The size of goaltenders’ equipment is being blamed widely for the mind-boggling dearth of scoring in the NHL these days, but former NHL player Bill Berg thinks there’s another reason for goals coming at a pre-lockout rate in 2007.
“I’ve never seen so many players standing in front of their own net,” Berg was saying Thursday. “Sometimes — a lot of the time, in fact — you’ll see five players in front of their own net. How can you get a puck through them? I’ve never seen strategy like this before.”
Berg, of course, has a point. And something must be done about the reduction of goals in the NHL this season.
Frankly, most of the games so far this season have been downright dull.
•Berg, who is unusual in that he serves as an analyst for programs belonging to both TSN and Sportsnet, is quickly catapulting into the best hockey broadcaster in Canada.
His only rival — in my mind, at least — is Steve Ludzik, who works for The Score.
Ludzik, a former NHL player and coach, always seems to be a step ahead of his counterparts. More than a year ago, in fact, Ludzik suggested that the Maple Leafs make strong efforts to persuade their captain, Mats Sundin, to waive his no-trade clause so they could obtain a package of solid, young players in exchange.
He was on the air this week reminding viewers of his suggestion, saying it’s too late now for the Leafs because, at his age (37), he would no longer command much in return.
•The morsels of credibility John Ferguson Jr. had left as the general manager of the Maple Leafs vanished, of course, when his boss, Richard Peddie, proclaimed in a Toronto newspaper this week that it was a mistake to hire JFJ in the first place. Peddie tried desperately this week in assorted interviews to blame a headline writer for his lack of wisdom but all the squirming by MLSE’s president and CEO reminded us of how incapable he may be of leading a sports organization.
I never minded the man when he ran the SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre) but, if the truth be known, he’s been mostly incompetent as MLSE’s chief. Incompetent, that is, when it comes to ensuring that his teams are competitive. (Anything but incompetent, however, when it comes to ensuring that his teams make money – and they are.)
Peddie’s decision to hire Rob Babcock as general manager of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors a few years ago was probably as much of “a mistake” as his choice of Ferguson for the Leafs. The NBA helped MLSE and Peddie considerably when it stuck its nose in the Raps’ affairs and influenced MLSE to replace Babcock with Bryan Colangelo. Colangelo took over for Babcock, the Raps became respectable and Peddie has learned to more or less stay out of the Raps’ affairs.
With the Leafs, it appears the day is coming soon when Peddie and his fellow board members will find a replacement for Ferguson. My hunch is that it will be John Muckler, former general manager of the Ottawa Senators. Muckler is retired these days but watching the Leafs very carefully.
He would have taken over the Leafs shortly after last season if meetings with Peddie were more fruitful. Ditto for Scotty Bowman.
Soon, Muckler or Bowman — or both — may join the Leafs.
And shortly after that, Peddie may be dumped by MLSE. Just a hunch, but there are many who believe it should happen.
•One of hottest teams in the NHL lately has been the Vancouver Canucks and one of the hottest players in the NHL has been their captain, Markus Naslund.
Entering Thursday night, Naslund had points in six of his past seven games.
“I’m feeling good about my game right now,” Naslund said. “I’ve got my head in the right place and I’m playing the way I can.”
He’s been skating and playing so well offensively, in fact, that he’s been reminiscent of his season with the Canucks in 2002-03, when he notched 48 goals and 56 assists.
“The way Markus is shooting, quickly and with confidence, is what I grew up in Ornskoldsvik idolizing and trying to duplicate,” said Daniel Sedin, Naslund’s linemate and fellow Swede.
“I think he lost a little of his natural confidence (in the past few years), but seeing him fire the puck and dance on his skates the way he has in the last few weeks, it’s vintage Markus Naslund.”
Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell echoed the sentiments.
“What makes Markus so good is that you can’t read and anticipate what he’s going to do,” Mitchell said. “He’s so good with the puck, he doesn’t tip off whether he’s going to shoot or pass. He gets his shot off so quickly that it catches defencemen and goaltenders off guard.”
Even opponents are raving about Naslund again. From Naslund’s former Vancouver coach, Marc Crawford, now coach of the Los Angeles Kings:
“There are less than a handful of players in this game who can take a play when there’s nothing — I mean, no room, no pass, no shot, no play — and turn it into a scoring chance. That’s what the truly exceptional players like Markus can do for you. It’s a creativity that only that type of superstar can see. . .and then have the ability to make it look easy.”