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The Penalty Box: The defense rests

by Shawn P. Roarke

It appears that the Penalty Box crew is catching its breath in the run-up to the playoffs as the mailbag was a little light this week.

But a lack of quantity does not mean a lack of emotion brought to bear in this week's edition. It seems those that took the time to write hold strong opinions about the game and have no reservations about voicing them.

That means this week's Penalty Box provides some compelling back-and-forth. CTN hopes you enjoy the debates. If you would like to join the conversation, feel free to send your thoughts along to CTN would love to hear from you. Remember, however, that if you want to appear in the Penalty Box, you should include your name and hometown with your e-mail.


Shawn P. Roarke
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* "Congrats, too, to Cam Janssen, a CTN favorite son. Janssen got an assist Monday night, the first of his 98-game career. He scored a goal, his first NHL point, last season." -- from last week's Breakaway.

While I tend to agree with much of what you write about the NHL, the above comment made me shudder. That anyone, let alone a knowledgeable hockey person such as you, would congratulate Janssen on his hockey prowess is completely shocking to me. In my observation, Janssen is, at best, a thug, and at worst, a disgrace to the game. As his stats show, he doesn't try to play hockey, he just skates around trying to hurt people. Notice I didn't say he tries to hit people. Hitting to take someone out of the play is one thing, trying to injure opponents to take them out of the game is another. While I like and respect a somewhat physical style of play, that isn't what Janssen does. People complain that there is a lack of respect in the League among players. Janssen is one of a handful of poster boys for this lack of respect.
-- R. Jeff Cress

Thanks for calling CTN knowledgeable, it is always nice to be known for having an intellect. CTN has to disagree with you forcefully here. Janssen is neither a thug, nor a disgrace. To say so is irresponsible, at best. It always startles CTN when people pass judgment on the merits of whether or not particular players belong in the League. Sure, you can have your opinions on players, but to judge them a disgrace to the game because you don't agree with their playing style is the true disgrace. If Janssen were a disgrace to the game, he wouldn't be allowed to play it at this level. There are literally hundreds of players ready and waiting to take his job, Jeff. Janssen brings elements to the game -- energy, excitement, intimidation -- that are ingredients valued by any solid team and are clearly valued by the Blues, who traded for him. Yes, Janssen plays the game hard, and sometimes near the edge, but that is the style that allowed him to achieve his dream -- a dream he and his family sacrificed greatly for, by the way -- of playing in the NHL. CTN likes the happy-go-lucky, infectious attitude he brings to the rink and, more importantly, his teammates seem to genuinely like him, as well. If he had no respect for others, as you suggest, it is not likely that he would earn the respect of others. Certainly, CTN realizes that your dislike of this player is likely to be unchanged, but CTN would suggest that you present it in different terms because the ones you have chosen certainly don't fit.


This is a cut-and-paste job of the best kind, but is equally relevant to this week's discussion. I have just one complaint about your "Playoff Dynamite" list. I think you may have neglected to consider the number of fair checks a player makes versus the cheap shots they dole out. Specifically, in the case of Chris Pronger, who admittedly is a big hitter. He is also one of the cheapest players in the League. He hits so many players from behind, it's ridiculous. I would bet he is the reason they sew little stop signs on the back of the Pee Wee jerseys to remind guys that if you can read their name, they are not fair game. If a guy has his head down, but gets checked on the side or front, then that's his fault. Scottie Stevens was a master at this kind of hit. Pronger is a good player, an intimidating force and it would be hard to pass him by if you were picking your team, but a great player all around with respect for the players around him, I think not.  Take for instance the fact that he "elevates" his game from 1.5 penalty minutes a game in the regular season to a nice round 2.0 in the playoffs; really thinking "team" on that one. For goodness sakes, he had 16 penalty minutes in six Olympic contests last time around!  The only reason his name is on the Cup is because he was on a very good team last year; he got himself suspended two playoff games last year, if you'll recall. What did he do in St. Louis? Nothing. Where were the Ducks this year before Neidermeyer's return? Not in the hunt, that's for sure.

