Undeserved End For Inglorious Blue Jackets

Nobody expected the Columbus Blue Jackets to make the playoffs. They were the biggest surprise of the 2016-17 NHL regular season. They over-achieved and finished with the third best record in the Eastern Conference.

But their reward was to face the team with the second best record, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, certainly the team to beat in the east, if not the favorite to win it all again for the second straight year. They were probably the worst team the Blue Jackets could have drawn in the first round of the playoffs. Even playing first-place choker, Washington would have been better.

Actually this should not be an issue at all. Indeed, this article should not have to be written. Everybody should be proud of the Blue Jackets, giving their fans the finest season in the franchise history which included a near-NHL record of 16 straight wins, making the playoffs, and then winning a game in the first round against the team that is probably the favorite to win this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. But it’s not enough.

The Blue Jackets play in probably the strangest area for NHL professional hockey in North America, Ohio-Indiana, close to the Canadian border where hockey should be a hotbed. Instead mysteriously, top level hockey is very unpopular in this region and nobody has ever been able to explain why. In my articles, I refer to the region as the “Death Valley” of top level professional hockey. Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis are failed NHL-WHA franchises. Not even Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier could save hockey in this region when they played for the various defunct teams. Columbus is simply the best and longest surviving NHL team.

So the pressure was on the Blue Jackets to win this playoff round, not because it was Pittsburgh, not because it meant progress for the team, but to convince the Ohio-Indiana sports fan to support the franchise. Ever since the founding of this team in 2000, it has been a precarious franchise. In many of its seasons, the team has lost money. Gimmicks and low ticket prices have been used to attract fans. During many of its seasons, there have been rumors of it being folded or moved to another city.

Its history is inglorious. The Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs three times in 17 years and have yet to win a playoff round. Their playoff record is now 3-12. That record is not going to pack them in. I don’t care if their opponent was the Pittsburgh Penguins, the likely Stanley Cup winner. Columbus HAD to win that series.

Sure the Blue Jackets had their best season ever and sure the Blue Jackets nearly broke the NHL record for consecutive wins. The Ohio-Indiana fan is going to smile and be proud, but they won’t be convinced and believe in this team unless they see progress in the playoffs where it really counts. A playoff victory over somebody is the symbol of that progress or lack of progress. Instead the Blue Jackets drew the worst opponent that they and the NHL could have wanted. For this year at least, the NHL has to rue the playoff format that they had set up. Calgary can be swept in four games by Anaheim but that’s okay. The fans are going to be pleased with the progress made and come back next year. Not so in Columbus.

In my prediction article, I wrote that Columbus would have been better off if Pittsburgh’s goaltender Matt Murray had been injured instead of defenseman Kris Letang, because Pittsburgh would have been forced to play the erratic Marc Andre Fleury. But Pittsburgh played without Letang AND Murray and still won easily. Columbus made Fleury look better than he really is. They are far from being a true contender. That is not going impress Ohio-Indiana fans.

Columbus is mostly a team of no-names who played good, dependable hockey this year. They have few star players to attract crowds. And next year, it is quite conceivable that they won’t make the playoffs again. Pittsburgh, Washington, New York Rangers and Montreal are still around. Toronto, Ottawa, and Boston all improved. It is quite conceivable that Philadelphia, New York Islanders, Florida, Carolina and possibly Buffalo will be good enough to make the playoffs next year if they draft and trade well in the off season. It will be very difficult for Columbus to replicate this year’s success.

By losing so ingloriously to Pittsburgh (even if they do win the Stanley Cup) in the first round of the playoffs, Columbus will probably lose most of the attendance gains they made this year. They needed to make believers out of people in a region where hockey is unpopular, but this playoff episode did more harm than good. The NHL has been praying for this franchise to turn around but they got the worst playoff pairing that was possible. The shadow of Quebec, Hamilton, Hartford or wherever still hangs over this franchise. A sad ending for a team that deserved better this season.

2016-17 NHL First Playoff Round Predictions

Well it is the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs again with 7 new teams in this year’s tournament.  Changes are particularly noticeable in the Eastern Conference where 5 new teams have made it.  And Canada which had no teams last year has 5 this year.  As customary, before going into each playoff matchup, I’ll list players and teams that have extra pressure on them and thus have more to lose than other teams.

Overjoyed

The CBC, which has five Canadian teams in the playoffs this year, including its biggest market, Toronto.  Big ratings are coming.

 Players With Extra Pressure

  1. Alexander Ovechkin

Every year Ovechkin tops the list of players with the most pressure on them in the playoffs.  He has a basket load of individual honors, both in the NHL and internationally, but he has the most horrible team records.  The latest was his Russian team making the semi-finals at September’s World Cup where they were badly out-shot and beaten by Canada.  Believe it or not, that was actually an improvement.  Washington under his leadership has never even made the Conference finals in the playoffs and frequently gets upset by lesser teams.  He is past the peak of his playing days and time is running out for a Stanley Cup victory.  He used to be compared to Sidney Crosby but his team record is nowhere on the horizon.  Unless he wins a championship, his mentor is Marcel Dionne who had a similar career.  Somehow the pressure on him increases every year, especially this year because Washington has acquired top defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, largely at Ovechkin’s insistence.  Washington is expected to win it all and if they do not, and Ovechkin is in the spotlight because of it, perhaps it is time to trade him and go in a new direction.

