I admit I was pulling for the Red Wings to complete their near-impossible comeback against the Sharks. I just like the way the Detroit organization has gone about its business for the last 20 years or so, more really, dating back to former GM Jimmy DeVellano’s arrival.
In any event, I’m a fan of a lot of their players. I’ve written here about Kris Draper before, but it’s difficult not to admire Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Holmstrom and just the way that team plays. No goon stuff—just quality hockey of the highest order.
(I will post another time, though, on the negative karma around Bertuzzi. I acknowledge I am among those who has long felt he was not nearly punished enough for his attack on Steve Moore seven years ago. That he was allowed to play for Team
Canada—selected, mind you, by Hockey , who is there as an example to hockey’s youth—was, for me, a disgrace. But I digress. My point is that Bertuzzi, as good a player as he has been, brings baggage and I wish he wasn’t a Red Wing. Just a personal view that I’m sure many others don’t share.) Canada
Nonetheless, despite the Red Wing heroics, here we are with a Western Conference final that pits two teams that badly (desperately) want to win a Cup to prove their critics wrong. They want to show they have the “stuff”, what it takes, as it were, to get over the hump and win it all.
No players may be more on our radar, in that regard, than Joe Thornton and Roberto Luongo.
has certainly played some fine hockey in the playoffs over the years, including in the first two rounds this spring. But it’s never been enough for his team’s management—or a lot of fans. He was traded out of Thornton after an uninspiring playoff years back (he was playing hurt) and has yet to see his team go to the finals. Fair or not, a lot of this is pinned on Thornton. Boston
We also all know Luongo’s history. Tabbed as the “best goalie in the NHL” (other than Brodeur) on a poor team in
, he was dealt to the Canucks and signed that mega-contract as the undisputed new “best” goalie in the game, with a salary to prove it. Florida
Yet, in his early years with the Canucks, he did not excel at playoff time. It almost slipped away again this spring in the
series but now he is poised to take that next step to get a gorilla off his back, in terms of public fan perception. Chicago
Both of these guys are obviously quality players, elite NHL’ers. One will get to the finals and when they do, they can, in one fell swoop, erase years of frustration with a championship. And the way sports fans and media react, all the old woes will be forgotten once that happens.
A perhaps relevant example of this “syndrome” that springs to mind now is that of quarterback John Elway. Many will remember that Elway came out of college (Stanford, was it?) and was the number-one guy in everyone’s mind. But he would not report to the team that wanted to draft him (was it
, before they moved to Indy?). He was called a brat, a baby, much like Eric Lindros was when Eric wouldn’t play by the establishment rules and told Quebec City he was having none of it—and forced a trade before he ever played a game there. Baltimore
for his part, Elway ended up in
, the place he wanted to be. He had top-flight career, but could never win “the big one”. He carried that with him for years and it looked as though he would take that reputation into retirement. Denver
But a Super-Bowl win over Brett Favre and the Packers led right away to a second consecutive championship, and suddenly, all we have heard since is what a winner Elway was—when in fact, he was considered anything but until the very end of a long, distinguished career.
So this is, in a sense, where we are with Thornton and Luongo. I can’t imagine
winning the Cup. Nice team but, well, I just don't see it. Boston
? I mean, I guess, but I just don’t see that either, unless they bore (read 1-3-1 “trap”) the Western finalist into an on-ice coma. Tampa
So one of Thornton or Luongo will likely be the new Elway, and perhaps deservedly so.
I guess the question is: which one will it be?