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Puck Droppings

by admin December 8, 2009

Puck Droppings

by admin December 1, 2009

It seemed long over-due. One calendar year, two seasons, countless jerseys, and a whole lot of expectations. Finally, after all the hoopla and media abuse, the centennial of the Montreal Canadiens was capped off with what could be one of the most chilling, nostalgic and purely magical moments in NHL history.

This may seem like a major overstatement. All of NHL history? That is a long time, and a lot of hockey lore to sort through, to get to that moment when Eddy Palchak dumped a bucket of pucks onto the ice. A simple task, but a fitting opening to what would become a historic few moments of legends come to life. Palchak was the equipment manager for the Habs for 31 years. He witnessed many Stanley Cup victories, dozens of Hall of Famers, and thousands of goals being scored on his ice for his team.
Suddenly the stage was set. Like perfectly crafted bait, the pucks lured the legends. Patrick Roy was first to step out onto the ice to a roaring, seemingly unsuspecting crowd. Everyone knew that the Canadiens would put together a truly magical evening to commemorate their 100 years. The shock wasn’t just the appearance of the likes of Roy, Guy Lafleur, or Steve Shutt, but that they emerged from the shadows in their equipment, sticks in hand and ready for a pre-game warm-up. Each legend skated their rounds, pushing pucks and taking gentle, yet well-aimed shots at the empty nets. Frank Mahovlich, Mats Naslund, and Bob Gainey took their turns: making rounds, waving to adoring, awe-ridden fans who were struggling to take in the collection of history that had amassed on the Bell Centre’s ice.

It was a moment that should be frozen in time. Generations of great Canadiens circling the ice, reliving the magic and soaking in the cheers. “Olé Olé Olé!” became “Guy! Guy! Guy!” Whether those chants were for Lafleur, Lapointe or Carbonneau is uncertain, but the pure love and admiration that rained from the bleachers was as epic as the group of heroes that gathered to take one last skate.
As the siren sang to signal the end of the warm up, both Ken Dryden and Roy took on a few more shots from their former team-mates then skated off back into the shadows where their storied exploits exist today. Pucks from the ice were scooped up and tossed into the crowd, becoming instant treasures, joining the other relics these idols have created over their careers. And just like that, we were back in 2009.
Though the evening featured what seemed like a roll-call of Habs legends, the night truly belonged to Émile “Butch” Bouchard and Elmer Lach. Their jerseys were deservingly raised to the rafters to live amongst the other greats who define what it is to be a Canadien. In a touching moment reminiscent of Ray Bourque, Ryan O’Byrne shed his number three and gave it to Bouchard.

The ceremony was the final hurrah of what seemed like an eternity of celebrations. Ever since the massive Stanley Cup expectations of the 08-09 season, a parade of bad press, sub-par performances and more sweaters than can be found in Paris Hilton’s closet, the big shebang on Dec. 4 was just as much of a relief as it was a birthday bash. Exhale, it’s done, we can go back to playing hockey now.
With greatness around you, it’s hard not to be inspired. Case in point: a brilliant 5-1 victory over the historical rival Bruins. Hat trick included.
If there is one thing the Habs administration is good at, it is throwing a respectful, touching party. The centennial celebration was no exception. From Viggo Mortensen expressing his fondest admiration for the Habs and his hero Guy Lafleur, to my favourite moment- when Gordie Howe emerged holding the sweater of the fiery Maurice “Rocket” Richard. But the night was not all fireworks and glamour. It was about respect, homage and acknowledgement. The Habs exist along the same lines of baseball’s New York Yankees. A definite cut above the rest. An organization that oozes success and class. A brand that exceeds all the others, and exists beyond the league that houses it.

The Habs are not just a team, and this is what many fail to understand. It is alright to cheer for a team, but true Habs fans are part of a culture that goes beyond wins and losses on the ice. The appreciation of ideals like class, success, respect, and tradition- which were born and honed through the individuals who were honoured this night- sets the Canadiens apart from every other hockey team in the world. A religion? Absolutely. Every true Habs fan has their very own shrine full of towels, flags, hockey cards, and other memorabilia. If you still have any doubt, watch a Habs fan during any overtime. He or she will have the same kind of concentration any nun would have at Sunday mass.
Once the Bell Centre had cleared after the Habs picked up their two points- points they earned with the help of the ghosts of the Rocket, Jacques Plante and Howie Morenz- there was one aching spot that still needs to be addressed. On such a historic night littered with true Habs leaders, where was their current captain? I would have loved to see Saku Koivu posing in pictures with Jean Beliveau, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson, but alas, not all wishes can come true. But if you think about it, when the Habs celebrate their 125th anniversary, it will be Saku Koivu’s jersey being retired.
Most magical moment in NHL history? No doubt. Bravo les glorieux.