  1. Brooks Orpik

Right behind Ovechkin is his long time teammate Brooks Orpik who played like a bonehead in last year’s playoffs and was a major reason Washington lost to Pittsburgh.  Like Ovechkin he is past his prime and time is running out on him in Washington.  He too could be shoved out the door if Washington flops in the playoffs.

  1. Braden Holtby

The goaltender of the Washington Capitals, giving the team the hat-trick of players under the gun.  Holtby is not a bad goaltender but he is nothing special.  One just has to compare his work with that of Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray last year who seized his chance and ran with it all the way to the Stanley Cup where he should have been named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.  Holtby has to rise above what he can usually do and outplay the goaltenders of other top contenders.  He has extra pressure on him now that Shattenkirk is here.  If he cannot do it, Washington may have to get another goaltender to complete the final piece of the puzzle.

  1. Henrik Lundqvist

The Alexander Ovechkin of NHL goaltenders.  At least he has a better record than Ovechkin in the playoffs because he took the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup Final where they lost to Los Angeles.  But that was only once and his record in playoffs and international competition is undistinguished.  The latest unremarkable effort was in September’s World Cup where he let in two critical goals to the hybrids Europe and North America and Sweden was put out of the playoffs.  Now he has to go up against Carey Price in the first round and outplay him.

  1. Carey Price

Price at least has a distinguished international record both at the Olympics and the World Cup.  But his Stanley Cup playoff record is not good where he has the Montreal defense, not the Canada defense to protect him.  As noted above, he faces another top goaltender in the first round, Lundqvist in a similar situation, and the loser is going to come out, especially if one badly outplays the other, with a diminished reputation and questions hanging above him.  That will mean increased pressure in future Stanley Cup playoffs.  Something has to give.

  1. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry

Under mediocre playoff coach, Bruce Boudreau, the Anaheim Ducks have choked against lesser teams.  But they have rehired their Stanley Cup winning coach, Randy Carlyle again so the pressure will now be more focused on the players who failed to rise to the occasion under Boudreau.  If the Ducks fall to a lesser team in the playoffs this year, management might conclude that the roster is not good enough and does not respond any more.  Top players like Getzlaf and Perry would come under serious re-evaluation and could be traded as part of a rebuilding process.

  1. Bruce Boudreau and Chuck Fletcher

I know this section is supposed to be about players but Boudreau and Fletcher, the coach and general manager of the Minnesota Wild belong on it.  Boudreau is like Ovechkin in the playoffs.  His teams can beat lesser lights but never a true contender.  Fletcher’s team, Minnesota got Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a few years ago, patted himself on the back and then assumed that was enough to be a Stanley Cup champion.  Alas Minnesota has never risen above mediocrity in the playoffs and has never added significantly better talent since to rise any further.  Then last year, Fletcher hired mediocre playoff coach Boudreau.  The perfect combination.  Minnesota had better show something in this year’s playoffs or attention and pressure will be focused on the management, coaching, and ownership where it will belong.

Teams With Extra Pressure (The “Show Me” Teams)

  1. Washington Capitals

It goes without saying that the team with three players on the list above and the now two-time President’s Trophy winner has the most pressure on it again.  The minimum that is acceptable for Washington is to make the Eastern Conference Final which has never happened during the Ovechkin era.  Coach Barry Trotz will be under fire if the team underperforms because now Kevin Shattenkirk has been added, but NO COACH either in the NHL or internationally has been able to make a winner out of Alexander Ovechkin.  General Manager Brian MacLellan got himself and the owners off the hook by boldly and bravely getting Shattenkirk at the trade deadline.  Last year they got T. J. Oshie who made a notable contribution but it still was not enough.  As noted above, if Washington flops and any of the three players listed in the above section is a part of the reason, it may be overdue time to try to keep Shattenkirk and Oshie, trade the others and go in a new direction.

  1. Minnesota Wild

Right behind the Capitals are the Minnesota Wild, especially since the Bruce Boudreau Regular Season Machine did so well this year.  But Minnesota looked brittle coming down the home stretch and only their excellent earlier record kept them in second place in their division.  Even more ominous was that they did poorly head-to-head against Chicago, who is the favorite in the Western Conference.  As noted above, Minnesota added Suter and Parise and have done nothing since.  If the Wild flops again and continues to stagnate, there should be a shake-up of both the roster and the management.

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets

Actually neither players, coaches, or management should have any extra pressure on them.  They have overachieved.  But Columbus plays in the Ohio-Indiana area, close to the Canadian border, where hockey is mysteriously unpopular, which I have termed the “Death Valley” of professional hockey.  The Blue Jackets get consistently bad attendance.  They have only made the playoffs three times in their history and have never won a playoff series.  Sure Columbus had the finest regular season in their history, but is that enough to convince local fans to support the team?  The cynical fans may be saying “Show me” before they really start believing in this team and that means a playoff victory.  And if that is still not enough to attract increased attendance, perhaps it may be time to consider a franchise shift to Quebec, Hamilton, or Hartford.

