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Your Call: Do players have to earn the right to be 'flashy'?

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Matt Burt, TSN.ca
12/11/2010 5:38:04 PM
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Do NHL players have to earn the right to be "flashy"? Oilers rookie Linus Omark clearly doesn't think so, but it seems he may have some opposition on the matter.

On Friday night, Omark managed - in one fell swoop - to both score the shootout winner against Tampa Bay and draw the ire of Lightning veteran Martin St. Louis and head coach Guy Boucher for pulling what could be perceived as a "hot dog" move on his winning tally.

"He's a young kid. Whatever he did, it worked," said St. Louis after the game, not looking particularly pleased. "Do we need that? I don't know. It's kind of a slap in the face a little bit, you know? Maybe it's a little too much, I don't know. To get beaten in the shootout and to get beaten with something like that, it's tough to take, but he did it and it worked."

In his first-ever NHL game, Omark pulled a full 360-degree spin move right off the bat at centre ice, then cut across the blue line, faked a slapshot and tucked the puck in between the pads of Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis, winning the game and sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy.

"That's my game," Omark said afterwards. "I do stuff like that, so why should I stop on this level?"

And that brings us to our question for today's Your Call: Do NHL players have to earn the right to be flashy?

The 23-year-old Swede seems to have accidentally re-opened the discussion about what is considered "acceptable" behaviour on the ice in the eyes of other players, or more specifically what type of behaviour is acceptable from young guns who are new to the National Hockey League.

The Lightning were clearly not thrilled about being on the losing end of the spectacle.

After the game, Boucher said his players wouldn't say anything about Omark's move but that they would definitely remember it, the sort of vaguely threatening statement that can leave players quaking in their skates for the next match-up (though any supposed retribution will have to wait until the playoffs or next season, as the teams do not meet again on the schedule in 2010-11).

Oilers head coach Tom Renney strongly differed from his counterpart on the matter, opting for the "anything goes" philosophy.

"I can appreciate my opponents' disappointment, but I don't really care. The shootout is there for a reason and if anybody has a problem with that, then take the shootout out of the game, it's that simple," Renney said candidly. "I've had some wins in shootouts and I've had some extraordinary losses because of the shootout, so I can stand up here and bitch and complain about a shootout as much as anybody, quite honestly. It's in the game for a reason, and if you don't want to accept the way the puck crosses the goal line, or how a guy comes in, then deal with it."

When it comes to the shootout, this is not Omark's first rodeo. Almost two years ago, he entered the public consciousness of the hockey world with a ridiculous move that currently has hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. In March of 2009, while playing for Sweden in an exhibition game against Switzerland, Omark dazzled with a nasty, slow-motion flip shot over the Swiss goaltender that went off the crossbar and in, leaving his coaches chuckling at the unorthodox tally.

So no matter what your thoughts on Omark's goal on Friday night, you can't really argue that you were surprised. As Omark set up to shoot on Ellis, even his teammates were awaiting something unusual.

"We were actually all kind of anticipating what kind of move he would do," said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert. "We were kind of waiting for it."

"I've seen a lot of moves from him," said forward Magnus Paarjavi. "I know what to expect, I wasn't surprised at all."

There are several questions that come to mind on the heels of Omark's head-turning marker and the subsequent disagreement over its appropriateness or lack thereof, and we want to hear your take with our Your Call feature.

Up for discussion: What factors would change the "appropriateness" of the goal?

What if he had missed?

To the victor go the spoils. Today just about everyone (except the Lightning) is praising Omark's unusual shootout marker. What if he had missed, pulled the spin-o-rama and accidentally lost control of the puck, voiding his shot, or following it up with a weak wrister wide of the net? Instead of commending Omark today, would fans and hockey pundits instead be criticizing the first-year player's brazen, misguided cockiness? Is the fact that puck went into the net all that matters when all is said and done?

When it comes to the "acceptability" of a move like that, does it make a difference who is pulling it off?

