2016 NHL SECOND ROUND PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

It is now anybody’s tournament, anybody’s Stanley Cup. With the ouster of the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings, there will be a new champion for the first time in four years. All the teams left in the playoffs have never won the Stanley Cup or haven’t won it in a long time with the exception of the Pittsburgh Penguins who are trying to get back to the level they were at – at the level that had been foreseen for them – in 2009.

During the first round, I took the stand of “show me” – prove it to me that you really have improved, that you have righted the ship, that you can win the big one, that you are over the hump. Well several teams did just that, making me look bad. Some of the results have far-reaching implications and may lead to serious consequences in the off season. Others were just routine wins and losses. So before moving on to my predictions, I’ll give my usual analysis about who won big and who lost big, both for players and teams.

Players – Biggest Winners

There are no players who were big losers in the first round, but several players deserve an extra pat on the back.

1. Joe Thornton (and Patrick Marleau)

Over the years I’ve probably berated Joe Thornton more than any other player because under his leadership, San Jose has never come close to the playoff results that have been predicted. But now in the twilight of his career, he has pulled off a huge upset of a team that I predicted would repeat its pattern of the previous four years and win the Stanley Cup. I don’t care how much Joe and Patrick actually contributed. They both deserve to take a well-earned bow for this.

2. Martin Jones

Jones took away the Los Angeles Kings’ biggest edge, their biggest weapon, former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, goaltender Jonathan Quick. By outplaying Quick or at least playing him equal, Jones played the crucial part in giving whatever hopes the Sharks had of pulling an upset, a chance to come true. This result establishes himself a playoff caliber goaltender, a huge boost for his career and gives hope for the Sharks in the future.

3. John Tavares

Tavares had never won a playoff round and to lose to untried Florida would have been a huge setback not only to the Islanders but for also his career. To never win a playoff round would start to haunt him and the critics would start to question his capability. He desperately wanted to establish his Islanders team as a potential Stanley Cup champion, a team that could win in the playoffs and this result is a good starting point.

4. Matt Murray

When Marc Andre Fleury was  removed  from the Pittsburgh roster by a concussion, Murray stepped up and gave Pittsburgh the type of steady goal tending  that the Penguins have so sorely lacked in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.  The result has been that Pittsburgh was finally able to beat the New York Rangers, who had been consistently eliminating them from the playoffs in recent years.  If Murray continues his fine play, Fleury will be history in Pittsburgh.

 

 

Players Under The Gun

Alexander Ovechkin

You’re playing for it all in this next round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alexander, and I mean everything. Not only the chance to move on in the playoffs, not only the chance to win the Stanley Cup, but the implied rivalry that has been around with Sidney Crosby since you both arrived in the league at the same time as best player in the league; your status as best Russian in the NHL against Evgeni Malkin; the fate of your veteran players on Washington especially long time pals and teammates Brooks Orpik, and Nicklas Backstrom; the status by which you will be remembered in the NHL when you retire; your future status with the Russian national team; the meaning of the successful season your Washington Capitals have had this year; and possibly your very future with the Washington Capitals.

You may be piling up the individual records but as a team man you’ve been a horrible flop. Your Washington Capitals are notorious chokers in the NHL playoffs just like your Russian national teams in the Olympics. Crosby and Malkin can retire right now having won the Stanley Cup, with Malkin getting the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player, and Crosby winning two Olympic Gold Medals to your none. There is only one constant in both situations: you. If you really are a champion, the great player you and everybody else claimed you are, you could not get a tougher opponent or a more direct challenge to prove it. You’re staring down the barrel of a gun. You will be competing against the two players you are most compared with and if you don’t look good against them, your status in the NHL is going to take a deep fall no matter how many individual feats you pile up in the future. You have never even been to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The ball is squarely in your court this round. No other player in the NHL has so much pressure on him in this round as you do. Because if you don’t make it to the next round this time after the season the Capitals have had, all your achievements this year will mean nothing and it is doubtful that ANY team will become a champion with you as its leader.

