SB Nation's Hockey Roundtable: The State Of The NHL, Part One

In Part One, SB Nation's bloggers discuss the Winter Olympics and the unfortunate Alex Burrows incident.

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SB Nation's Hockey Roundtable: The State Of The NHL, Part One

With the 2009-2010 season well past the half-way mark and the Winter Olympic break looming around the corner, some of the excellent SB Nation hockey bloggers were brought together to discuss some of the top storylines from the season thus far. From illegal hits, to the trade deadline to the Winter Olympics, our bloggers discussed a wide variety of topics in our SB Nation chat.

This week's roundtable will run in two parts, with Part One discussing the Olympics and the ugly Alex Burrows incident from last week. We'll have more of these in the future, with new bloggers discussing the current events in the NHL each time.

This week's features Cassie McClellan, Dirk Hoag, John Fischer, Derek Zona and Joe Fortunato. SB Nation (Brandon Worley) acted as moderator for the chat. Please note that this chat has been directly transcribed from the discussion.

Brandon W. - Why don't we begin with everyone introducing themselves.

Cassie M. - My name is Cassie McClellan, and I write for the Tampa Bay Lightning site, Raw Charge.

Joe F.  - My name is Joe Fortunato, and I write for the New York Rangers site, Blueshirt Banter.

Dirk H. - I'm Dirk, I cover the Nashville Predators at On the Forecheck...

John F. - I am John Fischer and I support the World Class Hockey played by Jersey's Team, the New Jersey Devils. I write about the Devils at In Lou We Trust.

Derek Z. - Derek Zona, Managing Editor of The Copper & Blue, SBNation's Edmonton Oilers site. I worship at The Church Of Kurri.

Brandon W. - The 2010 Winter Olympics are just around the corner. Everyone is gearing up for Games, but a future looms where NHL players might not play in 2014. What are your thoughts? Are NHL players good or bad for Olympic Hockey?

Dirk H. - Ultimately I think the NHL will be there, it's just too early for them to commit to it.

Joe F. - Well i think that NHL players are vital for Olympic Hockey because each nation wants to prove that they are the best, which would require the best players to actually play.

John F. - As international hockey grows, there's more pride in going out and playing for one's country. Many top prospects represent their nation when they are younger and I think that - among other factors - drives more players to participate when they are pros. The Olympic hockey games are far more of a draw now that the best in the world are involved, like basketball in the summer games. So the players involved want to be there, the Olympics are thrilled they are there, so I think it's good for both parties.

John F. - It's only a bad thing if the experience leads to injury - which can happen during any game or even off the ice, admittedly.

Dirk H. - I'm really looking forward to it. 2002 in Salt Lake was great, and this could be as good if not better.

Cassie M. - The problem with playing in Sochi is the NHL schedule and getting guys to Russia in the middle of the season, though.

Derek Z. - I don't know if the big question is about the health of Olympic hockey. There's no question that the NHL is good for the Olympics. The problem is that the Olympics are not good for the NHL. No other sport takes a two week break in the middle of the season. No other sport runs a crazily compressed schedule. And no other sport forces players into back-to-back games like the NHL. I'm in the corner of skipping the Olympics and allowing amateurs to take it back. Bring some glitz and meaning to the World Championships in the summer by moving them back a few weeks to allow the NHL to compete.

John F. - Well, Derek, hockey's not the only sport that does that. Soccer generally stops play for international dates and the WCs; but most leagues build their season schedule around that every year. (MLS is an exception, though they'll fix that)

Dirk H. - Derek brings up a good point about the schedule. They should really look at eliminating a couple preseason games during Olympic years, to give them at least a little more time.

John F. - True. The season could start in the end of September instead of October to spread out the season a little more for 2014. Brandon, I think for team sports, we're way past that in other sports. Basketball and soccer feature pro players (though soccer is a U-23 with 3 exceptions) and the action is far and away better for it.

Joe F. - While I do love the Olympics, and how could I not I watched Lundqvist win the gold. It should also be noted that the Olympics sucked most of the momentum from the Rangers season in 2006, which hurt them for the playoffs. So it's bittersweet.

Cassie M. - Frankly, I think that the NHL ought to limit the number of players that participate and let the national teams fill out the rest of their rosters with amateurs. Make it a mixed squad of both. And then play through the Olympics without creating a break in the schedule.

Brandon W. - Historically the Olympics are about presenting the best amateur athletes in the world. Are we just past that in today's sports landscape, and would Olympic hockey suffer because of it?

Joe F. -  No I don't think that Olympic hockey would suffer from more amature athletes. I mean look at the U-20 Championship, everyone was going crazy for those kids; and they are in their teens. I think people would still go crazy for the Olympics if it was amateur athletes.

Cassie M. - I think Olympic hockey would suffer if it were to return to solely amateur status. As a friend once put it, isn't that what World Juniors are for? But that doesn't mean the entire roster has to be entirely professionals, either.