The fact that Omark was so self-assured in his NHL debut could be the cause of some of the animosity coming from Tampa's direction. If someone with more NHL experience had pulled the same move, would it be perceived differently? Let's say Steven Stamkos, a third-year NHLer who is currently second in the league in points and goals, had tried the same deke. Would the Oilers be venting their anger after the game about his edgy move, calling it a "slap in the face", or would it be considered reasonable behaviour for a well-established NHL star who had earned his stripes?

In other words, did St. Louis have a beef with the fact that Omark was trying that move in his first game in the big league, or just with the fact that a move like that was pulled off at all (if Joe Thornton tries it, does it get the same reaction or is it considered okay?)?

Since Omark is a rookie, the question is essentially whether you think NHL players have to earn respect and earn the right to be "flashy".

Some veteran players certainly seem to think that way. Just this past November, Flyers captain Mike Richards opined that Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban was acting inappropriately cocky and boastful on the ice.

"He's a guy that's come in the league and hasn't earned respect," Richards told the Team 990 radio station after a particularly chippy affair between the two teams. "It's just frustrating to see a young guy like that come in here and so much as think that he's better than a lot of people. You have to earn respect in this league. It takes a lot. You can't just come in here as a rookie and play like that. It's not the way to get respect from other players around the league.

"Hopefully someone on their team addresses it, because I'm not saying I'm going to do it but something might happen to him of he continues to be that cocky."

It wasn't Subban's first brush with notions that he should take it down a notch and respect the elder statesmen of the game. Back in October, Subban and Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby - arguably the biggest player in the sport - traded verbal jabs during a game, prompting television broadcaster Don Cherry to speak out.

"It's good to be cocky when you come in the league," Cherry said. "Really, it's good to be cocky. I like that. But you've got to show a little respect...If he has a big mouth like that, he's gonna get hurt."

Of course, Crosby was more than familiar with assaults on youthful bravado, having been on the receiving end of criticism from Cherry seven years earlier. Back in 2003, a 16-year-old Crosby scored on a trick move from behind the net when he was playing in the QMJHL. He was scolded by the hockey commentator for the perceived "hot dog" nature of the goal, and has since generally refrained from being an attention-getter for any reason other than his raw talent.

Needless to say, there is an underlying theme of "earned respect" that seems to permeate the National Hockey League.

There is also another layer to consider. That is, are sports strictly about competition that usually happens to be entertaining, or is there also room for pure, unfiltered entertainment value on its own? Can those two different values co-exist simultaneously? Obviously sport at the elite level is about winning it all, but do you think the players should be allowed to have a little fun along the way and, in the process, give fans more entertainment bang for their hard-earned buck?

The NFL and NBA, for example, are renowned for the hot-shot antics of some of their biggest superstars. When Terrell Owens pulls a pre-planted magic marker out of his sock mid-game and signs a football for a fan after a touchdown, or when Dwight Howard performs an All-Star dunk in a Superman cape, well, as the saying from the movie Gladiator goes, "are you not entertained!?" There has been a bit more of this as of late in the NHL, with players like Alex Ovechkin and his pumped-up celebrations, and Subban's now well-documented brash approach. As long as the substance is there too, some argue, then what's wrong with a little glitz and glamour every now and then?

In the NFL, players often pay a price for excessive celebrations and flashy displays (Owens has been fined several times), while the players don't seem to mind them. Interestingly enough, the opposite seems to be true in the NHL, where it's not necessarily the league officials or establishment that resist these moves, but the players themselves. After all, players are rarely fined for celebrations (think Ovechkin's "stick on fire" routine after his 50th goal last year, frowned upon by some players but untouched by the league). In the NHL, it's often the players themselves who don't seem to respond favourably to flashy displays, as Richards and St. Louis exemplified with their comments.

So what's your take? Do players need to earn respect and the right to be "flashy", or are veterans like Richards and St. Louis making a proverbial mountain out of a molehill? Does "anything go" or should there be a code that needs to be followed? And do you like to see that "hot shot" entertainment element or do you prefer players keep it minimal and just do their jobs?

Let us know your thoughts with the Your Call feature below!

Crosby, Subban and Omark (Photo: Getty Images/TSN.ca)

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(Photo: Getty Images/TSN.ca)
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