Teams – Biggest Winners

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Ever since 2009 when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup they have been floundering in the playoffs. General Manager Ray Shero tinkered incorrectly with the chemistry of the team and now both he and coach Dan Bylsma are gone. Still worse, most of the playoff losses were to teams with inferior talent. When Pittsburgh drafted both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they were expected to win many championships, not just one. Has the ship finally been righted? Pittsburgh roared down the home stretch, moving up from 7th to 2nd, and then dispatched impressively, the Rangers, a team that had beaten them consistently in the playoffs in recent years. Are the Penguins finally back and ready to reclaim the future predicted for them? Beating a nemesis convincingly was a good way of making believers.

2. St. Louis Blues

St. Louis was in the same position as Pittsburgh, having to prove themselves against a long time nemesis. Actually the St. Louis victory was even more impressive because it was against the toughest opponent in the first round, defending champion and three time Stanley Cup winner Chicago who had beaten St. Louis consistently in the playoffs. St. Louis was desperately trying to reach the level of the Blackhawks (all be it without core player Patrick Sharp) and Los Angeles Kings and now that both main rivals are gone, they have a great chance of getting back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970.

3. San Jose Sharks

They are not supposed to be here. Anachronistic San Jose, still led by long time playoff floppers Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau somehow managed to beat and impressively too, Los Angeles Kings, who if the recent pattern held true, were scheduled to win the Stanley Cup again this year. But the key figure for San Jose was probably goaltender Martin Jones who managed to be the equal and even superior of former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick. His emergence provides great hope for San Jose’s future. But does his emergence now make the Sharks this year’s team of destiny? They pulled off the biggest miracle of the first round. Based on that, are there more to come?

4. Nashville Predators

The Predators have won some first-round matches in the past but the Ducks might be the best team that the Predators have ever eliminated, a sign that they are on the way to becoming a true Stanley Cup competitor at last. It was also the first time that they won a seven game playoff series. This is a young team on the way up and the door is wide open for them to advance farther than they have ever been in this year’s playoffs.

Teams – Biggest Losers

1. Minnesota Wild

For a long time Minnesota could not make the playoffs and then added native Minnesota hero Zach Parise and other free agents to really contend for the Stanley Cup. They managed to beat teams on the same level as themselves like Colorado but could not compete with real Stanley Cup caliber teams like Los Angeles and Chicago. Now they have lost to unproven Dallas. The results are plain. The amount of talent on Minnesota is not enough and not good enough. They might make the playoffs and win the odd round against lesser teams but they are far from being a true Stanley Cup contender. This team needs a major retooling in the off season to become a true contender.

2. Los Angeles Kings

The pattern was Chicago wins; win the Stanley Cup; off year while Chicago wins; win the Stanley Cup; off year while Chicago wins; they were supposed to win the Stanley Cup again this year. Clearly management thought that by adding past Stanley Cup winners Vincent Lecavalier and Milan Lucic they had rebuilt this team to be a winner again. What really hurt was that the Kings’ best weapon, the one edge they thought they had over everybody, former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, goaltender Jonathan Quick was played equal or even out-played. When that happens, the Kings do not have enough talent to make up the deficit. It will not be that difficult a task, the Kings are not that far away, especially as long as they have Quick, but management has to add more to bring the Kings back to the winners circle.

3. Anaheim Ducks

I know I said in my first round predictions that Anaheim-Nashville was not a mismatch and that an upset could occur but this was a bitter setback for the Anaheim Ducks, the team who in recent years came closest to breaking through the Chicago-Los Angeles Western Conference monopoly. It is one thing losing to established Stanley Cup champions Blackhawks-Kings, but it is quite another to lose to up-and-coming Nashville no matter how good a team the Predators are especially when you have home ice advantage, at one point led 3-2, your two main rivals have been eliminated, and you had the advantage of being a battle-hardened veteran team that knows the ropes. This defeat is particularly damaging to the career of coach Bruce Boudreau. He is a good coach but when all things are added up, he has never been to a Stanley Cup Final, let alone win the big one. This is the type of defeat that might make management feel that the Ducks are just spinning their wheels under Boudreau and not progressing. There could be changes both at the coaching level and in the team during the off season.
Eastern Conference

