Articles by Steven Buccellato

A listing of all the articles written by Steven Buccellato for the RotoWire Blog.

End of Season Awards

What I love about being right is that it leaves little room for editing. I am only changing two of my mid-season choices.

Hart – Evgeni Malkin

Is there any doubt? Steven Stamkos had another incredible season, but on a team not playing this week. Jonathan Quick did all he could to keep his team in the playoff race, and succeeded. But, Malkin carried his team all season, leading a charge in the final months that has them as the odds on favorite to lift a Cup when all is said and done.

Vezina – Jonathan Quick

Though I had Quick in my midseason report, I was set to give the hardware to Henrik Lundqvist after he went on a tear in February that saw him lose only two games. In those games he gave up a total of three goals, while not getting a single goal in support. But too fresh in my memory are games that could have led the Rangers to the Presidents’ Trophy late in the season, and King Henrik looked very ordinary. Then Quick?s yak-like work ethic single-handedly carried the Kings into the playoffs. Combine that with their very similar numbers and I am sticking with my original choice.

Norris – Erik Karlsson

I honestly was pulling for Shea Weber if only because I view him as the total package, but Karlsson’s numbers get a lot of attention from voters…likely too much to not give him the award.

Calder – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Gabriel Landeskog and Adam Henrique are the popular choices right now, but Nugent-Hopkins played 20 fewer games than Landeskog and 12 fewer games than Henrique, yet his numbers were as good or better. That impact makes the difference in my book.

Selke – Patrice Bergeron

By the end of the season, he climbed to the top of the plus-minus leaderboard, while dominating the faceoff circle and playing a physical game and blocking shots. This is well deserved for Bergeron.

Jack Adams – Ken Hitchcock

Sure, I had John Tortorella at the break, and I insist his coaching put the Rangers in the top spot in the east, and elevated Henrik Lundqvist’s season. With that said, what Hitchcock did with the Blues is alarming and will be recognized in Las Vegas. Have you really looked at the Blues’ roster? Hitchcock had a team of anti-stars competing for the best record up until the last week of the season. I honestly expected a dramatic decline in the Blues’ play. It never came and that is a testament to the coach. Bravo.

Follow me on Twitter @Sbooch1

A Fighting Chance

I’ve been on the fence on a hot button topic for some time now. Since the untimely deaths of three popular “enforcers” last year, the NHL has put at the forefront the issue of fighting in the game. Traditionalists will argue that the physicality of the sport won’t allow for a total ban on fighting. The other side of the aisle will state that the game suffers because of these bouts. The truth, I believe, is somewhere in between.

There is no doubt that the game is never as beautiful as it is during the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Olympic tournament. There is a focus during these events that allows the players to display their talents in a fashion that brings even the casual fan to awe. For the sake of this argument, I think it is best to disregard the Olympic tournament for one simple reason; its brevity. Of course there is no less passion on the ice throughout the Olympic games, but what is missing is the 82-game grind leading up to the tournament. Memories are short, so payback takes a back seat in order to get on the podium.

What the NHL has leading into the most grueling postseason of any major sport is a rivalry saturated schedule where a single game can mean a team is playing in April, or cleaning out their lockers. These games are heated, and mutual disdain for the opponent can often lead to this:

This is passion. This isn’t a staged circus act meant to rile teammates and fans into a frenzy. These are two teams working their collective rear ends off to achieve the ultimate prize.

The brawl in the Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia game is a far cry, however, from what fighting has devolved into over the recent past. What I am speaking to is the “Wanna go?” fights. Too often each team will send out their enforcer to put on a staged dance, satisfying the collective blood lust in the stands. Most of these fights start with a light slash on the shin while awaiting the face-off, followed by the simple question, “Wanna go?” Sure there may be history behind the fight, but true fans of the game don’t mistake this charade as passion. It is these bouts, however, that are the most damaging to the participants. Enforcers have spoken of concussions, anxiety, and yes?even fear, when confronting their role on the team. They know, though, that without this role, they are likely out of a job. But is the toll that is taken on the designated enforcer, both physically AND mentally, worth that occupation?

So what is the solution? The league and players association have their work cut out for them. I would argue that designating the enforcer roster spot for a more skilled but tougher player is a start?sacrificing a few for the good of many. A small group of players will lose their jobs. They may also maintain their sanity, families, and futures. Another approach would be to hit the players where it matters. Heavier fines and suspensions could be levied for the “Wanna go?” fights, but that becomes nearly impossible to regulate.

The simple truth is that even with the recent tragedies, hockey will never be confused for ice dancing. No amount of fine or suspension will ever completely neuter this sport. It is a tough game played by tougher men. Understand that the players know what they have signed up for, and are willing to assume the risk if it means they have a shot at hoisting that cup.

Mid-Season Awards

Since I passed on watching the All-Star festivities (I elected to attend a party and go skiing instead), I thought I would contribute to the plethora of opinions as to whom takes home first-half hardware.

