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Special Saturday column: NHL burns, Bettman fiddles

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

>> The Saturday column, one that wasn’t on our budgets but one I felt compelled to write after a lot of the recent messes around the NHL, wonders how a league can burn while a commissioner does nothing.

I’ll be interested, as always, in your takes on this. Certainly a lot of layers to it.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.


  1. JohninOshkosh says:

    Brilliant piece, Dejan. Written on the fly, too. Hope this puts some pressure on some of the mouth breathing troglodytes in NHL management.

  2. Good surprise column.

    Even for someone who isn’t well-versed on hockey like myself, I don’t like what the NHL is turning into.

    Mario’s garage league reference from a few years back may be too good a descriptor right now.

    As for Bettman, he’s probably on vacation. It was his holiday a couple days ago.

  3. Milo Hamilton says:

    Excellent piece. Serious question, does the NHL have a drug policy ? 100% clean sport we’re supposed to believe. Performance & recreational varieties alike. Awesome. Here’s what I posted about last night:

    I know I’m a little late to the party on this but I just now saw the video of The Flyers being the Flyers.

    First & foremost, the NHL needs to make Ray Emery pee in a cup immediately. And I’m not for one second kidding about that.

    Secondly, about the Flyers. You can talk about Paul Holmgren & Craig Berube all you want, but who keeps hiring these slugs ? Ed Snider obviously wants this. He’s had plenty of opportunities over the years to make a clean break from the Flyers mentality & he never ever does. Every time he removes Bobby Clarke he replaces him with Holmgren and vice versa. Over and over again, same thing for 30 years. And the end result ? Embarrassing incidents like this and no Stanley Cups.

    As a Penguins fan I hope Snider never changes. But who am I to tell him how to run his business ? :)

  4. Remember that rock band, The Troggs from the 60’s, John?

    You’re pretty young for that one. They did the original “Wild Thing” and then that fluky “Love Is All Around You”.

    Your troglodyte usage reminded me of them. Strange how the over-60 mind works.


  5. Barb says:

    Dejan great article. You hit the nail on the head. Yes we all scream when we think Roger Goddell over steps his boundries but after what has transpired the last month in the NHL I’ll take Goddell over Bettman every day of the week.

  6. MrB says:

    Finally, a good column submission…not surprisingly concerning a sport, that is your passion.

  7. JohninOshkosh says:

    I know of them. Not too much before my time. :)

  8. Lad9 says:

    I see we have a Ron Cook aficionado in the house.

  9. james thompson says:

    I’ve long heard that there’ll always be fighting in hockey whether or not the NHL bans it, so I suppose that the owners and players are simply resigned to it, no matter how incredibly stupid it so often is.

  10. Lad 9 says:

    DK thank you for the bonus column. It was, as usual, an excellent piece of writing. My reaction to it? I am unsurprised that the NHL and Mr. Bettman completely dropped the ball…er puck. He is not just the poorest commissioner of the four major sports; he is about as bad as it gets even including college. The only one worse was the yahoo who presided over the demise of the Big East, John Marinatto. Other than him, Bettman is the worst league executive I can think of. E V E R!

    I echo a lot of what Milo said. Simply an appalling week for a sport that needs every positive it can find. Nothing will turn the hard core hockey fan away – they are a breed like no other. But the casual fan or one just getting interested? Real good chance that they will move on and spend their disposable income and free time elsewhere. Nothing to see in that garage I guess …..

  11. james thompson says:

    Here’s proof that violence has crept down to all facets of hockey, indeed all sports: During a recent young players’ hockey match in Boca Raton, Florida, a father who was outraged when his adolescent son was elbowed by a rival player, jumped into the rink and slammed the offending player to the ground. The victim was rushed to the hospital after a coach had pulled the father off him, the father was arrested and was then out on $3,000 dollars bail. And that seems to have become an increasingly regular occurence these days, unfortunately.

  12. Barb says:

    The second coming of Mike Milbury.