1. Tampa Bay-New York Islanders

It could happen, the New York Islanders beating Tampa Bay. As long as they are on the ice to compete, it can. Ask San Jose. But it won’t happen this time. Finally winning a playoff round was a huge step for the Islanders who had not won for eons. At least they are over that hump. But they are facing a far different caliber opponent in Florida’s other team, seasoned Tampa Bay Lightning that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last year and put up a good struggle against champion Chicago. The best thing the Islanders have going for them is the hunger of John Tavares. But it will not be enough against Tampa Bay which has far more talent and experience. Now that their two toughest rivals, Chicago and Los Angeles have been removed and the Stanley Cup is now anybody’s trophy to win, Tampa Bay will not blow their best chance to win the Stanley Cup to such a lesser team in experience and talent. The Lightning will win in 6 or 5 games.

2. Washington-Pittsburgh

Pity poor Washington. These are the two most desperate teams in the Eastern Conference and it is all summed up in the names of their two biggest stars, Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin who entered the NHL at the same time and were supposed be equal rivals for the rest of their careers. But there is a big divergence in their careers. Crosby has won a Stanley Cup and two Olympic medals while Ovechkin has won nothing except individual trophies, and has not even been to a conference final. And there is reason to doubt whether Ovechkin has really been the best Russian player during this period and the player who has supplanted him is none other than Evgeni Malkin, who is also lining up against him in this round. Since the end of the 2009 season, these two teams have been the worst chokers of the Eastern Conference, often losing to teams of much lesser talent. But at least Pittsburgh has won one championship, though that is far from what was predicted for them. For the Capitals to win, they must get great goaltending from Braden Holtby and get to Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray. The best thing the Capitals have going for them is coach Barry Trotz who managed to get them to win a gritty 1-0 game in game 6 in Philadelphia, the type of lesser team the Capitals have lost to so frequently in the past, just when the Flyers were starting to smell the Capitals’ blood. But Pittsburgh has far more talent than lowly Philadelphia and has been red hot since the middle of March. I believe in Barry Trotz but I don’t believe in brittle Ovechkin, Brooks Orpik, and Nicklas Backstrom and Trotz will not be enough this time. Pittsburgh will win in 6 or 7 games and then there needs to be a deep rethink in Washington about winning with this core of veteran players, especially winning with ANY team that has Ovechkin as the leader. As in the previous round, Washington is playing for its future.

Western Conference

3. Dallas-St. Louis

This is a very tough series to call. It pits the long-time-trying-to-prove-it-to-everyone St. Louis Blues who seldom ever make the Conference Final against the newly put together, up-and-coming Western Conference champion Dallas Stars. Let’s start putting the series factors together and see what comes out.

Regular Season Winner: Dallas 2-1 with two games in overtime
Home Ice Advantage: Dallas
Goaltending: Dallas
Beat tougher opponent in the first round: St Louis
Team with most players who have won the Stanley Cup before and know how to win the big one: Dallas
Desperation Factor: Should be St. Louis, if it is not, they deserve to lose.
Coaching: St. Louis Ken Hitchcock who has won a Stanley Cup, ironically with Dallas. Lindy Ruff is a good coach but he has never won the big one.
Hex Factor/Choker Habit: St. Louis
At least on paper better offence: Dallas
At least on paper better defense: St. Louis

I’ll go with St. Louis because they should have a better defense, at least on paper, they should play more desperately, and Ken Hitchcock has won the big one. But St. Louis always chokes, especially in this round, and Dallas has a wide edge in players who have won the big one before. Ugg, I even feel like changing my mind. However St. Louis did finally manage to beat the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. But long time Blackhawk Stanley Cup champion Patrick Sharp is now playing for Dallas… I’d like to duck picking this match but since I have to choose I’ll take St. Louis in 6 or 7 games but it won’t be a surprise or upset if Dallas wins.
4. San Jose-Nashville

