The joys of hockey ignorance

>> Sunday

As I sorta kinda started getting back into the NHL earlier this year after not caring for a solid five years, I figued, "Man, I bet I won't recognize anyone playing in the NHL anymore."

Much to my surprise, it was like the league was frozen in time (oh shit... unintentional pun... better run with it) under the word "Hockeytown" at center ice of Joe Louis arena, smoothed over by a zamboni and occasionally pelted by an octopus during those five years.

It seems as though once per period, I find myself saying, "He's still in the NHL?!"

After watching some first-round playoff action the last few nights, I've compiled a short list of playoff competitors who've sparked that reaction:

Alexei Kovalev
Dallas Drake
Curtis Joseph
Mathieu Schneider
Nick Lidstrom
Darren McCarty
Brendan Shanahan
Keith Carney

Which is to say nothing of the old guys I was already aware of (e.g. Chelios, Hasek, Federov, Modano, Jagr, Selanne). Don't get me wrong--I'm not making fun or saying these guys are washed up (after all, I really wouldn't know). In fact, I've always admired the way hockey players are able to play such a physical sport at a high level into their late 30s and 40s.

Mostly, I find it comforting to see so many familiar faces and names in these playoffs because it reminds me that I haven't let the world (or at least the part of it I can watch on cable sports channels) fly on past me as badly as I thought.

Hey, speaking of hockey, here's a thought I had: Can you imagine if a Sabermetric-like philosophy toward hockey analysis started to take hold of the mainstream the way it has in baseball? Can you imagine the resistance?

Compared to baseball, hockey has, I think, way more of the intangible-loving, "this guy plays the game right" old-school dogma entrenched both in its tradition and its current analysis. For God's sake, the silly "three stars" thing is still considered a noteworthy component of a hockey postgame.

Not only that, but I think hockey is even more dominated by semi-arbitrary and luck-driven stats like +/- and, for that matter, the assist. Can you imagine if some new metric showed that Marty Brodeur is actually a league-average goaltender? Or that Ray Borque was only stealing ice time from a more deserving replacement when he won the Stanley Cup in 2001? There would be a revolt. It would be madness.

Anyway, I'm gonna stop before I prove myself a bigger ignoramous than I already have.


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