NHL Playoffs and The Dreaded Instigator Penalty

We are about a week into the NHL’s playoffs and I’ve tried to catch as many games as I can.  There have been some good series so far.  Montreal Canadians vs. The Tampa Bay Lightening has been a wild ride.  Not as wild as Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Pennguins and The Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings is showing a lot of promise.

With all this great hockey, you’d think there would be no complaints, but I have one major complaint and thats the damn instigator penalty.

I don’t know what Gary Bettman, The NHL and everyone else involved was thinking when they brought forth the instigator rule, but it needs to go and it needs to go right now.  Just watching the playoffs you see how valuable this would be.

The on ice shenanigans thats been going on in these playoffs is getting out of hand.  Players are laying cheap shots left, right and center.  Plenty of hits from behind and skilled players like Sidney Crosby just can’t do what they do best because of pests like Dubinsky.  Just look at a guy like Matt Cooke who is looking at a suspension for his hit last night.  This is just getting out of hand.

Time was, there was a certain respect amongst players in the NHL.  Even if you had a player without any respect for the game he had respect for his own well being.  You messed with a guy like Gretzky and you’d have your nose broken by an enforcer.  This is hockey and it should still be today.

Instead we are left with players running wild and taking all kinds of cheap shots.  And why wouldn’t they?  A mere 3-5 game suspension means nothing in the grand scheme of things and even less considering that the recipients of these cheap shots are looking at their playing careers ended or injuries that last weeks.  In the playoffs it’s even worse since someone will take a run at one of your players and the team is left defenseless.  There is no retaliation.  No retribution since teams are afraid of getting that extra two minute penalty for putting a clown like Matt Cooke in his place.  In the world of playoff hockey, a lot can change in those two minutes and a penalty can mean the difference between moving on to the next round or playing a round of golf in the off season.

Looking at a guy like Crosby, he is getting knocked around this playoff round.  Now Crosby is actually a pretty tough guy and plays his game without complaints even though he’s being rubbed into the boards and slashed every chance the opposition gets.  Now if we got rid of the instigation penalty, the Penguins could actually have a guy patrol the ice and be a warning.  If you mess with Crosby, I’ll break your nose.  You would then notice players lean off him a bit out of fear and let the man play his game the way he knows how.

And if Gary Bettman is really that concerned about fighting and the instigator rule and demands on keeping it, then the only real viable option would be to bring in more officiating.  Give the ref’s more power to give out double minors for gutless hits or force them to make more calls.

Because right now there is no downside to playing gutless hockey.  A two minute minor means nothing in the grand scheme of things if you can use it to either knock a team off their game, box in a star player or end someone’s career of playoff run.

You want to protect hockey players?  Then give them the power to actually fight back and get rid of this ridicules rule!

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Countdown To Sochi Hockey

Sochi 2014

The countdown is on.  As the NHL winds down for a mid season break, everyone is starting to put focus on Olympic hockey.  Soon NHLers will be reuniting with their countrymen and hitting the ice in the quest for gold.

As it plays out right now, Canada is always a contender for the gold medal in Hockey, but with the Olympics being in Russia this year, you know guys like Pavel Datsyuck, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin are just chomping at the bit to bring the gold to home ice.  After all, if they don’t, I’m sure Putin will put the whole team into a Gulag somewhere in the outskirts of Siberia.

Gold is never guaranteed in the Olympics for any country (even Canada).  You never know which european country can make for an upset or if the Americans have another Miracle on Ice up their sleeves!  So who’s going to stand out at this years Olympics?  Let’s try and break it down.

In my opinion all great championship teams are built from the goaltender out.  Without a great goaltender, you automatically become a mediocre hockey team, no matter how much offence you produce.   So which Men’s Hockey team is comprised of the greatest goalies?  As much as I hate to admit it, I think team USA is bringing the best Goalie squad.  Here are my top 3 teams based on goaltenders.

1. Team USA – Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard – For so long Canadians (mostly Quebecers) have been the premiere goaltenders.  Not any more!

2. Team Finland – Tuukka Rask, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi – Finland has always had slightly better than average goaltenders, but the addition of Tuukka Rask to the team kicks them up several notches.

3. Team Canada – Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith – Canada used to have the elite goaltenders, but they have all become older and the younger ones just don’t have what guys like Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur had.  As well, Luongo is always iffy when it comes to high level hockey and can easily blow a game.

Defenceman

Your goaltender always needs a little help.  Guys to slow down the forwards and keep shots to the outside.  Without good defence, your goalie doesn’t stand a chanche.  So which teams have the better team in terms of defence?

1.  Team Canada – Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber – Big guys, punishing hits and explosive shots.  Team Canada stands out head and shoulders above the rest with this crew of defencemen.

2.  Team Sweden – Alexander Edler, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Erik Karlsson, Niklas Kronwall, Johnny Oduya, Henrik Tallinder – Guys like Karlsson, Kronwall and Oduya will set up a solid wall against anyone trying to score.

3.  Team USA – John Carlson, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter – USA has a strong mix of defencemen.  Guys of all ages and each one brings a different element to the game.

Forwards

They say a good defence is a good offence.  You can’t win games without scoring goals and on the over sized Olympic hockey pad, their is more room for speed, creativity and getting yourself into open ice.  So which teams will take full advantage of this?

1.  Team Canada – Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews – There is so much scoring ability on this team, it’s absurd.  So many gifted goal scorers where left off the roster, Team Canada could have easily sent over a second squad of players that could compete with this group.  The talent runs that deep!  Even though it’s unlikely Steven Stamkos will play, a replacement won’t be hard to find.

2.  Team Sweden – Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Backstrom, Patrik Berglund, Jimmie Ericsson, Loui Eriksson, Johan Franzen, Carl Hagelin, Marcus Kruger, Gabriel Landeskog, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Jakob Silfverberg, Alexander Steen, Henrik Zetterberg – The Sedin’s have grace, Alferdsson is a leader, Steen a gifted scorer and Zetterberg is one of the best players to shovel home garbage goals.

3.  Team Russia – Artem Anisimov, Pavel Datsyuk, Denis Kokarev, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nikolai Kulemin, Evgeni Malkin, Valeri Nichushkin, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Popov, Alexander Radulov, Sergei Soin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexei Tereshenko, Viktor Tikhonov.  Guys like Datsyuk, Malkin, Kovalchuk and Ovechkin will give nightmares to goalies throughout the Olympics.  The squad is not as deep as others, but features some of the best forwards in the game today.

Thats my roundup.  When all is said and done, I think the Olympic podium for men’s hockey will consist of:

GOLD – Canada

Silver – Russia (Only because home ice is going to be a huge factor for these guys)

Bronze – Sweden

Loser of the Bronze medal game – Team USA

Those are my picks.  Love them or hate them, let’s see what happens in the next few weeks.