Stanley Cup First Round Predictions

Eastern Conference

  1. Washington Capitals Vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

All the pressure is on Washington but at least in this round they should not have to worry.  They have to be heavily favored over newly arrived Toronto which is a team full of rookies making their Stanley Cup playoff debuts.  As if the Leafs didn’t have enough to worry about in this round, the Capitals added star defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk to push them over the top.  This is the first playoff meeting ever between Washington and Toronto.  It may seem a mismatch but the season series was very close, Washington winning 2-1 with one game going into overtime.  The best things the Maple Leafs have going for them is that they have the young, up-coming superstar Auston Matthews, the overall number one pick this year who has been everything the Leafs wanted, and wants to make his playoff debut just as good as his regular season debut was; and the coaching of Mike Babcock.  But with all the experience and star players, the Capitals should win in 5 games.

P.S.  If the Capitals somehow blow this series, I would not want to be a Washington Capital in the off season.

  1. Montreal Canadiens Vs. New York Rangers

These two teams probably knew for months that they would be facing each other in the first round of the playoffs.  At one time it seemed that both of them would be challenging for the President’s Trophy but they faded and weaknesses have showed.  Montreal went so far as to fire its coach and replace him with their old mentor, Stanley Cup winning coach, Claude Julien who won with Boston.  The Canadiens swept their series with the Rangers, establishing a clear edge over them.

Coaching wise the hockey gods mischievously matched up French Canadian coaches Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers against (you remember) the coach who beat him in the Stanley Cup Finals in 7 games, Claude Julien, another edge for the Canadiens.  Canadiens have home ice.  Henrik Lundqvist can be counted on to let in at least one goal at the wrong time.  Montreal in 6 or 7 games.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Poor Columbus.  They overachieved and ended up with the worst playoff matchup possible, the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, just when they needed to convince local fans that they were for real the most.  Even playing against choker Washington would have been better.  The only good news that Columbus got was that Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang is out for the entire playoffs.  But Evgeni Malkin will be back and combined with Sidney Crosby that should be enough for victory for Pittsburgh over Columbus who are a team of no-names.  Sergei Bobrovsky is a good goaltender but Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray won it all last year.  It would have been better for Columbus if Murray had been injured instead of Letang and Pittsburgh would have had to start the erratic Marc Andre Fleury.  In Columbus’s favor is that they played Pittsburgh even head-to-head this year.  Pittsburgh has the home ice edge and is vastly superior in talent and playoff experience.  Columbus’s only hope is that the Letang injury means a serious drop-off in defensive performance but that won’t happen with Murray in Pittsburgh’s net.  Pittsburgh in 5 or 6 games.

  1. Ottawa Senators Vs. Boston Bruins

This is the first playoff meeting between these teams since the 1920s.  The Senators played bad hockey down the stretch and on paper may be the weakest team in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  They would probably lose to every other playoff team in the conference – except the Boston Bruins who are 0-3-1 against them.  For that reason, the Senators have to be favored in this series though it could go either way, especially if Boston goaltender Tukka Rask gets hot and outplays Craig Anderson.  Ottawa in 6 or 7 games.

Western Conference

  1. Chicago Blackhawks Vs. Nashville Predators

When Nashville got P. K. Subban from Montreal for Shea Weber, many Predator fans and a whole bunch of predictors at the NHL website assumed that the Predators had got the “final piece of the puzzle” and that Nashville would at least be the Western Conference champion.  Instead the Predators nearly finished out of the playoffs and only a late surge of good hockey got them back in.  Subban is certainly not enough to topple Chicago who have won three Stanley Cups since 2010 and have to be the favorites this year to win it all again, especially since Pittsburgh lost Kris Letang.  Chicago has too much talent and is too well coached to lose to a team like Nashville that needs a lot more talent than Subban to become a champion.  Chicago in 5 games.

  1. Minnesota Wild Vs. St. Louis Blues

Bruce Boudreau is a mediocre playoff coach.  The Minnesota Wild are a mediocre playoff team.  The St. Louis Blues made a bit of a break-through last year and reached the Western Conference Final, where they seldom go, but then lost talent in the off-season and then obligingly traded one of their top defensemen, Kevin Shattenkirk so that Los Angeles could make the playoffs while they rebuilt their team.  Instead the Blues responded and made the playoffs while Minnesota had a horrible last quarter of the season.  Minnesota which is supposed to be superior cannot lose to a team which at least on paper is much worse than last year.  Can they?  Then again, they are the Minnesota Wild and he is coach Bruce Boudreau…  And the hockey gods continued their weird sense of humor by matching Minnesota against their old coach, Mike Yeo.  This is tough to predict.  It could go either way.  At least on paper, Minnesota should win, but I’ll go out on a limb and say St. Louis will rankle Boudreau and General Manager Chuck Fletcher and win for Yeo in 7 games.

  1. Edmonton Oilers Vs. San Jose Sharks

Last year, San Jose coach Peter DeBoer took a team that was supposed to be over the hill and on the way down into new territory, all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.  For part of this season, San Jose looked like that team, but the Sharks had a horrible last quarter and tumbled out of first place in their division to third.  Has an aging reality finally caught up to the Sharks?  Meanwhile the Oilers, under Sidney Crosby’s heir, Connor McDavid made the playoffs after 10 years of futility.  Added to the spice and intrigue is that the perverted hockey gods decided that the Oilers coach should be San Jose’s old coach, Todd McLellan.  Martin Jones, who played so well for the Sharks in net during last year’s playoffs gives San Jose an edge at a key position.  Unknown positive factor for the Oilers:  How good is Connor McDavid?  San Jose has nothing like him, just like they had nobody like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in last year’s final.  Unknown negative factor for the Oilers:  It took Wayne Gretzky three years before the Oilers won a playoff round.  If San Jose had been playing good down the stretch, I would take them based on their playoff experience and Jones’ goaltending.  But I don’t think San Jose will find themselves this time, McDavid will be the difference, and the Oilers will win in 6 games.

