From Comcast SportsNetNHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's vision of a bigger footprint for hockey is finally coming into focus.But it's not just the skyrocketing TV ratings for these playoffs in markets both traditional, like Philly, Boston and Chicago, and those traditionally slow to come around, like Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix. It's the tire marks on the backs of the jerseys of some of the league's best players. The game has never been more popular, nor seemed so out of control.The latest to get run over was the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa, who was taken off the ice in Chicago on a stretcher and briefly hospitalized after absorbing a blow to the head from a shoulder hit launched by Phoenix's Raffi Torres. Everybody in the building saw it -- including apparently Bettman himself, who was in attendance -- except the four officials whose job it is to police that kind of mayhem. And because they didn't see it, according to a league statement issued after the game, they didn't call a penalty, despite the fact that Torres left his skates to deliver the blow."First off, I hope he's all right," Torres, a serial offender as cheap shots go, said after the game. "But as far as the hit goes, I felt like it was a hockey play. I was just trying to finish my hit out there, and, as I said, I hope he's all right."Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was so mad after the game that he was sputtering."It was a brutal hit. You can have a multiple-choice question, it's All of the above.' I saw exactly what happened, it was right in front of me, and all four guys missed it."The refereeing tonight," he added, "was a disgrace."It was. But even the best officiating crews are helpless against the tide of fights, cross-checks, hits to the head and sneak attacks that is overwhelming some otherwise very entertaining hockey. They aren't getting much help, either, from league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, whose decisions grow more bizarre with each incident that reaches his desk. Shanahan began by letting Nashville's Shea Weber off with a 2,500 fine -- roughly the cost of one shift -- after the All-Star purposely smashed the head of Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass at the end of Game 1 of their series. Then he suspended Chicago's Andrew Shaw and New York's Carl Hagelin for three games each after both hit opponents without obvious intent during the run of play.Cross-checking, hair-pulling, instigating fights -- Shanahan has handed out punishments for all those violations, too, with differing results. As a former player of some stature, he took the job determined to bring some predictability to the punishment his office doles out and even explained his decisions with accompanying video evidence. But lately those explanations have been all over the map. Players no longer know whether the line is being drawn at intent or result -- injuring another player -- or even the star power of the violator who winds up in the dock. So everybody, from Sidney Crosby to repeat offenders like Torres are getting in on the action.After winning 3-2 in overtime Tuesday night, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was asked about the different sentences being handed out and whether he trusted the NHL front office to get each one right. In Game 2, the Blackhawks' Shaw ran over Smith, who has a history of concussions, behind his net and got the three-game sentence, even though the goalkeeper hasn't missed a minute of playing time. Even more maddening -- as far as the Blackhawks were concerned -- was that the length of Shaw's suspension wasn't announced until Tuesday afternoon, once it was determined Smith would play in Game 3. Had he been unable to go, presumably Shaw's suspension would have been even longer."I don't know if it's a trust factor. It's a tough job. Whether it's blatant, on purpose, or not. It's tough to get that read up there," Smith said. "Obviously, the head hits have to be cut down. It's people's livelihoods, not hockey ... people have families and kids at home and wives, and when we're getting into head and concussion issues around the whole league, I think we need to put a stop to it."But the NHL's commitment to limit concussions is either full-time, as it has been for the past few seasons and most of this one, or it's not. The league knows the difference, but it also knows that pandemonium on the ice is a lot easier for plenty of viewers to follow than a puck. Sold-out arenas and through-the-roof TV ratings across the board, including towns like Phoenix -- whose Coyotes may well be playing in another city next season -- are a testament to that.Back in January, even as the league was touting the fact that fights-per-game had dropped to low levels not seen since the mid-70s, Toronto general manager Brian Burke groused out loud about having to send his enforcer, Colton Orr, down to the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate.Burke, who once held Shanahan's job, said his team was barely able to use Orr -- he appeared in just five of Toronto's 39 games -- because hardly anyone wanted to fight him. He predicted that abandoning the code that governed who fought and when would result in more players taking cheap shots and seeking revenge in even more dangerous ways."I wonder where we're going with it, that's the only lament I have on this," he said at the time. "The fear that if we don't have guys looking after each other, that the rats will take this game over."Too late. They already have.
Zach LaVine quickly made a name for himself as a prolific, epic dunker.
The recently acquired Bull won both the 2015 and 2016 Slam Dunk Contests and has plenty of awe-inspiring in-game dunks as well.
The video above has a few of LaVine's best efforts.
His signature dunks in the dunk contests were the 2015 dazzler when he caught the ball from behind the backboard and went through his legs before slamming it and the through the legs from just inside the free throw line dunk in 2016.
For in-game dunks, the time he posterized Alex Len in November was an instant-classic. It's not everyday a 7-footer gets dismissed with such authority.
Of course, LaVine's ability to dunk at this prodigious level is in question after he tore his ACL this past season. If LaVine can come back to anywhere near full strength, look for some impressive highlights from the former dunk champ in a Bulls uniform.
Mark Buehrle didn’t have the kind of attributes found in most of the dominant pitchers of the post-steroid era. He was a 38th-round draft pick with a fastball that, on a good day, would scrap the upper 80’s.
On Saturday, Buehrle will become the third pitcher to have his number retired in White Sox history, joining Ted Lyons (No. 16) and Billy Pierce (No. 19). For Don Cooper, who was Buehrle’s pitching coach from 2002-2011, it’s not hard to see why the St. Charles, Mo. native’s name will forever be a part of White Sox history.
“Reliable, consistent, dependable, winner, good guy, unflappable, these are words that come to mind when I think about him,” Cooper said.
Cooper was flooded with plenty of memories of Buehrle during the dozen minutes he spent chatting with the media on Friday. He said he learned a lot from working with Buehrle, watching him fill up the strike zone and induce early, weak contact while working at a brisk pace. One of Cooper's memories that stood out was this one:
“I can remember in the bullpen, he’d be warming up, he’d throw about 10 pitches,” Cooper said. “He’d look at me, I’d look at him. He wasn’t throwing very good. He turned to me and said, ‘Come on, let’s go, this isn’t going to get me any better.’”
But that was Buehrle — “In many ways, you could just wind him up and you’re throwing him out there every five days,” Cooper said. He battled through days where he didn’t have his best stuff — not that his stuff was electric to begin with — and turned in 14 consecutive years with 200 or more innings.
Buehrle, of course, threw a no-hitter in 2007 and a perfect game in 2009, and along with save in Game 3 of the World Series represent some of the crowning achievements of his career. Cooper was happy to have been a part of it from his perch on the White Sox bench.
“I think he was blessed,” Cooper said. “He was given a lot of gifts. The sinking fastball, the changeup, the cutter. His curveball, by scouts’ assessments, would probably be rated an average curveball. But as time went and as his stuff went down, we started to use that more. When he was at his best, we would throw about 8-10 of those. But as he started losing his stuff we had to mix more of those in. And listen, the career he had, his number being retired, the kids, his family — blessed. He’s been a blessed guy.”