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When the NHL came back from a destructive lockout, it was blessed with the skills and passion of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. They propelled the sport back into the mainstream and ushered in a new era of high-scoring, exciting hockey. Since the puck dropped on the 2005-2006 season, new names have risen the ranks to be the faces of this new brand of NHL, but there is one who deserves to be at the top with the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin.

Some players will make headlines once or twice a season. If you’re paying attention, it may seem like Anze Kopitar is the best player in the league, scoring on a regular basis on an average up-and-coming team. In reality, however, it takes the consistent highlight passes of Crosby, score-from-anywhere ability of Ovechkin or the laser beam shot of premiere sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to hog the spotlight week in and week out. One deserving guy who should be on that list is flying under the radar due to his constant appearance on a completely different list: the injured reserve list.

Point totals are a great way of gauging talent and effectiveness. Looking at the top guys in the league over the past few years, you’ll start thinking that the award should come pre-engraved with either Evgeni Malkin, Crosby or Ovechkin’s names. To be fair, point totals are as much a testament to durability as they are to skill. A better indicator of a player’s true potential is by looking at his points per game average. With that in mind, people should start taking a serious look at Marian Gaborik along the same lines as Crosby, Ovechkin and Kovalchuk.

I know that at the end of a season, a player’s point-per-game statistic (Pts/G) is about as relevant as how many empty net goals a Rocket Richard winner scores, but it does incite some interesting arguments. Take the ongoing Lemieux vs Gretzky debate. Who is better? Looking at points alone, Gretzky is an obvious choice. With a career total of 2857 points, Gretzky is over 1000 points ahead of Lemieux’s 1723. Changing lenses on the microscope, you’ll also notice that Gretzky has played 572 more NHL games than Lemieux. How can we compensate? Apply Lemieux’s scoring rate of 1.88 Pts/G to the games that Gretzky played that Lemieux didn’t, and suddenly Lemieux has 1075 extra points to up his total to 2798. Starting to give your decision an extra thought? You should. The difference between Lemieux and Gretzky in Pts/G is a mere 0.04. What does that translate to? In a regular 82 game season, Gretzky would out-score Lemieux by a mere 3 points. I keep telling you that numbers are scary, don’t I?

So now that I’ve given Super Mario a little bit of a boost, allow me to herald the skills of one Gaborik: A swift skating, goal-scoring dynamo who is seemingly made out of papier-maché. It seems that when he’s on the ice, he is producing, but the problem is he has more groin issues than Ron Jeremy. Since the lockout, Gaborik has missed over 120 games due to various injuries. He is what poolies would call a major gamble. When healthy, he can lead the league, but God forbid a fan should cough in his direction and he’s back on the shelf. We know how fragile he is, having missed about a season and a half, but how good is he?

Since the 2005-2006 season, Marian Gaborik has been near the top of many offensive categories. He is a constant Rocket Richard and Art Ross threat. Of course, any team who signs him knows just what they’re getting. Playing in the defensive oriented Minnesota Wild system for his entire career, the limitations haven’t stopped Gaborik from pumping out points, but when it came time to renew a contract, Gaborik was reportedly looking for upwards of one hundred million over ten years. Insanity, considering he’d only play about six or seven of those years. Finally, he landed on Broadway (with a little help from Montreal), and the Rangers are seeing just why Gaborik deserves Crosby-esque respect.

If we check the top players in the Pts/G category since the lockout, the usual suspects are front and centre, pun intended. Crosby, Malkin, Thornton and Datsyuk all make it to the top ten. Crosby is on top with a 1.34 Pts/G ratio. Not far down the list, however, is Gaborik, the porcelain puck god. His 1.14 Pts/G ratio puts him 9th on the list, tied with Pavel Datsyuk, Dany Heatley and (gasp) Peter Forsberg. If we took away inactive players from the list, Gaborik shoots up to 6th, behind only Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, T hornton and Daniel Alfredsson. He is ahead of such big names as Jarome Iginla, Henrik Zetterberg, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. Not bad for a guy who is as sturdy as a Kleenex rain-coat. Need a bit more convincing? Gaborik has the best Game Winning Goal ratio than any of them, even Alexander Ovechkin, with a rate of 10.5 per cent. Oh, and he is also the only guy in the past 13 years to score a whopping five goals in a game.

It is good to see Gaborik succeed as a Ranger. I skipped over him numerous times in my hockey pool, afraid he’d collapse like a teen-aged girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. He proved me dead wrong, at least so far. But be warned: this ticking time-bomb is primed to explode. Lucky for him, so far it’s only been on the ice.

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