I was out of town this weekend, so I didn't get a chance to do a recap of the Avs-Oilers game on Saturday (for the record, I was very encouraged by our effort, despite the loss). But I did want to comment on what has no doubt created a lot of fire with Avs fans - criticism of Milan Hejduk.
In case you missed it, during Kelly Hrudey's Behind the Mask segment on CBC's broadcast of the game, Hrudey laid into Hejduk. I have to paraphrase here, since I didn't jot down his exact quotes, but basically Hrudey was saying that Hejduk was not playing with any sort of passion, and hinted that it might be because he has a big contract and therefore no motivation to work hard. This is why I prefer Canadian broadcasts. In general, commentators don't pull many punches; you may disagree with their opinion, but at least they have one. That's a stark contrast to the ESPN-like crap in the US, where everyone seems to want to toe the line and avoid pissing anyone off. Boring.
I don't know Milan Hejduk, and it's likely I never will. I have no idea what is running through his head during games. But whatever is going on up there, he is not the same player that he used to be. Hejduk - a small, fast, skilled player - is exactly the type of guy who should be excelling in the New NHL™. Instead, Hejduk completed one of the worst seasons of his career last year, and hasn't shown many signs that he's ready to be a force again this season.
Milan has certainly shown flashes. His goal in the third period last night was vintage Hejduk, and showed what he can do when he puts his mind to it. I've noticed two things about his game. One, he's not making very smart decisions with the puck, as Greg Millen pointed out in the broadcast. Okay, so he's pressing; at least he's trying to break out of things, right? Can't really fault a guy for trying to hard, can you? Well, the other part of Hejduk's game works against that. Too many times, there'll be a play near him and instead of skating to it, he will just reach with his stick without moving his feat at all. Instead of taking two strides, he's standing still, making the lazy play.
I'm not quite sure that I'm ready to go as far as Hrudey and say that Hejduk has lost his passion, but he sure has picked up some bad habits that are affecting his game. Hejduk had knee surgery 12 months ago. While it is possible that he is still not 100%, it certainly doesn't seem like there's a physical hinderance to his play. Hejduk's "problems" seem to be mental - effort and decision-making. He can turn it around, but he has to turn it around...his game is not going just come back to him, no matter how many pretty passes Paul Stastny makes to him in front of the net.