Niklas Backstrom's stall in the Wild's locker room neighbors Derek Boogaard's.
Backstrom is sneakily funny, and if he wasn't a goalie, he would make a pretty solid living as a hockey trash-talker because few things are more entertaining than when Backstrom, without warning, decides to needle the Wild's enforcer.
Thursday, it was clear a grinning Backstrom thought up a doozy as he eavesdropped on a conversation between myself and Boogaard. As we talked about the recent chatter that the NHL and NHL Players' Association are contemplating breaking up fights if one of the combatants' helmets fall off, Backstrom chimed in with, "I bet you start undoing your chinstrap before fights."
Boogaard just laughed it off.
Hey, Boogaard can take a punch, but he believes he is getting it from all angles lately.
Boogaard was especially displeased by his own union chief, Paul Kelly, being quoted in a Canadian Press story, saying: "If it's a staged fight between two superheavyweights that perhaps arranged it a day before the game, I'm not so sure those are the fights that we need to continue to have in the sport. And if they're the most dangerous fights, we ought to take a good, hard look at those. ...
"I'm not advocating elimination of their jobs, I'm talking about the question of safety. If those guys can hold a roster spot and skate on a fourth line and play and engage in fights which arise from the emotion of the game, great. But if they're only there for one purpose, then I think that's at least one issue our competition committee will take a hard look at."
Boogaard took exception, especially since he pays his union dues.
"It bothers me a lot," he said Thursday, adding Kelly's comments are "kind of comical. He should try and do it then and see how the sales for everything goes. It's goal scorers and the fighters who really push and drive the revenues, I think. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but I mean [Marian Gaborik's] jersey is No. 1 [in Wild sales] and I'm up there, too. I'm pretty sure it's like that for every other team."
Kelly called Boogaard on Friday and said his quotes were largely taken out of context. The Star Tribune requested Kelly, but the NHLPA didn't make him available.
"Typical Toronto media," Boogaard said.
Boogaard agrees pure fighters need to become regular-shift players, but he said: "It takes longer for us to get up to par because you get thrown into a role at 16 years old. In junior, some coaches only play you two or three shifts a game and you do that for four years. ... Teams just have to be patient."
At the March GM's meetings, fighting without helmets is going to be a huge topic. It stems from an Ontario senior men's league game in which Don Sanderson, 21, died after his helmetless head struck the ice after a fight. Recently, AHLer Garrett Klotz suffered a seizure after he removed his visor/helmet before a fight.
Boogaard doesn't believe fights should be broken up if helmets fall off, but he believes they should remain on at the start of fights unless somebody's wearing a visor.
"The helmet rule is there for a reason, but if a guy has a visor, I'm going to take his helmet off -- just straight up," he said. "There's no point trying to break my hand over a visor or cut myself."
Boogaard is frustrated that the recent tragedies have resurrected the anti-fighting debate. He said he believes that in a physical sport with no out-of-bounds, there would be chaos if players couldn't self-police.
"They don't get it," Boogaard said of fighting naysayers. "There's already a lot of stickwork, lots of elbows and lots of dirty, dirty plays."