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Category Archives: Sports – Hockey
Time for my annual comedy piece, in which I make predictions about which teams will do well and which ones won’t in the upcoming hockey season. I have been doing this for more than 20 years, lockouts being the exception, and I’ll keep doing it until I actually get one mostly right, I guess.
This year we have realignment, which changes a lot of traditional rivalries; there’s a new playoff qualification structure, and we have a new, balanced schedule where every team plays home and home with every other team (finally). I could quibble about some of the decisions, but overall, I like the changes. I love the balanced schedule, I mostly love the new playoff format, and I think they did the best they could with realignment, other than deciding to put some pain on the florida teams. There is no perfect plan, not with the geographic clumping in the northeast. But the travel and border crossing for the two Florida teams is going to get old. On the other hand, they’ll start to understand what west coast teams have always dealt with….
The new playoff format: four divisions instead of six, and the top three teams in each division, with the playoff groups rounded off by the top two conference point-getting teams that don’t otherwise qualify. this means a lower-seeded team might find itself playing first round on the road against someone in another division, which will be painful, but that’s incentive to finish in the top three.
So how is this all going to shape up? Let’s start in the east.
The east is broken into two divisions: The Atlantic, which includes four Canadian teams: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo, two Florida teams with the Panthers and Tampa Bay, Detroit and Boston.
At some point this division will wake up and change from “we got Detroit back in the east! Think of all the sellouts!” to “Oh my god, we have Detroit in our division! That screws us making the playoffs”. you can assume that Detroit and Boston will take two of the playoff spots for the foreseeable future, and I expect Montreal will be up there as well, which means the other five teams are more or less playing for those wild card sports. If you’re in Toronto, somewhere around mid-season I expect to see the media pundits whining that things aren’t fair because the Leafs are up against all of the tough competition that the pundits used to whine they wanted playing more games against Toronto.
Then you have the Metropolitan division, which could be named the “rangers take the bus to every road game” division, almost. It’s the Rangers, the Devils, the Brooklyn Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, as well as the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Columbus “oh my god what have they done to us?” Bluejackets.
It’s actually going to be tough for a lot of teams to compete for the playoffs here. You have to pretty much pencil in Boston, Detroit and Pittsburgh into the playoffs before the season starts, and you have 12 teams playing for five spots, including the three Canadian teams. This may make it harder for Canada to celebrate lots of first round playoff losses moving forward.
My guesses for this season, and with eastern teams, it’s always a guess:
Atlantic: Detroit, Boston, Montreal
Metropolitan: Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia
Wild Cards: Rangers, Ottawa
(sorry, Leafs fans….)
And now out west, as the NHL defines West.
The central division is Chicago, Winnipeg, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis. The good news is that hockey games will mostly be timed in the same timezone and only one timezone off except for the road trips to the coast. The bad news is that the flight from Dallas to winnipeg is still a long one, just north/south instead of east/west.
And out in the Pacific division, which Laurie’s named the “too late, didn’t watch” division in honor of the east coast media who need their beauty sleep and so never see the late games… We have Edmonton, Calgary, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, and Vancouver.
My guesses for the west:
Central: Chicago, Dallas, and Nashville.
Pacific: San jose, Vancouver, and Los Angeles.
Wild Cards: St. Louis and Phoenix.
It’s hard to narrow this down to just one east and one west team for the finals. In the east, I really like both Detroit and Pittsburgh. If they make the eastern final, that’s going to be a heck of a series. If I have to choose just one — I never like betting against the red wings, so I won’t. Which will piss off the Pittsburgh fans. Boston, Montreal, Washington all have a legitimate shot into the final four.
but I’ll pick Detroit.
And in the West, my final two are San Jose and Los Angeles.
I’ll pick San Jose not just because I don’t want to get stoned, but because I think they are going to be a hard team to stop if they stay healthy. But both the Kings and Vancouver worry me, although at some point I expect the “Luongo circus train” to arrive and chaos to ensue, and I do not expect it to be Luongo’s fault. But something just tells me that soap opera still have a few chapters to play out.
it’s going to be curious to see if the new ownership in Phoenix causes that team to surge, or if it falls back and regroups. There was a whole lot of “mission from god” going on with that team (bless you, Shane Doan, for holding it all together down there) but I don’t think we’ll know until 20 games in if they can build from that or whether they lose the adrenalin rush and let it slip. I do like that team long-term.
Because it is about the only benefit of realignment that I really like, I’ll take San Jose and Detroit in the final. Remember, prior to this year, that wasn’t possible. now it is (although Toronto/Montreal in the final is still not possible. Maybe someday…)
That would be fun…. (and I’ll take San Jose. Hey, I don’t want to be stoned….)