  1. Anaheim Ducks Vs. Calgary Flames

The Ducks had been choking in the playoffs under mediocre playoff coach Bruce Boudreau, so they reached back into their past and rehired their Stanley Cup winning coach, Randy Carlyle again.  So far it has paid off.  The Ducks kept their heads while the Sharks faded and the Oilers and Flames also took a run at them and ended up winning their division.  Carlyle certainly has the experience and knowledge to keep them playing that way in the playoffs.  Meanwhile Calgary got hot at the right time and put together a 10 game winning streak in the last quarter of the regular season, just when they needed it the most.  Rookie coach Glenn Gulutan should also be saluted because he took a team that seemed headed for the bottom of the Western Conference standings at the beginning of the season, turned it around and got it into the playoffs.  Unknown factor:  The coaching of Gulutan.  Will he be just as good in the playoffs as he was in the regular season?  Can he match the experienced, Stanley Cup winning coach, Carlyle?  And how will the goaltending match up?  This could go in Calgary’s favor if all the unknown factors go their way.  Anaheim’s veterans have more to lose in this series than up and coming Calgary.  Based on what I know about Carlyle, I’ll take the Ducks in 6 games.

Early Stanley Cup Prediction

Since the beginning of the season, until otherwise proven, I’ve consistently said that the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins were the teams to beat and I still hold to that.  When Pittsburgh built its team around the latest member on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, Sidney Crosby (A list of the top Canadian players of their generation who is head and shoulders above everyone else, dating back to Maurice Richard), and top Russian, Evgeni Malkin, it was predicted that Pittsburgh would win many Stanley Cups during the coming era.  But while Pittsburgh floundered under the bad goaltending of Marc Andre Fleury, Chicago seized its opportunity to win every other year.  Chicago is back again this year and Pittsburgh has been hurt by the injury to top defenseman, Kris Letang.  A dream matchup will be a Chicago-Pittsburgh final and the Blackhawks will continue their pattern by winning their fourth Stanley Cup in 8 years.

Chemistry Gone From The Los Angeles Kings

It’s over. With the St. Louis Blues victory over the Colorado Avalanche last night, the Western Conference playoff teams have been determined. It will be combinations of Chicago, Minnesota, San Jose, Edmonton, Anaheim, Calgary, St. Louis, and Nashville. Realistically the Los Angeles Kings, the only team currently out of a playoff spot that has any remaining hope of making the post-season will not make up the eight point difference that stands between them and St. Louis and Nashville with only ten games left. Los Angeles is not going to suddenly right the ship and go on the long winning streak necessary, nor are the teams they are trying to catch going into a prolonged slump.

It is quite a fall for the Kings who were Stanley Cup champions only three years ago in 2014, after winning their first Cup in 2012. Somehow the winning chemistry has been lost and the Kings will be out in the cold despite almost being handed a playoff position on a silver platter during this final quarter of the season. What is revealing is that at the trade deadline, the Kings added goaltender Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning and then Jerome Iginla from the Colorado Avalanche, while the St. Louis Blues obligingly traded their best defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington and the Kings fell while the Blues rose.

Only a year ago, Los Angeles and Chicago were trading Stanley Cups, each winning on alternative years. Last year it was supposed to be Los Angeles turn to win but one of the teams favored to win it all was instead eliminated in the very first round in only five games by the supposedly over-the-hill San Jose Sharks. The Kings had brought in Vincent Lecavalier and Milan Lucic to bring them back to the top but the chemistry obviously did not click.

This year, Lecavalier retired and Lucic was allowed to go to Edmonton, but the Kings have been mediocre at best. Star goaltender, Jonathan Quick got injured but backup Peter Budaj did a credible job until he was traded for Bishop who has not been what Los Angeles expected. It was a strange trade anyway with the Kings just getting back Quick after a serious injury and who would obviously be doing most of the goaltending. The Kings needed help elsewhere and the aging Iginla, well past his prime was not enough. It has to admitted that huge sums of money have been wasted where they could have been spent more wisely.

Still it is a mystery why the Kings, once so formidable have fallen so far so fast. Jonathan Quick is still here and so is star defenseman Drew Doughty. Up front there is still Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar and coach Darryl Sutter is still behind the bench. The goal differential is a bad -6 but that does not tell the story. The Kings are actually a good defensive team but they are not scoring goals. It would have been better to have made a trade for forwards and defensemen who would have boosted the attack, not Ben Bishop. A top forward or an attacking defenseman are the obvious choices in this year’s draft.

It is still possible for the Kings to make the playoffs but it is highly unlikely. The forwards who were making a difference with Kopitar and Carter have been allowed to leave and the wrong players have taken their place. The Los Angeles attack has to be rebuilt. The winning chemistry that brought two recent Stanley Cups has vanished. The Kings, so recently one the envied teams in the NHL are in a real muddle.