Despite its brutal reputation, hockey is still a sport of gentlemen who respect one another. Chris Pronger does not fit into this. I may disagree with you on some things, but most of the time you are right on. Keep up the good work.

-- James Donnelly, Worcester, Mass.

Chris Pronger is valuable come playoff time because his reputation alone will intimidate opponents. Watch Pronger test the opposition
Wow, the haters are out this week. Again, James, CTN must respectfully disagree. CTN didn't run your letter the first time because of the outright attacks on Pronger levied by you. But, this time, CTN has decided to counter your points because many of them are unfounded.

First, allow CTN to admit that Pronger plays the game on the edge as you stated and regularly is punished for his transgressions, again as you have suggested. In fact, Pronger just received an eight-game ban this week for stomping on the leg of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler. It also should be noted that you wrote this note before Pronger's latest transgression happened. 
But, that does not make Pronger a villain, any more than it makes any other player that plays the game hard. The NHL is a gentleman's sport built on respect and CTN sees Pronger fitting into that framework, even if you don't.

Personally, CTN thinks a player like Pronger is valuable come playoff time because his reputation alone will give opponents pause before straying into his areas. And, pause can spell the difference in a close series. Scott Stevens, who you mentioned, was a master at the intimidation-by-reputation racket and so is Pronger. CTN knows if he were playing for the Stanley Cup, he would want players on his team that were going to test the opposition to the fullest.

And, to think Pronger was just along for the ride last year as the Ducks marched to a Stanley Cup is sheer folly. He scored 15 points, the second-highest total among defensemen in the tournament and his plus-10 was tied for the tournament lead. In 19 playoff games, Pronger averaged 30 minutes and 11 seconds per game. Do you know how many defenseman in the tournament had a higher TOI average? Three. That's right, just three, and the all-world Scott Niedermayer was not one of them. As for his success, or lack thereof, in previous stops, let's remember that Pronger carried the Oilers to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final before joining the Ducks last year. Did he win in St. Louis? No, but neither did some other pretty good players on those rosters. Do the names Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Al MacInnis, Pierre Turgeon, Brett Hull and Shayne Corson ring bells? They were all on those St. Louis teams. Are we throwing them in the do-nothing crowd with Pronger? Or is Pronger solely to blame? Simply, James, you don't have to agree with the way that Pronger chooses to play the game, but you must acknowledge that he is a pretty darn good playoff performer. The facts simply don't lie.


I guess I should start by saying that I am an Avs fan, which will be obvious to you when you read this. I have three guys that deserve at least some consideration for end-of-the-year awards. Joel Quenneville for the Jack Adams Award for keeping his guys in the picture through injuries to Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth, and Paul Stastny, and now Marek Svatos and Smyth again. Also, Jose Theodore deserves some consideration for the Masterton. And Milan Hejduk (the most underrated player in the NHL) should be considered for the Lady Byng or the Selke. It's time Hejduk got some love from around the League. Let me know what you think if you get a chance, and keep up the good work!
--Will Nelson, Ft. Collins, Colo.

CTN's wondering why you don't go by Willie? With a name like that, CTN sure would. Willie Nelson is one cool dude, for sure. But let's get on to the point at hand. CTN thinks you make some good suggestions. CTN has already given Theodore love—in last week's Breakaway -- for the Masterton, but the Colorado PHWA saw it differently, nominating Andrew Brunette as Colorado's representative. As for Quenneville for the Jack Adams, a case can be made there. But CTN thinks that Wayne Gretzky may be the most-deserving coach out West for the job he has done in Phoenix. The fact the "Desert Dogs” are still in the playoff race is simply amazing. With that said, CTN must say the Milan Hejduk campaign for the Selke or the Lady Byng is doomed to failure. Hejduk is not even the most-deserving player on his team for either of those awards.  Brunette or Sakic would get the Lady Byng before Hejduk and Ben Guite or Stastny would be CTN's nominees for the Selke. CTN is all for giving Hejduk the respect he deserves, but not when it comes to these two categories.


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