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Hockey Notes

No comment is no help

Looser lips could help right the ship

BRETT HULL Telling remarks BRETT HULL Telling remarks
Email|Print| Text size + By Kevin Paul Dupont
January 13, 2008

Brett Hull had a way of stirring the pot in his playing days, his words often as hot as his stick, and often just as accurate. In the late 1990s, the Golden Brett labeled the NHL "too boring" and "too depressing," adding that the league "had the wrong people in charge."

Early in the "dead puck era," when the Devils turned the neutral-zone trap into an art form - and ultimately three Stanley Cups - Hull decried the trend toward suffocating defensive hockey.

"They had better wake up," he said. "It's destroying the game. People better start watching and figure it out. It's embarrassing. How can they let the game be like that? It's a hooking and holding fest."

Now the Dallas Stars co-general manager, the 43-year-old Hull isn't in the business of scoring goals (741 filled his dossier), and his stint as an NBC commentator was both short-lived and underwhelming. However, he still has a way of cutting to the bone with his comments. And history shows that man has a way of being right.

Last week, prompted by comments from Minnesota defenseman Nick Schultz, who said the league was in need of players willing to speak their mind and cause some controversy, Hull proved, once more, to be the patron saint of hitting the nail on the head. Today's hockey players, Hull told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, might be too worried about saying "the right thing" all the time.

"I think that hurts us sometimes," Hull said. "Hockey players always try to say the right thing. You don't get guys showboating, things like that. If we had more guys like that, like [Jeremy] Roenick, guys with more personality - that's what people like. That's what makes headlines - not necessarily in a good way all the time, but that's what attracts interest."

Hull added that the NHL "has become robotic."

Tough to disagree, isn't it? It's impossible to find a better bunch of professional athletes than the 600-plus who fill the rosters of the Original 30's member clubs. On the whole, when off the ice, they are polite, well-mannered, and forever looking for the next old lady to help steer clear of a runaway Zamboni. Though some of them - usually the guys with that Flyer logo on their sweaters - have been wantonly aggressive, if not criminal, on the ice of late, one would be hard pressed to find a bad apple in the bushel.

But if everybody among the rank and file is happy, or at least keeping their mouths shut, is that good for business?

Not really.

At the risk of turning this into yet another old scribe's diatribe about what's wrong with the NHL, or how it must once more modify its rules, isn't it about time for some of the game's stars to make a little noise? For the good of the game? After all, they play the game, and maybe the burden should be on them to make it better.

Take, for instance, hits to the head. None of the working help is saying much about that bit of ugly business. Bruins pivot Patrice Bergeron, still recovering from the Grade 3 concussion he sustained Oct. 27, was left to make his own quiet, dignified plea for those hits to stop. Where's the accompanying player outrage? Bergeron is lucky to be alive. Most every roster has at least one guy trying to recover from getting his bell rung. But, nothing is said from the players. And the victim is left alone to state his case.

Lifeless, boring, robotic, defensively oriented hockey? Again, silence on both the Eastern and Western fronts. This is baffling. It's as if they have forgotten that the sport is supposed to be an entertainment business. Are there still entertaining games? Of course. But not nearly enough, and certainly not enough to justify ticket prices.

Next time you watch a Washington game, will Alexander Ovechkin (he of the $124 million contract) be the best player on the ice? Well, maybe. But that's a 50-50 proposition, at best. Most nights, he can be contained, if the opposing coach simply keeps him wrapped up and taken out of every play, or he's simply not up to the grind in one of the 82 regular-season games.

Ditto for Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Tampa Bay's Vinny Lecavalier. All great players. And they are all putting up decent, if not excellent, numbers by today's standards. On too many nights, the average fan simply can't find the best player on the ice. Why? If the stars can't shine, we're left to watch the tomato cans do their stuff. Now there's a great night out. Do you prefer your tomato diced or pureed?

Let's not forget goalies. No sport in the modern era, perhaps any era, has been dominated/held hostage by one positional player the way hockey has been by its goaltenders. Yes, they are much better athletes than they were even a generation ago, and they've earned that with a great amount of sweat. Good for them.