Hart – Evgeni Malkin

To me this is simple. He has kept his team relevant in the playoff race while the best player in the world in unable to play due to concussion issues. He’s first in total points and third in goals. While a lot of players are having great seasons…Giroux, Quick, Lundqvist…Malkin has to pretty much do it on his own.

Vezina – Jonathan Quick

Detractors will argue that seventh place in the West isn’t enough to make Quick relevant in this discussion, and that Lundqvist should finally grab his first Vezina. My counterpoint is that the Kings don’t score…at all. Yes Henrik’s numbers are better, but he also gets more help, offensively and defensively. I’ll address that later.

Norris – Shea Weber

Zdeno Chara‘s power-play numbers are intimidating, and he plays physical, but he just hasn’t been as complete of a player as Weber has been this season. Weber is having a great season, concussion issues aside. Let’s not forget that he hits a ton.

Calder – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Yes he is currently injured, and his numbers may slide upon his return, but, this is about the first half. I knew this kid was talented, but I didn’t think it would translate into NHL success this early. Adam Henrique will likely win the award at season’s end, but going into the break…RNH has been the highlight stealer.

Selke – Patrice Bergeron

He’s second in plus/minus, and among the contenders…leads with 40 blocked shots. There’s nothing sexy about Bergeron’s game, but then again…there’s nothing sexy about this award.

Adams – John Tortorella

The biggest reason I don’t have Henrik winning the Vezina is right here. Not to take away from Henrik’s season, but Torts’ system has taken a lot of pressure off of Hank. is team has fully committed to his methods. Those methods have the Rangers on top of the Eastern Conference, ahead of teams with more talent.

<i>Follow me on Twitter <a href="www.twitter.com/sbooch1">@SBooch1</a>.</i>

All-Star Game or Black Hole?

This subject will likely be shot down by most, but regardless, I don?t believe the All-Star Game is relevant enough to perpetuate its existence. I have no memory of an NHL All-Star Game since 1997 when Owen Nolan called his shot on a breakaway against Dominik Hasek?to make the game 11-7. The excitement of the game can be captured by reading the box score as you check to see who won the MVP and if your favorite players chipped in.

As a hockey fan, the thrill of a game that MATTERS keeps you coming back. An exhibition that removes so many elements of what makes hockey special comes off more like Disney on Ice than a game played by grizzled athletes.

The NHL has attempted to make the game more interesting, only to fall on their collective faces. First it was the North America vs. The World format introduced during the 1998/99 season. News flash?those sentiments died when Rocky IV hit theaters. This format may have worked had all the best players in Europe been playing here, but that wasn?t the case.

The latest attempt is a retreat to playground dodge-ball, with captains being selected and then picking their teams from a list formulated from fan voting and the NHL operations department. While this would be more entertaining if only two captains were selected by the media, and then those players would have the entirety of the NHL to choose from, we are not so lucky. Instead, biased fan voting is allowed to taint a roster with players undeserving of the honor.

If anything, the NHL should nurture the East vs. West debate that is so often argued amongst hockey fans everywhere. But so long as the game is void of physical contact, the traditional East vs. West format is sterile as well.

So many players utilize the break to rest up and prepare for the second half, which in itself should tell you where the game ranks. I?m willing to bet that if the NHL simply named an All-Star roster, and that the players incentive clauses kicked in based on that declaration, the NHLPA wouldn?t mind if the game went away.

The one argument that I am compelled to listen to is in regards to the skills competition. Save for Alex Ovechkin acting like the drunk guy nobody wants to make contact with (a sight we will not have to endure this year), the stage presents some moderate entertainment. But while it may be fun bar trivia to be able to rattle off who has the hardest slap shot, actually sitting down and watching the event leaves me hollow.

So this weekend, as you are tending to household chores or your kid?s whatever practice, don?t be shocked if, come Monday, you forgot all about this cherished game. You won?t be alone.

Follow me on Twitter @SBooch1.

Classic Move

The NHL has long believed that Christmas Day shall be a day of rest for the league and all those involved. There is actually a stipulation in the Collective Bargaining Agreement stating this very fact. My concern with this is it may not be in the league’s best interests.

Once again the NHL enjoyed the spoils of the Winter Classic. For rabid fans, it takes the game back to its roots – and that very same emotion comes through when listening to the players involved. For the casual fan, it offers novelty. An argument can be made that only the Olympic tournament captures the interest of the casual fan more than the Winter Classic. However, a tournament rooted in national pride is likely to do as much. With all that said, this year’s Classic saw a downturn in ratings. The NHL will argue that although there was a dip, the ratings far eclipse any other regular season game aired to a national audience. Well, why not improve on that?

The ratings dip was likely due in large part to what the game went up against on the other networks. Sports hungry fans were likely more concerned about some meaningless bowl game, and I guarantee you that Vegas was as well. The NHL has not, and may never eclipse the influence that the NCAA bowl games have on early January. And if the NCAA ever screws its head on and utilizes a tournament, the NHL can forget about outdrawing a significant college football game in January.

