As has been mentioned by columnists on ESPN and other astute bloggers, for the past 6 seasons, the Ducks and Red Wings are the two most successful playoff teams. Anaheim has had two trips to the Finals, a Conference Final, and a First Round exit to an eventual Conference finalist. Despite all of this, Anaheim has been deemed "dirty" and the elbow by Niedermayer on Datsyuk certainly didn't help.
This question will not focus on who does or does not get away with what in this series. The question I think Anaheim fans are really interested in is why do we have this reputation? I've watched a lot of Ducks games, and I do not think we are dirtier than any other team in the league. Pronger works in his shots and we definitely play rough, but dirty is a moniker that I am uncomfortable with. I also think that this link to dirty play is what keeps us from being respected as a success story throughout the league. So Arthur, how do the Ducks shake this reputation and what is it going to take to get the rest of the league to notice that this organization is for real?
I think we have to accept that it's entirely possible the Ducks will NEVER gain the respect of the rest of the league. That's not just a Disney thing, but an East Coast bias thing. The advent of Sportscenter LA can't really fix that. How long have the Kings, the Lakers, the Dodgers and the Giants been in California, and how many writers still don't stay awake for their evening games?
As far as cleanliness, I don't think I want to see a clean Ducks team. I know you and I will disagree on this, Daniel, but I've resigned myself to the fact that we ARE the Big Bad Ducks. There's nothing wrong with that in my eyes. Just as there was nothing wrong with the Big Bad Bruins. Moreover, it's no accident that the team is like this. Brian Burke went out of his way to put this team together.
I have no irrefutable proof that Brian Burke hates Russians and Eastern Europeans, or that he thinks the 90s influx of European superstars ruined the game. He certainly likes Swedes and the Finnish. But there was SOMETHING suspect about Burke discarding every single Russian and Eastern European player in the Ducks system. I wouldn't blame him if he felt that way. There was a time in the NHL when the attitude was similar to that of the NBA-- non-Americans are soft and reliant on referee calls. However, unlike the NBA, non-Americans softly played their way into becoming the dominant superstars in the NHL, though maybe that's what bothered Burke most of all.
Burke always said he wanted "two way forwards with character," but when you look at the team he built, that reads as "gritty North Americans." And if the stereotype of the rest of the world is that they play soft, the stereotype of North Americans is that they play as rough as you'll let them: hard checkers, who take dirty shots at your skill players and expect the game's "officiating" to be done with the gloves off. Now, even if we play to that stereotype, the only "dirty" players on our team would be Pronger and Perry, who are in the trenches every shift. But a guy like Parros is fighting and enforcing strictly by The Code. His play only makes us look more physical because the rest of the league seems happy to let The Code lapse into disuse.
I said recently that we look like a time-warp of pre-90s hockey, an anachronism in the modern game. I actually feel like thanking Burke for that. Because I honestly feel that we WON'T ever be respected as a franchise. But we're earning respect the only way we can. No team comes into our building thinking it will be an easy win, now. No series with us ever seems survivable. And really, that's not at odds with the early Ducks teams, who were always dropping the gloves for respect. Only now, we're doing it a little dirtier, but it's a LOT more effective. We're no longer the team that watches Paul Kariya get cross checked to the face or laid out, and does nothing or waits a game later to start a fight. We're the team that lets you know we'll lay your guy out if you take a run at ours. So, now our guys don't get laid out as often. Maybe that's all the respect we can get, for now.
I'm always frustrated when I read commentary from national blogs or news sources, or more importantly from asshole fans, on both sides, who don't respect the game and call us dirty. Look, the wings have gotten away with plenty, Holmstrom elbowed Wisniewski while he was hobbling in front of the crease, and there wasn't even a penalty. In my opinion, if you want to argue that a player is always responsible for his elbows the same way he is his stick, then Holmstrom's elbow is as bad as Niedermayer's. I think I came up with this question because I read some fan comments that basically said Scotty was classless and taking cheap shots. Even though he'd taken a mountain of abuse from Holmstrom, who pulled him down to the ice after the whistle during a powerplay. Everyone was saying Scotty tackled him, and yeah, Niedermayer was clearing the crease, but then Holmstrom grabbed Scotty's arm and dragged him down. Scotty has done nothing but win, and everyone says the Wings would rather have the power play, but where's the respect for the game when people take cheap shots and then refuse to stand up. Say what you want about Perry, but the kid drops the gloves, something I can never recall Holmstrom doing. But we get labeled as cowardly, dirty and every other adjective. Hockey is a tough sport, and it's not for the feint of heart. Yeah, we play hard, but we answer the bell. Pronger and Perry can definitely be called dirty, but it's not like they do those things and then are unwilling to take their punishment.
When I say we aren't dirtier than any team, I simply mean that all of these types of plays have happened and continue to happen. Even if we do them more often, we are not exactly reinventing the wheel. Burke built this team to play hard. Yes two-way forwards, primarily North Americans, and that was of course to the detriment of one Teemu Selanne, who doesn't really play that style of hockey. In a way though, I think you're right in that the East Coast bias will always be prevalent. In Game 3 when Scotty had just scored a power play goal, the entire intermission interview focused on everything that was going wrong for the Ducks. The period before focused on how Detroit was doing fine even though they were down a goal. And the Puck Daddy blog on yahoo sports pointed out how a reporter was interviewing Holmstrom about the elbow to Wisniewski and when he asked for Holmstrom's comment essentially said "Holmstrom, that elbow couldn't have been a dirty play because we know you wouldn't do that sort of thing." And of course when Detroit scored a goal at the end of game 6, all the Versus commentators said "What else would you expect from a defending champion?" as if we were so far removed from our cup title that we don't know how to close out a game. I suppose my main argument is that this bias helps create our image. I don't think we are as dirty as everyone thinks, just that no one watches the games and that the East Coast bias you mentioned really works to generate and perpetuate that moniker. I like that we play a little nasty. I like that we're gritty. I think that it's the best kind of hockey. I just don't think that it's fair to call hard play dirty play simply because we've taken a few penalties, and people spend more time reading box scores than they do watching games.
I suppose my real argument is that the media has crafted this image and hung it around our neck. I know I've given Detroit examples, but that's not the only team that gets this treatment when they do this. I hate to sound like an academic, but the rhetoric used to discuss the Ducks has, in fact, created the perspective that everyone in the league uses when looking at us, as well as the vocabulary that they use when talking about us. I could explain in greater detail, but that would require source citations and would only piss off our readers. More importantly, the general lack of respect is going to create a chip on anyone's shoulder. It's what makes us play harder in my opinion. So, while I'd like some respect, maybe it would be bad for us in the long run. I just think that the general lack of respect towards us is also what causes us to play so close to the edge. In other words, if we are the Big Bad Ducks, it's not just because Burke went and got the players to bring that edge, it's because the rest of the league refuses to acknowledge that we are a legitimate hockey force.