Just as dry humor defines British comedy, a dry scrape sets the stage - and ultimately delivers the punch line - for NHL shootouts.
But don't expect goalies to get much of a laugh out of it.
"They want the forwards to be able to get better moves off," said Boston's Tim Thomas. "It gives them a smoother surface for their moves. But for the goalies, it's harder, because you definitely have to work harder out there to hold your edges. It's not a big deal, but it is different, and it is much more to the shooters' advantage."
Once overtime ends with two clubs still tied, the NHL mandates that a dry scrape be applied to the ice surface as a prelude to the shootout. Typically when Zambonis scrape an ice sheet, they leave behind a trail of water, which needs time to freeze. Unwilling to take the extra five minutes or so for a wet scrape, the NHL simply has the Zamboni make its dry scrape and sweep.
NHL purists, the few who remain, hold a general disdain for all things related to the shootout. It's a gimmick, a guarantee to send one team home a winner and the other team home a half-loser. What else can we call it when it's awarded with a "1" in the "
You lose, but not really - sort of the NHL's equivalent of scoring 300 on the SAT just for showing up, or everyone in youth soccer going home with a trophy at the end of the season, even if they played on an 0-8 team that scored two goals all season.
The NHL just can't seem to accept pure winners and pure losers. Must be some Canadian thing.
The dry scrape, in truth, is a gimmick within the gimmick. It's not done to make for a pristine surface, but just a faster and trickier sheet of ice, with snow swept away and friction diminished. And, hey, if it turns the goalie's life into vaudeville, sans the banana peel, that's just the bit of slapstick in this dry humor.
"It's for the fans," said Thomas, who awoke again yesterday as the league leader in save percentage (.946), with his goals-against average (1.76) second only to San Jose's Brian Boucher (1.49). "And I totally understand that.
"If I'm sitting home with the NHL package, no question, I want to watch shootouts. They're great. And I say that because I'm a fan, too. If I'm sitting home, and the shootout comes on, hey, I'm watching that."
From strictly a working standpoint, however, Thomas would much prefer that the surface be left alone, even if it has been used for 25 minutes (the full third period and the five-minute OT). In that case, playing time would expire, and coaches would have, say, 60-90 seconds to select their shooters. Puck to center. Ready, aim, fire. Only this time the goalie would have a much better grip on the playing surface.
"We practice shootouts, but because of the conditions, it's not nearly the same," said Thomas, noting that dry scrapes are unique to games, the condition not replicated in day-to-day practices. "To do that, you'd have to bring out the Zamboni again, and we all know, everything costs money. It's not as easy as you think."
The slick ice, and the advantage the dry scrape affords the shooter, could explain in part why more players don't opt for the short-range steaming slapper (think: Zdeno Chara) in shootouts. If the mind-set is that the goalie has been rendered a stunt clown on the slippery surface, the slapper doesn't force him to move his feet, risking a slip-and-fall.
Asked about the lack of slappers, Thomas said, "Well, I think the point is, if you kill their guy, then someone is going to come kill your guy. And the goal is to score, not to hurt the other guy."
Signs of things to comePaul Kelly, the NHL Players Association executive director, traveled to Chicago last week to meet with the Bruins as part of the NHLPA's annual fall tour. According to Kelly, the union remains on course to inform the league around Jan. 1 whether it will terminate the existing CBA at the conclusion of this season.
"The players would be nuts to drop the deal," said one veteran agent. "But Paul is doing what a good lawyer would do here, letting democratic rule play out in the membership, keeping everyone informed, and marching deliberately through discovery. He doesn't want to dictate to them, which is something very new to the PA."
Meanwhile, Kelly and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in Toronto last week for the Hall of Fame inductions, met briefly with Alexander Medvedev, president of the Russian KHL.
The Russians have been slow (read: impossible) to get to the table for a negotiated settlement of player transfer fees. Nashville forward Alexander Radulov made matters even more contentious over the summer when he chose not to honor his deal with the Predators, returned to Russia, and signed a long-term deal with Ufa Salavat Yulayev.