Welcome to the season. It is a season without labor strife, a season without teams in crisis (Florida has new owners; Phoenix has new owners; New Jersey seems settled). it’ll be interesting to see what the new york and canadian whiner-media use to beat up on Bettman this year, because you know they won’t actually admit that he was able to fix things. They’ll still complain that they haven’t moved all of the teams back to Canada or something…
In other words, business as usual…
The NHL’s all-time winningest coach has seen it all in his day, and he agrees with Steve Yzerman that something has to be done to curb fighting in the sport.
All of a sudden there is a groundswell of opinion among people within hockey — people who can make the change happen — that it’s time for fighting to stop. This decision is overdue, frankly. It’s hard to take seriously a league that is trying to stop players from hitting each other in the head, unless, of course, they square off and remove their gloves first. Then it’s just a penalty.
I am not an anti-fighting advocate. When I’m at a hockey game, I’ll stand up and cheer a good fight. I have, at times, been known to kick back and watch a boxing match without shame. I understand the attraction and it’s place in the game.
But the more we learn about what it does to a player’s head, and to their life for the rest of their lives, the harder it is for me to be complacent and say “hey, it’s part of the game”. So were line brawls, stick swinging, and cleared benches escalating into full riots.
Some can argue that fighting makes hockey a better and more entertaining game. For some, that’s probably true. As much as I can enjoy a good hockey fight, I also enjoy a good hockey game, and my enjoyment of the sport won’t go away if fighting does. But some of the injury and life-long damage to the players will go away if we end it.
The continuing farce surrounding hockey fights and player safety — the new rule that removing your helmet is a penalty is leading fighters to orchestrate removing each others — is showing just how obvious tolerating fighting is out of sync with the realities of today’s game.
While Don Cherry will never admit it, it’s not the 1960′s any more, and the game of hockey as played then doesn’t exist now.
It’s time for us to recognize that fighting adds little to the game and retire it from the field of play. Change the rules: if you drop your gloves and throw a punch, it’s a game misconduct.
Then lets get back to playing hockey.
So here we are, June 9. It’s down to two teams. Depending on how the finals go, it may be almost July before before the cup is awarded.
this bothers me. I’m frankly ready for something other than hockey, as good as the playoffs are. And it’s a reminder that this lockout-whacked season is, well, whacked. Not a reminder I particularly wanted. But then, I didn’t want June hockey, either. ohwell.
That said, there’s been some great hockey, some really good teams have been sent golfing (the good news: it’s late enough in the year that snow won’t ruin your golf date), and we’re down to Chicago and Boston.
Okay, seriously. Did anyone who hasn’t seen a game live in Boston Gardens pick the Bruins to beat the Penguins? Did anyone in the universe pick them to sweep? No, me, neither. Upsets this drastic are typically first round things, not conference finals. And it’s not like Pittsburgh played badly. It’s not like their goaltending faltered. Instead, it’s that Boston had a really good idea how to play against the Pens — and executed their gameplan very well. My respect for Tukka Rask has gone way up, too. it’s not that I didn’t think he was a solid goaltender, but he’s exceeded expectations.
And in the West? I thought Quick and the Kings would beat the Hawks — and Crawford and the Hawks refused to let it happen. That was a great series, two very good teams playing well, and playing hard. There’s very little I can say bad about the Kings, other than the Hawks were simply a bit better.
But that means I was oh-fer for the conference finals. 0-2, which makes me 8-6 for the playoffs, which means no matter what, I’m over .500 for the playoffs this year, but I’d rather be 9-6 than 8-5.
The finals are hard to judge, though. I like the Hawks. I like the way the Bruins are playing now. I like Crawford, but Rask is impressive. I can make an argument for both teams. I can make arguments against both. And I’m unsure which way to go. I want to see Chicago win, but my gut keeps saying watch out for Boston.
So I think I’m going to pick the Bruins, in six games.
I’ll be happy either way, really. Especially because it means that hockey will be over. for a few weeks, and then it’ll be time for training camp. Don’t expect either of these teams to be able to repeat in 2014 — this schedule makes it impossible.
The Sharks fought the kings to game 7 and fell one goal, one shot, a couple of inches short. Some years it hurts, some years you feel they went as far as they can; this year, I think they went further than I expected and proved to themselves they could.
Still, their season is over, and it’s not for four teams. Still work to do.
In the 2nd round, I picked the Pens, Bruins, Chicago and Sharks. 3-1, which puts me at 8-4 for the playoffs. Maybe I should have been betting this year.
