Second Look: Orr, Lemieux, Gretzky press conference

It’s not too often you find a press conference that was enjoyable from start to finish and in the end, enjoyable.

You know how these things go nowadays. A few minutes of cliches and tongue-in-cheek answers and ‘they’re a good team’ or ‘he’s a good player’ and ‘just have to skate hard and get pucks deep’. Again, you know how it goes.

So this one was in the stark minority. Three hockey legends, a trio few would dispute as the three greatest living hockey players; Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux at the podium, taking questions from the press and reflecting on everything from their years in the game to where the game is now to which of the three was the greatest – which all three agreed the greatest wasn’t present in Gordie Howe, who passed away seven months ago.

You’d have thought the three were sitting around sharing drinks. They were laid back, gave answers directly, and didn’t hold back what they thought.

The respect the three have for one another is astounding, albeit not surprising. Their love for the game and optimism for the future of the sport was evident. All that was missing was Howe.

Advertisements

Re-implementation of the Two-Line Pass is the Next Major NHL Debate on the Horizon

Ever-charismatic Bruins legend Bobby Orr held court on Thursday afternoon prior to the B’s home opener against New Jersey, in which he and fellow icon Milt Schmidt were being honored on the 50th (Orr) and 80th (Schmidt) anniversaries of the commencement of their respective Hall of Fame careers.

Of the many topics touched upon, one of which was the predictable ‘where do you think the game is?’ question posed to Orr.

The question set up the acknowledgment of an idea gaining steam in the NHL – the re-implementation of the two-line pass.

The two-line pass, may the lord rest its soul, was a rule in which a player couldn’t receive a pass from a teammate that crossed two of the three lines – which, of course, are the two blue lines the separate the neutral zone from the offensive zone and the red line at center ice. The rule was akin to offsides.

The rule was abolished in 2005 when the NHL rulebook was reformed in the aftermath of the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season to encourage more offense, catering the rules toward players with speed and skill. The elimination of the rule opened up the 200-foot ice sheet, giving teams more dynamo in the transition game, allowing for the stretch passing that like the deep route in football, more often than not don’t connect but when it does, gets the fannies out of the seats (in a good way).

Over a decade later, scoring remains at the same, which is to say, well, it’s still an issue. While there was an uptick in the years coming out the lockout, the numbers have dropped back to pre-lockout numbers. The decline is in large part to systems that emphasize play in all three zones, clutching and grabbing replaced by shot blocking and collapsing in the slot. It doesn’t help that goalie equipment looks like the inflatable sumo wrestler Halloween costume. To many, the game isn’t any less exciting; but hey, it’s always nice to have something to complain about.

The lack of offense has re-opened the dialogue for taking the two-line pass rule out of exile, though not as a ‘goal scoring’ issue – but as a player safety issue.

Concussions in contact sports have been at the forefront of the sports discussion for the past decade, something you likely already know unless you’ve been making a bee-line for the arts and entertainment page, flying over the sports page in the process.

While the league has seemed to zero in on the elimination fighting as a way of combating concussions, the rate of head injuries haven’t declined as the rate of fisticuffs has as rules have been implemented that all but phase the practice out of the NHL.

The next place the league could look would be slowing the game down, as Orr insists the league should look into. And it makes sense – players are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever. There are guys built like box trucks with motors of Lamborghinis. Speed only increases the rate of impact.

Regardless, it’s an issue that’s been brewing for some time. Greg Wyshynski wrote a good piece summarizing the attitude toward the rule change last May, particularly as it pertained to the fact that goal scoring had remained mostly stagnant. Aaron Portzline, who covers the Blue Jackets for the Columbus Dispatch, brought up the idea of the re-implementation of the red line in Richard Deitsch’s NHL roundtable earlier this week.

This is an issue quickly gaining steam in circles around hockey. Concussions, of course, remains a major story and won’t be going away anytime soon. And aside from that, the size and speed of the players in addition to the size of the padding poses a threat for a serious injury. Brett Hull said last month on the RoenickLife Podcast that the league ‘needs to get rid of those shoulder pads before someone dies.’

And now Orr, an icon considered by many to be the greatest hockey player that ever lived, has spoken. That only adds momentum to the issue.

What Should We Expect From Connor McDavid in Year 2?

Expect Connor McDavid to push toward 105-110 points in 2015-16, his second season in the NHL.

That, of course, been the million dollar question of the offseason. What to expect of McDavid, who was officially coronated as the first overall draft pick in the 2015 draft when the Edmonton Oilers selected him with the first pick, the pick that followed years of hype and lead-up.

McDavid had a very good rookie season, one that was derailed by a broken collarbone that sidelined him for three months. Limited to 45 games, McDavid finished with 16 goals and 48 points. While the performance wasn’t enough to take the Calder Trophy out of the hands of Chicago forward Artemi Panarin, McDavid was the only rookie to average more than a point per game, with 1.07, which equates to 88 points over an 82-game portfolio. Only Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn met that standard last season. Only five players have reached 88 points in their freshman season, ever.

It’s what puts McDavid right in the thick of the Art Ross Trophy conversation. A full blue-and-orange offseason while now having a taste of life inside NHL glass sets the standard even higher than the rookie output the teenager.

As not only conventional wisdom, but also history, suggests, a significant jump in production is expected from the 19-year-old who already has it all.

Eleven players in NHL history have career averaged of 1.2 points per game, which approximates to roughly 100 over the course of 82. McDavid is expected to be the 12th.

