Since Mike Legg scored the first “lacrosse goal” for the University of Michigan in 1996, it has been repeated numerous times at a lot of levels of hockey, but never in the NHL until along came Andrei Svechnikov of the Carolina Hurricanes. And there’s a pretty good reason for that. It’s one thing to exploit that kind of time and space in lower leagues where the players are not the best in the world at what they do. To be able to do it in the NHL, against the best defenders and goaltenders on the planet, is nothing short of remarkable.
It’s something that should be celebrated. And so far, it has been. The guy with the bad suits no longer fills our airwaves on Saturday nights, so at least we do not have to listen to Don Cherry pontificate on how terrible it is for a skill player to show up his opponents like that. Most of the GMs I’ve spoken with have absolutely no opposition to the move. It’s hard enough to score goals in the NHL, they reason, so if you can do it and excite people at the same time, they’re all for it. As long as the stick stays under the crossbar, it’s completely legal and legitimate. Even the Winnipeg Jets, who were victims of Svechnikov’s second lacrosse goal of the season Tuesday night, were saying all the right things about it.
But I worry for Svechnikov, actually. I’m worried that if he scores many more of these, he’s going to be skating with a target on his back. I worry that if he scores another one of them, some opponent is going to crosscheck or punch him into oblivion. (If you look at the one against the Jets, Neal Pionk actually gives him a pretty good shot well after the goal is scored. But this is the NHL and the casual crosscheck has become entirely acceptable. Makes you wonder why they even have a penalty for it in the rulebook anymore.)
See, here’s the thing. Hockey players for time immemorial can’t stand the thought of being shown up. If I’m Svechnikov, the next time I score one of those goals, I don’t even raise my arms. I just go straight to the bench and sit down. Because, in many ways, hockey hates fun. And Svechnikov is clearly having fun with all of this. He’s revelling in it, as he should. When he was asked about it after the Jets game, his response was: “We’ll see. Maybe I’m going to score next game.” (And wouldn’t it be wild if he did just that tonight against the Colorado Avalanche?)
We’re seeing the game change before our very eyes. What was once a coaches’ league has become a players’ league. Young players with enormous amounts of talent are no longer content to wait until their late 20s or early 30s to command big salaries. As we’ve seen with the coaching industry, they’re certainly far more willing to stand up to people who use their power to abuse them. Young, dynamic talent is ruling the league. Just watch the highlights on any given night.
So that’s really encouraging. But if you think there isn’t an element of this game that is stuck in the past, just wait, another ruling from George ‘The Violent Gentleman’ Parros should be coming down again pretty soon. The thing about the lacrosse goal is that it’s nice and shiny and new right now, but I fear it’s going to get old pretty quickly, particularly if Svechnikov keeps doing it on a semi-regular basis. All it takes is for one mouth-breather to be out on the ice who’s having a bad night with the game entirely out of reach. I worry that the concussion Svechnikov suffered in the playoffs last spring as a result of his rash decision to fight Alex Ovechkin will not be the only one he suffers during his career.
In just his second season in the NHL, Svechnikov needs only two more points to match the output from his rookie campaign. If he keeps this up, he’ll be in the 90-point range this season. And he’ll continue to score these highlight-reel goals because he’s one of the few players in the league who has the wherewithal and gumption to do it.
I just hope it doesn’t cost him. Keep your head up out there, kid.
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