I’m tempted to say “now it gets really interesting”, but in reality, it’s been a great playoffs. If the people who like to argue that the standard NHL season is too long want evidence, this year is it. Change the regular season from a marathon to a sprint and leave some fuel in the tank for the playoffs, and look what happens.
And so to the conference finals. To nobody’s surprise, it’s the Penguins and Bruins. As it turns out, the Bruins got through the Rangers easier than I expected. Also, Torotorella is out of a job in New York. These two data points are not unrelated.
I have to say I still like the Penguins out of the east. I don’t think Boston will make it easy, but I’m not convinced they can beat the Pens. I like boht teams, though. I’ll call this Pittsburgh in 6.
And in the West, also to very little surprise, it’s Chicago vs. LA. It seems rare that the final teams in reality match up with the guesses, but this year, these four would have been on lots of lists. To me, this series comes down to Crawford vs. Quick. Quick is, it seems, playing even better this playoff than he did last year, when he ‘only’ won the Conn-Smythe and the Cup. Can Crawford out-battle him and hold back the Kings?
Sorry, Hawks fans. I think the Kings are on a roll. I think the Hawks are playing well, but so were the Sharks. I’m not sure what will stop the Kings on a march to repeat, but I don’t think the Kings will. It’ll be a good series, but the Kings are headed back to the finals in 5.
Still a fair amount of really good hockey to be played. I’m looking forward to it.
And like that, the season’s over for the sharks.
Game 7 against the Kings, last year’s Cup Champion and a team that looks to have rounded into champion form again.
You can’t really fault much with the Sharks. The series was really that close. Was Quick a better goalie? Not really — and Quick is playing better than last year, when he won the Cup and the Conn-Smythe. Were the Kings a better team? Not really. Did Sutter out-coach McClellan? Not really. Did the Kings skaters out-play the Sharks skaters? Not really. Was it the loss of Raffi Torres? Not really; the Kings lost Stoll for the series and had to adjust for that as well. Everything pretty much balanced out.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a series this closely balanced, where as far as I can tell, the difference between the two teams was home-ice advantage. Not how the coaches used it, but the simple, minor things of last change and in the face-off circle. It ultimately came down to being just one goal better after seven games, and one truly astounding, key save by Quick on a shot Pavelski couldn’t raise two inches higher.
It was that close.
And it was glorious.
I’m sure the usual talking and typing pundits will find the usual blather to complain about, and don’t get me wrong, the Sharks are far from a perfect team. But in this series, unlike many playoffs in the past, the Sharks didn’t under-perform or shoot themselves in the foot. They played their hearts out, and played well. And went up against another team doing the same, playing as well, with the minor advantage of playing game 7 at home. That advantage was what decided the series.
Never let people tell you things like home ice advantage doesn’t matter.
Congrats to Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter and the Kings organization. Right now they look tough to beat.
Congrats to Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan and the Sharks organization. Honestly, they played better than I expected, but watching them play, it’s also clear I under-rated them.
Now, all LA has to do is beat either Chicago or Detroit, and then beat either Pittsburgh or Boston.
Should be simple, right?
What we do know is that this team — good as it was — wasn’t good enough. So we’ll have to make changes and try again next year. But given I thought this might be the year we were shown that the window had closed and it was time to retool? Well, maybe not this year… This team needs to be tinkered with, not rebuilt.
But that’s a discussion for a few weeks from now, when hockey is done for the summer. For now? I’m going to just sit back and watch some really killer hockey, no matter which teams are still playing.
Well done, Sharks. You may not have succeeded at the ultimate goal, but you met the challenge with honor and I, for one, will happily declare this season a success without regrets. It’s no shame to play your best and be beaten by a better team. that’s merely motivation to keep improving.
A Statement from GM Doug Wilson Regarding the Raffi Torres Suspension
Upon review of the incident, it is abundantly clear that this was a clean hockey hit. As noted by the NHL, Raffi’s initial point of contact was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on an opponent who was playing the puck. He did not leave his feet or elevate, he kept his shoulder tucked and elbow down at his side, and he was gliding – not skating or charging.
It’s rare for me to disagree with Doug Wilson on hockey issues, but on this hit, I am.
I’ve watched various angles of the hit multiple times. I see a different hit than Wilson does. What I see is Torres gliding in for a hit and making shoulder to head contact with Stoll. Wilson is correct that Torres didn’t leave his feet or elevate in the hit, which is why Torres isn’t suspended for a dozen games. But it’s clear from a couple of angles that Torres was watching Stoll as he skated in, had the time and ability to shift the hit away from his head, and didn’t. To blame Stoll for putting his head in the way of that hit is a GM defending his player, and more power to Wilson for doing so.
