NHL commentary: Let's hope Penguins save us from Eurohockey

When Jacques Martin was hired as coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, he quickly announced that he is a big admirer of the Detroit Red Wings' style of play. In fact, he noted, that's how he would like his new team to play.

When Jacques Martin was hired as coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, he quickly announced that he is a big admirer of the Detroit Red Wings' style of play. In fact, he noted, that's how he would like his new team to play.

Just what the NHL needs: more boring Eurohockey.

Go Pittsburgh!

Everybody wants to play like the Detroit Red Wings. But the Red Wings are an aberration. They were ahead of the curve in making the decision, as a franchise, to make a total commitment to Eurohockey. They got all the right finesse players from overseas. And they've had a ton of success.

No, the Red Wings aren't boring. But every team that tries to imitate them is boring. They just don't have the personnel, and they never will under the new salary cap. Meanwhile, the Red Wings have such a reputation as the kings of Eurohockey that free-agent Euroskaters, such as Marian Hossa, turn down huge money from other teams, including Minnesota, to play for less in Detroit.


Just as a refresher, Eurohockey, when practiced by any team other than Detroit, is an exercise in irrelevant skating with a heavy dose of mind-numbing cycling. As an example, recall any number of periods in which the Wild skated at a breakneck pace up and down the ice . . . only to wind up with three shots on goal and one scoring chance over the entire 20 minutes. It's more like a conditioning drill than a hockey game.

Meanwhile, this whole cycling craze truly is uninspiring. For most teams, it's puck possession for the sake of puck possession. It is true that you can't score without the biscuit, but it also is true that you don't win based on time of possession.

Again, look at the Wild, who are sort of a poor man's Eurohockey team. They will have three guys working their tails off cycling down low, yet there isn't a body within 30 feet of the opposing goaltender. There would have to be an incredible defensive breakdown for the Wild to score off a cycling sequence.

I'm not talking about good work along the boards or behind the net. This cycling baloney is when a guy gets control, skates it a few feet out of the corner and, the minute he is pressured, dumps it back into the corner, where the next player is ready to take his turn.

Instead of battling for position or trying to get open, the forwards are waiting for a chance to cycle. It's like in baseball when the fielders are waiting to take their turn catching and throwing the ball while an opposing player is caught in a rundown.

The Red Wings can score off a cycle. A few years ago, the Avalanche were really good at cycling with a purpose. For just about everyone else, it's a futile exercise about 99 percent of the time. Sometimes, it draws a nice cheer from the crowd because there is a lot of hard work involved. But it's hard work unrewarded unless a team has a reason for trying to kill the clock.

In original Eurohockey, as played throughout Europe and all of Russia, hitting is not part of the game unless it is unavoidable. (Cal Clutterbuck is a rare exception.) In general, during the regular season, Eurohockey teams do not finish their checks by delivering any sort of blow. Instead, the skaters rub up against a guy or just avoid him altogether. Taking chances -- the risk-reward factor -- is not part of the game. Long passes in the offensive and neutral zones rarely are seen anymore.

Exciting two-man forechecks are a thing of the past because all Eurohockey teams trap. They have to drop back, or they will be caught out of position. Contrary to popular belief, Jacques Lemaire did not invent the trap. Teams were trapping in Sweden long before Lemaire started trapping as head coach of the New Jersey Devils.


Finally, whether you think this is good or bad, there will be a whole generation of NHL players who never will once drop their gloves during their careers. They never will be tested. They can skate anywhere, put their stick to anyone without having to answer for it because fighting is not part of Eurohockey.

Don't misunderstand, I like the speed and skill that Europeans have brought to the NHL. But where's that hybrid game Herb Brooks used to talk about? Now there is no need for grinders. No need for ruggedness. No need for spontaneity. No need, even, for size. Just get a bunch of quick skaters who can pump their legs all night.

Another Stanley Cup for the Red Wings would reinforce all the misplaced beliefs of the Detroit imitators. Oh please, God, no.

Go Penguins!

Powers writes for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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