But even with recent changes in their equipment, they remain far overequipped and overprotected. It's farcical. It takes great effort for shots to be generated, and the bet here is that goalies stop 75 percent of those shots simply by virtue of wearing the equipment. The goalie once was just another player to beat. Now he can't lose, protected by all that gear almost the way a casino is protected by house rules.

So much to say. So much to care about, kick up some dust, try to make better. But no one in uniform dares say a word. Better that they say something soon, before no one is left to listen.

Ovechkin benefits from Capital expenditure


Manny Fernandez isn't back. In fact, one month after undergoing surgery to reattach a ligament in his left leg, the Bruins goalie isn't close to pulling on the pads, or dropping a mat on the gym floor and testing out what kind of spring he has in that knee.

"But it's going really, really good," he said. "It's responded very well. So far, so good."

For the foreseeable future, the 33-year-old Fernandez will tread lightly. He works out twice a day, often in a swimming pool, the medical staff instructing him not to put full weight on a joint that remains under repair. Restore range of motion, and try to add strength, without disturbing the ligament.

He experienced the expected post-surgery pain, but much of that was relieved in less than a week when blood and fluid was drained from the area.

"That was great," he said. "We wanted to get everything out, and get me working as soon as possible. Now it's massage every day, get the blood flowing in the area, and from here on it's a balancing act. You want to push it as much as you can, and at the same time, you want to protect the area."

Timeline? There is no timeline. Fernandez gets up in the morning, works out, rests, then works out again. Next day: repeat process. This month, next month, and probably for March. too.

According to Fernandez, before the ligament was reattached, Dr. Bert Zarins had to "repair it along its length." The soft tissue was torn worse than pre-surgery tests showed, said the goalie, who is convinced now that rehab and hope would not have brought him back to playing form. He is uncertain if the tear Zarins repaired was from his injury last season with the Wild, or from another injury in his brief time in a Bruins uniform.

"It's hard to say," said Fernandez. "I don't want to think about it. It's tough to pinpoint the time my knee was left hanging like that."

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli figures that Fernandez will not be back this season. Meanwhile, the veteran backstop holds out hope that he could be available for a playoff round. But he remains cautious.

"Most of all," he said, "we have to make sure we haven't done this for nothing."

Goalie's rehab is in motion


Manny Fernandez isn't back. In fact, one month after undergoing surgery to reattach a ligament in his left leg, the Bruins goalie isn't close to pulling on the pads, or dropping a mat on the gym floor and testing out what kind of spring he has in that knee.

"But it's going really, really good," he said. "It's responded very well. So far, so good."

For the foreseeable future, the 33-year-old Fernandez will tread lightly. He works out twice a day, often in a swimming pool, the medical staff instructing him not to put full weight on a joint that remains under repair. Restore range of motion, and try to add strength, without disturbing the ligament.

He experienced the expected post-surgery pain, but much of that was relieved in less than a week when blood and fluid was drained from the area.

"That was great," he said. "We wanted to get everything out, and get me working as soon as possible. Now it's massage every day, get the blood flowing in the area, and from here on it's a balancing act. You want to push it as much as you can, and at the same time, you want to protect the area."

Timeline? There is no timeline. Fernandez gets up in the morning, works out, rests, then works out again. Next day: repeat process. This month, next month, and probably for March. too.

According to Fernandez, before the ligament was reattached, Dr. Bert Zarins had to "repair it along its length." The soft tissue was torn worse than pre-surgery tests showed, said the goalie, who is convinced now that rehab and hope would not have brought him back to playing form. He is uncertain if the tear Zarins repaired was from his injury last season with the Wild, or from another injury in his brief time in a Bruins uniform.

"It's hard to say," said Fernandez. "I don't want to think about it. It's tough to pinpoint the time my knee was left hanging like that."

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli figures that Fernandez will not be back this season. Meanwhile, the veteran backstop holds out hope that he could be available for a playoff round. But he remains cautious.

"Most of all," he said, "we have to make sure we haven't done this for nothing."

