by Brian Duff
As we get set for the stretch run in this NHL season, allow me to get one thing off my chest.
For all the people that are being critical of Mats Sundin and Ed Belfour for not taking part in this year's All-Star Game, opting instead to rest minor injuries, I am convinced there would be an equal number who would choose to crucify this pair even if they had played.
Their new baseless and irrelevant argument would simply suggest that given the fact that both Sundin and Belfour have missed games in recent weeks, they should have skipped the game for the long-term benefit of the Leafs.
Why do I believe this to be true? Because it's Toronto!!!
| The Duffer knows that Mats needed the rest last weekend. |
Graig Abel Photography
Anyway, now that that game is behind us, let's focus on issues that could truly affect the games that remain to be played. Officiating
I cannot escape blame when it comes to being overly critical of the four men who on each night are identified only by number (the names thrown at them aren't fit for repeating). However I have reached the point where I will back off the rest of the way for the simple reasons that: a) we can't do a damn thing about it, and b) we should focus on the game itself, its talented players, and glorious playoff races that are again, surely to be decided in the season's final week.
(By the way, I'm thinking of placing a FINE JAR on our studio desk for any and all comments that are derogatory towards the officials. That'll be the only way I could ever pry dollar one out of Glenn Healy's pocket!) Overtime losses
I don't believe I've ever complained about the current system of awarding a point in defeat. And let's face it, it's the same rules for everyone so no team is getting an unfair edge. My wish would be that people who are in favour of the 4-on-4 overtime admit that if they didn't award a point for a loss, the extra session would be no different than it used to be.
That is to say, seemingly 80 percent of overtime games, if not more, would end up tied, and it would be as dull as the last few minutes of regulation when teams are hanging on for dear life. So far this season there have been 99 tie games and also 99 points awarded for overtime losses. That suggests to me that a full 50% of overtime games are being decided, and isn't that a good thing?
| The Duffer loves what the goaltenders have shown this season. |
Graig Abel Photography
Forget who's going to win the Vezina (ask the Capitals and Jim "The Net Detective" Carey, it doesn't really matter), let's see which one of them can do a headstand for the final two months to get his team either into the playoffs, or into a home-ice position.
What a year it's been for the stoppers, as close to 10 that I can think of have, at some point, been on a roll worthy of being dubbed the hottest in the league.
Marty Brodeur, still playing almost every night, and with rarely a hiccup. Rewind to a 1-0 overtime win versus Philly for a refresher in his big-game ability this season.
Roman Cechmanek, often criticized, but if anything it will be the Flyers lack of offense that will ultimately kill them.
Patrick Lalime, like his team, plays for the thrill of victory and not so much the pay cheque. He didn't need Ed Belfour to pull out to be thought of as an All-Star.
The aforementioned Eagle. Belfour is as poised as ever, and showing that aggressive flare that should warn others to beware.
Jocelyn Thibault has quietly matched Brodeur in appearances, and is one of a handful to be among the leaders in every meaningful category.
Dan Cloutier, who continues to be doubted, but will, without a doubt, emerge as one of the winningest goalies this season. Keep in mind the Canucks style of play when assessing all of his numbers.
Dwayne Roloson has done it. He has overcome the injury to his partner Manny Fernandez and carried the Wild to a place few thought possible. Here's hoping Minny rides Rolly all the way to the post-season.
Marty Turco is a star in more ways than one. The Dallas Denier doubles as a puck moving D-man, and will be far more than a one-year-wonder.
J-S Giguere, at times the mightiest of them all. His job will be tougher playing behind Ozolinsh, but much like the story in the Twin Cities, here's hoping for a Disney-like ending.
Honourable mentions for greatness undone by the greater woes of the team go to Jeff Hackett, Roberto Luongo, the six-pack of St. Louis Blues, Pasi Nurminen, and Zac Bierk (a 1.33 GAA and .958 SV% are just wrong, no matter how many games you've played!).
Despite all the criticisms you may hear, or have yourself, about the game and what it is today, keep this in mind. Three years ago Buffalo sneaked into the playoffs on the final day. Two years ago the Leafs needed two on the final Friday to move on, and last year perennial rivals Edmonton and Dallas both missed the playoffs with 92 and 90 points respectively.
It's promising to be a great finish again. Here's hoping you allow yourself to enjoy it.