The news that the Islanders have lured Hall of Fame Coach Al Arbour out of retirement to come back and coach a single game†behind their bench on November 3 has the smell of misguided gimmick to it.†(He’ll sign a one-day contract the previous day, which the league† apparently will honor.) Certainly the move†doesn’t bolster the credibility of the long ridiculed length and alleged meaninglessness of NHL regular season games. And if the Penguins and Islanders are entwined in a tight affair late that night, does Ted Nolan really want a man removed from†NHL bench leadership by more than a decade†making the vital line calls? Perhaps Arbour won’t, in which case this is a genuine gimmick of credibility demeaning nostalgia. A long disorganized and unserious organization has this week freshly reminded us of the merits of its laughingstock status.
Nolan, apparently, is particularly disturbed that Arbour’s games-coached tally has been stuck on 1,499:
“Every day last season I would walk by that big board outside our locker room at the Coliseum that lists the franchise’s award winners and milestones,” said Nolan. “And every day it would kill me when I’d see Coach Arbour made it to 1,499 games.”
Aren’t players and coaches supposed to leave the game when their genuine and general effectiveness is finished, irrespective off well-rounded-off participation numbers? Isn’t that at the heart of credibility in our games?
To some extent hockey is prone to these showmanship stages of stupidity. Remember Gordie Howe’s appearance in a Detroit Vipers’ uniform at the age of 69 in 1997? It was an outlandish attempt by Howe to obtain credit for “skating professionally” in his sixth or†ninth decade. Mr. Hockey has no greater admirer than yours truly, but there were forays in his later years that invited universal criticism for irrefutable unseemliness. And of course there’s the ubiquitously negative association, explanation altogether unnecessary, with Gary Bettman’s “Glo-puck.” †††††
I’d be interested to know what Don Cherry’s take on this Isles’ prank is this morning.
But here’s a big “but” to my critique of hockey’s looking to the past and attempting to honor it. Such attempts, when appropriately conceived, can be enriching events. Not long after my early visits to Kettler Capitals this past season I had a few discussions with various members’ of the team’s communications staffers about the general appeal and terrific possibilities associated with the Caps’†annual Alumni game. In this shinny new showcase home the game, I told them, could be must-see affair for Caps’ fans of all ages and patronage periods. We all agreed that sooner rather than later the stands would be teeming with†puckheads embracing a glimpse of the team’s past.
That alumni game has drawn†largely middling participation from Caps past, most commonly of those who’ve remained reasonably near D.C. after their careers ended. But with the team’s uniform unveiling and Entry Draft party last month, we saw the dawning I think of a refreshing embrace of that past, by the team and its alumni, with the likes†of Langway, Sylvan Cote, and especially Mike Gartner†returning home. I would expect all three to skate in next spring’s†Alumni Game, schedules permitting.
Now then, I have this idea for expanding the production values and overall quality of that game.†There should be an audio call of it, broadcast in Kettler and on the team’s web site, by a broadcaster lured, for one night,†out of his retirement. That same night, this broadcaster†should be honored with his own banner†raised in the rink. His name is Ron Weber. ††††