Ducks grouse about refs, Wings get bullish, Habs turn ugly
Ducks and Flyers are most penalized teams, and have aggressive style to blame
Red Wings defying bad economy with rich 12-year deal for Henrik Zetterberg
The Canadiens should burn the ridiculous retro sweaters they wore last Sunday
Five identical signs hang in the Anaheim Ducks' dressing room at the Honda Center and at their practice arena. All are emblazoned with instructive and, at times, inspirational messages.
For example, No. 3 -- Play With Self-Disciplined Aggression - reads, in part: "Control emotions when playing aggressively or you will be controlled by opponents or situations (i.e. bad call, cheap shot)."
No. 5 -- Unselfishness Is Essential -- reads: " ... Teammates, staff and officials are to be treated with RESPECT!"
Stephen Walkom, the NHL's director of officiating, stood amidst those signs last week and tried to explain that the league's referees really don't have it in for the Ducks. But there is a growing feeling/paranoia among certain teams, especially the Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers, that they have not been getting a fair shake from on ice-officials.
The evidence is statistical, if not necessarily persuasive. Through Tuesday, the Flyers had 65 fewer power plays than their opponents while the Ducks had 58 fewer, by far the widest disparity among the 30 teams. (Carolina is winning the Miss Congeniality Award at plus-45 in power plays.)
Flyers captain Mike Richards has suggested that the current team is still paying for the sins of the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s, probably a stretch even though Philadelphia leads the NHL in fighting majors -- by one more than, yes, Anaheim. Not even Kerry Fraser was refereeing way back then.
Clearly something is going on in both cities, but it is with the players more than the refs. The teams have earned their dubious stripes, going back beyond the 2008-09 season. Last year, as you might recall, Flyers were getting suspended more often than disbelief while the Ducks have been the most proudly truculent (to use former general manager Brian Burke's word) teams since the lockout. If you assume such pugnacious (Burke again) stances, penalties often ensue. You reap what you sow in this game, which brings us back to signs No. 3 and 5.
In Anaheim, emotions have not been controlled. Officials have not been respected. Some marquee Ducks have not helped themselves with their constant complaining about calls, most notably defenseman Chris Pronger, center Ryan Getzlaf (the king of stick fouls) and winger Teemu Selanne. California whine country apparently is located in Orange County.
Walkom was in Anaheim to allay fears and keep the criticism internal -- talk to us, not the press -- although it turned out that he picked a lousy morning to try to mollify the Ducks. Twelve hours earlier, refs Mike Leggo and Dan O'Rourke made a phantom roughing call on defenseman Steve Montador -- Chicago scored on the power play -- and, late in the game, missed Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith shoving the net off its moorings with what should have been an obvious delay of game penalty. The Ducks lost, 3-2.
Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean somebody isn't out to get you.
Red Wings get bullish
The most intriguing aspect of the 12-year, $72.96 million contract that winger Henrik Zetterberg signed last week with Detroit are not the subtleties -- his $7.4 million salary next season will be $50,000 less than star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom's, just to make sure the hierarchy remains in intact -- but the Red Wings' implied statement about the economy.
While Zetterberg's $6.08 million annual cap hit does give Detroit enough short-term flexibility to sign either Johan Franzen or Marian Hossa (but not likely both), it is a long-term commitment that blew out of the water the seven years that general manager Ken Holland had previously given Pavel Datsyuk. Holland originally was thinking about a similar term for Zetterberg. But fueled by an aggressive owner in Mike Ilitch and the organization's success with older players, the Red Wings took the plunge.
"The reason is we're bullish on the game," Holland said. "Long term we're bullish on the economy. We're not talking a four-year deal. If the economy stays like this for a decade, it's probably not a good place for all of us. We'd like to think the whole economy is resetting itself and we think we have a great game that's growing over time."
Zetterberg, the 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner who is currently making $2.9 million at the end of a four-year-contract, has been underpaid by $4 million to $5 million the past two seasons, according to Holland, so he is making up for some lost time and dollars. Still, there is risk.
For Zetterberg, who will never put up Ovechkin goal totals or Malkin assist numbers but who, like Datsyuk, is among the NHL's most complete forwards, the risk is the realization that he could have been a $10-million player within three years if the salary cap increases. For the Red Wings, the risk is injury. Zetterberg, recently battling back spasms, has missed 60 games since joining Detroit after starring for Sweden in the 2002 Olympics.
"I didn't think we'd be doing long-term contracts," Holland said. "You can't have four or five of them. But we think in Zetterberg we have a special human being. He's got tremendous passion. A natural leader. And we don't think the money's going to affect him."
The deal peaks at $7.75 million and recedes in the final two seasons when, despite the $6 million-plus cap charge, Zetterberg will earn $1 million annually -- a nice parting gift, as they say on the game shows.
In misguided marketing efforts that are designed to move merchandise but merely serve to diminish the brands, two bulwark NHL franchises jumped the shark in the past five weeks.
Detroit, with its splendid winged-wheel logo, wore a gothic D on its jerseys for the Winter Classic outdoor game at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1 -- the unfortunate old-time uniforms might be reprised later this season -- and deprived a huge national television audience (by NHL standards) of the classic Red Wings look.
The jerseys were replicas of the pre-war uniforms (pre-Great War) of 1912-13, but they had been redesigned for a reason.
Instead of the famous CH, Montreal skated with a white maple leaf in the middle -- I think some team has also done that -- and thin white/red/blue horizontal stripes that made their attire look like prison uniforms: This was The Longest Yard meets The Mighty Ducks.
Maybe you don't believe in karma, but Montreal's Robert Lang sustained a season-ending severed Achilles tendon in the loss while Guillaume Latendresse suffered a shoulder injury that might keep him out for a month or more. While the Canadiens understandably try to extract every dollar from their rabid fan base in this 100th season, they should not be tempting the hockey gods with a sweater that would have been laughed at by any Midget Triple A team in the country.
Talk about earning your stripes, Montreal should be burning these.