Derek Z.  - I think that taking the amateurs out of the Olympics has been a boon to the IIHF and the NCAA. The World Juniors Championship and the NCAA Playoffs have grown in stature. But I don't think it matters much for the Olympics anymore. Every athlete is either a professional (Soccer, Hockey, Basketball, Figure Skating, Water Polo, Volleyball) or they are completely sponsored by their country or some donor. The notion that amateurs compete anymore is a bit naive.

Dirk H. - Agreed, Derek. I also think that if you're going to have the pros in there, just open the roster completely.

Brandon W. - So, you're suggesting limiting the NHL players per team?

Joe F. - While that would help the teams, players would be unhappy about that. Players take it very personally when they are (and aren't) chosen for their squads. And I think that if players missed out because of a "limit of players per team" that would just cause problems.

Cassie M. - I think that's fair to limit the number of NHLers - particularly when not every team can ice 24 NHLers for their national team. That gives Canada a huge advantage over teams like Latvia and Slovakia. And is that fair? I don't think it is.

Dirk H. - Of course it's fair! Canada should have a huge advantage over Latvia and Slovakia, they simply have more talent.

Cassie M. - It's fair to not even give the little guy a chance at winning, huh?

John F. - Not only would the players not like it, but the national team coaches will undoubtedly over-play those NHLers (assuming they are superior players). That will lead to more risks of injury and increase fatigue.

Derek Z. - If you want to give the little guy a chance at winning, you need to eliminate everything I mentioned above. Eliminate the professionals, eliminate the year-round stipends, eliminate the government contributions to Olympic programs. Other than that...

Brandon W. - Team Canada's announcement of the roster was met with much fanfare. Are there any glaring omissions, and are they the favorites this year?

Joe F. - Canada simply has so much talent that no matter who they chose, there would always be talk of who they "missed out on." Regardless the biggest "snub" to me was Lecavalier.

John F. - By virtue of home ice, they're the favorites; much like 2002 was for the United States (please excuse Italy in 2006)

Dirk H. - I'd say Canada is the favorite, but there's stiff competition from Russia and others.

Joe F. - And while I would say that they might be the favorites talent-wise, I think that all of the pressure for playing at home (and there is tons of it) might open the door for other squads.

John F. - I would agree with Joe on Lecavalier, but you can say that about a bunch of players and it's not as if Canada made a "bad" choice. Speaking of centers, isn't Patrice Bergeron now injured?

Derek Z. - Eh, not many. The problem with Canada is really one of an over-abundance of centers. They took, what, eight centers? They didn't build the roster like an Olympic team, they made more of an all-star team. If they do lose, I think it's going to be the lack of true wings on the team that does them in. The biggest snubs? Probably Jay Bouwmeester. Scott Niedermayer doesn't even deserve to be on Canada's second team at this point.

Joe F. - I have to agree Derek, moving a center to wing isn't always easy. Trust me I know with the Brandon Dubinsky Chris Drury swap I see almost every game.

Derek Z. - Oh, and GO FINLAND!

Cassie M. - I think they're the favorite because of home ice, but I didn't care for the roster they put together. If they were playing anywhere but Canada, I wouldn't call them a favorite.

Brandon W. - What about Team USA. John, I know you had some choice words.

John F. - Well, I could just link to my whole post. Now that Paul Martin has suffered another set back with injury, that could open the door to having Ryan Whitney on the team. Which he should have been on in the first place, especially ahead of Brooks Orpik (understandable as a 3rd-pairing guy because he brings grit and beef) and Jack Johnson (who should not be on this team)

Derek Z. - Team USA's first problem is at the top. Brian Burke is not the guy to put together an international team. Maybe an MMA international team, but not an international hockey team.

Cassie M. - Lecavalier can also play defense - as in, like a true defenseman. But even then, there'd be some stiff competition for that position. With how he started the season, I don't think he deserved to make the team.

John F. - I also felt Chris Drury as a veteran center presence was a reach. I mean, I think Mike Modano still has more points right now than Drury? I know Drury can play PK but so can Scott Gomez and several other forwards already on the roster. I didn't like the Drury pick.

Joe F. - I still think that the USA squad has some pretty good star power, and might surprise some people. There is no doubt that with Miller in net there is always a chance for them to win. Plus they have some scoring there too.

Cassie M. - I don't think Wilson is the guy to lead the US to a medal. The Maple Leafs right now sort of indicate that. But tournament play isn't the same as an NHL season, so we'll see.

Dirk H. - It would be an upset if the US medals here, I just see a team mostly made up of 2nd-tier guys (very good but not great), as compared to Russia & Canada.

John F. - The root cause to Team USA's roster is that the evaluation pool was fairly limited. Because of the Olympic drug testing procedures and eligibility requirements, all selections came from that pool. Someone having a great season like Andy Greene wasn't eligible to be picked anyway.

John F. - Anyway, given that USA Hockey is undergoing a generational shift (more prospects coming through USNTDP, changing of the old guard), the evaluation pools should be much larger.

John F. - This way if someone does breakout, they will be eligible.

