Last night I was transported to the Can for the Edmonton game by a group of friends for a belated birthday present, and for the first time I got to sit on the Club Level with the bourgeoisie.
This was interesting because normally when my buddy Loewe and I would sit at the top of section 362 against the wall, we would make a point of throwing our empty beer cups down on the Club Level below after goals were scored. So I was a bit flinchy.
Fortunately there were a fair share of Avs sweaters on the Club Level. But for the most part it was the black leather and turtleneck crowd. I'm at a loss for how to describe these people. If you yell at the ice some of them look at you like you should go back to the farm, and at the same time they look like they would only be happy paying $9 for a martini to watch the game on a big screen...because really, most of them do!
The Club Level at the Pepsi Center not only features waiters who will charge you jacked up prices to bring you small drinks, but you can go to one of the two large bars or any of about 5 small carts. These are provided so that you, ya "dedicated" hockey fan can drop a sizable chunk of your dot com money that you lucked into over the last decade to get drunk and stare at other people wearing black who are also sitting in the bar, not 20 feet away from the actual game, watching the action on a TV.
The layout in the Pepsi Center even fosters this class system of behavior, as the Club Level is pretty much only accessible by elevator...so that ya know, you don't have rub elbows with the peasantry as you are staring at your escort's surgically enhanced chest.
Fortunately the Avs in front of Peter Budaj (The Q actually rested Theo! Big day!) were able to lay a beating on the Oil, calming my attitude significantly. Kyle Cumiskey even saw a decent amount of playing time which led to a good discussion with my friend Hippie Nate.
He estimated that like Dan Hinote, Cumiskey is definitely one of the best, if not THE best skater on the team. But like Hinote, Cumiskey would become nothing more than a role player.
I had to disagree...because I like playing devil's advocate and I'm a fan of Cumiskey. He is definitely the most fluid skater on the team, and with more experience and a bit more size and muscle should become a mainstay on the top four.
Last night he made a few sharp passes, and skated well with the puck. Although I got the feeling the coaching staff is trying to keep him from carrying the puck all the way up the ice, as that leaves a defensive slot open in the event of a turnover. So nearly every time Cumiskey hits center ice he looks to either dump the puck and hold his ground, or headman the puck...even if sometimes he is the first guy up on a rush.
This got me thinking (when I wasn't thinking about how Wojtek Wolski is the Avalanche's version of former Bronco Darien Gordon i.e. incredible for short periods, but mostly a bonehead), will we ever see another great skating and offensively influential defensemen the likes of Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey?
Will anyone even get the chance?
The new open ice begs for a fast defenseman who can lead the way. Yet few teams seem to allow their offensive defensemen to control a game like Orr did, for fear of giving up odd man rushes.
Brian Campbell of San Jose comes to mind as a possible candidate as the next dominating offensive defenseman. But outside of Campbell most scoring d-men are merely content to collect assists on the power play, while staying up at the blue line. Nick Lidstrom is certainly "high scoring" and great in his own end, but when exactly were we told to consider 70 points out of a #1 defenseman to be "incredible"?
From 1984 to 1990 Paul Coffey had 5 seasons of over 100 points, including three seasons of over 120 points, topping off at an astounding 138 points (with 48 goals!) in the 1985-86 season. I'm sure nobody needs to be reminded but in comparison, last year Sid the Kid rang up a paltry 120 points in winning the scoring title.
Sure, that was Edmonton in the 80's. And yes, they let Coffey skate up because most other defensemen were slow. And certainly, Grant Fuhr was THAT good that he could be left alone in his own zone...but that team scored at will and it was amazing. The Gretzky Oilers did great things for hockey.
If there is a fundamental change that needs to happen to increase scoring in the NHL, why don't pundits stop talking about increasing the size of the goal, or further constricting pad sizes on goalies, or any other deviation on a game that was fine for the better part of the last century. Instead they should promote offensive creativity that includes ALL of the players on the ice.
I believe it is possible to constantly send four players into the offensive zone and still make up for any mistakes that lead to odd man rushes, simply because there are more great skaters in the game than there were ten years ago. And if you think about it, aren't most forwards better defensively because they were made to play defense in trapping systems? So why not let a defender break out while rotating in a defensive minded forward behind him?
It would take some doing. But if Jacques Lemaire and Scotty Bowman were able to institute variations on the neutral zone trap like they did, surely there is a coach in hockey who could find ways around those things with offense. All it takes is creativity and guts.
And in the case of the Avalanche the willingness to allow speedy defensemen like Cumiskey to run with the puck.