Here Is The New NHL Structure

Once NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman completes his behind-the-scenes work and finds a buyer for Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguin shares and then helps him (or someone like him) to put together an investment group to front a new Quebec City expansion bid (so that the NHL can collect its second $500 million expansion fee), the NHL will restructure itself into an NFL pattern of 2 Conferences with 4 divisions with 4 teams each. This structure will allow the NHL to continue to expand to the next symmetrical number 40 (5 teams) and probably to 48 (6 teams).

So probably within a short time the NHL will have the pattern shown below. Unfortunately, the NHL failed because of its greedy terms to get the number of teams it was seeking for the current expansion (ie. Quebec and 3 western teams) so that will mean that one eastern team (probably Columbus, second choice Detroit) will be shifted back to the western side temporarily.

I may be wrong but this is what I believe NHL fans will see for the next temporary period within the next few years.

                                                    Eastern Conference 

Quebec                                                                                         New York Rangers
Montreal                                                                                       New York Islanders
Ottawa                                                                                          New Jersey
Boston                                                                                          Philadelphia

Washington                                                                                 Toronto
Carolina                                                                                        Buffalo
Florida                                                                                           Detroit
Tampa Bay                                                                                   Pittsburgh

                                                     Western Conference

Winnipeg                                                                                       Columbus
Calgary                                                                                           Chicago
Edmonton                                                                                     Nashville
Vancouver                                                                                     Minnesota

Los Angeles                                                                                   Dallas
Anaheim                                                                                        Colorado
San Jose                                                                                          Arizona
Las Vegas                                                                                       St. Louis

This arrangement will only be temporary. More western expansion is coming (future article to come on this subject). In particular, the NHL wants Columbus and maybe Nashville shifted to the east and Pittsburgh to be reunited with Philadelphia in a division.

The playoff structure will change too. Either the top two teams from each division will make the playoffs meaning 16 teams like there is now or the NHL will introduce a new preliminary round with the second and third place teams in each division meeting in a best of 3 or 5 format and the division winner getting a bye.

But this will only be temporary. If you live in a western North American city and have the money and want to see your town get an NHL expansion team, your timing could not be better. Two more western cities are going to join the NHL as soon as possible. Bet on it.

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Recap

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are over with the Pittsburgh Penguins returning to the top again. But what does this year’s result mean for now and for the past and future? It is the purpose of this final installment of this year’s series of predictions to clarify and make sense of it all…

The Winner Of The 2016 Stanley Cup Tournament Is...

It is my sad duty to announce that the winner of the 2016 Stanley Cup actually ended in a tie between the Coronary Heart Disease team and the World Health Care Industry team which has been concealing a cure for coronary heart disease for at least two decades. The way that coronary heart disease was allowed to significantly affect this year’s NHL playoffs is a disgrace that only people like myself who have been cured of this dreadful scourge years ago without any open heart surgery know. I have published three articles on this blog so far about how this killer has recently significantly affected hockey and I hope to publish more to make as many readers as possible aware of what is really going on. First this disease forced the unnecessary retirement of Pittsburgh Penguin Pascal Dupuis. It followed up that success by forcing Tampa Bay star forward Steve Stamkos to accept unnecessary surgery to remove blood clots, the same problem that forced Dupuis’s retirement. Stamkos never appeared in the playoffs until the desperate game 7 with Pittsburgh when he probably still should have been kept out. Finally the world’s worst killer struck again in the Final by killing living legend Gordie Howe with a series a strokes over the past three years. The joy of the Final is now clouded over.

And all the while a cure existed that I took eight years ago and which others took before me and which thousands more have discovered after me. The chelation remedy which I and thousands of others have taken that has saved our lives is officially condemned by governmental bodies like the FDA and Health Canada to be “alternative medicine” which means that it can never be legally prescribed by state doctors or Heart Associations. To get it, a person has to have the courage to fly in the face of official denunciation and ridicule, to have the courage to be one’s own doctor and buy it directly over the Internet, or to try the privately established chelation clinics and get the heart plaque removed under a doctor’s supervision. Pascal Dupuis would still be playing; Steve Stamkos would not have missed a single playoff game; and Gordie Howe would still be alive. That is the triumph of coronary heart disease and the corrupt health care industry. Step forward and collect the Stanley Cup. This year it is rightfully yours.

Team At The Top

Who else but the Pittsburgh Penguins who have returned to their projected future after floundering in the wilderness for the past seven years. Pittsburgh owes its return to the top to goaltender Matt Murray who replaced the erratic Marc Andre Fleury and to coach Mike Sullivan who stressed defensive commitment to which the entire team including star players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin dedicated themselves. Suddenly after being lost for so long Pittsburgh is back and if they continue to get the same goaltending and defensive commitment, they are going to be very hard to dethrone.

The Real Conn Smythe Winner

With all due respect to Sidney Crosby, the real Conn Smythe Trophy winner of this year’s playoffs was his goaltender Matt Murray and Crosby would be the first to say so. The big difference between this Pittsburgh team and the chokers who succeeded the champions of 2009 was the improved defensive play of the team and that starts with Murray in goal. As soon as Murray was installed as the starting goaltender instead of the erratic Marc Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh roared down the finish of the regular season and never looked back. Coach Mike Sullivan’s one attempt at bringing back Fleury resulted in an overtime loss against Tampa Bay and he never gave the matter any consideration again.

