|Rich Libero is NHL.com's Vice President of Editorial and Production.|
Yesterday made for a really long day, but it was worth it. Got up at 5:30 am to head in for work and didn't get home from the Devils-Pens game until 1 am. I managed to sleep for a couple of hours and I'm back at it again today.
It's funny how your perspective on life changes based on your age, experience or position in life. The media -- and I am neither fish nor fowl as a media person these days -- is so quick to make absolute judgements and I'm sure that I've been guilty of that in the past. It's not just in sports, but in news as well. And somehow, media expectations are changing because of the internet and these silly blog things. Facts are getting blurred and errors go uncorrected (I suspect there will be a type-o in here somewhere). People want immediate results and answers, concrete things that they can mentally latch onto (secure in the knowledge of a certain topic) before moving on to the next thing.
Which team won the trade? Gotta know. Right now. First game tells you everything. We crave black and white answers because they are easy to understand in a world that is getting increasingly cluttered and busy.
So last night at the Meadowlands you had a packed media house looking to make judgements. Is Sidney Crosby the real deal? Will the new rules really work? Is this the way the game is going to be played from now on? Is the NHL REALLY back?
And, no doubt, there are columnists and beat guys and other observers who walked away from the game last night with what they think are very solid ideas of what life is going to be like for Crosby, the NHL and any respective team they happen to have seen.
What I told a few people was this: Don't rush to judgement on anything.
These were my observations from last night:
Sidney Crosby: Excellent player with skills that are obvious. But what really impressed me was his play away from the puck and his ability to go to all the right places. There are veterans who can't do that and this kid was doing it in his first NHL game against one of the most disciplined teams in the NHL. That's what separated Wayne Gretzky from the pack -- his ability to be in odd places at the right time or in other cases, the absolute right place at the right time. No one thought about setting up behind the net before Gretzky that was borne out of observations he made as a child.
The new rules: It's going to take at least a month for the players and officials to find a comfort level. There was a conga line to the penalty box last night. Players are still relying on the instincts they have learned from early in their careers. They must mentally re-train themselves and I can tell you, in a game as fast as hockey, any time you waste thinking about something can leave you in a compromising position. There were times when guys instinctively pulled short of the red line when they could've gone further. There were times when a stick came out for a hook and got pulled right back as the player's memory kicked in. There times when guys weren't sure when they could pick or screen a guy off. All these things will have to be learned over the next month. And they will be.
Has game flow improved?: The Devils game showed signs of flow. It was difficult to gauge the full effects for a couple of reasons. An extreme number of penalties -- which we will see early on -- throws a team completely out of synch. Alexander Mogilny didn't see the ice for almost half of the first period because the Devils had to kill off four straight penalties. It's awful tough to sit on the bench that long and find any sort of rhythm. Players want to know that they're going to hop over the boards every roughly two minutes. It helps keep your legs fresh and heart rate steady.
Other factors: The enormous personnel turnover means that, new rules or not, teams are going to require more time to gel. We have teams with completely re-vamped lineups that will need time to learn about each other. Now, take that fact and throw in a new set of rules, like eliminating the red line and it's going to take time for teammates to work out some offensive plays and strategies.
I believe that we are going to see an ebb and flow of strategy this season. Teams are going to feel their way through the game. We may see teams invent new ways to get through the neutral zone and attack on offense. That will quickly be countered. I believe this season is going to be a chess match as coaches and players try new things on both sides of the puck. By the time the playoffs roll around, we will see what this package of personnel and rules changes has done to our game and only then will we be able to make a full assessment of where the game is going.
WE'RE BACK! (all uppercase)
Opening Day! We've waited a long time for this and I'm especially excited because tonight Phil Coffey and I will be at the Meadowlands watching Sidney Crosby debut against the New Jersey Devils. This will be my first game -- on either television or live -- this season.
My life, both personally and professionally has been so hectic that I didn't get a chance to see any pre-season games. Fortunately, I visited the research and development camp back in June and have some sense of what the flow of the game will look like, but this will be my first glimpse of the new rules and two very good hockey clubs.
It will also be good to back in the press room. I've been around the New York media since 1984 and over those 21 years I've developed quite a few friendships. It's great to see everyone, catch up, talk some hockey and get their perspective on what's going on with their respective clubs.
I've known Tom McMillan, the Pens' VP of Communications since the early 1990's. He covered the Penguins for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette at the time and I was covering the Devils for a suburban daily now called The Journal-News. We enjoyed some fun times eating after games and became friends. Every time the Pens came into town I'd see him in the press room he'd ask: "How's your club doing?" One day, while the Pens were in the midst of their first Cup run one of Tom's colleagues, Ron Cook, turned to him and said: "The Club. It should be all upper case -- THE CLUB."
Over the years "the club" has performed from all lower case, to cap 'T' and 'C' and now is back to all caps.
I saw Tom right after the Pens won the Draft Lottery this past July and we both looked at each other and laughed. "THE CLUB is all upper case again," he said.
Indeed they ARE.