Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape


Resurrecting Evil: Devils Hire Jacques Lemaire

I’d like to say that this news surprises and horrifies me, but deep down it doesn’t.

The Devils have gone back to the future for their new coach, bringing back Jacques Lemaire as the man to replace Brent Sutter, who resigned June 9. Assistant coach John MacLean, once again passed over for the job, will take over as head coach of the Devils’ Lowell, Mass., minor league team.

“When Lou called me, I was excited, especially, it was a great organization, with a lot of people working for the organization, and it’s going in the right direction,” Lemaire said in explaining why he decided to return to New Jersey after stepping down as coach of the Minnesota Wild at the end of last season.

Pardon me for a moment:

There, now I feel a little bit better.

No, you know what? I don’t.

I don’t feel better because, finally, after what feels like a million years the Devils were getting to be interesting to watch. Zach Parise is a certified star in the league banished to Newark to apparently pay his sins for daring to be a college hockey deity with his partner in crime Travis Zajac. Patrick Elias vanquished his case of Hepatitis Q and was scoring goals again and hell, they even busted out Brendan Shanahan last year to make fans of the 1980s Devils get all warm and fuzzy again.

Bringing back Lemaire to a squad that seems to be two lines of legitimate talent and two lines of guys that should struggle in the AHL makes you wonder just what kind of coach can make a team like that into one that can make the playoffs.

Well hey, Jacques Lemaire has done it since he started coaching in the NHL so why not get him… again?

Listen, I know the Devils won’t look like a thorough patchwork squad when the season starts because, as usual, Loophole Lou Lamoriello is waiting to see which players are really desperate to stay in the NHL and Lou will get them on the cheap knowing full-well what awaits the NHL next season and beyond as far as the cap goes. He got caught with his pants down once before and won’t let it happen again.

Besides, he doesn’t have Alexander Korolyuk to kick around anymore.

As much as I abhor this move by the Devils, I fully understand it. Lemaire gets the most of having the least especially when your general manager purposefully hates acquiring new talent and his name is Doug Risebrough.

There is an aspect of all this that has me petrified and having honest-to-God flashbacks to 1994-1995 once again. No, it’s not the threat of a labor dispute after an epic Stanley Cup Final. It’s about how, magically, the rule book got ignored setting hockey back even further than that work stoppage after the 1994 Finals did.

Take a look at how the rules were interpreted in this years Stanley Cup Finals. Detroit and Pittsburgh were allowed to do, seemingly, whatever they pleased to play defense on each other. Be it obstruction, interference, holding… All of that stuff that was supposed to become a part of the past after the labor dispute of 2004-2005. It was back and back with a vengeance and on full display by both teams.

What concerned many folks, including yours truly, was that the way the rules were being called in the Finals would become the new norm since a lot of players sounded off being OK with that. Case in point from Stu Hackel and Jeff Z. Klein from the New York Times:

Coming out of the 2004-5 lockout, the N.H.L clamped down on hooking, holding, tripping and interference with the intent of making the game more a show of skill. The referees had stuck to that strict standard for the last four seasons — until this series.

Through the first four games of this season’s finals, referees called a total of 21 penalties, compared with 43 through the first four games of last season’s finals. Obstruction calls also showed a disparity: 13 this season compared with 22 last season.

Some fans have complained about the change, though most seem to like it — including the Detroit and Pittsburgh players and coaches.

“I love it,” the Red Wings’ Kirk Maltby said. “They’re not going back to the old rules, where there’s dramatic hooks and holds. They’re letting guys battle, in the corners and in front of the net. As players and as hockey fans, all you ask is that it’s even on both sides. I’m not really used to this many penalties not being called, but it’s fun. You’re letting the guys go out and play and decide who’s going to win.”

I don’t give a damn what Kirk Maltby has to say about the lack of penalties being called because, frankly, he’s not the guy wheeling, dealing and scoring out there and having his progress halted with every stride. He’s also the guy who’ll be out there and trying to make sure the big guns for the opposing teams don’t get the space or time to score and having officials look the other way only helps him out all the more.

I appreciate what Maltby has done as a grind line player in the NHL, but he’s not the guy I wante to hear from on these matters because the more the whistle gets put away by the referees, the more he stands to gain from it.

Back in the NHL’s “Dead Puck Era” I used to think of Mario Lemieux as the world’s biggest whiner when he would openly complain about the holding and obstruction going on in the NHL and it made it more difficult to respect him. Learning more about the game and studying it closer I realized he was right all along. Mea culpa, Mario. Look what he had to say back in 1997:

“The game isn’t as exciting as it was five or six years ago,” says Lemieux, who is quitting after the next few weeks because he has grown tired of the way it is being played.

What I want to know is this: If Mario Lemieux isn’t on the edge of his seat before he takes the ice, why should we be any more excited?

“It’s really disappointing,” Lemieux says “There are so many great players in the league who can’t show their talent. It’s too bad for the fans. This could be the greatest game in the world, but with the rules as they are, we can’t do our jobs.”

