Bag of Pucks: Realignment and Retribution
There is much rejoicing in the Dallas Stars front office this week as the NHL has all but rubber-stamped the news that the NHL as we currently know it is going to morph into an all-new and improved alignment and suddenly the Stars will compete in their own time-zone on a more regular basis. This is going to be thoroughly promoted and sold to you as a fantastic way to spend your weeknights in the future – with games starting at 7:30 instead of 9:30.
My first reaction is to rejoice, but not for the conventional reasons that are being sold. In this time-shifting universe many of us live in, where our kids (and their sports and their events) and family cause us to delay the puck drop until their bedtime, anyway, this will not cause a major difference on how many of us consume hockey. Of course, not everyone rolls that way, so I am sure there is some impact with having 4-6 Pacific time zone starts instead of 12-14, but I don’t want to list that as a top reason for me.
No, for me, this comes down to specific dates as to why realignment had to happen and it has nothing to do with time zones or start times.
Those dates are: January 26, 2007 and November 3, 2010.
Those 2 dates to me are everything that is wrong with my National Hockey League. It is what makes me internally scream at the mere mention of Gary Bettman trying to “grow the game” and see this league succeed outside of the northeast corridor. For those are the two times in the 8-year career of Sidney Crosby in which he has actually played a hockey game in Dallas, Texas. Now in fairness to Bettman, Crosby missed two other stops due to injury. But if you have been a loyal NHL fan who has purchased tickets since 2005 when Crosby has entered the league, you have seen the Phoenix Coyotes in person 26 times and Crosby, twice.
Conversely, in the slightly longer career of LeBron James, the NBA equivalent of Crosby, James has played 10 times in 10 years in the same arena (not including his glorious collapse in the playoffs in Dallas in 2011). Why? Because in the NBA, they have always promised its fans that every year, every team will come to your seats. If you buy a season ticket, you will get a chance to see every player and every uniform come to you. It will be a rare opportunity to set your eyes on Magic Johnson or Larry Bird or Michael Jordan.
But, in the NHL? Where the moments are far more rare when a rockstar presence comes along that could set your city on its ear by hearing that “he is here”, they have not made this happen in years during Bettman’s run. All of this talk about marketing our stars and growing the game has not really hit home when they give us the Coyotes again. Meanwhile, the teams in the Northeast are fed a constant diet of Flyers, Penguins, and Rangers. Hard to believe that their arenas are always full, right?
And finally, it is happening. Every team – and hopefully every dark colored jersey – will be visiting Dallas in 2013-14. This means way more to me than changing divisions or time zone consideration, and if they would have just done this, I might have been more open to keeping the divisions the same. But, to get it all at the same time is just too awesome to consider.
I also don’t want to discount the other item that is being referenced, but not actually said out loud. And that is the idea of getting back in the Midwest means that the divisional rivals are all healthy and obsessed fan bases with legions of fans that will cause a domino effect more-so here in Dallas. I think the Sharks and Kings, in particular, have strong fans in the Pacific Division. But, there was never a moment when a game in Dallas was going to be over-run with visiting fans inside the division. Well, anyone who follows the Stars knows that this can and will happen with great routine unless Dallas does something about it from now on.
When you are in a division with Chicago and St Louis, you better know that if you don’t sell out your barn, they will help do it for you and turn your home game into theirs in short order. This has a great effect on the home base and gets the pulse pumping for the home side and soon, it re-energizes your own dormant fan-base by getting them to activate rather than having their home over-run.
That is how a true rivalry works. When they have fans that live in your city and you have fans that live in theirs, too. That can’t happen with California and Arizona – as allegiances don’t run deep, but it can and will happen now. And sharing a division with Minnesota and Colorado, too? Sign me up.
As you can see, I am really into this realignment issue, but it has more to do with seeing the whole league and organizing the divisions to get some hated rivals back in play that drive me far more than late-night hockey. Although, I will concede that last Thursday’s game that ended well after midnight reminded me that some people have to get up early in the morning and are likely missing out on this gold. And that will happen less, too.
You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. *That’s* the *Chicago* way! And that’s how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?
Meanwhile, there was another moment in a game at Phoenix on Saturday night that made me think of the movie, the Untouchables, and the above quote from Sean Connery’s character, Jim Malone speaking to Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness.
This moment, of course, was when Martin Hanzal tried to separate Jamie Benn’s head from his shoulders with a monster hit across the jaw from the blindside after the puck was long gone late in the 3rd period. Benn wobbled to the bench and was done for the night and given that Shane Doan nailed Benn hard last March with an illegal elbow that cost him 3 games and given that Hanzal was suspended last May for boarding Dustin Brown, I figured a suspension would be coming to Hanzal for that absurd hit.
But, I figured wrong as the league decided that there was no penalty or suspension due to Hanzal for his hit on Benn. Which, of course, infuriates anyone who wants to see Benn on the ice and makes me think of the Untouchables.
It makes me think about how I was raised in following the NHL and knowing the silliness of waiting for the league office to take issue with your opponents and telling them to behave. That has never worked in the NHL and it never will. And while there is a group of people in the NHL that doesn’t think that brute force and strength is the best deterrent for this nonsense, I will continue to disagree with some level of strenuousness.
You want to send a message to Phoenix quickly and swiftly that this will not be tolerated and that there will be an enormous toll to pay from now on when they take borderline liberties with your best player. You don’t wait for the league to do it for you. That is why I was disappointed that nothing much was done right at the moment in making Hanzal defend himself against knuckle sandwiches. Of course, the players on the ice were not the people to do that and Derian Hatcher is not walking through that door.
But, that is the 2nd time in less than a year that those guys have knocked Jamie Benn out of a game, and that cannot be tolerated. You just spent a ton of money on him and made him your cornerstone, and he already has a nice list of concussions being built. He has proven he will stand up for himself, but you need a angry swarm of bees when someone goes after the hive. Swift and immediate vigilante justice must be served up, and worry about the league hitting you with a rolled up newspaper later. That is the only message Phoenix will understand and it must be sent quickly.
Waiting for a suspension and for the league to step in is a pointless exercise that will cost your key players plenty of time on the injured list. The best defense for hits like this is to let the league know that your team will not tolerate them in any way, shape, or form.
That, as Sean Connery might say, is “the Chicago way” – which is ironic, given the Blackhawks style these days.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Geno Malkin has absolutely dominated Tampa Bay in his career it seems with some dazzling goals, and this one is no exception. What a stud who demonstrates power with a jump to split a double-team and scores:
FIGHT OF THE WEEK
Keeping with the theme above, this is not so much a great fight as it is a great example of a player going to stick up for a team-mate who is a victim of a hit that they didn’t care for. But, you go make the opponent accountable for what he just did to your guy. Credit to Patrick Wiercioch of Ottawa.
9 of the next 11 are home for the Stars. They need to hit the afterburners starting tonight against Nashville. If on April 1 they are not sitting pretty, then it is doubtful that 2013 will be a playoff year. They simply must shoot for 16 points out of the next 11 games. That won’t be easy, but then again, it never is.