The Red Wings are Wind: capable both of dancing around you (Pavel Datsyuk) and stopping you dead in your tracks (Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard). They're always in motion, and now they have even more room to maneuver — they have more cap space leading up to the trade deadline this season than they've ever had in the cap era. When they harness their talent, they sail. When protected by friendly environs, they thrive — Detroit is 18-2-1 at home — but in more uncertain conditions they can tend to whip around aimlessly. The team has a less lofty 12-13-0 road record this season, based in part on defensive breakdowns. "You can't outscore your mistakes," said head coach Mike Babcock. "You've got to be diligent with the puck if you're going to have success." When the Red Wings are diligent, it can be difficult to wrest the puck away from them — like trying to chase down a windblown $10 bill.
The Blackhawks, who can be red-hot and unstoppable (yet have in the past veered toward volatile when allowed to rage out of control) are Fire. Only two teams in the league have scored more goals per game than Chicago, and three different players — Toews, Marian Hossa, and the recently injured Patrick Sharp — are in the NHL's top 20 in goal scoring. The Blackhawks are second in takeaways; for as much as they burn other teams, though, they have a little more trouble snuffing them out. Their penalty kill is particularly bad, 26th in the league. Still, despite something of an up-and-down season, Chicago currently holds first place in the hotly contested Central. And head coach Joel Quenneville knows as well as anyone that a fire needs to breathe, not to be smothered.
Water is a fitting element for the St. Louis Blues, in that it seems (in a good way!) like every player on the roster has settled at a near-equal level. While captain David Backes leads the team in points with 32, he does so just barely: T.J. Oshie is right there with 30, while Jason Arnott, Alexander Steen, and a pair of defensemen (Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo) are all clustered closely behind. This is a roster so evenly distributed that the team's lone All-Star representative, Brian Elliott, isn't even in theory the no. 1 goalie. CBC's Elliotte Friedman asked some Western Conference opponents what makes the Blues so difficult. "[I got a] very similar answer from several players," he reported. "'They are always in the right position.'" What's most impressive about the Blues, really, might be how serenely they've reacted to some big splashes this season — the replacement of their coach early on, the ongoing drama surrounding their ownership — without spilling a drop.
The Nashville Predators, with their coach and GM unchanged over the entirety of the franchise's lifespan, and with their big, powerful blue line? They would be stubborn, strong, steady Earth. (They've missed the playoffs just one time since the lockout, but they've advanced past the first round only once, too.) All eyes will be on the team as the trade deadline approaches to see if they'll shake up their core and put someone like defenseman Ryan Suter — who becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season — on the market in exchange for some more goal scorers up front.1 But Shea Weber, the team's other All-Star and soon-to-be restricted free agent on the blue line, is in favor of stability. He told NHL.com's Dave Lozo on Wednesday: "It's a place I love to play. If we can keep guys around and keep getting better, then it's a place I want to stay." How positively Earth.
(The Columbus Blue Jackets, meanwhile, probably best exemplify the little-known fifth element found in certain Japanese frameworks: Void.)
Due to the quirks of the NHL calendar, the Red Wings and Blackhawks did not play head-to-head until December 30; since then they have faced off three times. Each of these games have ended in a hard-won 3-2 score, the first in favor of Chicago and the next two — including this past Saturday's matinee NBC showcase — won in overtime by Detroit. They have all been outstanding, with goals traded and leads exchanged, exactly the kind of back-and-forth frenzy that you might imagine would happen when Wind whips up Fire. It's enough to make the mind wander to thinking about just what life might be like under the NHL's proposed (and now shelved) realignment plan, under which the Blackhawks and Red Wings could find themselves on a collision course in the first two rounds of the playoffs year after year after year. The prospect is as thrilling — all those incredible games! — as it is daunting: Only one out of all of these above teams would ever make it out of the second round in the new format.
Teams like the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild were upset by the news that realignment, and thus their being grouped in a new expanded Central Division, had been delayed by at least a year. Stars president Jim Lites called it "depressing," while Wild owner Craig Leipold lamented that "our fans were universally excited to be playing against Midwestern teams in the previous old Norris Division." Really, though, those teams ought to be glad they've now got some extra time to prepare for fearsome company. If I were the Winnipeg Jets, I'd be taking a good look at the NHL standings and concluding that life in the geographically confused Southeast Division for one more season may actually not be that bad.
