An NHL Christmas: "No gifts for you!"

Donald Miralle

Arctic Ice Hockey has made their list and checked it twice. Read on to find out who was naughty or nice this year.

OK, kids, form a lineup. It's that time of the year for gift-giving. Or not.

We call this segment Goal or Coal, which is to say NHLers on their best behaviour in the past 12 months can expect a sweet something in their Christmas stocking, but those who acted like ass-clowns will have to deal with the Gift Nazi -- cousin to the Soup Nazi.

GOAL: Patrick Burke. Burke, a Philadelphia Flyers scout and son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, launched the You Can Play Project in March. The organization is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. Dozens of NHL players, including Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets, have tossed their support behind You Can Play by appearing in videos and confirming they would welcome a gay player into their dressing room.

Those lads are all beautiful people.

COAL: Bobblehead Bettman and Dour Donny. "No gifts for you!" This is a no-brainer. And they don't get just one lump of coal each. They get the whole freaking coal mine! The two main villains in the NHL-NHLPA's smarmy spat, commish Bettman and players' mouthpiece Fehr have been the naughtiest of the naughty, hijacking the hockey season and engaging in adolescent behaviour. Commish Bettman's little temper tantrum a couple of weeks ago established new standards for petulant foot-stomping.

GOAL: Illya (Sound Bytes) Bryzgalov. The Philadelphia Flyers goaltender might be the best quote in the NHL. Ever. He scored with his mouth on numerous occasions last season, but he saved his quality stuff for the playoffs. Asked which member of the Pittsburgh Penguins posed the greatest threat to the Flyers, Bryz said: "I'm not afraid of anything. I'm only afraid of bear...bear in the forest." Little wonder. There's a famous Russian folk tale, you see, about little Masha, who gets lost in the forest and is held captive by a big, ol' bear. "You must never go out without me, for if you do I will catch you and eat you up," the bear tells Masha. A bear in the forest eating you up trumps anything Sidney Crosby can do every time.

COAL: Ondrej Pavelec. "No gift for you!" Will it be one lump or two? Actually, the Winnipeg Jets goaltender gets two, one for being convicted of a DUI back home in the Czech Republic and another for not disclosing his scrape with the law to ownership/management during contract negotiations that landed him a $19.5-million, five-year contract. That's lame, Pavs.

GOAL: Nicklas Lidstrom. There's been just one defenceman better than the Detroit Red Wings captain—No. 4 Bobby Orr. Lidstrom put the punctuation mark on a highly decorated career that included seven Norris Trophy salutes (one less than Orr) as the NHL's top rearguard. If they ever start playing again, it will be interesting to see what life is like for the Wings post-Lidstrom.

COAL: The Phoenix Coyotes. "No gifts for you!" The league-owned Desert Dogs held a whine-and-cheesey party after being eliminated from last spring's Stanley Cup tournament by the Los Angeles Kings. Their ouster was all part of a grand conspiracy? There were corrupt officials hiding behind the grassy knoll, don't you know? The fix was in. It’s disappointing, for a season to end like that, is how goaltender Mike Smith, explained the 'Yotes' adios. "It’s disappointing that we not only got beaten by them, but by the officials, too. It’s not just this game, it’s all season long. It seems like they did everything they could to [prevent us from getting] to this position. I’m not taking anything away from the Kings. They deserve to be here. They play hard, they’re a tough opponent. But when we battle as hard as we do to get to this point—it seems like everyone was against us." Rearguard Keith Yandle was among many who provided the backup vocals. "It’s a crime scene, it’s unfortunate," said Yandle. "I know they wear the same color jerseys as them, as the Kings. But they didn’t have to play for them tonight." Wa, wa, wa. What the Coyotes didn't explain was this: Why would the NHL conspire to have the very team it owns get screwed by the zebras?

GOAL: The Hockey Hall of Fame, which often gets it wrong, got it right this year with the inductions of Mats Sundin, Adam Oates, Pavel Bure and Joe Sakic.

COAL: Jim Devellano. "No gift for you!" Those aren't "mooooooos" you hear, they're "booooooos" directed at Devellano. The Red Wings vice-president stepped in a fresh cow paddy when, in a radio interview, he referred to locked out NHL players as "cattle." Apparently, Jimbo didn't get the memo from Bobblehead Bettman that a gag order had been placed on all management. Head 'em out, move 'em out, Jimmy!

GOAL: Claude Noel. The Jets coach is, much like Bryzgalov, a quote machine. He isn't a space cadet like our boy Bryz, but he's brutally frank, funny and witty. I'm convinced he has a future as a TV talking head if the Jets ever sour on him.

COAL: Craig Leipold. "No gift for you!" Ya, what you want to do is plead poverty and boo hoo about long-term contracts and outrageous salaries, then sign two players for $196 million. And 26 years. And then vote to shut down the NHL because he doesn't want owners to sign players to long-term, outrageous salaries. Like $196 million over 26 years. The Minnesota Wild majority owner is a buffoon. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise probably don't think so, but Leipold is a buffoon.

Ed. Note: We hope you enjoyed our first annual instalment of GOAL or COAL. Be sure to provide any omissions we may have overlooked in the comments section below.

We would also like to extend a safe and joyous holiday season to you and yours and wish you all a very prosperous new year.

Merry Christmas!

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