This is the Cinderella series, a battle of two teams who beat superior opponents in the first round, but both are coming from opposite directions. The Sharks are led by veterans who may be having their last hurrah, their last chance to win the Stanley Cup while the Predators are a young, up-and-coming team. For both teams this should be a desperate series because the Predators have never been to a Conference Final and Sharks have seldom reached it during the Thornton-Marleau era, so this is the best chance each team has had for reaching new ground. Nashville won the regular season series, 2-1. At the coaching level, it is pretty even; Nashville coach Peter Laviolette who has won the big one with Carolina, against San Jose coach Peter DeBoer who took underdog, under-talented New Jersey to the Stanley Cup Final and has already pulled off a major upset in the first round with the supposedly over-the-hill Sharks. San Jose has home ice but that meant nothing in the last round to the Predators. The key to this series is San Jose goaltender Martin Jones. Was that just a flash-in-the-pan performance when he outplayed maybe the best goaltender of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Los Angeles Kings Jonathan Quick, or is he the real thing? He will have to be just as good against Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne for the Sharks to have a chance to win. This is also the round where San Jose traditionally chokes. I will take youth over age in this unique battle of the underdog teams with Nashville winning in 6 games. Either way, it will be a Cinderella team in the Conference Final and possibly in the Stanley Cup as well.

Bitter End For The Bruins

At the end of the 2016 regular NHL season, the Boston Bruins are not competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They become the only NHL team in the current season that has a positive goal differential – something both Detroit and Philadelphia lack – not to participate in the post season. Somehow defensive excellence did not add up to a playoff spot. And since defense is counted as a strength in Boston, it is the lack of offense that must be blamed for no playoffs in Boston.

Ex-General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, now with Edmonton, did a great job while he was with Boston, building a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the first since the days of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito back in the early 1970s. Under Chiarelli, the Bruins were a consistent contender to win the Eastern Conference every year, if not win the Stanley Cup itself. New GM, Don Sweeney has a tough legacy to live up to. But it is one of Chiarelli’s trades that many Bruin fans feel that haunts this team.

Thanks to Toronto’s stupidity during the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Fund regime, the Bruins acquired a top pick which they used to draft Tyler Seguin. Seguin was with the Bruins and played  а not  insignificant part when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011. But Chiarelli became disenchanted with Seguin’s subsequent development and dealt him to the Dallas Stars. This year, the Bruins are on the sidelines watching Seguin in the playoffs. That trade now hangs like a dark cloud over the Bruins, probably the greatest mistake of Chiarelli’s management.

The Bruins also let forward Milan Lucic go to the Los Angeles Kings. Lucic was like a sleeping giant with the Bruins, playing dopey hockey at times, but when he woke up, look out. When you deduct Seguin and Lucic from the Bruins’ roster, that is two big holes in the forward line.

But all is not dark for the Bruins. As long as defense is a strength of the team, it will not take long to get back in the playoffs. All one has to do is look at the Edmonton Oilers, ironically Chiarelli’s new team, with all its high draft talent that cannot play defense and remains at the bottom of the Western Conference to realize that Boston is not too far off to contend again. If they can acquire a few goal scorers either by draft or trade, to go along with the Bruins’ excellent defensive system, it will not be too hard to get back into the playoffs and contend for the Eastern Conference title, if not for the Stanley Cup itself, as early as next season. 2016 was a bitter disappointment for the Bruins, but if management makes the right moves and drafts during the off season, this year will be only a temporary fall. It will be a real challenge for new General Manager, Sweeney, and an opportunity to demonstrate his managing savvy and put his own stamp on this team.

Who Did Not Apply For An NHL Expansion Team Is Just As Significant As Those Who Did

Now that the NHL’s excessive $500 million expansion fee plus $10 million “consideration fee” ($8 million refundable) has separated the “men from the boys”, and whittled down the potential applicants to an embarrassing measly two, the fanatical Quebec City and Las Vegas, it is time to take stock of what all this means.

Clearly the main message (addressed to the NBA, the NFL, and MLB as well as the NHL) is that while many investors would like to own a major league professional sports franchise, few are willing to pay “sucker” fees to join a sports league. Of the 16 application forms handed out by the NHL, only the two most fanatical have chosen to carry on. The majority of the business world has said that a $500 million entry fee is not compatible with the true value of an NHL franchise. And if that is the likely true verdict, then the NHL must reduce the entry fees to Quebec and Las Vegas or wait a long, long time before trying to expand again, and “balance up” their still mismatched western and eastern conferences.

