Column: hockey’s inauspicious start
The National Hockey League has had a rather inauspicious start to the 1999-2000 season. The problems run deep, as the league is feeling the effects of injuries, holdouts, and suspensions to its top players.
As of Oct. 12, no less than 12 franchise-type players fit into the above-mentioned categories, with many of the injured players out for an extended amount of time. This was the year that the league planned on getting a head start on the NBA in hopes of luring fans to a new, more exciting game.
The adaptation of the new four-on-four overtime was thought to be a way of creating more scoring. The rule has yet to take hold, as there are only eight teams left in the league without a tie after only two weeks. There have been more odd-man rushes going both ways due to the new rule, but the fact remains that the goalies in the NHL are simply too good.
The main reason that this season has started out bad is due mainly to injuries and greed.
One team that doesn’t need their superstar right now is the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa is sitting on top of the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference with nine points without the services of their star, Alexei Yashin. Yashin continues to hold out for a new deal in the range of $6-8 million a year. There’s no telling how many pints of Guinness $3.6 million could buy, which is what Yashin was scheduled to make this season.
Ottawa is currently undefeated, with goaltenders Ron Tugnutt and Patrick Lalime both giving up less than two goals a game. Carolina Hurricanes captain Wayne Primeau is continuing his holdout and is on the verge of being traded as the offers made by the ‘Canes continue to go down.
Don’t be surprised to see the NHL’s version of Stanley Kowalski end up back in Detroit. Carolina is holding its own thus far, and goaltender Arturs Irbe is leading the league with 1.34 goals-against average.
By the way, does anybody remember Nikolai Khabibulin? The Phoenix Coyote goaltender is also holding out, but is probably getting real nervous due to the play of Mikhail Shtalenkov. The Coyotes have lost only one game, with Shtalenkov giving up only eight goals in five games.
The only holdout that is hurting his team is Boston Bruins goaltender Byron Dafoe. His team is winless in six games after Wednesday’s game at Colorado. The last time the Bruins started out a season this bad was Bobby Orr’s rookie season.
Injuries always seem to play a big part in a team getting off to a slow start. With the off-season being so short, players that ended the last season with injuries are more prone to have injuries in the early part of the new season.
Peter Forsberg and Eric Lindros are perfect examples. Forsberg injured his shoulder against Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, while Lindros’ collapsed lung happened on April 1. Forsberg is out until at least Dec. 1 due to surgery, and Lindros has been less than magnificent in the Flyers’ first four games, in which they are winless.
Lindros’ teammate Rod Brind’Amour is out until at least January, Toronto’s Mats Sundin is out six weeks, and New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter and Blues defenseman Al MacInnis are out indefinitely. All these players are stars that the league counts on to bolster its attendance, and without them the NHL will suffer tremendously.
Don’t forget, No. 99 is no longer in New York, so the league can’t rely on The Great One for support. To make matters worse, the league suspended Phoenix Coyotes forward Jeremy Roenick for five games for slashing another all-star, Tony Amonte of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Roenick is a great player who packs the stands in Phoenix, but is just another casualty of early season problems that the NHL is facing.
Because it is playoff time in Major League Baseball, the league may be able to get away with low television ratings. ESPN and espn2 are doing their part, as they have televised 11 games in the first two weeks. FOX Sports has also shown three San Jose Sharks games, and they have been very entertaining to watch.
Maybe all those empty seats at Turner Field are being vacated by fans wanting to see the Atlanta Thrashers.
Some things to keep an eye on during the early part of the season.
– How Mike Modano comes back from his injury.
– If Detroit can build a big lead in a weak division.
– If Colorado can withstand their brutal road schedule and win their three measly home games in October.
– If San Jose can hang with Dallas in the Pacific.
– If the Flyers have the heart and determination to keep up with New Jersey.
– If the Rangers can provide New York with post-Gretzky excitement.
– How Buffalo will play knowing that Dominic Hasek is going to retire.
– If Pavel Bure can fill the arena and bring respectability back to Florida.
– Mike Keanan.