Edmonton Oilers great Dave Semenko passed away last week after a battle with pancreatic and liver cancer. Semenko was not the best player of his era, but he was one of the most memorable. He was the enforcer for the legendary Oilers teams of the 1980s, a team that was before my time but lives on forever on YouTube. He was Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard on the ice, giving The Great One the security he needed to put up offensive numbers that are unfathomable 30 years later. He was such a star as an enforcer, he even had the opportunity to get in the ring and fight Muhammad Ali for charity.
Perhaps the most touching tribute to Semenko came from Gretzky himself at Semenko’s funeral. Wayne got it. He was maybe the most supremely skilled player ever to lace up skates, but the way he talks about his former teammate and dear friend shows that hockey, even at its highest level, is a blue collar sport where the tough guys are just as appreciated as the high-end finesse players. That Oilers team was loaded, and Semenko was their heart and soul.
There was a time when every team had a guy like Dave Semenko on their roster. Fighting was just part of the game, and as hard as it sometimes was to defend the tradition of fighting in hockey to non-hockey fans, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the importance of fighting in the game.
I believe that if hockey had been invented as a new sport in the 2010s, and the leaders of this upstart National Hockey League trying to make their new game as appealing and sustainable as possible, fighting would never in a million years make the cut. That being said, to keep going with this thought experiment, hockey as we know it would have a much better chance of being invented in 2017 than football as we know it. The pace of play and high floor of acceptable skill required for entry into the NHL plays in hockey’s favor.
As long as there has been hockey there have also been great players who were also good to great fighters from Eddie Shore to Maurice Richard to Gordie Howe to Bobby Orr to Larry Robinson to Mark Messier to Scott Stevens to Cam Neely to Jarome Iginla to to mike Richards to Zdeno Chara. Even guys like Semenko or Terry O’Reilly or Shawn Thornton could probably get minutes in a post-fighting NHL. They would not be stars, and their careers would not have been as long, but in their primes, they could play well enough to make the cut even if they could not or did not fight. The players who lose out in the modern NHL are the guys who can only fight, the John Scotts of the world, or late career Shawn Thornton and George Parros.
According to Hockeyfights.com, a great website I do not check nearly as often as I used to for some reason, there were 372 total fights in 2016-17, which is up from 344 the previous season, but probably not enough to reverse the downward trend of fighting in the NHL. There were 734 in 2008-09, the highest since the 2004-05 lockout, but since the 2012-13 lockout, no season has cracked 500 fights, and the 347 fights in the abbreviated 2013 season feels like something from a different era.
Those are just numbers on a chart, but a clearer illustration came in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. My Boston Bruins won the President’s Trophy that season, but had their hands full with their most hated rival, the Montreal Canadiens in the second round. Ultimately, the Bruins fell to the Habs in seven games. Montreal was the faster, more skilled team, while Boston prided itself on strength and toughness. That’s the rivalry in a nutshell. One key difference in the two teams was the use of the enforcer. Boston had Shawn Thornton, and Montreal had George Parros. The two were friends, and won the Stanley Cup together as members of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. While Parros spent the playoffs in the press box, scratched from the lineup, the Bruins played Thornton. That philosophical difference was not on its own what put the Habs ahead of the Bruins that season, but it showed how much the game had changed.
In 2011, inserting Thornton into the lineup in the Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks after Nathan Horton got hurt gave the Bruins an edge. They pushed the Canucks around after that, and won their first Stanley Cup since 1972. Thornton alone did not put them over the top, but his presence could not be discounted. Three years later, he was a liability in the playoffs for the Bruins.
The decline of the enforcer has been talked about for years. Before Dave Semenko’s passing, it was John Scott’s inclusion in the All-Star Game that caused a mass-reflection on the legacy of the role in hockey. Before that it was the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, Bob Probert, and others. Every time, the same sentiments are expressed: fighting in hockey is hard to defend to non-hockey fans, and the role of fighting means less now than it did even five years ago, but nonetheless, without it, the game is missing something, and the guys who do that dirty work are some of the most appreciated in the dressing room as well as with the most hardcore of hockey fans.
