Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
I am by no means a person who is anti-fighting.
Even during the many tragedies this summer, which pacifist media members tried to link in some way to fighting or the role of enforcers to the sport, my opinion remained unchanged. Fighting is a necessary if unfortunate way to properly police the game so star players don't get their heads knocked off the first time over the boards in Game 1 of the season.
It may not be the gentlest way for a guy to make a living (it can absolutely chew up and spit out a huge number of people), but this is the life enforcers choose, instead of working a nine-to-five job. They're compensated very well for it. They're adults. It's all fair.
However, in watching the rookie tournaments this weekend, I was positively appalled to see that there was any fighting at all. It's one thing if you're Shawn Thornton and you have to go beat the hell out of someone who just tried to run David Krejci. It's another thing entirely if you're a seventh-round pick in 2009 "standing up for your teammate" in Game 1 of the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, a setting that couldn't mean any less to anyone.
(Coming Up: Teemu Selanne makes a decision ? sort of; Captain Backes; Jersey Foul for Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen; Bruins and a Marchand trade; Florida gets charitable for Belak; Chris Pronger health update; Doc Emrick's replacement; Patrick Kane says he's ready; Ryan Kesler isn't; BizNasty is BizIdiot; Detroit goalie gets smoked; Dwayne Roloson is old; a dazzling rookie camp moment; and a proposed trade that would make Henrik Lundqvist an Oiler.)
You'll notice it's early in the third period and already 5-2 Rangers. This is something that should be embarrassing for the teams involved, because one thing hockey definitely doesn't need, and certainly not right now given the current tenor of the player safety debate, is fighting before the puck drops during blowouts in wholly inconsequential rookie tournament games.
And the real problem is that McNaught and Beach were hardly the only pugilists to have dropped the gloves this weekend. In the first two days of the Traverse City showcase alone (the Oshawa and Penticton tournaments seems not to be publishing box scores), there were 11 fights in eight games. That's more than double the rate of last year's NHL per-game total of 0.52.
Also, it is absurd. Obviously.
Most of them came in the final period of hopeless blowouts, though three came in the first 40 minutes of a hotly-contested game between the Stars and Rangers. There were reportedly others in Oshawa, as well, with the Maple Leafs in particular engaging in a fight every period through the first five.
I certainly understand it from the kids' perspectives. Teams need willing combatants up and down their organization, and you have to be ready to take action against guys who will, hopefully, one day fill similar slots with other clubs. This is a way to "prove themselves" to the team (where "the team" means "their teams' front office executives") and hopefully win a contract, more money or the right to not bus it around the ECHL for another season.
But from the teams' standpoint? It's abhorrent.
These tournaments should be about evaluating hockey talent and the ability of younger players on the borderline between junior and pro, or the different levels of pro hockey, not watching kids whaling on each other. What would one or two fights in this four-game period prove about a player that wouldn't be found in his major junior or ECHL r�sum�? Guys who fight in these tournaments, one assumes, would be guys who fight in their day jobs.
Perhaps the argument can be made that in these games, kids who aspire to be agitators at the NHL level will also be trying to show off their skills at this level, and that, too, needs policing. But I watched four of these gong shows between Saturday and Sunday and any dangerous play was the result of either youthful exuberance or rookie mistakes, and not a legitimate attempt to injure another player.
Once again, the League proves to be alarmingly tone deaf when it comes to protecting players, talking out of both sides of its mouth. If allowing kids aged 20 or younger, who are getting paid a pittance to play in these tournaments if they're getting paid at all, to engage in fights in the exhibition-est of exhibitions is taking a hard stance to protect players, then it's scary to think what not-protecting players probably means.
The participants in these tournaments should not be given a reason to do this, in meaningless games that no one attends or watches ,that does not directly relate to putting the puck in the net or preventing the other team from doing so. Fighting should be banned from them. It's really that simple.
But hey, at least it looks like the League mandated wearing visors for the games.
Baby steps, right?
What We Learned
Boston Bruins: So the Bruins still haven't signed Brad Marchand, and Boston fans are getting nervous. Rumors came out over the weekend that they may be shopping him. Frankly, Marchand's not exactly an irreplaceable guy. Don't see the big deal.
Buffalo Sabres: One of Lindy Ruff's main concerns at training camp will be which D-men should be paired together for the long haul. And hey, if it doesn't work out, Ryan Miller will have a lot of fun stuff to complain about all year.
Calgary Flames: "The Flames aren't the same team as the one which failed to make the NHL playoffs last season but are quite close to being the same." Right, they are not the same team because they are slightly worse.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes' prospects played the Stars' at the Traverse City tournament and got their clocks cleaned 8-2, outshot 37-18. No defense, you say? They're already learning the Carolina system.
Columbus Blue Jackets: After trailing by two in the first period of their rookie tournament game, the Blue Jackets prospects went off after 16 minutes, outscoring Detroit 7-1 the rest of the way. Those seven goals by the way? Came on just 26 shots. Not a good day at the office for Petr Mrazek.
Dallas Stars: "Stars could have some new offensive leaders." Yes because they didn't trade the one they had at the deadline like every rational person on earth thought they should have and then got nothing to show for him jumping to the Rangers. Oh but hey they signed Mike Ryder. Let's do this!
Florida Panthers: Real nice move by the Panthers, who will accept donations to Wade Belak's family at all their rookie camp games as well as a preseason doubleheader against the Predators. Great stuff.
Los Angeles Kings: How is it that a team in the second-largest media market in the nation can only get 81 of their 82 games televised? Near as I can tell, the one that's not being broadcast is March 9, and is against the Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway. Because no one wants to watch them.
Montreal Canadiens: Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen brought a Guy Lafleur jersey to the Toronto International Film Festival and were promptly beaten to death.
New York Islanders: A thing I didn't know about the Islanders signing that deal with the tattoo shop is that they will also have a booth where fans can get tattoos or piercings at 10 home games next year. Because why not follow one regrettable decision (going to Nassau Coliseum for any reason) with another?
Pittsburgh Penguins: Luckily, Eric Tangradi has fully recovered from the concussion he picked up from ? who else? ? the Islanders' Trevor Gillies. "I feel 100 percent, if not better," he said. Well that's impossible, man. Get it together.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Dwayne Roloson will officially be the oldest player in the NHL this year (barring a miracle comeback from Chris Chelios), meaning that it's perfectly reasonable to expect that he can replicate last season's success.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Here's a really great story about Leafs prospect Matt Frattin, who got kicked off the University of North Dakota hockey team a few years ago and had to work construction for a while.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin skated with the Caps rookies for about 30 minutes on Sunday and would have done more but Bruce Boudreau said to hit the showers. That pile of candy bars in the dressing room isn't gonna eat itself.
Gold Star Award
I don't think I can impress upon you enough how happy I am that hockey in any form is back. Even if it's unwatchably bad rookie games.
Welcome back, hockey. I have missed you.
Minus of the Weekend
"Curb Your Enthusiasm" is done for another season. Who knows when it will be back?
Play of the Weekend
Here's a pretty decent goal by Stars prospect Matt Fraser, one of three he scored in the game. Please excuse the horrendous giveaway leading up to it.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "BLBarmada" has his finger on the pulse of the hockey world.
Wojtek Wolski or Salary dump
Best part is the Rangers get to CHOOSE between Dubnyk and Khabibulin.
Yes, you heard me. I think words I would never say.