Players Who Made A Breakthrough

The 2016 playoffs marked the emergence of Matt Murray, Martin Jones, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, John Tavares, and T. J. Oshie.

Teams On The Way Up

Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers all showed that if the right off season moves are made, they have the potential to advance farther than they did in this year’s playoffs.

Spinning Wheels Stuck In The Mud Of The Same Old Round

The Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild remain mired in the same old first or second rounds. Minnesota seems to think that by acquiring Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to escape missing the playoffs altogether is also enough to be a true Stanley Cup contender instead of upgrading its talent still further. Washington with  the same old Ovechkin-Backstrom-Orpik core that it has had for nearly a decade probably needs a good shakeup and fresh blood. Also Anaheim’s first round defeat was a severe setback that cost coach Bruce Boudreau his job.

See Ya

1. Brooks Orpik’s play was a significant reason why Washington suffered its usual first or second round choke. Three direct or indirect Orpik actions led to situations in which Pittsburgh took full advantage. Should Washington give him one last chance out of loyal service over the years or is time to give him a gold watch and bid adieu?

2. After years of trying to give away his job by his erratic playoff play, particularly a horrible series against the Philadelphia Flyers which may have been the worst goaltending performance for an entire playoff series that I have ever seen, Pittsburgh Penguin goaltender Marc Andre Fleury finally succeeded in watching his backup, Matt Murray take his job from him. Pittsburgh will no longer keep Fleury with his large contract and erratic playoff play. The one game coach Mike Sullivan allowed him to start saw him give up his usual 4+ goals including the overtime winner to Tampa Bay. The only question is which teams still believe in Fleury to give him a chance to start his career again?

Deja Vu

Coach Peter DeBoer took the underdog New Jersey Devils all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost. Then he took the underdog San Jose Sharks all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is going to be a difficult off season for the San Jose Sharks. On the one hand, they made significant breakthroughs by getting all the way to the Stanley Cup Final where they had never been before. On the other hand, they were outclassed by Pittsburgh. The offense that was getting contributions from almost everybody was almost completely shut down and when that happened, Martin Jones, their goaltender of the future was not enough. How much longer do they continue with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau despite their wonderful contributions this year? What will it take and what do they need to get them over the top? Next year might see a returned Chicago and a retooled Los Angeles. And if Dallas, St. Louis, and Nashville make the right off season moves, they could be significantly improved next year. Returning to the Stanley Cup Final will not be easy for the Sharks. In some ways, they had win this year while they had the chance. It is not easy to see and find an answer for what they need.

Partly Over A Hump

The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and New York Islanders all got through rounds where they usually lose or choke. They did not win the big one but it was progress.

Marriage Made In Heaven – Birds Of A Feather Flock Together

Bruce Boudreau was fired by both the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks because in the playoffs his teams were able to beat equal or lesser teams than themselves but could never beat true Stanley Cup contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. Now Boudreau gets to be coach of the wheel-spinning Minnesota Wild, a team that can beat lesser teams like Colorado but always loses to true contenders like Chicago and Los Angeles. One can hardly wait to see the result.

Will They Return?

Chicago and Los Angeles were alternating as Stanley Cup Champion the past four years. It was supposed to be Los Angeles’s turn to win the Cup this year but they were put out quickly in the first round by the inspired San Jose Sharks. Will some inspired off season retooling bring back the Kings and the Blackhawks? It will not take much to return these teams to glory status.

Most Anguished Defeat

When Pittsburgh closed out the Washington Capitals 4-2, it left one the worst chokers in the NHL along with Minnesota stuck behind its mound. To add salt to its wounds, the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders made playoff progress by getting through the rounds where they usually lose or choke. Washington won the President’s Trophy by a country mile but to show real progress they HAD to get to at least the Eastern Conference Final. Alexander Ovechkin, once Sidney Crosby’s main rival still has never played in a Conference Final, let alone contend for the Stanley Cup. His international Russian team Olympic record is just as dismal. He has loads of individual trophies and honors but his team record is horrible. He is the successor to Marcel Dionne who had a similar career. What is even more galling is that Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom outplayed their rivals Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and got an outstanding effort from T. J. Oshie and it still was not enough. Brooks Orpik played like a bonehead and Braden Holtby failed to deliver difference-making goaltending. The coming off season in Washington is going to be critical about where they go from here.

The 50-50 Team

The Nashville Predators made progress when they beat superior opponent Anaheim to win their first ever 7 game series. Nashville was ready for that game 7 but when the same situation came up again against San Jose, they were shamefully shut out, causing goaltender Pekka Rinne to smash his stick in frustration at his team’s lack of preparedness.

Best Team Not In The Playoffs

The Boston Bruins were the only team that had a plus goal differential and somehow did not qualify for the playoffs while the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Redwings who had minus goal differentials did.

The What If Playoff Series

What if Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop did not get injured?
What if Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos had been given the same “alternative medicine” that removes coronary heart disease blockages that I took to save my life, instead of being operated on to remove blood clots that kept him out of the playoffs until Tampa Bay’s final game?
What if the NHL started trying “alternative medicine” instead of always towing the government line set by the FDA and Health Canada?
What if the corrupt health care industry had been exposed for what it is?
Would Tampa Bay have beaten Pittsburgh?