If there were ever an opening for fighting to gain a more prominent role in the NHL again, we may have it with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights to the league. With a 31st team, there are now more NHL playing jobs than ever before, and the talent pool is even further diluted. Teams may place a greater emphasis on protecting their most skilled players, and there may be more roster spots available for guys who can fight better than they can score. Then again, if the next couple years do not bring fighting back to where it was as recently as 2013, it might be gone for good in 20 years.
I should be excited for Teemu Selanne, the Finnish Flash. I should be excited for Dave Andreychuk, who scored 640 goals and should have gotten in years ago. I should be excited for Paul Kariya, who is the first Hall of Famer from the University of Maine. I should be excited for Mark Recchi, who won three Stanley Cups with three different teams, and who was the old man mentor on my favorite hockey team ever. I should be excited for Danielle Goyette, because I have cousins named Goyette and maybe they’re related, however distantly. Instead, I’m just annoyed that Jeremy Jacobs is going into the Hockey Hall of Fame, in the “builder” category, along with them.
Jeremy Jacobs is the worst owner of any of the Boston teams. Of the four current ownership groups in town, he is now also the only one in a Hall of Fame. Bruins hockey has always been defined by being good, by being tough, but also by not winning as much as fans want or expect. Since buying the team in 1975, Jacobs made a name for himself pinching pennies and valuing fiscal responsibility over on-ice success.
To be fair, when the NHL got a salary cap, the Bruins spent to it, rebuilt in that system, and won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reached another Final in 2013. But also to be fair, for decades before the cap, Jacobs under-spent, took Ray Bourque and Cam Neely to salary arbitration, and was the among the driving forces in the NHL’s board of governors who locked out the players three times–even cancelling the 2004-05 season–to demand a salary cap.
The rigidity of the NHL salary cap also ended up being the Bruins’ undoing, and mismanaging it is the reason the B’s went from a President’s Trophy winning team in 2014 to out of the playoff picture the next two years. Jacobs put the well being of his fellow millionaire and billionaire owners ahead of the devoted fan base that went to his games and watched his team on TV. A seven year run after the rules changed in the favor of the owners should not undo the thirty years of frustration that led up to that era.
I was just thinking about Jacobs and the frustration he put Bruins fans through this weekend when I was working on my David Ortiz column. I thought a lot about life was like before Ortiz and Tom Brady, before winning in Boston was the norm. The lowest points came from the Celtics and Bruins, the teams with the more recent traditions of winning who had both hit low points in the mid and late 1990s. For the Celtics, Rick Pitino’s “not walking through that door” moment in 2000 was the perfect illustration of how far they had fallen. For the Bruins is was the rally in Boston in the summer of 2001 for Stanley Cup champion and fan favorite Ray Bourque… of the Colorado Avalanche. The rally was attended by thousands, paying respect for the Bruins’ former captain, but also serving as a giant middle finger to the Bruins organization by a disenfranchised region of passionate hockey fans.
In the spring of 2010, I watched the Bruins blow a 3-0 lead in a Game 7, and in doing so blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in my friend Mark’s dorm room. For a long time, I was not convinced I would ever have a more joyful professional hockey watching experience than the night Ray Bourque raised the Cup with the Avs, and nights like that were why. The team, for all its endearing on-ice qualities, was run by a cheap old billionaire who was never going to change as long as fans kept going. There was no reason for the team to extend themselves. Hockey fans are loyal to a fault. There are few things better than watching a hockey game in the arena, and nothing better than playoff hockey anywhere. Even when things looked bleakest, Bruins fans knew deep down they could not quit forever.
Alvy Singer, Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall said “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” He attributed the quote to Groucho Marx and Sigmund Freud, but the sentiment is universal, or at the very least incredibly resonant within my own brain. If I were an NHL player, a Bruin or otherwise, after decades of lockouts and business as usual, I would never want to be in a Hall of Fame that would have someone like Jeremy Jacobs as an inductee. I know it’s hyperbolic, and the Hockey Hall of Fame is obviously a huge honor for any player, but there’s something particularly wrong about spending more time thinking about Jeremy Jacobs on the day of the Hall of Fame announcement than I have been about the great players who were also inducted today.
A week after getting fired after nearly a decade as head coach of the Boston Bruins, Claude Julien has landed on his feet, being named today as head coach of Boston oldest and most bitter rival, the Montreal Canadiens, replacing Michel Therrien. To summarize, the Bruins still do not seem to have a plan going forward, and they just gave their biggest rival a coaching upgrade, looking like fools in the process. This is where we are right now.