Lemieux met with NHL commissioner Bettman last summer to plead his case for a crackdown on obstruction penalties. “Stop whining, Mario,” he was told. “Just go out there and fight through the checking.”

Care to guess which part of that Larry Wigge story I’m going to harp on? I don’t think you need a road map to find it.

So what happens next? What happens if the rulebook enforcement goes south again and the heaps of brilliant talent that currently exist in the NHL all find their numbers and progress stunted because a new wave of non-skating, grabby ogres get to turn the NHL into a skating rodeo of sorts where the best skaters are all grabbed onto and ridden to the ice?

That sounds like a bad time had by all.

Lemaire showed how to win with that style and every expansion team of that era followed his plans to the letter to make it into the playoffs and even the Finals. Lemaire now takes the reigns of a Devils team with brilliant offensive talent buoyed by a no-name third and fourth line, a solid but unspectacular defensive corps and the same goaltender he had years upon years ago in Martin Brodeur.

I think I’ve seen this movie before and it ends with the fans ultimately losing out having their game destroyed both on and off the ice. Instead, let’s just hope this ends with a great coach’s swan song in the place where his legacy began and our game remains in tact.


Sean Avery Is A Genius

I know that I promised to not get sucked into talking about Sean Avery and his media circus anymore, but I heard a loud cry go up from Boston this afternoon and you-know-who was the source of the uprorar. Take a look with Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley’s commentary:

Now, don’t get me wrong here, if you look at this for what it looks like on the surface, this looks like the same old Sean Avery antics where he’s a reckless, out of control hooligan making a mockery of the game of hockey and taking a piss on Toe Blake’s grave.

I don’t condone what Avery does, but what Brickley takes issue with here is that it is apparently Avery reverting to his old, reckless ways of playing hockey.

Sure, that’s one way to look at it and for what it’s worth, Brickley could be correct… But I don’t buy it for a second.

Believe it or not, Avery’s a smart guy and he knows exactly what he’s doing at all times. He is always looking to give himself and his team an edge. Sure, he goes over the top and creates more problems than not at times, but what went down today wasn’t one of those moments.

For the game itself today, Avery didn’t create a disadvantage for the Rangers, he got himself and another Bruin player taken off the ice on matching minors for nonsense. More room to skate for a couple of minutes helps out against a team like the Bruins that are very defense-minded.

I’m sure everyone noticed how calm and reasonable Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas reacted to this situation as well as he was the player that got booked for the retaliatory minor for roughing. Thomas went out of his mind bonkers going after Avery and ended up blasting Ranger Fredrik Sjostrom in the face with his blocker as Sjostrom skated in to intervene.

This is where Avery’s evil genius comes into play.

He’s the kind of genius that Lanny Poffo would be proud of.

Avery and just about everyone else around the NHL by now knows that Tim Thomas has a bit of a short fuse. He’s shown it off on a couple of other occasions this season and Avery had the opportunity to light a fire today and certainly did that. The worst that happens? He gets sent off on a two-minute penalty and looks like a complete jerk for short-changing his team while they’re down 1-0.

The best that happens? Thomas gets thrown off of his game, gives up a goal or two and allows the Rangers to get back in the game. Avery then proudly wears the bulls-eye the rest of the game and allows Bruins players to retaliate at him at will. At worst, Avery gets a matching minor for being involved in these shenanigans but at best, his team gains a power play giving the Rangers a final window of opportunity to get back into a game they have to earn points in.

There is a bigger picture to be seen here, however. Avery wasn’t working just to make this game closer, he was sending a message that won’t be forgotten.

Remember the uproar over Avery’s antics in front of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur last season? Sure you do…

The Devils certainly didn’t forget and that annoyance carried over into this season as well, so when the Devils and Rangers met up last week, the Devils players went out of their way to send a message to Avery that his antics wouldn’t be tolerated. The Devils lost that game 3-0, much in part to their obsession with taking shots at Avery who did everything in his ability to both resist retaliation and bring it out of the Devils even more.


Sean Avery is the Petulant Cerebral Assassin of the NHL and it’s a role he plays perfect. Yes, he’s got skill. Yes, he plays a physical game. Yes, he’s a trash-talker with the best and worst of them.

Yes, he plays on the edge – but that’s his world and he’s set up the Boston Bruins in his way. I’m not saying that it’s how the Rangers will find a way to beat Boston in the future, but if you think that today’s incident will be forgotten… Well, you’re crazy.

What makes this even better still?

These two teams might just meet up in the first round of the playoffs. Avery’s tactics have managed to make him Public Enemy #1 in New Jersey and the Devils can’t help but run around and try to kill him whenever they meet up and that’s all because he made their legendary keeper look like a jerk by embarrassing him in the playoffs.

Will there be another round with the Bruins and Rangers? We don’t know yet, even with just the handful of games remaining in the season. You better believe Sean Avery’s shadow has been cast for any meetings in the future, however and it’s up to the Bruins to stop themselves from trying to even up the score with him because in doing so, they might find themselves getting behind the 8-ball with the rest of the Rangers.

Powered by WordPress