The 11 had average rookie outputs of 1.1, just a notch above McDavid’s 1.07. The number ranks seventh on that list of greats, behind Peter Stastny (1.415), Mario Lemieux (1.369), Wayne Gretzky (1.325), Sidney Crosby (1.259), Mike Bossy (1.246), and Kent Nilsson (1.162). It’s worth noting, of course, that all six played at least 73 games. So a sample of 25 games greater than McDavid, in the worst case.

But what happens when they get into the second season?

It varies. The average jump was somewhere from a 20-30 percent increase in production. Gretzky jumped 25.8 percent when he went from his rookie mark of 1.325 to 1.73, 110 to 123. Lemieux, who went from 112 points to 146 from his freshman to sophomore season, saw a 29.9 percent jump in point-per-game production (1.369 to 1.78). Crosby jumped 20.5 percent from 1.259 to 1.518.

There are outliers. Bobby Orr didn’t experience any jump despite winning the Norris Trophy in his second season. Limited to 46 games by an offseason knee injury, Orr had similar production to his rookie year. That said, he had a 41.9 percent increase from his second to third. Guy Lafleur actually saw his production dip nine percent, though he did that playing for a Stanley Cup-winning Montreal squad in which the likes of Jacques Lemaire, brothers Pete and Frank Mahovlich, and Yvan Cournoyer were in the prime of their careers. Phil Esposito saw his production dip, though he didn’t truly blossom until after he was traded from Chicago to Boston in 1967.

Pegging the production jump for McDavid at around 20-25 percent would put him at 105-110 points. It would be fairly uncharted waters for both the NHL, as just two players have surpassed the 105-point over the last six seasons, Evgeni Malkin (109, 2011-12), and Patrick Kane (106, 2015-16).

The Oilers haven’t had 100-point scorer since Doug Weight, in 1995-96. Nobody has broken 105 points since Mark Messier posted 129 in 1989-90.

But McDavid is a different case. A player who has a skill-set unlike any other in the NHL currently (except maybe Crosby), a player whose numbers back up the hysteria over his potential, the teen – who turns 20 in January – looks poised to put up numbers not seen in quite some time in not just Edmonton, but the NHL.

Winter Classic..Nothing Like It

There’s few things sports fans crave more than being able to relate to the athletes they idolize. In a time where players make more money in a month than most make in a lifetime, the search for such common ground has grown more arduous by the year.

That’s where the Winter Classic comes into play.

Since its inaugural showing on the first day of the year 2008, a Buffalo Sabres home tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., the classic has been the NHL’s journey to the outdoors for one day. An escape from the concrete-padded arena into the wilderness of the outdoors. From 40,000-seat baseball stadiums to 100,000-seat college football venues to 70,000-seat NFL facilities, the game has been a journey to where the game began.

OK, so maybe we’re not going into the middle of the woods with negative temperatures, whipping winds, and conditions that make most yearn for the summer months. The 2016 Winter Classic will be played between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens on Friday afternoon amidst Gillette Stadium, the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. The high temperature is supposed to be 40 degrees. So it’s not necessarily the holy cornfield of pucks that is a frozen pond in frigid weather in the deep, dark cold of winter. But you get the point.

The sight takes you back to the lake behind your house where you’d lace up the skates when you couldn’t feel your toes. You’d meet up with some buddies and play some pick-up. It wasn’t really the Bruins and Canadiens, but you pretended it was. You fought over who was Bobby Orr. Meanwhile, Guy Lafleur was up for the taking.

For Billy from Brockton watching the game from Row 215, he’ll harbor similar memories as Patrice Bergeron, skating in his second Winter Classic as one of the premier hockey players in the world. There’s nothing like it.

We’ve seen it all in just a short time. Games being delayed due to warm temperatures causing the ice to melt. Who hasn’t had that letdown of unseasonable warmth when they just want to skate around for a bit? Snow has fallen as players battle for the puck, fight for the two points at stake.

It’s the biggest stage. NBC. Doc Emrick. Pierre McGuire. The chances of Thursday’s games being the most watched regular season NHL game ever outweigh the chances of it not. Yet here you are, back in the virtual world of being a kid. The beauty of the game. The serenity of the scene. It’s not what you get for admission within the concrete walls of the TD Garden or Bell Centre, or the hockey cathedrals that preceded them, the Boston Garden or Montreal Forum.

The event’s uniqueness is one of a kind. Find such an example of the NBA, NHL, MLB taking a game and making a masterpiece of it. Good luck. And don’t say the MLB All-Star Game because it decides which pennant winner hosts the first game of the World Series. That’s a travesty, not a masterpiece.

The Winter Classic does count. Two points will be a stake. The break-glass-in-case-of-emergency third point will be on site in case a decision isn’t reached after 60 minutes of hockey, as has happened three times in the first seven classics. The winner takes over first place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division.

The game will captivate the imaginations of all within the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium from players to fans to staff, as well the millions watching the game on television in restaurants, bars, and living rooms across North America. The memories of going out on the ponds will be triggered. You’ll lose feeling in your hands a little bit – don’t be alarmed, it’s just nostalgia – as the thoughts flow through your mind.

In a time where NHL players earn an average of $2.6 million with players earning as much as $14 million, such a common ground seems impossible to come by. By going back to where the game originated, where the love of the game for many was found, that common ground is achieved annually upon the commencement of a new year.