The Chicago Blackhawks are good for the NHL.
Going into this weekend, the Blackhawks were playing so well that the sports anchorettes on ESPN were actually talking about them. Of course, most of, if not all of the time, it was in the context of the Miami Heat’s winning streak. You know, a super-intellectual debate about which one was more impressive.
But, that’s not why the streak is good for the NHL. It’s good because of how the Blackhawks had managed to go 24 games without losing a game in regulation.
Mike Sielski pointed out in this week’s Wall Street Journal (of all places) that the Blackhawks ranked 27th in hits and 24th in penalties per game and were near the bottom of the league in blocked shots. They’re not dumping the puck on offense, either. They are winning by leading the league in takeaways and by turning those takeaways into quick trips up the ice by fast skaters who can handle the puck and shoot.
What a concept, eh?
Remember all the complaints last spring about all the blocked shots? It didn’t take long for teams to appreciate the value of not letting pucks get to the goalie, and scoring has gone down.
So has the excitement level.
The Blackhawks are flying in the face of the NHL muck-and-grind philosophy, and they’re not doing it by accident. As Sielski points out, the Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is seeing the results of a plan to pattern his team after the Red Wings of the late 1990s and early 2000s. They won three Stanley Cups with the help of a high-flying unit known as “the Russian Five.”
Maybe you’ve heard of Stan’s dad, Scotty, who put that unit together.
The Blackhawks also are one of the smallest teams in the NHL, which goes against the trend of signing players who look like tight ends who clog up the ice. The NHL, like every other major professional sports league, is a copycat league. If you’re a fan of good, free-wheeling hockey, then you should be glad that Scotty’s kid’s team is succeeding.
• The World Baseball Classic may be a bigger joke than Major League Baseball. It’s supposed to be an international baseball tournament, which would seem like a good idea if it included the USA, Japan, Mexico and some Latin American countries. But Italy, Spain and Canada are also represented. Spain’s roster is filled with Spanish names, but the players are from Latin America. Italy’s roster is full of American players with varying degrees of tortured Italian quasi-citizenship. One of them is the Pirates new closer Jason Grilli. Why would an American kid want to help another country beat his country at his country’s game?
A few years ago, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, who had made about a quarter of a billion dollars playing baseball in the United States, chose to play for the Dominican Republic in the WBC, which was one more good reason to root against him.
Baseball is no longer an Olympic sport because the geniuses at the IOC finally figured out that countries like Italy and Spain couldn’t find enough good players to field a representative team.
Whoever’s responsible for the WBC should have left well enough alone.
• Good for the people of North Carolina. According to an Elon University poll, 88 percent of them were opposed to using $62.5 million in state money to renovate Bank of America Stadium. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCory, who said that he was never formally asked for the money, said that there was none available. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing the words Panthers and Los Angeles in the same sentence a lot more often. It’s why the Los Angeles market has been kept open by the NFL for all these years.
• Remember when Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers was being referred to by some as the best player in the world? Right now he’s not the best player on his team.
• I have a feeling that the 4.8 40-yard dash time that Ray Graham of Pitt ran at the NFL Combine is going to allow an NFL team to make a middle round steal out of him.
• You think maybe NFL teams should have some shame and stop asking for governments to force taxpayers to pay for their stadiums? Deadspin.com got a hold of an audited financial statement for the Carolina Panthers. For the years ending March 31, 2011, and March 31, 2012, the team made more than $100 million in profit. Principal owner Jerry Richardson and his partners paid themselves $12 million.
• What’s the latest on the Steelers’ request for additional seats at Heinz Field? If you were polled, would you be OK with your money being used to pay for it?
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.