pair of goals in his first week in the NHL.
“With the tradition of previous captains in Kitchener like Mike Richards and Derek Roy, you can imagine the pressure of putting the “C” on a Swedish kid and performing in front of 7,000 people every night,” Spott said in a phone interview. “But we knew he could handle it. He’s so mature. He gets it.”
Last week’s rankings in parentheses
1. (2) Washington Capitals Continue to dominate Pens ... in regular season.
2. (3) Pittsburh Penguins Excitement growing over potential Crosby return.
3. (11) Philadelphia Flyers Giroux on the verge of stardom, if not already there.
4. (10) Detroit Red Wings Lidstrom continues to defy Father Time.
5. (3) Chicago Blackhawks Kane’s move to centre paying instant dividends.
6. (9) Buffalo Sabres Roy rebounding nicely after injury-plagued 2010-11.
7. (26) Colorado Avalanche Speedsters Duchene, Landeskog give Avs bright future.
8. (17) Dallas Stars Great start ... But does anyone in Dallas care?
9. (16) Toronto Maple Leafs Must take advantage of five consecutive home games.
10. (4) San Jose Sharks Banged-up Havlat needs to stay healthy.
11. (7) Boston Bruins Battling Stanley Cup hangover.
12. (6) Vancouver Canucks Can’t keep allowing opponents to get early leads.
13. (13) Anahieim Ducks Hiller’s vertigo woes seem to be behind him.
14. (28) New York Islanders Tavares playing at an elite level.
15. (8) Tampa Bay Lightning Early season roadbumps nothing to worry about.
16. (5) L.A. Kings Will be ranked higher once they play some home games.
17. (29) New Jersey Devils Seem to be buying what DeBoer is selling.
18. (16) Montreal Canadiens Will climb up this list when Cammalleri, Markov return.
19. (12) N.Y. Rangers Solid diet of road games while “new” MSG being completed.
20. (23) Phoenix Coyotes Like Trotz, Tippett does a lot with little.
21. (24) Minnesota Wild Heatley, Setoguchi fitting in nicely.
22. (22) Nashville Predators Trotz still working miracles in Music City.
23. (19) Carolina Hurricanes In every game thanks to Cam Ward.
24. (14) Calgary Flames Glencross one of NHL’s most underrated players.
25. (27) Edmonton Oilers The high quality of uner-21 talent here is scary.
26. (21) St. Louis Blues Continue to underachieve.
27. (18) Winnipeg Jets Still finding their way.
28. (30) Florida Panthers All those new faces still trying to gel.
29. (30) Ottawa Senators Everyone knew there would be growing pains.
30. (20) Columbus Blue Jackets Mason does not seem to be the answer.
*Not including Saturday’s games