When Linus Omark performed his now infamous center-ice spin-o-rama in Saturday’s shootout against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the last thing that went through my mind was, “Boy, that guy is disrespectful.” I appear to be in the minority.
Many within the hockey establishment, primarily the players and management, don’t seem to be enjoying the attention Omark’s move is garnering. With over 175,000 views on YouTube in just over two days, the video has surpassed many videos of Sidney Crosby’s “Golden Goal.” Check it out on YouTube:
All arguments aside, I’d have thought many general managers with half empty arenas would be ecstatic at the online attention gained by the shootout goal of a team placed 14th in its conference.
Not too long ago, the NHL “Code” became a headline topic thanks to Mike Richards’ criticism of rookie PK Subban. Subban wasn’t being respectful, according to Richards, because of his tendency to get in the grill of star players. Subban clearly loves to chirp to all those within hearing range, but his proficiency at targeting veterans and big name players drew the ire of many.
The situation brought to light the well known, but little talked about players’ code and its core message of respect; respect that is earned through time served, accomplishments and humility. The code, as discussed in the Richards-Subban situation, sounded like an Old Boys Club and contrary to the image Gary Bettman and the NHL marketing team would like to portray to non-traditional fans.
The criticism of Omark’s unorthodox shootout winner is only serving to reinforce the old-school image of the inner workings of the NHL. Whether intended or not, Omark and Subban’s critics are saying that conformity and adherence to tradition are essential cornerstones of the unwritten code. This would appear to fly completely in the face of what the NHL leadership has been trying to do with the shootout.
The shootout was brought in to dispel the image of a game shackled to tradition. The shootout is fast, exciting, and an opportunity to demonstrate individual skill rather than the team structure that can appear boring to fans who aren’t students of the game. The merits of this tactic within a team sport are debatable, but the shootout is here and the NHL is determined to keep it.
So is the league trying to go in one direction while the players go in another? It appears it is, and appearances are everything in entertainment.
As for the actual move, I can’t see a problem with it. There is one, and only one, task in hockey – win. Whatever a player can do, within the rules of the game, in order to win should be done. Omark is a shootout specialist to a certain degree. He’s gotten that reputation through a series of unique shootout appearances in Europe. His methods have worked. His methods have won games.
On Saturday, his method won the game for Edmonton. A job well done.
Many critics have said that the spin, which happened before even reaching the blueline, was an unnecessary addition to his fake slapshot, which they say froze Dan Ellis.
Omark was facing a goalie with a .876 save percentage and 3.23 goals against average. Those aren’t numbers of a goalie playing with a ton of confidence, and when reviewing the video of Omark’s game winning goal, it is clear that Ellis froze well before the faked shot. Just like everyone at Rexall Place and those watching from home, Ellis had a “What the…?” moment. He lost his focus and the cause was Omark’s spin.
I don’t feel Omark was trying to make a mockery of the shootout or the game of hockey. He was establishing himself as an unpredictable player in the minds of goaltenders throughout the league. The worst thing during a breakaway or shootout is being predictable. Goalies study their opponents to understand them and determine patterns.
He didn’t just get into the mind of Ellis, he got into the mind of every other NHL goalie with that move.
Omark did what Peter Forsberg did in Lillehammer – he beat the goalie with a unique move.
The Omark and Subban controversies serve as a warning to the NHL and its players. In any professional team sport there are expectations for rookies. Just like a junior employee at a company, respect is earned with experience. However, muzzling opinions, creativity and uniqueness can only serve to hurt all those involved.
Its time for everyone to give credit where credit is due and show Omark some respect for a darn good goal.