According to Kelly, Medvedev engaged Bettman and Kelly in what the PA boss described as a "rather animated" 20-minute discussion about respecting contracts, and the KHL's role in inducing Radulov to breach his contract with the Predators.
"The meeting ended," said Kelly, "with Bettman indicating that unless the KHL did the right thing in the Radulov case, the two leagues had nothing further to discuss."
There is no date set for the Glen Murray hearing, arbitrator Richard Bloch to decide whether the ex-Bruins winger, bought out over the summer, should receive full pay for 2008-09. Murray's contention is that he was injured when the Bruins bought him out (at the standard one-third discount), and per the CBA, injured players are immune from buyouts. As it stands, Murray will have made $15.21 million for the three years he played on his last Boston contract. He collected 128 points over those three seasons, working out to $118,828 per point. If he recovers the $1.38 million he would be denied in a buyout, the final cost will move up to more than $129,000 per point.
Checking the books
The Canadiens have only some $21 million committed in 2009-10 payroll. That's the good news, especially if owner George Gillett were to entertain selling Les Glorieux. The bad news is, general manager Bob Gainey has 10 guys on the books, including his four most expensive forwards, who are on course to enter the unrestricted free agent market July 1. The forwards: Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Robert Lang, Steve Begin, Tom Kostopoulos. The defensemen: Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault, Mike Komisarek, and Patrice Brisebois. Those 10 total $27.1 million in payroll this season.
When hand meets helmet
The Bruins have had their share of ferocious fighters, but Milan Lucic's smackdown of Komisarek at the Garden Thursday had a certain, shall we say, beastliness to it that was both fascinating and frightening. When it was over, linemate Marc Savard stood at the penalty box as a crazed Lucic settled down, the veteran pivot looking as if he were trying to convince Lucic not to restart the battle royale with Komisarek next door in the penalty box. "No, it wasn't that," said Savard. "One of Looch's hands was all cut up, and I told him he better get it taken care of." Lucic returned to the dressing room for a couple of minutes to stem the bleeding. "Got it all cut up on his helmet," explained Lucic. "No big deal. Happened a ton of times before. Just part of it."
What's the deal with Nylander?
Sources familiar with the negotiations say the Blackhawks turned down a deal last week that would have had ex-Bruin Michael Nylander, now with the Capitals, wearing the Indian Head by this weekend. Someone in that Hawks' lineup would have to be going back to D.C. to even out some of the $8.5 million Nylander is due over the two seasons after this one. The likeliest candidates: Dustin Byfuglien (two more years at $3 million per) or Brent Sopel (two more years at $2.5 million per).
A little exposure can't hurt
Still don't understand why players choose not to remove their helmets for the shootout. The league is in desperate need of improving player recognition, especially if it ever hopes to deliver personality features to its minuscule national TV base in the United States. When the shootout was instituted, players were concerned that goalie poke-checks or poor ice could lead to slip-and-falls, and possible head injuries when crashing into the boards. Ya know, if that's their degree of safety concern, better that they all opt for double-runners and round-the-waist rubber bumpers.
Shifts in power
Ex-Chicago GM Bob Murray has control of the Ducks now that Brian Burke (designated for assignment) has stepped down in the O.C. Murray acknowledged at Wednesday's news conference that he had little idea how to run a team when he was put in charge in Chicago. And boy, did it show. Burke, ruled out by Boston ownership to help restore the Spoked B, will get serious consideration to take over the whole show in Chicago. But betting around the league remains that he'll end up getting the Toronto gig, as rumored since the invention of the Zamboni.
Give me a Jay?
If the Bruins keep the juices flowing, and the Panthers continue to struggle, UFA-to-be Jay Bouwmeester, 25, would be a dream addition to the Boston back line. The No. 3 pick overall in the '02 draft, he is pulling down a little less than $5 million, and is in line for a Zdeno Chara-like package (five years/$37.5 million) this summer. Tough fit against the Boston cap, but given how the Bruins have played the last couple of weeks, JayBo could be the addition that makes them a serious Cup contender.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.