Joe Thornton. Mark Messier. Wayne Gretzky. Three of hockey’s biggest names will be in the news this week. More than usual, we mean.
Why? Because they’re all going to be present at a special place for a special game. Not the same special place for the same special game, mind you, but special places and special games nonetheless.
First up is Thornton, who returns to Boston on Tuesday for the first time since the Bruins traded away the superstar center to San Jose.
The Sharks, by the way, are 10-5-0 since acquiring Thornton at the start of December; the B’s are 8-7-0 since landing the likes of Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau.
The early winner in the blockbuster deal, though, is Sharks right winger Jonathan Cheechoo. After scoring just one goal in 12 November games – and seven goals in the first 24 games of the season – Cheechoo has 16 goals (and 21 points) in 15 games alongside Thornton. That includes two hat tricks, three two-goal games – and an impressive 28 shots in his past four games.
Ilya Kovalchuk leads the league with 30 goals, with Eric Staal, Simon Gagne and Jaromir Jagr close behind, but it might be time to welcome Cheechoo into the Rocket Richard Trophy race, too.
The native of the small Northern Ontario town of Moose Factory looks good for 50 goals, and look for San Jose to rise from the Pacific Division basement and be a playoff team nobody wants to face in the first round in April.
Messier, meanwhile, returns to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs on Thursday, when he attends the Rangers game against the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden.
Messier’s No. 11 will be retired prior to the matchup between Messier’s original team, the Oilers, and his legacy team, the Rangers.
Messier won six Stanley Cups during his career – five in Edmonton and the 1994 championship with the Rangers that broke a 54-year curse and sealed his fate as a New York sports legend.
Last but not least, Wayne Gretzky. The coach of the Phoenix Coyotes is expected to be behind the bench when his team travels to Toronto to play the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Gretzky in Toronto usually is big news and good news.
As a player, some of his best performances came at the expense of the Leafs and he always seemed to raise his already-elevated game an extra notch or two when appearing at Maple Leaf Gardens or on Hockey Night in Canada.
But on this trip he’ll be in Toronto with a heavy heart. Less than three weeks after his mother Phyllis passed away after battling cancer, Gretzky’s grandmother – Betty Hockin, his mother’s mother – died in Brantford on Sunday after suffering a heart attack last month.
Be gone, Mike
Remember those Â“Be Like MikeÂ” Gatorade commercials starring Michael Jordan in the 1990s? Somehow, Islanders GM Mike Milbury must have shown those ads to team owners Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang and convinced the NHL neophytes that it was he, in fact, who was the sought-after Â“MikeÂ” in question.
How else to explain Milbury’s 10-season reign atop the team’s management pyramid? A decade of highly questionable trades, of promising prospects and high draft picks perpetually dealt for diminishing returns, of a coaching carousel, of never-ending instability, and of horrid free agent signings (hello, Alexei Yashin for 11 years and $88 million), have resulted in an NHL that’s dotted with successful ex-Isles, while the Isles remain ex-successful.
Enough is enough. It’s time – it’s way past time – for the New York Islanders to fire Mike Milbury.
Milbury is intelligent, charismatic and, yes, he’s a hockey person through and through. He can be a valuable part of an NHL franchise’s management group. But his time as an effective NHL GM is long goneÂ…if that time ever existed at all.
(In the interests of full disclosure, I should out myself as an Islanders fan – except when I’m at work, of course, where the tenets of objectivity and professionalism rule the day.)
From the Point received these thoughts last week, from a reader and former THN employee:
Â“This is a huge pet peeve of mine, but the NHL has to get rid of the one point for an overtime loss. One point is cool for a shootout loss, but now that we have the shootout, the OT point is stupid.
Â“Before Atlanta’s win vs. Ottawa (last week), the Thrashers were 17-17-6 with 40 points. Essentially, that’s six games under .500. Now look at the Leafs, who are 23-14-3 with 49 points. Essentially, six games over .500. The Leafs played only one less game, but are only nine points ahead of Atlanta. These lame ties in OT are making closer races than the poorer team deserves. You can’t play to tie in OT, it is too hard.
Â“It is crappy that the NHL does not separate the OTL column.Â”
If you’ve read this column before, you know that the shootout doesn’t receive a lot of love from these quarters.
The concept of awarding points in the standings, based on a skills competition, just doesn’t sit well. So I disagree with the solution offered by the reader above. Because, in my mind, teams should definitely get one point for an overtime loss if they’re going to get one point for a shootout loss. If they don’t, that would effectively be saying the shootout – when there’s only two players on the ice, in a contrived situation – is more important than overtime – when there’s 10 players on the ice, including the goalies, and changing on the fly.
In the old days, teams got one point for games that were tied after regulation. That should remain. What shouldn’t remain is the shootout.
But it will, of course. So it should go to five shooters per side. You know, like every other shootout format. The three-per-side is a lame compromise. Like my mother used to say: If you’re going to do the wrong thing, make sure you do the wrong thing right.
Anyone else shudder when TSN analyst Pierre McGuire crowed about being part of the coverage team for the World Junior Championship through the 2014 event, thanks to a recent agreement signed by CTV (which owns TSN) and Hockey Canada?
For all of McGuire’s strengths as a hockey analyst – his passion, his expertise, his work ethic, his contacts – he has his shortfalls, too. And that’s fine – we all do, right?
McGuire’s Â“monster!Â” exclamations and propensity for players with Â“jam!Â” and always-loud, always-right, always-in-control persona may not appeal to everybody, but he is unique among Canadian hockey commentators. And he’s personable, professional and smart, too. (Uh, not that those are the traits that make him unique among Canadian broadcasters.)
But if you want to be credible, you require some objectivity, and McGuire was over the top as a cheerleader for Canada throughout the tournament. So much so, it was hard to watch at times – with the volume on, anyhow – and it especially took away from a thrilling championship game.
Rarely did he give credit to Canada’s opponents, whether it was Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask or U.S. phenom Phil Kessel or Russian star Evgeni Malkin. It got worse and worse, degenerating from odd to questionable to downright embarrassing.
McGuire’s double-digit-decibel and immediate assumption that a Russian player took a dive in the final was inappropriate. The player might have, and he might not haveÂ…it was impossible to tell, even with video replay. And then, 15 seconds later, McGuire was equally as effusive when Canada’s Steve Downie took an obvious dive – except, McGuire was championing Downie as Â“smartÂ” and doing the right thing at the right time.
It was the ultimate in hypocrisy. It was laughable, but sad, too, as the legitimacy of the broadcast was compromised.
Give credit to play-by-play man Gord Miller for responding, Â“A dive’s a dive, Pierre.Â”
It got worse about two minutes later when Downie took another dive and McGuire again extolled the virtues of the Philadelphia first-rounder.
Yes, Downie was a revelation at the tournament. Team Canada, too, beat the odds and the pre-tournament favorites (the U.S. and Russia) and deserves kudos and congratulations. Just, not from the people calling the game, during the game.