Just as linguists strive to pinpoint the provenance of words like "whatevski" or "webinar," hockey fans love to assign credit to players for coining particular moves.
When Detroit's Jiri Hudler successfully pulled the puck sharply to his forehand at the last minute during the Red Wings' shootout against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night and one-handed it into the net, the sequence was immediately reminiscent of one that another Wings player had converted in a shootout just five days earlier. "Jiri Hudler 'Zetterbergs' his shootout chance," read the NHL's video description, alluding to this shootout move by Henrik Zetterberg that left Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith helplessly sprawled:
The headline was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the verbified-proper-noun construct most commonly used to describe this particular trick:2 To Forsberg. It was with this move that Peter Forsberg famously won the 1994 Olympic gold medal for team Sweden over Canada in Lillehammer in the seventh round of a shootout, and so it is for "Foppa" that this move is most fondly remembered.
Of course, the most well-known origin story about anything is rarely the most accurate. While it was Forsberg who made the move famous, he was not the first to try it out. In a 1994 Sports Illustrated article written after the gold medal game,3 Forsberg credits his countryman Kent Nilsson, who completed the maneuver in a 1989 game between Sweden and the U.S. that Forsberg watched as a 15-year-old. ("I liked it right away," Forsberg said.)
When Alexei Zhamnov did it in games as a Winnipeg Jet during the 1992-93 season, the broadcast crew remarked that he looked like Gilbert Perreault out there. And so it beats on, borne back ceaselessly every time. One HFBoards participant swears that during the 1994 Olympic game in which Forsberg made quite a name for himself, the Swedish commentators reached back beyond even Nilsson in the annals of their national hockey history, deeming the daring dangle, once and for all ... an "Ulf Sterner move."
Here are some grievances that have been publicly aired during this NHL season:
(A) "They make you look bad. It's, like, embarrassing when you're on the ice and guys are beating you. The other night, [we] get beat one-on-four, just playing like a bunch of losers. You're going to lose if you play like that — you're going to lose every night in the league. Let alone talking about playoffs and all that. You'll lose every night in the league, and I think we all went through that last year."
(B) "I can't accept that we will display a losing attitude as we're doing this year. We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it's no wonder why we lose."
(A) "Of late, I don't know if we're all committed. It's sad to say, and we all look bad because of the result — because we won't all commit. We look great when we're all committing; we look all like a bunch of clowns when we don't. A very average team when we're not all committed."
(B) "When you display a losing attitude like we do now, you lose more often than you win and you stay in the same place. When you show a winning attitude, you are not stifled by mistakes and you respond to a mistake with 15 good plays at the other end, you win and you get out of misery. This is not what we are doing here now."
Quotes A, the ones containing both the words "losers" and "clowns," came from Mike Knuble, the hard-nosed Washington Capitals veteran, back in November. At the time, Knuble was mostly praised for his frank and necessary statements: He was talking the no-bullshit talk of a former Stanley Cup champion, he was holding the team rightly accountable, and he was acknowledging the obvious differences between the invincibility of a winning locker room and the nihilism of a losing one.
Quotes B, on the other hand, were uttered by former Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Cammalleri last week. Supposedly uttered, that is; his widely derided use of the word "losers" was later said to have been an unfortunate byproduct of the circuitous journey from Cammalleri's original English into French and back into English again. (There's really no more damning an indictment of the current hockey situation in Montreal than that game of téléphone.)4 Do that with any turn of phrase and you're apt to wind up with something equally blunt. But nor was there any nuance in the way Montreal ultimately dealt with Cammalleri: Not only did the team trade him in between periods of last Thursday's Bruins-Habs game,5 they didn't even immediately tell him where he was going, instead calling him a cab from the rink to the team hotel to "await further instructions." (That has the sound of either a really cute proposal story or a really bad bachelor party.)
It was appropriate that earlier on the day Cammalleri was shipped out of town, an issue of SportsNet Magazine hit the stands bearing a devastating cover story by Gare Joyce: "Inside the Long Pathetic Fall of the Once Great Canadiens Empire."6 Cammalleri's own fall is emblematic in its way. Once considered a future face of the franchise, Cammalleri less than two years ago led all goal scorers in the playoffs and propelled Montreal within
one three games of the Stanley Cup finals. Now, depending on whom you ask, he's disgruntled, a scapegoat, undersized, overpaid — and, as of the second intermission of last Thursday's game, gone. But one thing he wasn't was wrong: The vibe surrounding the Canadiens organization for pretty much this entire season has not been the glow of success but rather the gloom of defeat.