Bruins fans could see this coming from miles away. It had long been speculated that the Bruins had held off on firing Claude in the past to block division rivals like Montreal or the Ottawa Senators from getting him. Julien has been constantly rumored to be a coaching candidate for the Habs, considering he has been their head coach before, and considering he is one of a handful of bilingual NHL head coaches. In 2011, when Randy Cunneyworth was named interim head coach of the Canadiens, the organization apologized and promised the permanent head coach (it ended up being Therrien) would be able to speak French.
This is a good move for Montreal. They are a playoff team that has struggled as of late, and perhaps a coaching change is what they think they need to kick start to put them over the top. As I mentioned last week, the Claude was fired by the Bruins, it was Michel Therrien who got fired by Pittsburgh in 2009 before they won the Stanley Cup under Dan Bylsma. The Canadiens have a great goaltender in Carey Price, and a great defensive defenseman in Shea Weber who seems like Julien’s kind of player in the tradition of Zdeno Chara, and they think this coach combined with these players could be the mix they need to win their first Stanley Cup since 1993 (the last Cup win by any Canadian team).
For Boston, this is more of what I was talking about last week. The Bruins did not fire Julien sooner because they did not have a better plan and they were afraid to see him coaching a rival. Now, they still do not have a better plan, winning streak that includes a win over Montreal under Bruce Cassidy notwithstanding, and Julien is coaching a rival. While the Bruins are stuck in the middle, Bruins fans are stuck seeing their team’s all time winningest head coach (Julien passed Art Ross, who has an NHL trophy named after him and who named the Boston Bruins, on the franchise win list last season) behind the bench for the Montreal Canadiens of all teams. The thought crossed my mind the other night when the Bruins played the Habs that if the Bruins win, Claude could be Montreal’s new coach, but the reality is just now sinking in, even though I understood this could and probably would happen on an intellectual level for years.
Ultimately, blame for this falls back in Cam Neely and Don Sweeney. They tried to prevent this from happening, and it still happened, and Bruins fans are still stuck with them while Julien is coaching a real contender and Peter Chiarelli is running the loaded with young talent Edmonton Oilers. There have been worse time to be a Bruins fan, but the fact that the people who made the franchise respectable for the first time in decades are gone makes me concerned about how soon things will get better.
With the head scratching news that the New Jersey Devils have hired two co-head coaches, or something like that, in the form of Scott Stevens and Adam Oates, this headline is what I’ve been asking myself all day. Usually the Jets are the team in the Garden State that leaves us with more questions than answers when it comes to personnel moves (and as a Patriots fan, I am forever thankful for their ineptitude), but this time it’s the Devils, a hockey club that has won three Stanley Cups in my lifetime, second only behind the Detroit Red Wings in that duration, that has everyone confused. This could be another stroke of brilliance for longtime Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, or it could mean the beginning of the end. Nothing lasts forever, not even Martin Brodeur’s career between the New Jersey pipes, and maybe not even the Lamoriello era in New Jersey.
Stevens and Oates are replacing Peter DeBoer, who was hired in 2011 as the successor to Jacques Lemaire, who retired after his third stint with New Jersey, but let the team to its first Stanley Cup championship in 1995. In DeBoer’s first season, he led the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals, defeating the hated rival New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. They caught lightning in a bottle, with Martin Brodeur turning the clocks back in a goalie showdown for the ages against New York’s Henrik Lundqvist. The magic ran out in the Finals against the Los Angeles Kings, however, as young American goaltender Jonathan Quick carried the eighth best team from the West to its first ever Stanley Cup.
After that, things went south for New Jersey, losing captain Zach Parise in free agency to the Minnesota Wild in the lockout-extended 2012 offseason, losing sniper Ilya Kovalchuk (who had been under contract for the next decade) to the temptation to play professional hockey in his native Russia, and having to part ways with Brodeur, who was so synonymous with the New Jersey Devils uniform, that his jersey appears on an episode of Seinfeld from 20 years ago (Brodeur now plays for the St. Louis Blues, and this just looks weird after seeing him in red and black for so long). Sure, they signed an all time great like Jaromir Jagr, and he is still able to produce at a high level at the age of 42, but the Devils have struggled in close games, and have been dreadful in shootouts ever since losing Kovalchuk (who was in Russia’s shortened shootout rotation against T.J. Oshie and Team USA in the 2014 Olympics). Shootout losses cost New Jersey a shot at the playoffs in what was a wide-open Eastern Conference last season, and they were off to another bad start this year.