  13. Sarah says:

    What’s truly stunning to me about this whole debacle is how LITTLE response it has gotten in the media. Our DK is virtually the only analysis I’ve read to bluntly call out Bettman, Shanahan and the league. I saw one piece on cbssports….the rest is just comments on blogs.
    It’s astonishing.
    Emery needs to be gone for a long time. And there needs to be some rule allowing 3rd man….not sure how….but with 2 linesmen and 6 fights, someone should be allowed to protect a defenseless player. Holtby took a half dozen rabbit punches. Grace of God the kid is OK.

    Seriously – garage league. And not a peep in the media but for here.

    Thanks DK.

  14. Wild Bill says:

    Regarding the Flyers, I’ve simply thought that it was a team with goons, assembled by a former goon for an owner who likes goons, and coached by a former goon. They got what they paid for, and some in Philly like the product. But Dejan’s suggestion that this is a league and a Bettman issue, well, that does make sense.

    I’m not sure there’s enough intelligence in the sport to know when their stupidity is costing them money. They probably think it isn’t.

  15. JohninOshkosh says:

    If Emery did that anywhere else than an NHL rink, then he would be looking at prison. Not jail. Prison. Holtby did not want to fight, which is his enlightened prerogative. One thing to take swings at a man willing engaging with his dukes up. It’s another to beat a man on the back of the head while he is falling to the ice and laying there. There is a word for that: criminal.

  16. Sarah says:

    Yup. And virtual silence. I spent all am looking….nhl, CBC, tsn….nada.

  17. Sarah says:

    Sadly I am not sure that type of event is hockey-specific….

  18. twentytwo22 says:

    Honestly, I’m not sure how people like you matriculate to hockey in the first place. I’ve spent some time thinking about it and have concluded that you liked hockey when you were younger and more exuberant and as you’ve gotten older you have become soft.

    There are 3 kinds of hardcore hockey ‘fans’ currently:
    1. Girly men
    2. People who say ‘oh no the girly men are upset’
    3. People who hate both 1 and 2 and wish they’d both go away forever.

    I’m a #3 man myself.

    Let’s take a trip back in time to February 11, 2011. Two games are on TV. Which one are you watching?

    Game 1:

    Game 2:

    I believe you were a fan through the time period in the 1980s. I put forth that is the most entertaining era of the sport. It was the highest scoring most penalized era of the sport. My favorite team is the Penguins in 1988-1989. A hockey magazine dubbed them the red light kids. They scored a lot of goals and played an exciting brand of hockey. They also set an NHL record for PIMs in a season. And they weren’t obstruction fouls.

    1988-1989 (Way too exciting can’t take it)
    Goals/Game 7.48
    Penalty Minutes/Game 50.41 (oh the humanity)

    Goals/Game 4.34 (4.37 goals against for a whopping 8.71 Goals/Game Not enough stick on puck!)
    Penalty Minutes/Game 33.38

    2012-2013 NHL
    Goals/Game 5.31
    Penalty Minutes/Game 22.78 (22.78 too many for you)

    Penguins with 100+ Penalty Minutes. (Not exclusively obstruction fouls)
    285 RW Jay Caufield
    193 D Paul Coffey
    165 LW Troy Loney
    163 D Jim Johnson
    157 C Dave Hannan
    156 LW Randy Cunneyworth
    141 D Randy Hillier
    135 RW Richard Zemlak
    126 D Steve Dykstra
    124 LW Bob Errey
    118 RW Rob Brown
    112 C John Cullen
    105 D Rod Buskas
    102 C/RW Dan Quinn
    100 C Mario Lemieux
    97 LW/D Phil Bourque

    That’s 15 guys. A game roster is 18.

    I’d love to see your outrage then given that the Penalty Minutes per game are half and it’s still too much for you to take.