As early as a year ago, it was reported in almost all sports media and hockey websites that the NHL would expand by at least four teams by 2017, and that Quebec, Las Vegas, Toronto, and Seattle were “done deals”. But when even two “sure things” have dropped out, it is clear that the NHL will not be able to expand again unless its entry terms are suitably modified to meet true market place value. Therefore in order to be fair to Quebec and Las Vegas, their entry fees must be reduced to what the business world says they are willing to pay.

Ever since the last expansion in the late 1990s when Nashville, Minnesota, Atlanta and Columbus joined the NHL, ever since Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their NHL teams in the 1990s, in 2010, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and told them they would be welcomed back if they met certain terms, there has been an avalanche of rumors about North American cities who were dying to join the league.

In fact before the Mortgage Meltdown, it seemed inevitable that all four major professional sports leagues would expand to the next symmetrical number of teams, 40, meaning 2 conferences with 4 divisions each and 5 teams in every division. The NHL alone has been dancing with such expansion fee dreams in its head since then- the lost cities of Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford; spurned cities like Hamilton, Houston, and Oklahoma City; other neglected hockey hotbeds like second Toronto, second Montreal, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Portland; and any surprise bids like Las Vegas, Kansas City, San Diego, etc. There are nearly 60 large metropolitan areas in North America so all four leagues are but a fraction of the size they could be.

But the NHL’s greedy fee drove the most hopeful applicants away and instead of having an abundance of bidders to chose from, now the NHL must settle for they can get. In any order, here are some of the more significant cities who declined to make an offer once they saw the NHL’s excessive terms.

1. Hamilton

This is the most desperate city of them all. They built their arena back in the 1980s before the NHL even announced expansion in hopes of getting a future team. Hamilton hosted the famous 1987 Canada Cup and other significant sports events. When the NHL finally announced expansion, Hamilton was the front runner and it seemed inevitable they would get a team until the bidder, Tim Donut, mistakenly questioned the NHL’s terms and then saw the Hamilton franchise become the Ottawa Senators instead. Hamilton made another bid during the last expansion time and was turned down. Then came the agonizing Phoenix Coyote adventure. The city is willing to spend $50 million to expand its arena to a more than acceptable 18,500 seats plus luxury boxes. But when the most humiliated would-be hockey city does not even make an offer, you know that your expansion fees and terms are way in excess.

2. Toronto

Similarly, the other main choice for a second southern Ontario team, has declined to pursue the matter. Toronto was having problems about where to build a second arena, but after viewing the NHL’s excessive terms, whoever was the “done deal” bidder has been happy to shelve both problems for the immediate future.

3. Seattle

The second “done deal” city to drop out also cannot decide where and how to build a new arena and even which league it prefers to join. The Seattle bidder for an NBA team was supposed to build the arena and then the NHL bidder would be a tenant. Then the NHL bidder was going to build the arena… Then the… Then the NHL bidder saw the NHL’s expansion fee and terms and like the Toronto bidder was happy to shelve the whole mess. Seattle has joined Hamilton and Houston as a front runner NHL bidder who somehow failed to get an expansion franchise.

4. Houston

Houston was first a failed WHA city and then a failed NHL front running bidder during the last expansion despite three separate bids. Houston joined Hamilton as a city who seemed to have an NHL franchise sewn up and somehow lost it. Houston is the largest North American city without hockey and the NHL would love to welcome it into the fold. But the Dallas Stars’ best rival refused to make a bid, another slap in the face to the NHL’s status in the United States.

5. Portland

If there is another American city that is a hotbed of hockey that would be just as suitable a franchise should Seattle not get a team, it was said to be Portland. They have deep roots in Canadian junior hockey and also have the arena that Seattle lacks. They were rumored to be almost a sure bidder after the four “done deals”, but the NHL’s expansion terms have reduced them to silence.

6. Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City was one of the cities turned down by the NHL during the last expansion. They considered themselves an “upstart” city in terms of professional sports, eager to land some kind of major professional sports franchise to prove they were “big league”. So after being turned down by the NHL, they bought (stole according to Seattle sports fans) the Seattle Supersonics of the NBA instead. One might have expected another attempt to get an NHL team by this impertinent city but the NHL’s terms erased any remaining enthusiasm for such a project.