Scott Stevens and Adam Oates have both been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Stevens was the fifth overall pick, selected by the Washington Capitals, in 1982, and was the Devils’ captain for their Stanley Cup championships in 1995, 2000, and 2003, and his #4 now resides in the rafters of Prudential Center. He is one of the elite defensive defensemen in the history of the game. Oates, a center, was on the losing end of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and also played for the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues (where he and Stevens were teammates), Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals (whom he coached from 2012 to 2014). Oates went undrafted, but after a standout career at RPI, Oates would eventually become the NHL’s all time leader in points among former college hockey players. Both have impressive achievements to their names, but neither has gotten a head coaching chance where they were in a good position to succeed, and I’m not sure this is a great chance, either.
Lamoriello’s idea is to have Stevens coach the defensemen and Oates coach the forwards, like defensive and offensive coordinators in football, except in hockey d-men and forwards have to be on the ice together and work as a cohesive unit. it makes sense to have offense and defense run by different coaches in football because Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork never have to be on the field at the same time, but this seems crazy. Stevens and Oates will both have the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of sole possession of head coaching responsibilities, which provides us with ample opportunity to observe potential House of Cards-esque scheming and backstabbing in this quest for power. If Adam Oates starts having weird asides with an audience that isn’t really there during press conferences (even though Oates looks more like Ray Liotta than Kevin Spacey), then fan favorite Stevens had better watch his back.
As I was writing this, another report came out that in addition to Oates and Stevens, Lamoriello will be coaching as well, creating an unprecedented head coach triumvirate. Lamoriello has gone behind the Devils bench on an interim basis before, and it could be a great way to evaluate a team that needs to make moves to rebuild and get younger (their two best players are Jaromir Jagr, 42, and Patrik Elias, 38). It also provides him with a more hands-on chance to observe Stevens and Oates’ head coaching styles. Lamoriello has been running the hockey operations for the Devils since 1987, is the longest tenured GM in the NHL, and has had great success. He has lasted ownership changes, and his success has carried over into other sports (he owns a minority stake in the New York Yankees), and his job is probably safe as long as he wants it. It’s not the conventional way of doing things, but conventional doesn’t keep things fresh when the losses pile up and a fanbase that is used to winning hockey hasn’t been getting any for the last three years. To make matters worse for New Jersey fans, the rival New York Rangers and Islanders remain competitive throughout the Devils’ struggles. They don’t have to be good this year, but drafting well and coaching well is crucial in this transition phase. This could go really well, or really poorly, but either way, Lou Lamoriello and the Devils have my attention.
The 2013-14 Boston Bruins had a really good season. In fact, they had the best regular season of any team in the NHL and captured the President’s Trophy for the first time since 1990. While that was nice, hockey is a sport where anything less than the Stanley Cup leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth all summer. Winning is important in all sports, but it’s something about that trophy and the fact that the winners get their names engraved on it and the obsessive and addicting nature of the sport to its fans that makes the summertime withdrawal that much more empty. The Bruins are a good team, and will be again next season, but it feels like a waste until they drop the puck again in the fall.
If there’s anything to feel good about, it’s the individual awards won by Bruins players. This week, Tuukka Rask won the Vezina Trophy, as the NHL’s best goaltender in the regular season, for the first time in his career. It was also announced that Patrice Bergeron won the Selke Trophy, as the NHL’s best defensive forward for the second time in three years, and will be featured on the cover of the upcoming video game NHL 15. It’s not the Cup, but it’s validation for those players and for Bruins fans.