Best NHL Playoff Feud

You can bet the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to be steaming after losing the Eastern Conference Final because their number one goaltender and best forward were out with injuries. Currently Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are the best teams in the Eastern Conference and this was only round 2 of the Crosby-Malkin era which is now squared 1-1. There will probably be many more Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay playoff match-ups in the immediate future so each team will get to know each other very well in the coming years.

You Should Have Been Here – Where Are You?

With all the high draft choices that have been nurtured and stockpiled for over half a decade, the Edmonton Oilers should have been a Stanley Cup contender – long ago. In a year when Canada did not ice a single playoff team and despite the acquisition of Connor McDavid, the alleged heir to Sidney Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain that stretches back to Maurice Richard, Edmonton never even threatened to make the playoffs. Instead they finished near the bottom of the league as they usually do. There is some undiagnosed rot eating away at this team and until it is properly investigated and removed, Edmonton will remain a joke.

Hurry Up And Make It 8

For the first time since 1970, Canada did not have a single team in the playoffs. The odds are stacked against them 23-7 and this result may occur many more times in the future. So Canada is praying that the NHL opens the door for Quebec to join in the near future.

Pittsburgh Reclaims Its Projected Future

After floundering in the wilderness for seven years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have finally returned to the place projected for them when they assembled a team based on the one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But how different from the team of 2009. That team was expected to win by overwhelming offence. This team won by being committed to playing good defense, as stressed by new coach Mike Sullivan.

It started in goal when untried Matt Murray (the real Conn Smythe Trophy winner as “official” Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sidney Crosby would be the first to tell you) replaced the injured, erratic Marc Andre Fleury and gave Pittsburgh the steady goaltending they have sorely lacked since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Pittsburgh became the hottest team in the last month of the regular season and kept that momentum and dedicated defensive play for the whole of the playoffs. That defensive commitment, starting in goal is the main reason Pittsburgh is now the 2016 Stanley Cup Champion.

It is now two Stanley Cups and two Olympic gold medals for Sidney Crosby the player who now wears the invisible emblem of Canada’s golden hockey chain. This chain goes back to the days of Maurice Richard. It is the Canadian player who is head and shoulders above everybody else – Canadian and international – in his playing time era. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the line includes in this order, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and now Crosby.

Actually Crosby and Malkin did not have a particularly distinguished playoff period. They virtually disappeared during the Washington series and were outplayed by their rivals Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But the very fact that they did not stick out is the reason why Pittsburgh is this year’s Stanley Cup Champion. Both stars bought in to Sullivan’s defensive commitment and what they gave was enough to carry the Penguins to the top. Actually they just played like one of the guys.

It has taken seven years for the Penguins to get back to the top. When Pittsburgh drafted Crosby and then Malkin it was projected that the Penguins would win Stanley Cups, not a Stanley Cup. But then General Manager Ray Shero tinkered the wrong way with the chemistry that had won the Cup in 2009 and Pittsburgh has been out in the wilderness ever since then searching for an answer.

A huge part of the problem was the erratic play of goaltender Marc Andre Fleury who never regained the form he displayed in 2009. In fact for Fleury this win is probably bitter sweet. He may be the champion but inside he probably knows he has played his last game as a Penguin. Pittsburgh is not going keep his large contract and his erratic goaltending after the steady performance Matt Murray gave the team. He is at the top of Pittsburgh’s trade list.

While Pittsburgh searched for an answer to get back to the top, there were casualties. General Manager Ray Shero who conceived the team as a one-two punch is now the GM of the New Jersey Devils. Former coach Dan Bylsma is now coaching the Buffalo Sabres. And the number of players who have come and gone while Pittsburgh searched for the winning formula around Crosby and Malkin are uncounted. But that is all in the past. Pittsburgh is back at the top where it was projected to be.

So who can stop Pittsburgh? At the top of the list has to be the Tampa Bay Lightning who barely lost to the Penguins in part thanks to a corrupt health industry that is concealing a cure for coronary heart disease that kept Steve Stamkos out of their line-up and unkind hockey gods who allowed their goaltender, Ben Bishop to be injured. Right beside them will be a re-tooled three time champion Chicago Blackhawks. And if they can find the chemistry again, the Los Angeles Kings could pose a challenge.

But if Pittsburgh continues to get the steady goaltending of Murray and the defensive commitment from the entire team, dethroning the Penguins is going to be a very tough task. Pittsburgh could reach the winner’s circle many more times before the Crosby-Malkin era ends.

2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final Playoff Predictions

And now the round everybody has been waiting for, featuring Pittsburgh and San Jose. I modestly congratulate myself for being 100% right as to my Conference Final predictions. As is my custom with all previous rounds, I’ll analyze what happened in the Conference Finals first and try to make sense of it all.

Biggest Winners: Players

1. Martin Jones

Jones continued his potential Conn Smythe goaltending performance by posting two back-to-back shutouts that destroyed any illusions that the St. Louis Blues were this year’s team of destiny. One more major challenge awaits him, but he, more than any other player is the reason why San Jose is in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.

2. Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns

In fact I could list the entire San Jose offense here but these three players deserve special mention. No team has found a way to cool off any of these players or even some of the others not mentioned here. San Jose has been waiting a long time to get consistent playoff performances like this and if they continue to be this hot in the final round, San Jose just might celebrate its first Stanley Cup.