7. Hartford

Gary Bettman laid down the welcome mat for all three ex-NHL cities to return, but unlike Quebec and Winnipeg, Hartford is nowhere to be found on the radar. Of all three cities, Hartford probably has the best market, sharing half of New England including the city of Providence with Boston. Hartford, like Quebec with a good owner and a proper NHL size arena, would be a sure-fire winner. But while Winnipeg and Quebec went out and solved their ownership and arena problems, Hartford has remained at the dreaming stage. Never mind the NHL’s excessive terms, unless Hartford gets serious about these two practical problems, the Whalers will remain a piece of nostalgia.

8. Milwaukee

Like Seattle, Portland, and Hartford, Milwaukee is an American city with deep roots in hockey and would be a sure-fire winner with a good owner and NHL arena. If these two problems could be solved, Milwaukee would be a front runner in any NHL expansion. But nobody is in a hurry to rectify things after seeing the NHL’s terms.

9. Kansas City

Like Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, and Houston, Kansas City is a city where the third of Gary Bettman’s three terms for admittance, fan-base, is questionable. Kansas City was briefly an NHL city in the 1970s with the Scouts but lost the team to Denver and has gone without an NHL team ever since. They built a proper NHL arena to get both an NHL and NBA team and have even hosted some exhibition games but whatever enthusiasm there was for getting an NHL team of their own again has been squashed by the NHL’s expansion fee.

Well done NHL. Here are at least nine cities who might have joined Quebec and Las Vegas in bidding for a team, as well as possible others, but your excessive greed drove them away. All those rumors for all those years have proven to be just two. And it might be said that in the end, the two bidders might be better judged as fanatical nuts who are willing to pay too much for an NHL team instead of “men from the boys” with sound business sense.

NHL Officiating a game in itself

If you’ve found the time to read this article amongst the many blogs about hockey and the NHL, I’m pretty sure why. The mere thought of the NHL and it’s officiating system has hijacked your attention. Perhaps you recall a game where you were simply baffled at a ruling the men in pinstripes had concocted when they came to their decision? Even worse, their penalties had sent you into a downward spiral that brought about a hasty divorce proceeded by a trip to the medicine cabinet or the bottom of a bottle? Nonetheless, there is a systemic failure in the method by which the officials calculate infractions and shell out time in the sin bin and I’m here to explain  why.

Before I go ahead and annihilate the current system by which the NHL calls games, I would first like to point out how difficult being an NHL referee is. At the pro level, the game moves lightning fast, and referees consistently have to keep their head on a swivel so as to not get beaned with a puck or have a 220 pound behemoth crash into them while watching a play materialize. It is difficult and often painful work. When a linseman or referee takes a nasty spill during play most crowds erupt in joy. They view it as karma. 

It is common knowledge that there are makeup calls in the NHL, instituted to bring about justice for the team that is shorthanded in error. The NHL brass has no problem with this since 4 on 4 play increases the odds of a goal more than playing at even strength. However, the questionable calls made do in fact have an impact. They confuse teams with regard to knowing what they can and cannot get away with. Each and every player in the NHL is looking to play as far close to the line without crossing over it, and when that line is moved by the officiating  crew it can change the flow of the game as well as a team’s momentum. Very seldom are penalties reversed after being called, but if the referees were given the ability to conference with each other briefly to discuss the matter and cancel the call, fans might see that the NHL agrees it is more important to get it right. After all, this was the reason the coach’s challenge was instituted in the first place. 