Profits depend on interest

After selling his Nashville Predators last month for $193 million, Craig Leipold turned around and signed a purchase agreement for the majority share (60 percent) of the Minnesota Wild for a rumored $260 million. "This," said Leipold, "is the marquee franchise in our league." No doubting the Wild's success thus far, as they have filled the building virtually every night since opening the doors in 2000. But more than a few hockey insiders wonder how long Minnesotans will keep turning out if the Wild don't make some noise in the playoffs. They've qualified only twice in six seasons, and last year faded in the first round. One club official figures the Wild last season netted in excess of $40 million. If that kind of biz keeps up, Leipold has no worries. But if the Trappist Wonks don't eventually work some magic, the empty seats of the Norm Green era could return.

More Star power needed

The Stars found room in their budget to extend top pivot Mike Ribiero's deal by five years, at an average of $5 million per season. Hard to believe this is the same center who held a copyright for diving - especially when playing Boston - during his days with Montreal. Now the question is, can the Stars find a winger to go with second-line center Mike Modano? Dallas Morning News scribe Mike Heika figures GMs Les Jackson and Brett Hull are considering the likes of Marian Hossa (Atlanta), Martin St. Louis (Tampa), Miro Satan (Islanders), Michael Ryder (Montreal), and Boston's Phil Kessel. And, yes, folks, the speedy sophomore's name is out there. The Bruins would be willing to deal him - especially if a club would yield a legit No. 2 puck-moving defenseman. Meanwhile, Modano, with only 26 points in his first 44 games, awaits company on the right side.

Historic occasion

Ex-Bruin Willie O'Ree will be feted at the Garden Saturday, with the Rangers in town for a matinee. The NHL and the Bruins will celebrate the 50th anniversary of O'Ree breaking the league's color line. Bruins legends Milt Schmidt and John Bucyk will be on hand for on-ice festivities during the first intermission, and there will be a video montage of O'Ree's playing career and his work with the NHL's Diversity Task Force during the second intermission. O'Ree, 72, was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and made his NHL debut with the Bruins in 1957-58.

Reporting to headquarters

Alvirne High School of Hudson, N.H., has sent one if its own to The Show. Mike DiLorenzo, Alvirne's hockey coach the last two seasons, stepped down last weekend and tomorrow will begin his new job as director of corporate communications at the NHL's Manhattan headquarters. "I'm excited, and I think everyone realizes what a unique opportunity it is to work for the NHL," said the 35-year-old DiLorenzo, who played varsity defense for Acton-Boxboro High (Class of 1990). "At the same time, I'm highly conflicted to leave my job during the season, because it runs counter to everything we preach about being part of a team and all that. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and it's not quite like missing practice with the sniffles." Marc Ruskin, 35, is Alvirne's new hockey mentor. DiLorenzo, with a PR background in the high-tech field, will be pitching business-oriented stories to various media outlets.

Loose pucks

Deal of the week, if not the season: The Red Wings tied up goalie Chris Osgood for three more years for only slightly more than $1.4 million per season. Yes, he's 35, but at the time of the deal, he was first in the league in goals-against average (1.68), tied for first, with Tim Thomas, in save percentage (.932), and fifth in wins (19). Life is easy in the Detroit net, but that easy? . . . The Flames need to tidy up new deals for top blue liner Dion Phaneuf and left wing Kristian Huselius, who is flying high with Daymond Langkow and Jarome Iginla. Phaneuf, like Mike Richards (12 years with Philly) and Ovechkin (13 years with Washington), is the kind of player who could end up with a deal of 10 years or more . . . Johnny Bower, the great Maple Leafs goalie who won four Cups in Toronto, will be at Sportsworld, 1268 Broadway (Route 1 North), in Saugus, next Sunday from noon-2 p.m. Bower, 82, played only one more game after the Bruins rubbed out the Leafs, 4-0, in the first round of the 1969 playoffs. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1976 . . . Management at TD Banknorth Garden, in its relentless pursuit to take all character out of the building, recently pushed out longtime elevator operator Dottie Puleio. Puleio, 76, much like the waitresses from Durgin-Park, had her unique style, and had worked on Causeway Street for 31 years. Slowly, and deliberately, anyone who exhibits an extra ounce of personality will be gone. And then it will be what every building is - just a building.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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