This leads to a logical decision – move the Winter Classic to Christmas Day. Before you start screaming, “but,but,but…the NBA!??who cares?” The NBA is in trouble, and it is time to kick them while they are down. Whether or not Gary Bettman has the stones to do that to his mentor, David Stern, is another question. There is no novelty in the NBA Christmas Day schedule, aside from a decent match-up. What visual seems more festive; sweaty gents in shorts and sleeveless shirts playing indoors, or bundled up fellows playing amidst falling snow?

For once, follow the NFL’s lead. This year there was exactly one NFL game played on the Sunday that Christmas fell on -and it was in prime time. Every other game was played the Saturday prior, or the Monday following. The NHL had the audacity to schedule four other games on the day of the Winter Classic. ome showcase. If the game were to coincide with the NFL schedule, run it during the day and let the NFL claim the prime time spot. By showcasing just two teams in a historic venue on a day when most people are loafing about their houses, struggling through a Christmas Day Star Wars marathon, you may bring higher ratings for both the Winter Classic and future broadcasts as well.

I’m sure many will say that the day is meant to be spent with family and that a move to Christmas Day is unfair to the players on any team scheduled to play on Christmas. Really? If this is the biggest argument against such a move, that a millionaire would have to work on Christmas – maybe next Christmas you should volunteer to take Eddie the gas station attendant’s shift down at your local Citgo station. I think the player’s can manage.

Follow me on Twitter @SBooch1

Christmas Wishes for the NHL

As the NHL and its followers approach the Christmas holiday, I thought I would express some wishes that I have for the league, its players, and fans.

My first wish is for increased intelligence among the league’s players. Injuries, most notably those to the head and neck region, have reached near epidemic levels in the league. Given the amount of work on Brendan Shananhan’s desk, the stiffer penalties associated with dumb play don’t appear to be much of a deterrent. Let us consider the example of Mr. Andy Sutton, who twice this season has been leveled with multi-game suspensions. His first suspension occurred after he intentionally went head hunting on a player (Gabriel Landeskog) not involved with the puck. After missing five games, he topped that off by leaving his feet to destroy Alexei Ponikarovsky. Either he is the stupidest player skating these days or he simply didn’t read the rule book. And now he’s crying about being Shanahammered? I’m all for hard play, but when you cross that line, and your efforts are not only jeopardizing a player’s career, but the overall success of the league as well?then there is little use for you in said league. This leads me to my second wish…

Here’s hoping we see improved health for the fallen stars?Giroux, Pronger, Crosby, Staal, et.al. It doesn’t matter what you think of these players. I happen to despise both Crosby AND Pronger. But you have to consider the importance of star power and its influence on ratings. If Giroux, Pronger and Staal are hanging with the owners on Jan. 2nd, diehard fans won’t see the game they expected, and casual fans won’t be able to put a face to the product. I am not trying to discount the importance of the role player and that player’s health. I am saying that the All-Stars create buzz, and buzz creates ratings, and ratings generate profits?which makes that role player happier come collective bargaining time.

My final wish involving player safety focuses on equipment manufacturers. Provided nuclear physicists like Andy Sutton can adhere to the rules, we need to see more in the ways of innovation to keep these players safe. Hockey legend Mark Messier was recently touting a new helmet design with this in mind. There have been accounts that all the major manufacturers have put safety first in new helmet design, but the players choose helmet options that are more attractive and sacrifice the helmets true intent. If this is true, make it attractive. God knows I won’t buy an electric car until they can make one that doesn’t resemble some futuristic Matchbox car that I had when I was eight. So I get it. I do, however, find it funny that a group littered with bad hair and hillbilly teeth would be that concerned about helmet attractiveness.

For the fan who complains about the new division alignment coming next season, I ask for patience. This is a good thing for everyone involved. Players will be traveling less which should hopefully improve the product on the ice. Rivalries will intensify. The ecstasy of beating your hated rival and the sting of losing to them will only sharpen as the season progresses.

This proposal is to live hockey what NHL Center Ice is to televised hockey. No matter where you live, you should be able to see your team in a nearby market. Every fan knows how much more you can appreciate hockey when viewing it from a fold-down seat as opposed to a recliner. There is no more guess work as to whether or not you will be taking that pilgrimage to Chicago to see your beloved Bruins.

Sure…there is a chance that your team could get screwed out of the last playoff spot. Well…they should have played better. Seriously, the NFL sees its share of playoff screw jobs (I’m talking about you, Seattle), but the league still thrives. Get over it.

Finally, I hope the new found success for a number of upstarts continues. The Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, and St. Louis Blues have outperformed everyone’s expectations. This success expands the media’s view of the league, which in turn gives exposure to markets and players that would have otherwise been ignored. In addition to these three, Winnipeg and Edmonton hover around .500 and play in environments that are filled with postseason-like energy. Have you watched a Jets game? I had the good fortune to watch Selanne’s homecoming game and smiled every time the hockey-starved Jets fans erupted. It was quite a scene. Edmonton’s games make you think you have ADD as you try to focus on one of the many future All-Stars that adorn their roster. The futures for these collective teams appear to be quite optimistic for once.


Follow me on Twitter @SBooch1