Game 3 of the Blackhawks/ Blues first round series was one of the more physical games I’ve watched in this year’s playoffs, and turned chippy pretty quickly once the referees had lost control. It was at this time that Chicago goalie Corey Crawford decided to try and give his team a boost in momentum by getting into a scrap  with Robby Fabbri. Fabbri had been pushed from behind by Jonathan Toews toward crawford and was forced to do his best to avoid him. The minor contact Fabbri had made with the Chicago netminder gave him all the excuse he needed to go after Fabbri. Crawford knew deep down he was never going to recieve an instigator penalty  for the attack, nor was he going to be allowed to take a beating at the hands of Fabbri since either a referee or  teammate would come to his defense. It was a simple matter of risk vs. reward and in this instance there was no risk so why not? Well not only did Chicago get the boost in emotion they so desperately needed, but the advantage given was compounded when St. Louis was handed a penalty after the scrum. Let’s recap, Fabbri checked from behind, Fabbri punched by goalie when he wanted no part of Crawford, powerplay for Chicago and they score.

Is this the type of justice or fair play we can expect for the future of a game we passionately love. Why does Crawford get to stay on the ice and effect the outcome while Fabbri, one of St. Louis’ best penalty killers sits in the box helpless? I can only speculate that the NHL believes that goalies can only be victims and never the aggressor. If Chicago had won on Tuesday this play would have certainly been a rather large contributing factor. 

NHL referees are not perfect, they are people after all. However, the manner in which officiating is allowed to influence a game’s outcome is disturbing. Referees generally attempt to levy an equal number of penalties on both sides so that nobody may question why one team recieved more than another, thus confirming their nuetrality. The fundamental flaw in this process is that one team is either being penalized more or less times than what they had  deserved. If the league truly wants an unbiased officiating system in place they must rid them selves of biased principles and think more black and white. A penalty is a penalty regardless of what the score is or how many your opponent has taken. Also, I do not understand how a player can be called for embellishment but their opponent always receives an offsetting penalty?  I can only imagine what it would be like if the US and Canadian judicial systems mirrored the NHL. You could very well have someone steal your car and once they were caught, share a cell with them.

 

 

Bruins must move Subban

It’s no secret that the Boston Bruins have lost their swagger. Their defensive woes are well documented. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are no longer a formidable duo, capable of suffocating the very best that the NHL has to offer. While it’s easy to throw blame throughout the B’s front office as to who is responsible for their decline, it doesn’t solve the problem. The Bruins are a leaky bunch on the back end.

This June’s NHL draft may offer a solution for Boston, provided they are willing to part ways with blue chip prospect Malcolm Subban. Subban is simply a luxury Don Sweeney cannot afford to retain; not with Tuuka Rask signed through 2021 and former North Dakota backstop Zane McIntyre blocking shots with the Providence Bruins. The Bruins also drafted 6’5 netminder Daniel Vladar of the Czech Republic who is currently playing in the USHL with the Chicago Steel and boasts a .920 save percentage. Needless to say the Bruins are pretty safe when it comes to goalies.

The NHL recently announced partial details of what teams may  expect with 2017’s expansion draft. Every GM is following these developments closely. Players in the first two years of their entry-level contract are exempt, and you’re only allowed to protect one goalie. This means that unless the Bruins trade Subban to help clean up their mess on the back end, they will risk losing him for nothing the following year. Let’s just say the odds of a new franchise in Quebec City or Las Vegas plucking Subban away are better than certain.

The thought of packaging Subban and Alexander Khoklachev to a team like Buffalo in exchange for a young NHL blueliner like Jake McCabe is interesting. They could also reach out to Ottawa and inquire about Cody Ceci. Any return for Subban would need to bring back a promising defender just beginning his NHL career. Simply acquiring a pick or two doesn’t solve the dilemma they find themselves in.

If the Bruins can manage to clear Seidenberg and Chara’s cap hits off the books this June while moving along young players in need of a change of scenery like Subban, Khoklachev, and Seth Griffith it would be a start. It would also allow Sweeney to possibly bring in UFA Keith Yandle at the same 3 million cap figure and extend Torey Krug. 6’5 Brandon Carlo has all the makings of that physical two way defender who can fill Dennis Seidenberg’s shoes. He is also capable of manning the power play and running the umbrella if needed. Colin Miller would be able to pair up with a veteran like Yandle and regain the confidence that he lost last season. The talent is there, and one can’t blame him for losing his game when every defender in Boston had done the same.

In the end, all the Bruins would be losing are two players with huge cap hits long past their prime. The potential return they could very well acquire with two first round picks, the Islander’s second rounder, and the haul from moving Malcolm Subban at this year’s draft will be needed to reshape the back end if they have any plans of returning to the Stanley Cup.

