Player poll offers surprising insight
A recent poll of 318 players conducted by the NHL Players Association and CBC-TV's "Hockey Night in Canada" revealed some rather interesting opinions on a variety of topics.
Some of the questions and the resulting answers were fairly standard and unsurprising.
Arenas for such Sun Belt franchises as the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings were considered to have the worst ice. New York's Madison Square Garden was also in that dubious category and has been for decades, probably because of the high volume of non-hockey events it stages every year.
The Detroit Red Wings ranked as the team players would most like to play for, followed by the Vancouver Canucks, defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers. The inclusion of the Tampa Bay Lightning came as a bit of a surprise, but that's likely due to the presence of well-respected Steve Yzerman as general manager, along with superstars Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
Detroit winger Pavel Datsyuk was listed as the cleanest player, Dallas winger Loui Eriksson the most underrated and New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard the toughest player.
Boston's Zdeno Chara was considered to have the hardest shot (which he proved again at this year's All-Star Game skills competition) as well as being the toughest blue-liner to play against. The goaltenders surveyed voted Washington's Alexander Ovechkin as the toughest to stop.
The players voted Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma as the coach they would most like to play for, and they overwhelmingly believe fighting shouldn't be banished from the game.
Some of the responses, however, are likely to raise a few eyebrows.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the response to abolishing the instigator rule, which was introduced in 1992 as a means of cutting down on fighting. Its critics claim it has led to an increase in cheap shots on the league's stars, yet the players, by a two-third majority, don't want the rule abolished.
That runs counter to criticism of the instigator rule by such old-school hockey analysts as CBC's Don Cherry and NBC's Mike Milbury, who have called for its repeal for some time.
The players voted the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens as the clubs they would least like to play for.
Given how many years the Islanders and Thrashers have been among the league's sad-sack franchises, and their respective uncertain futures in their current locations, it's not surprising those topped that list. The Oilers' location as the league's northernmost franchise and their inability to make the playoffs the past four years are likely the main reasons they're in that category.
The Maple Leafs' continued futility in making the playoffs post-lockout is also a factor in why many players would prefer not to play in Toronto, but the biggest reason is the pressure players would feel in that city to meet the often unrealistic expectations of their hockey-mad followers.
Fan pressure, high provincial taxes and the need to speak French are believed to be among the reasons the Canadiens are on that list
The Maple Leafs' demanding head coach Ron Wilson was cited as the coach players would least like to play for, a dubious distinction that prompted several Leafs players and general manager Brian Burke to defend Wilson's coaching style.
Wilson may be demanding, but his style has produced results in the past. He's among only a handful of NHL coaches with more than 600 career victories, was the head coach of Team USA, which won the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996, and coached Team USA to a silver medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The Washington Capitals were voted the most overrated team followed by the Vancouver Canucks. It's believed the recent inability of both clubs to perform as well in the postseason as they do in the regular season is the main reason those topped that category.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby's reputation appears to have improved considerably among the players, topping the categories of smartest player, toughest to play against and the best role model.
He's also considered the top active player to build a franchise around, garnering 69 percent of the votes.
If that question were asked two or three years ago, Crosby probably would have finished second to Ovechkin. But since then, he has captained the Penguins to two Stanley Cup Finals, winning one, as well as scoring the gold-medal winning goal for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and is still well ahead of Ovechkin in the scoring race despite missing a month now because of a concussion.