Cassie M. - I think everyone's underestimating the American squad.

Joe F. - I agree Cassie, I think that the US might surprise some people.

Derek Z. - If Miller pulls a medal out for the team and validates the approach that Burke took to building this team, it would be very bad for the U.S. going forward.

Cassie M. - Look at World Juniors this year. The theme that I kept seeing on blogs everywhere - mostly written by Canadians - was that the better TEAM won. Canada had more talent, but the US played as a team. So if the Olympic squad can pull together, they could have something.

Joe F. - And they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder, which is always dangerous

John F.
- The beauty of this year's Olympics is that it's conceivable that 3-5 teams can win it all but there's only one favorite and as discussed here, Canada isn't invincible. Cassie raises a good point. They were monsters in the WJCs but they got beat by an actual team (thanks to John Carlson's end to end rush)

Joe F. - They remind me a lot of the US side for the World Cup this year. A bunch of talent, completley underestimated, and playing with some edge. I like it.

John F. - Let's hope they do well in their group this year, Joe.

Joe F. - They should

John F. - Unlike 2006's Group of Nightmare.

Joe F. - Agreed

Cassie M.  - The problem with American teams, though, is that they rarely play as a team. They tend to play like an All-Star team - as individuals. So it'll come down to coaching in that respect, I think. Which comes back to Wilson and crew.

Brandon W. - What are your thoughts on the Alexandre Burrows (Vancouver Canucks) & referee Stephane Auger incident? [Note: Full story can be found here.]

John F. - My thoughts is that I never really bought into Burrows' argument. Let me get this straight, if Auger honestly said something to you before the game, then why did you not go to your coach or talk with the team/GM later on? It smacked of excuse making for getting caught with infractions.

Dirk H. - As a Preds fan watching that game, there are a few points to clarify. First, there were awful calls both ways - Vancouver scored on a PP earlier due to a ridiculous roughing on Dan Ellis. Also, the interference call on Burrows only negated a Vancouver PP, it didn't give Nashville the man advantage (that came later). It was a horribly refereed game both ways...

Joe F.  - I think that the Burrows/Auger incident is horrible for hockey. We already scream and yell about the inconsistency of the way the games are called and this doesn't help. The biggest problem here is that there is no way to tell who is right and who is wrong. Regardless, there was no need for Auger to talk to him before the game.

Joe F. - Plus why would Burrows make it up and risk a suspension it doesn't make sense.

John F. - Moreover, if fans castigate refs for missing obvious calls, then how can I believe they are clever enough to conspire?

Dirk H. - The other question - did anybody honestly think that refs don't "get guys back" for flopping and embarrassing them, before this incident? Of course they do, they're human.

Dirk H.
- It's always happened, albeit rarely.

Joe F. - I just have to say that I am dissapointed in the NHL.

Derek Z. - Given Burrows' history and his penchant for the dramatic, I put almost zero stock in what he said. He's a dirty player, he dives and he whines. I fully believe that Auger came up to him and said "You got me last time. Good for you, but it ain't happening again." If he said anything else, Burrows would have reacted much more differently during pregame.

John F. - Sure, they're human, Dirk. That means they deserve to have evidence to back up a serious claim against them. Burrows had none.

Joe F. - At least make some type of an investigation into the matter. Even if it is nothing more than asking a few questions. But don't blow it off and pretend that nothing happened. Because something did, and it was ugly.

Cassie M. - I just don't know enough about this to have formed an opinion either way. It sounds like sour grapes on both sides. It's a "he said, he said" situation that will never find a resolution because both sides think they're right.

Dirk H. - There were two big mistakes here; Auger going up to Burrows before the game (regardless of what was said), and Burrows whining to the press afterwards. Take your lumps and move on. Now Burrows will have the entire referee community watching him closely.

Derek Z. - Joe, you ask why Burrows would say it? That's the kind of guy Burrows is.

Joe F. - Well Derek I will admit that I don't know much about him. I was just making a general assumption about a hockey player not wanting to draw bad press. So I guess I can see it because John is right he did have no evidence.

Brandon W. - So did the NHL handle it properly? Should the league have waited to investigate, or did they need act swiftly?

Dirk H. - How much investigation can they do? There's no audio of the pre-game conversation, so other than asking all parties what happened, there's not much to dig into.

John F. - I thought they did investigate and like Cassie said, this is ultimately "he said, she said". There wasn't much investigation and so decided to procede.

Joe F. - I think that the NHL expected to make a statement and move on forever, but that is simply not the case. This situation, regardless of who is right or wrong, shook the foundation of an already unstable situation with the way games are called.

Cassie M. - They might not have had any evidence for this, but that doesn't mean they can't do an audit of their entire officiating corps. And create rules to protect both players and officials if this happens again. But, being the NHL's good ol' boys network like it is, they won't give up their privilege to call it like they want to instead of standardizing penalties.


Part Two will go up tomorrow, as our bloggers discuss illegal hits and the NHL's "wheel of justice", as well as dive into some trade deadline talk.

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