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Savran: One man's thrill another's boredom

Saturday, May 04, 2002

On the outside looking in. A voyeur's view of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There is no question the National Hockey League has many problems, and they are great. That being said, boredom is in the eye of the beholder. The excitement level of low-scoring, or non-scoring, playoff games is tethered to one's degree of attachment.

You might recall any number of tight, tough, playoff games involving the Penguins, and if they were boring someone forgot to tell us.

In retrospect, the 1996 Eastern Conference final against the watching-paint-dry Florida Panthers with their wretched rat trap were catatonic, I suppose. Except for those of us in Pittsburgh and South Florida -- I remember it not as boring, but as gut-wrenching and riveting high drama.

Excitement in hockey does not correlate directly to scoring, but rather to scoring chances. There's nothing wrong with a shutout if it's the product of great goaltending. When it comes from hardly needing your goalkeeper, that's when you've got a problem.

The NHL has a problem, and he currently occupies the commissioner's office.

If you've been watching the exploits of the Colorado Avalanche in the postseason, perhaps you can help me out. I see this guy for the Avalanche wearing No. 11. He bears a strong physical resemblance to the Darius Kasparaitis who used to play for the Penguins. But that can't be him, can it?

This guy delivers hits in Colorado about as often as the Pirates did this week. I haven't seen him lay anybody out. Of course, from what I can tell from the television, he doesn't often seem to be out of position, either.

Is this the same Darius Kasparaitis who wanted to stay here but presumably was deemed too undisciplined to keep?

I'll answer my own question: Yeah, that's the same Kasparaitis.

Word is that upon his arrival in Denver, head coach Bob Hartley told him he didn't want a roving Terminator. He wanted his defensemen to stay at home, play solid positionally, not leaving his defense partner nor the other skaters on the ice vulnerable because he had strayed away from his appointed rounds.

Deliver the big hit when it presents itself, to be sure, but only within the parameters of team defense.

So that's all it took?

One word from Hartley, and Kasparaitis is transformed?

This vigilante approach to search and destroy is what Penguins' fans loved about the guy and, apparently, Penguins' management hated.

My question is, if all it took was one talking-to by the Avalanche's coach, was the same approach tried with Kasparaitis in Pittsburgh?

If his admittedly often undisciplined play was a bone of contention and the primary reason they had little interest in keeping him in a Penguins sweater, did they ever sit him down and lay down the law? Or at least ask him to moderate his style a bit?

Based on the way he has played for the Avalanche, he apparently was willing. And if they did discuss it with him and he refused, why was he so willing to do so for Hartley?

Perhaps the problem lies with those doing the asking ... if they did.

Five playoff appearances, four lasting one round. Seven years, six coaches, one general manager. Sound like a coaching problem to you?

Apparently in Philadelphia it is.

General Mangler Bobby Clarke, who must possess the powers of Svengali, has convinced owner Ed Snider, who once again absolved his GM. "Don't shoot him He's just the piano player." And he didn't even have Eric Lindros to pin it on this time around.

Clarke, of course, is lost in the '70s. Lost in the days when the Broad Street Bullies bludgeoned their way to two consecutive championships.

He thinks that's still the way to win the Cup. Allow the Flyers to play a game of one-zone hockey, and you're in trouble. Make them play the whole rink, and they're dead.

The Flyers are big, slow, and ponderous.

Clarke's answer to big, slow, and ponderous? Get bigger, slower and more ponderous.

But Clarke has impaled coach No. 6 on his lance, miraculously deflecting the blame from where it rightfully belongs. And even if you believe the coaches were at fault, who hired them?

The temerity of that Patrick Lalime, once asking the Penguins for starting goaltender's money.

Enjoy these playoffs while you can. Next year, when ABC/ESPN begins televising the NBA, you'll have to set your alarm clock for the middle of the night to see hockey.

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Pittsburgh

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