May 30/03 -
It is a marvelous time to be a New Jersey Devils fan. For anyone else, the 2003 Stanley Cup Final is a flaccid and uninspired conclusion to a decent NHL season.
The hope was that Anaheim's goalie, J.S. Giguere, might keep the series close. But his play has slipped from unbelievable to merely good, leaving his fellow Ducks exposed as just another hockey team.
There is a grim fascination in seeing the Not-So-Mighty Ducks crushed under the New Jersey jackboot. But there is little excitement, and after two games there is little doubt about the outcome. So it was no surprise to see the NHL's so-called "showcase series" upstaged by Patrick Roy's retirement announcement, easily the biggest hockey story of the past week.
The Devils are full value for their championship run, without a doubt, and it is nice to see them filling their arena for a change. But their patented conservative style is unlikely to gain them any new fans. Stanley Cup hockey tends to reward those who stress discipline and patience over speed and improvisation. "Offense wins compliments, defense wins championships," goes the old saw, and never is this more true than on the rinks of April, May and June. The result is often an exciting playoff tournament that loses steam as it nears what is supposed to be its climax. (It doesn't help that overachieving teams like the Ducks routinely collapse in the championship series.)
The solution, according to just about everyone who works for a newspaper, is to change the rules and practices of the game to produce more scoring. Contributing to the debate, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman mused this week that perhaps it is time to increase the size of the nets. This is a familiar political ploy: When everyone is clamoring for change, put them on the defensive by proposing the most radical, ludicrous change imaginable. Bettman and his employers have no intention to bring in bigger nets. They just want to turn the tables on the reformers.
NHL hockey is a lot healthier than its critics make it out to be. But all games evolve, and defensive parries like Bettman's do not help hockeys evolutionary process. At this point, it is hard to imagine how any real hockey fan could be opposed to a few simple changes, like a noticeable reduction in the size of goalie pads or the elimination of the center ice red line.
More on the Stanley Cup Finals:
Season of Change