 

When Edmonton?

Okay, Connor McDavid, the alleged next link on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain that stretches back to the days of Maurice Richard was injured for much of the season. He showed his promise by getting more than a point per game. That is the only positive.

But come on. Another Edmonton year. Another last place finish. Another chance at the number one pick. But what good are they if you still finish last all the time? Next year Edmonton gets a new arena. It would have been better if the team had got a new look. Even with the part season of Connor McDavid there has been no improvement. The once feared Edmonton team that all others hated to play has been the laughingstock of the NHL for several years now and there is no end in sight.

Change coaches, change general managers, change arenas and Edmonton still finishes last. This was the year that Canada could not get a single NHL franchise into the playoffs. Edmonton should have been a contender… not this year but long ago. Usually things go in cycles; start, climb, peak, decline, rebuild. But when you stay at the bottom for as long as Edmonton has (and certain other teams have in the NHL and also in the NFL, MLB, and the NBA) and you do not improve there is something seriously wrong with the very soul of the franchise.

Look at the names: Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, all top picks and Hall (the best of the bunch, 17 points better than the next in the group, Eberle) is currently a prominent 23rd in the NHL scoring race. All this group was supposed to be in the top ten by now. Still worse, everyone in this list has a negative plus-minus statistic. Hey guys, remember, even your predecessors, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Mark Messier could play defensively when they were required to. If they can get off their backsides and take the trouble to play it, so can you. Or if you cannot, it is time to be shipped out. McDavid, the new kid on the block is at least a clean 0. The rest of you have been around for a while. What are your excuses?

Either this group is incapable of learning to play defense or whoever is coaching and training this team is doing a poor job. But Edmonton has changed coaches and even the general manager more than once. The change-coach act is wearing thin. It is the players who are not responding to whoever coaches them. Or there is a bad source somewhere in the organization that is spiritually poisoning this team and stops them from giving out a top performance game in and game out.

Just as alarming is the health of McDavid, the proposed successor to Sidney Crosby. He was seriously injured early in the season and missed a significant number of games. He was also seriously injured last year during his last year of junior hockey. Is he Mr. Brittle? Is he going to be the limited superstar like Bobby Orr? If that is the case then Edmonton cannot rely on him and if the one player they are counting on to turn this franchise finally around is going to miss large chunks of the season each year, Edmonton might remain at the bottom of the heap for many more years to come. This was supposed to be the year when Edmonton would finally show the promise predicted for it and contend. Instead it will be another top pick… again. When Edmonton when?

The handshake line

Ah, it’s a lovely time of year, ain’t it?!  The birds are chirping, the sun lingers a little longer, and the NHL playoffs have begun.

Now, while I am totally ok watching games 1 through 82, I get that it’s not for everyone; it can be a hard game to follow, especially on TV. Once you know what’s happening, and the ins-and-outs of the game, you begin to really appreciate what’s going on, and you start to fall in love.

Regular season games are a mish-mash of coaches giving minutes to guys they usually don’t, trying different line configurations, strategies, etc.  All the teams do it, and between the shuffling of lines, and bringing guys up from the minors, etc., consistency can be fleeting.

Once the puck drops for the postseason…now we’re talking.

Those starting line-ups are pretty much set in stone; sure, an all star center could see time on more than one line, or your Norris Trophy candidate can squeeze some extra minutes from a bottom 6 guy, but for the most part…you know what you’re going to get.

These teams are battle tested.  They’ve put up enough of a fight to get here.  They’re cognizant of what works for them, as well as what their opponent leans on.

Beards are started.  The refs swallow their whistles.  Scores drop drastically, and you’ll see more 1 goal games than in one month of regular season games.

The best part?

The handshake line.

No other sport has anything close. Two beaten opponents, completely gassed and running on fumes, meeting at center ice to shake hands and exchange pleasantries, as the triumphant squad moves on, while the defeated keep their chins up, and respectfully congratulate the men they violently hated not 10 minutes ago.

Love this time of year!!!  Lace up them skates boys….it’s go time!!!