Hockey is back — and not a puck-drop too soon

Tired of politics with your sports, Bubba? The endless off-the-field problems?

In that case, Balls has some great news for you.

The NHL season has started. And not a second too soon, either.

Because the NHL is about, um, er, ah …

Yeah, that’s it — the NHL is about hockey of all things!

You know, the games. The goals, The saves. The hits. The scores. The standings.

Ten reasons why we puckheads are glad hockey is back

Best game. No sport has better mix of finesse, strength and continuous action. It’s not unusual for more than five minutes to elapse without a whistle. In the NFL and MLB, that’s enough time for one video replay review.

Best people. Hockey players aren’t perfect. Few choir boys here. But they are the most genuine, well-grounded athletes in pro sports by far.

Oh, and hockey players are ultimate we guys, not me guys. Would you believe they even play back-to-back games and not whine about it?

Best tradition. Quick — what’s the name of the World Series trophy? The NBA championship trophy? You don’t have to follow hockey to recognize the 123-year-old Stanley Cup, the most respected prize in pro sports, not to mention the hardest one to win.

Best competition. Turn on an NBA game at halftime and chances are one team has a double-figure lead. Do that midway through an NHL game, though, and there’s usually reason to watch the rest of it.

Sidney Crosby. He’s the greatest winner in pro sports. Best captain and leader, too.

Lots of young talent: From Nikita Kucherov to Patrick Laine to Auston Matthews to Matt Murray, there has never been as many young stars in the league as there are today. And if you haven’t seen Connor McDavid drop jaws yet, Balls suggests that you do it as soon as possible if not earlier.

Best national anthems. There’s no more emotional, unifying moment in pro sports than thousands of people on their feet in an NHL arena. Even the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention.

No star treatment. The NBA and NFL suck up to their best players because they sell the most tickets. In the NHL, the better players often get the benefit of the doubt, but they don’t get their butts kissed, either.

Forty-five-year-young Jaromir Jagr. He and Keith Tkachuk were first-rounders in the 1990 draft. Twenty-seven years later, Jagr plays with Calgary Flames teammate Matthew Tkachuk, Keith’s 21-year-old son. Is that wild or what?

Vegas, baby! The first major pro team in Las Vegas city couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Lord knows that it needs something positive to get excited about right now.

REST OF THE STORY: Sharks veteran Joel Ward was among the black players who observed the national anthem at the regular-season openers on Wednesday, largely because the original message had been lost, he said.

“For sure, getting a lot of positive feedback, but obviously there are still a lot of things to do,” Ward said before the season and home opener on Wednesday. “But for the initial response, there was just a lot of positive feedback from a lot of people.”

Did Balls mention that most hockey players are reasonable people, too?

DIFFERENT NEW SHARKS: The Sharks dropped the opener against the Philadelphia Flyers at the SAP Center, 5-3, but the loss wasn’t without a sliver of hope. Somebody under 30 years old actually stood out for the home team.

Paired with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton on the top line, 21-year-old Kevin Labanc scored a pair of goals. Both were beauties — a bat of the puck out of mid-air at the side of the net and a wicked wrister from the high slot.

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau also scored twice in his Toronto Maple Leafs debut the same night, but who would you rather rebuild around — a 38-year-old geezer or a kid who may have a future?

And make no mistake about it — the Sharks are in a rebuild mode.

Many of the familiar names are back — Martin Jones in goal, Pavelski, Thornton and Logan Couture up front and Brent Burns and Marc Edourd-Vlasic on the back line. But the roster also has a few younger guys who figure to get more than token looks for a change, people such as Labanc, Ryan Carpenter, Barclay Goodrow and Timo Meier. This team desperately needs a couple or three to develop into legit NHL players.

General manager Doug Wilson should have started the makeover a while ago, and this is the year that the mistake will catch up to his team. At least he seems to have figured out that the NHL is more about speed and quickness and young legs than ever before.

YOUR TURN: “I think the whole national anthem thing is absurd, even more absurd that it is such a big deal. When thinking about it, why even play the national anthem at events? Just play the game. When I start work, it doesn’t start with the national anthem. I get a World Series game or the Super Bowl or the Olympics, but to do it at every event seems crazy.” — Matt Tomczak, Homer, Ill.

Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? A compliment?! Send them to pladd@aol.com, and who knows, you may get your name in the paper before long.

Paul Ladewski
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Paul Ladewski

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