Friday night in Edmonton, NHL rookie Linus Omark made his mark on the league in his very first NHL game. Sent out on the shootout, Omark did a little spin-o-rama on the blue line as he went in for his shot:
As you can see, Omark scored on Dan Ellis, clinching the win for the Oilers, and after the game, the Lightning players had plenty to say about the play. Ellis said it was "not a very classy thing." Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund said it was disrespectful; another TBL player called it "a joke".
The Lightning outshot the Oilers 41-23 in a game that Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin clearly stole for the team.
The question is: would the Lightning have cared so much if they hadn't lost?
Player, fan and writer reactions across the league have been mixed in the past 48 hours.
For example, Minneapolis hockey beat writer noted on his Twitter account, "These Lightning quotes are hillllarrriousss; Mattias Ohlund, who broke Mikko Koivu's leg w an intentional 2-hand chop, talking about respect." Koivu currently plays for the MN Wild; Ohlund played for Vancouver at the time during the 2007-08 season. (See video of that incident here; the MN StarTribune reported that it resulted in a cracked fibula.)
Hockey writers across the league asked players from other teams what they thought of it; players responded with anything from having no problem with it to adding further fuel to the "disrespectful" argument.
Fan Twitter favorite Paul Bissonnette (Phoenix Coyotes; @biznasty2point0) tweeted after the game, "Just watched Linus O'marks shoutout goal..... Just bought a Linus O'mark jersey on NHL.com.... but with spelt his last name GOD on the back." He then followed that remark with, "all i know is Omark's move is good for the game. which means more fans in seats. which means.... Omark=Less Escrow. #ThanksLinus".
The Oilers coach, Tom Renney, was quoted as saying “I just wanted him to score,” said Renney. “I can’t restrict him from being creative. All you want is for him to respect the league, respect your opponent, do what you do best. Beyond that, deal with it.”
Omark didn't just magically start making his mark last night in the NHL, however; plug his name into YouTube and you'll find lots - and lots - of amazing goals.
Omark's move was flashy. The strongest argument against it was that the game was on the line with his goal, and if the Oilers had lost the game, it would've been his own team coming down on him, and the Lightning would've been laughing about the spin-o-rama all night.
But that's not how it worked out.
"It's embarrassing for [Omark]," TBL goalie Dan Ellis said after the game.
Was it embarrassing for Omark? Not quite; he did win the game. And he didn't go wildly over the top on his goal celebration, either.
If Tampa Bay is worried about what's embarrassing, maybe they should consider that their home game tickets are on the resale market for as little as $2.70/seat. Their record is 16-10-4 with a respectable 36 points - good enough to earn a playoff berth in the playoffs if they started tomorrow, and on par with half the Western Conference - not to mention being home to the top scorer in the league (Steven Stamkos), and yet they can't fill their home arena on a regular basis.
Perhaps the Lightning are frustrated for reasons beyond the fact they lost a game to the upstart Oilers. They've won a Stanley Cup - the last one before the lockout in 2004-05 - but they've struggled to maintain a steady fanbase in the Florida market.
Meanwhile, the Oilers, who won 5 Stanley Cups in the 1980s, have struggled as a team since trading Wayne Gretzky to the LA Kings. After a string of horrible seasons, they collected several excellent draft picks, including this year's top pick, Taylor Hall. Hall has not disappointed, joining fellow rookies Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle to help revitalize a franchise and giving the dedicated fans of Edmonton something to cheer about again.
Maybe Lightning scoring sensation Steven Stamkos has forgotten he once did a spot for TSN talking about various nifty moves to do in the shootout, including - what do you know, the spin-o-rama:
On the other hand, the shootout is nothing more than a skills competition to decide what has already been a tight contest: three shooters coming in against a goalie for each side. It is not some time-honored, ancient NHL tradition; it's only been around since 2005, when it was decided that there should no longer be ties in NHL games.
Fans reactions to shootouts are mixed. Some love the skills contest, and when it comes to late games, players and fans alike just want it to be over. But on the other hand, hockey is a team game, and leaving the outcome of a hotly contested game to who can best the opponent's goalie more is - well, boring.
Hockey players won't deny that they're in the entertainment business. And Omark was, well, entertaining. At a point when the NHL is finally resurging in popularity after the lockout a few years back, the last thing the league should be doing is cracking down on players having personalities; but as PuckDaddy pointed out today, there's a "war against personality in today's NHL."
Granted, we don't want the NHL to be filled with the kind of divas and showboaters that the NBA, NFL and the MBA have in spades. Hockey has always been and will always be a team sport. It's interesting to note that the two players which the NHL seem to be most ardently cramming down fans' throats are at the opposite end of the spectrum: Sidney Crosby, Canadian cover boy for Team Gosh-Gee-Whiz squeaky cleanliness; and Alex Ovechkin, the dark, brooding (yet funny) Moscow native who seems to relish in having that "bad boy" image.
If the NHL is going to promote both extremes - in fact, highlight it by making this year's Bridgestone Winter Classic between these two players' teams - then it would make sense to let all the "boys be boys", wouldn't it?
With today's "YouTube generation", it's also inevitable that the face of the game is going to change. The NHL is widely acknowledged as being the most fan-friendly, internet-savvy of the five major sports leagues. Game videos are posted to NHL.com before games are even over; why is it surprising that fans are eating up Omark's goal, or P.K. Subban chirping Brad Richards, or Paul Bisssonnette's colorful ramblings on Twitter?
We all know that hockey is a business. (Here in Chicago, boy, do we ever. Salary cap, anyone?) But one of the great joys of being a hockey fan is knowing that the boys on the teams have personalities. Let the players express themselves a bit more. Sure, make rules to make sure nobody kills each other on the ice, but let them scrap and chirp.
And maybe, just maybe, let the players say what they really think when one of their own do something that they probably wish they could do themselves.