Bergeron and Rask are the most important players for the Boston Bruins who are not named Zdeno Chara (who was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season defenseman, but did not win), and are expected to contribute to the Bruins for many years to come. It’s fitting that the three players for the B’s who were finalists for major awards were recognized for their defense. Every great Bruins team was predicated on defense. From Eddie Shore (who won Hart Trophies before the Norris Trophy’s existence) to Bobby Orr to Brad Park to Ray Bourque to Big Z, locking down the defensive zone has always been a priority. Goaltending has been key, too, and 2013-14 was the third time in the Claude Julien Era that a Bruins goalie has won the Vezina (Tim Thomas won the award in 2009 and 2011, when he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup). Tuukka began his NHL career in Timmy’s shadow, and got his name on the Cup in 2011 without playing a single minute in the playoffs, but he’s making a name for himself now.
Hopefully the Bruins learn from the disappointing end to the season and they turn it around in the fall, but in the meantime, it’s good to see great players get the recognition they deserve. With Bergeron, Rask, and Captain Chara, the team is in good hands. Now all they need is players who can find the back of the net.
Anything can happen, and anyone can beat anyone else in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I have a feeling that the winner of the Stanley Cup in 2014 is being decided in the Western Conference Finals. The series features the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and the 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, and the two most recent champs appear to be the two best teams in the NHL once again. With all due respect to the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, it looks like the winner in the East will lose to the winner in the West for the third straight year. Right now the Kings lead the series two games to one, but it just takes one game or one period for the momentum to shift once again. In the meantime, it’s a lot of fun to watch.
The Hawks and the Kings are two of the most physical teams in the NHL, which has been a key to winning the Cup since this decade began. The series has two very good goaltenders in Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick. Both teams have star players on the blue line in Drew Doughty for Los Angeles and Norris Trophy finalist Duncan Keith for Chicago. Both teams have star forwards who can put the puck in the net. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp for Chicago, and Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Marian Gaborik for Los Angeles.
What really amazes me is the way Jeff Carter has reshaped his image since getting traded to Los Angeles. Carter is big and talented, and was a very productive player when he was in Philadelphia, but he tended to disappear in the playoffs for one reason or another (often injury), and it seemed he was on the verge of becoming another Joe Thornton, who has yet to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals despite putting up Hall of Fame regular season numbers. After getting dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Carter hit the low point of his career. He looked uninterested on a
bad terrible team. Carter didn’t even last a full season in Columbus before getting traded to the Kings at the trade deadline. Carter was reunited with his friend and former Philadelphia teammate Mike Richards, and everything clicked. Richards and Carter were a huge part of the run the Kings went on in 2012 that culminated with this. Cater now has the reputation of a tough, gritty playoff performer. Can’t say I saw that one coming.
The Kings were the lowest scoring team during the regular season to make the playoffs. The made the tournament thanks to the stingy goaltending of Jonathan Quick and Darryl Sutter’s unrelenting defensive system. In the playoffs, they have lit it up, and have become a scarily balanced attack that outlasted their California rivals the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks in back-to-back seven game series.
I watched the third period of Game 3 last night. It was the first hockey I had watched since my Boston Bruins didn’t show up for Game 7 against Montreal, but the Red Sox are in the midst of a nine game losing streak, and I went sheepishly crawling back to hockey. These two teams should meet in the playoffs every year because it’s great hockey. While I was impressed with LA’s control of the pace and the puck in that period, I was even more impressed with the Staples Center crowd. They were really into it. I don’t know why I’m still surprised by things like this, but the stereotypes about non-traditional hockey markets still stick in my mind more than 20 years after Wayne Gretzky took the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals. It took time, but LA is really starting to look like a hockey town. It certainly helps that the Lakers were terrible this year, and the Clippers were eliminated last week, but then I saw the tribute Teemu Selanne got from the southern California crowd in his last game, or the introduction the Ducks and Kings got at Dodger Stadium this past winter, and I realize it’s not a fluke. It’s not what you’d see in a rivalry game between Boston and Montreal, or New York and New Jersey, or Edmonton and Calgary, but it’s still really cool.