Trading Cammalleri back to the Calgary Flames, where he spent a lone 2008-09 season and put up 82 points, the best numbers of his career, for Rene Bourque did, at the very least, suggest the kind of clean break that is sometimes necessary for everyone to move forward. But the most integral person in all of this may just be a dead man walking. When a team has fired first an assistant coach, then its head coach, then disposed of one of its star players all in one season, there's nowhere else for the next ax to fall other than on the GM's neck. Despite the fact that Pierre Gauthier swore that Cammalleri's inflammatory comments were not the reason for the trade, that it had been in the works for weeks, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported that "there are a number of NHL GMs who had no idea Montreal was prepared to trade Cammalleri. This was not a player who was shopped around the league." It can't be much fun living under the active rule of a man with his head in the guillotine.
When Alex Ovechkin filmed a music video (and filled in a verse!) with Russian rap star Sasha Belyi this summer, lyrics like "In the All-Star Game all attention is on me" may have been a little more current. Still, the man who is "among the 10 best players of the decade/stick in my hands, rap in my headphones/ saying hello from Washington" turns in a strong performance in the video, which was recently released.
Russian Machine Never Breaks, which translated the verse, notes that Ovechkin is on record as loving hip-hop, Eminem in particular. ("I always have his CDs in my car, and I would be very glad to meet him. By the way, Eminem's 8 Mile is just great," he said.)10 It's too bad Ovi isn't more of a Digital Underground enthusiast, so we could have gotten something like:
My name's Ovechkin
Pronounced with an echkin
Yo ladies you better not be Chechnyan
And all the skaters in the top ten: someday I'm going to wreck them.
I'm skating well, hell, and just like Alex OV
You'll be on fire when the highlights all show me.
I like to score,
I like to wear black T's,
I'm crafty. Don't like my coaches zaftig.
Which tangentially reminds me: This video inspired Puck Daddy's Harrison Mooney to reflect back on certain hockey-rap crossovers through time — but to his list, I'd add this video of Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery doing the Fresh Prince theme in happier days.
Learning to speak Italian...
Is this Skate Pray Love?
The Hockey News' Adam Proteau summarized the trade expectations for GM David Poile: "David Poile has to trade 1 of Weber/Suter for long-term help that also can push Preds deep in the playoffs this year. Sounds simple & easy! When he's done that, maybe Poile can thread a needle blindfolded while riding a rickety unicycle over Niagara Falls in a hailstorm."
Plenty of players use "the Forsberg" to devastating effect each year, but Anze Kopitar and Loui Eriksson were two of last season's best.
That article is well worth the read, by the way — if only for the fact that the world in which it was written was a world in which Paul Kariya is 19 years old and "already has registered for two spring semester courses at the University of Maine." (The courses? Human Sexuality and Canadian Studies. Such a hockey player.)
Actually, this assessment reported by Elliotte Friedman is up there: "One scout on PK Subban: 'After Carey Price, he's the least of (Montreal's) problems.'" High praise!
The best little detail from the Twitter explosion that took place as that whole thing went down came from my favorite NHL twitterer, Ryan Whitney, who wrote: "The funny thing is Cammalleri is checking twitter just as often as everyone else right now. 50/50 that's how he finds out where he is going."
The next day, four of the six major Montreal newspapers had the Cammalleri trade as front page headlines.
The case for Kessel as captain: He could wreak vengeance upon those who dared laugh at him when he was last year's last All-Star pick. The case for Phaneuf as captain (as championed by no less an authority than Nicklas Lidstrom!): He could wreak havoc on the entire All-Star Game, turning it into something of a Battle of Ontario.
A fun fact from Michael Farber's recent profile of Brian Elliott: the St. Louis Blues goalie coach is Corey Hirsch — who was in net for Team Canada during the aforementioned FORSBERG MOVE. The Forsberg move is all around us.
Daily News Knicks beat writer Frank Isola had this to say of Dolan's remarks: "Last time he was this sure of himself he traded the farm for Melo."
Oh, how I would love to see Eminem talk about hockey the way he discussed football recently with GQ. "Just hearing his voice, it's nostalgic, man. It brings you back to when you were a little kid. His voice is ill," he had to say about Al Michaels, but we'll pretend it was about Gary Thorne.