    The funny thing is if you remove the 10 minute misconducts from last night’s game there were 74 PIMs. In 1988-89 we got last night almost nightly. Hardly any Euros so if you laid your hands on a guy the fight had already begun. And if you saw your teammate getting the snot beat out of him, you rushed to aid him.

    100 Penalty Minute Penguins of recent vintage I had to exclude 2011-12 because the Penguins had 0.

    Goals/Game 2.78
    Penalty Minutes/Game 16.93 (Still 16.93 too many for you)

    129 LW Matt Cooke
    124 LW/C Mike Rupp
    123 D Deryk Engelland
    105 RW Eric Godard
    101 D Kris Letang

    You can go on the Penguins message board and in a subsection read what I wrote. I tabulated the numbers since the forming of the 6 team league or just after expansion. I forget.

    Hockey’s about emotion. It is the lifeblood of the sport. That is why I care. The best hockey is played on the edge. Edge of mayhem breaking out. That’s the hockey that I remember. That’s the kind of hockey that makes my blood boil. That’s the kind of hockey that makes me feel alive. That’s the hockey that makes me a lifelong fan. Until I die there is no better kind.

    Coaches hate emotion. Emotion leads to mental breakdowns. Emotion leads to penalties. Fights. Goals. Excitement. Rowdy crowds. Passionate play. And it’s dangerous.

    Coaches want to put the other team to sleep and sneak out of town with a 2-1 or 1-0 win. They hate emotion and players that bring emotion to the rink. Those players bring out the emotion in the other team and make them care more. Kevin Constantine despised guys like Darius Kasparaitis and Matthew Barnaby. I think it says a lot that coaches hate emotion. Because it makes the other team play better. Not only that it makes the game exciting. You want anti-septic hockey. It puts people to sleep and nobody cares but hey it’s safe.

    Ask any ex-hockey player what game they would rather play. Ask any ex-hockey player which games are more memorable.

    I saw that there was a high sticking double minor in that one game so that probably is still too violent for you. You’d watch soccer where players get stretchered off the field when they get kicked in the shin.

    The problem I have with people like you is that you won’t go away. You think you want for something better and you don’t understand that you will get something worse. Soon there will be fewer than 5 goals a game. There will be almost no penalties. The hitting will be removed because that will be too much for you. Every game will be benign. Teams will skate politely back to the bench. No arguments. No pushing and shoving. No amimosity. Passionless robot chess on ice. Bob Errey will scream between the benches ‘SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING HIT SOMEBODY PUT A GLOVE IN SOMEBODY’S FACE SHOW SOME EMOTION!’

    I’m telling you that you have to live with the consequences of emotional hockey to have a league with the best hockey. Most of the 82 games played are already snoozefests. I cherish the few times a year I get to see the hockey that made me fall in love with the sport.

    On the other hand, I also think that the sooner that the NHL goes all girly the sooner something else will arise that offers something better. I can’t be the only person who knows that the best hockey is dangerous hockey. The worst hockey is safe hockey. Some of those men have to be owners. The new league will go up and the players will sign waivers that say ‘I only have 1 mother and I told the bitch I’m playing hockey’.

    Give me a 1980s hockey league and it will sell more tickets. People can watch and not have to apologize or feel guilty for enjoying seeing boys being boys.

  19. Brandie says:

    You forget about the piece of trash who heads up the NCAA, with my apologies to tras and all things trashy. Mr. Bettman is not too far behind. Show me where gratuitous violence advances this game in any way and I’ll show you one very surprised individual.


  20. Sarah says:

    Good lord.

  21. Sarah says:

    There’s really too much here that’s so ignorant, it’s hard to bother.
    But first – ALL sports have a large emotional component. Not all sports tolerate rabbit punches.
    It’s not that difficult a distinction to make.

  22. Barb says:

    I don’t know even how to respond to that diatribe.

  23. theplanisworking says:

    I do.

    Put himself, or a family member in a fight, and get a severe injury, and see how fast his tune changes.

    Or, it is trolling.
    Take your pick.

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