Tim Thomas and Martin St. Louis were teammates and friends at the University of Vermont, and they both had to work harder than most to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NHL and raising the Stanley Cup over their heads. St. Louis was undrafted. He played for the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the Internationald Hockey League (IHL) before the Calgary Flames gave him a chance. In 2000, he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and helped them beat his old team in the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, winning the Hart Trophy and his first of two Art Ross Trophies that year. Tim Thomas was selected 217th overall by the Quebec Nordiques, but bounced around from the Birmingham Bulls of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), the Houston Aeros of the IHL, HIFK, a professional hockey team in Finland, and the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League (AHL), the Detroit Vipers of the IHL, AIK of the Swedish Hockey League, and Karpat of Oulu in Finland before finally finding a home with the Boston Bruins. Theirs are stories of hard work and never giving up on the dream, but now at the end of their careers, they are doing everything they can to undo the reputations they have built among hockey fans.
The 2011 playoffs were the high point of their NHL narrative. Thomas was in net for the Boston Bruins while St. Louis skated for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals. They were both on the back nine of their careers, but they were still two of the best players on the planet. In the end, Thomas was the one who advanced, helping the Bruins beat the Lightning 1-0 in the deciding seventh game in Boston. Timmy would go on to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn-Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. To say that Tim Thomas was awesome in the spring of 2011 would be the understatement of the century. He stole game after game and series after series for the Bruins, who won three Game 7s in the playoffs and beat four teams with better offensive firepower than they had. Timmy should have been one of the most beloved figures in the history of Boston sports, but that time at the top proved to be short lived.
Thomas decided to put right wing politics ahead of the best interests of the team in 2012 when he refused to go to the White House when the Bruins were invited. Apparently, the government was too big for Tim Thomas to want to meet the president, especially since the president was a Democrat. He didn’t think the government was too big when he accepted a scholarship to play hockey at a state school like the University of Vermont, and he didn’t have a problem when he was asked to represent his country as the backup goaltender for Team USA in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but he couldn’t go to the White House, despite being the only member of the 2011 Stanley Cup winning Bruins to have been born in the United States. That was a deal breaker.
The rest of that season, Thomas’ Bruins teammates had to answer questions in the media about Thomas’ political views, while he refused to comment on the polarizing remarks he was putting out for the public to see on his Facebook page. When his teammates made mistakes on the ice in front of him, he was quick to throw the blame on them, but the rest of the Bruins were going out of their way to defend his activity off the ice because he’s part of the team and that’s what good teammates do. This, combined with the Bruins’ first round playoff exit at the hands of the Washington Capitals in the spring of 2012, made him fall out of favor with a fan base that was worshiping the ice he skated on just months before. In the summer of 2012, he decided in his late 30s, to take a year off from the NHL. After a lockout cancelled the first half of the NHL regular season, Tuukka Rask, who had been Thomas’ backup in Boston since 2009, stepped up and took the Bruins back to the Stanley Cup Finals, ultimately falling in a hard fought six game series to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins and their fans have moved on. Thomas signed this year with the Florida Panthers, but was traded to the Dallas Stars at the deadline. Tim Thomas will always have a special place in the hearts of Bruins fans (myself included), but it could have been so much better if it didn’t end the way it did.
Marty St. Louis is still playing at a very high level despite being 38 years old. He can still score and set up the guys around him as well as anyone, and can still play bigger than his 5’8″, 180 lb body. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he won his second Art Ross Trophy, and with the departure of Vincent Lecavalier last summer, was named the team captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was also serving as the GM for Team Canada in the 2014 Olympics. Yzerman’s initial Olympic roster did not include St. Louis, because Canada has the deepest talent pool of any country in the world, and Yzerman wanted his aging captain to be sharp for the playoffs. Marty didn’t like that, and wanted out in Tampa because of it. Yzerman ended up resigning from his position with Team Canada the day after the Olympics over this, and he traded St. Louis to the New York Rangers for Ranger captain Ryan Callahan and draft picks. Tampa had a golden opportunity with Stephen Stamkos coming back from injury, but now they’re dealing with an unknown roster heading into the playoffs. The thing is, St. Louis ended up making the team after all. Because of Stamkos’ injury, Yzerman decided to send Marty to Sochi, and he came home with a Gold Medal. That’s all it took to ruin your working relationship with Steve Yzerman (who was one of the greatest leaders and winners the NHL has ever seen in his playing days, and NHL players should have the utmost respect for him)? What a joke. This is the kind of thing I expect from the NBA, not the NHL.
These two Vermont Catamounts were two of the most inspiring stories in hockey, but they’ve become less inspiring with age. It’s a sad thing to see.