3. Matt Murray

Once again the Pittsburgh offense which is supposed to be the strength of this team was not the deciding factor but in the end it was Murray’s excellent goaltending that saved the day. Every game that Pittsburgh won, Murray held the Lightning attack to under three goals. He is the main reason Pittsburgh is back in the Stanley Cup Final.

Biggest Losers: Players

1. Brian Elliott/Jake Allen

It’s not that Elliott or Allen played poorly. It’s just that when you compare their performance to what Jones has given San Jose, Matt Murray’s performance for Pittsburgh, or when one remembers the performance that Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick gave when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, you realize that Elliott/Allen are just not good enough. Both are good goalies and Elliott was able to pull off the upset against Chicago and the defeat of Dallas but they are not consistent enough, nor stingy enough to carry a team to a Stanley Cup Championship. Goaltending is probably one of the major factors St. Louis must improve if they are going to go all the way.

2. Marc Andre Fleury

This is just a repeat of what I wrote in the Conference Final predictions. After Murray had a rough outing against tough Tampa Bay, coach Mike Sullivan started Fleury who gave up his usual 4-plus goals in a Lightning victory. Unless Murray is really horrible or gets injured against San Jose, Fleury has played his last game in Pittsburgh.

Biggest Winners: Teams

1. Toronto Maple Leafs

Imagine if the St. Louis Blues had won the third round. Then imagine if they had gone on to win the Stanley Cup. That would have meant that the poor Maple Leafs and all their fans, who have suffered under two long periods of bad ownership/management, first by Harold Ballard and then by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund, who incredibly somehow managed to surpass Ballard’s horrible ownership record, now would have to be all by themselves instead of sharing the longest current streak, now officially at 49 years without winning the Stanley Cup. But if the Blues make the right moves in the off season, there is the chance they might finally get over the top next year. In contrast, the Leafs, still paying for  the Teachers’ time of ownership, are still at the bottom of the heap with next year’s number one draft choice. Every Leaf fan, player, and member of the organization, in gratitude for the ousting of St. Louis which spared the Leafs the ultimate humiliation, should put on a Sharks uniform and cheer unrepentantly for San Jose in this year’s Final.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are not so much a big winner as they escaped being a big loser. If they had lost to Tampa Bay in the playoffs for a second time, with Tampa Bay not having its best goaltender, Ben Bishop, or its best forward, Steve Stamkos except for the last game, they would have been behind a huge psychological eight ball. As it was they just squeaked through thanks to goaltender Matt Murray. The stage is set for future Penguin-Lightning playoff confrontations.

Team Eliminated By Corruption?

This may be monotonous but it is so important that I will repeat it now and probably again and again in future articles. I recently wrote two articles for this blog explaining that there is a cure for coronary heart disease that is being covered up by foul, slimy, underhanded practices in the world health industry. Tampa Bay was without its captain and best forward Steve Stamkos for the entire playoffs except for the desperate game 7 match with Pittsburgh. Had Stamkos been given this remedy (officially labeled “alternative medicine” by the FDA, Health Canada and the other official powers-that-be), it is likely he would not have had to have surgery to remove blood clots or have missed a single game in the playoffs. When Stamkos returned, he was probably too rusty to be effective, but what would have been the result if he had been able to play the entire Conference Final? On the Pittsburgh side, Pascal Dupuis has been forced into unnecessary retirement for the same reason. The NHL takes its marching orders from official government medicine and will not consider “alternative medicine”, much of which is far more effective and far more cheaper than “official” medical practices. Pittsburgh may have “officially” eliminated Tampa Bay but there may be truth in the belief that the Lightning were eliminated by a corrupt health industry.

Stupidity Redeemed By Repentance

After steady Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray had a tough game against Tampa Bay, coach Mike Sullivan made the worst coaching decision of the playoffs so far by starting Jekyll and Hyde, erratic, playoff goaltender Marc Andre Fleury in the next game. Fleury was his usual self, giving up four goals including the overtime winner. Fortunately it was only game 5 so Sullivan had a chance to repent the error of his ways and restore Murray and Fleury has not been seen since.

 

Stanley Cup Final

Pittsburgh-San Jose

This is the battle of the two up-and-coming, would-be-Conn Smythe Trophy winner goaltenders, Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, and San Jose’s Martin Jones. The goaltending match-up is so even that whichever team’s goaltender is a little bit better will be the likely winner. The coaching match is even too, with San Jose’s Peter DeBoer who has a habit of taking underdog teams to the Stanley Cup Final against Mike Sullivan who seems to have finally righted the ship in Pittsburgh. Both coaches are seeking their first Stanley Cup.

On paper this seems a mismatch. San Jose has no player to compare with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The problem is that while Crosby and Malkin have made contributions to the Pittsburgh victories, they have not played like Crosby and Malkin who are supposed to be head and shoulders above everybody else. On the other hand, the San Jose offense has been getting contributions from everybody and there are too many players contributing to be entirely smothered. Pittsburgh is favored, has home ice advantage, and should win but I am going to pick an upset. I say that Martin Jones is just a little bit better than Matt Murray, that the San Jose offence cannot be stopped,  that San Jose is the team of destiny, and that coach Peter DeBoer will achieve with the underdog Sharks what he failed to do with the underdog New Jersey Devils and win San Jose’s first Stanley Cup in 6 games.