But it’s wrong. Shanahan’s right. My prediction on twitter a couple of days ago was three games off — one for the hit and two for the reputation. The way the sharks are playing I may well be right. there’s been some kerfluffle over “the rest of the series”, but I think that makes sense in this context, in that it keeps Torres away from the Kings (and vice versa), but it also doesn’t over-punish Torres. I do NOT think the suspension should have a term that might leak into next season, for instance, and this one doesn’t.
I can see the logic of the league not wanting Torres to come back for a game-deciding game 6 or game 7, for instance. Just imagine the potential mayhem. This pushes any rematch out to next season where tempers will have had time to cool off a bit.
I understand why Wilson is upset; the Sharks need Torres in the lineup. but I think Shanahan got this one right. The team knew what torres’ suspension history and reputation were before bringing him onto the team. Torres has done a good job of reforming his game away from the kind of suspendable play he’s known for — but he could have turned this into a good clean body check, and he chose not to. And so now he sits.
And yes, that really hurts the Sharks chances of making this a long series. But the thing is, he should have considered that before going for a head shot. And didn’t. Because Torres knows what “repeat offender status” means better than almost anyone in the league right now.
In other news, after the hearing, the NHL suspended Bryan Marchment for two games, just in case.
Round 1 is done, round 2 is starting up, and so far, it’s been one heck of a fun playoffs to watch. The sharks made it through to the 2nd round. The Leafs almost took out the Bruins. Washington is done. All four of the second round series look to be great ones and tough to call. No slackers here.Â
But before I predict the second round, some housekeeping. How did my predictions in the first round turn out?
In the east I picked: Pens over Islanders, Montreal over Ottawa. Rangers over Capitals and Toronto over Boston.
Reality: Pens (but New York scared the hell out of them. well done!); Ottawa, Rangers and Boston. Â two out of four. I was right in predicting Toronto/Boston to be a coin flip, though. That was a hell of a series. Both the Islanders and the Leafs can feel proud at how well they did and hopefully build on this, although the Toronto loss could be crushing. Hope not. The Capitals look tired, and as a franchise, this current mix of players is fading. their window has closed. Montreal could have won that series, but congrats to the Sens for not letting them.Â
In the east I picked: Chicago over Minnesota, Anaheim over Detroit, LA over St. Louis. Â and San Jose over Vancouver.Â
In reality: Chicago was never really challenged, but that’s been true all season. Detroit squeaked past Anaheim. LA beat St. Louis, but again, that team, impressed me and can build on this season. and San Jose swept Vancouver (really? REALLY? didn’t see that coming). I’m not sure how San Jose swept the Canucks. Vancouver’s a team with a Â lot going for it — and significant problems, of which I think the goaltending problem is the least of them. Not sure how to fix that team right now. Detroit? As I always say, never bet against detroit — they seem to find a way, but that team isn’t what it was, and it’s fading towards a rebuild. Still, dangerous and they showed it.Â
The best hockey is out west by a long shot. And it’s been a lot of fun.Â
So, 2-2 in the east, 3-1 in the west. 5-3 overall. Not bad. I still have time to drop myself below .500 for the playoffs, and if tradition holds, I will.
2nd round picks:
Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa: should be an interesting series, but I see nothing about Ottawa that makes me think they can stop the pens. Pens in 5.
Rangers vs. Bruins: Should be tough, should be physical, should be exhausting. Should be Boston. In 5. Sorry, Ranger fans. But I don’t think I’d bet money on it. or bet on whoever survives out of this round to win the next.
Chicago vs. Detroit: another fun series, but reality should hit the wings here. Hawks in 5.Â
San Jose vs. LA: For me, the series to watch in the 2nd round, and not because it’s got the sharks. should be the most interesting series in the second round. Closely matched, well played, hard, physical. Â Either team could win it. I’m going to go for the Sharks in 6. But I wouldn’t be surprised to be wrong.Â
So, summary: Penguins and Bruins in the east, Chicago and San Jose in the west. My original picks for Chicago and Penguins for the final (pens winning) stand, and I see no reason to think that’s wrong. Yet.
On to round 2!Â
Don Cherry isn’t speaking for the CBC when he says women have no place in sports locker-rooms, the head of media relations for the public broadcaster said Monday.
What Don Cherry is really saying — that an athlete’s behavior can be boorish or juvenile (at best — or it can degrade further and be sexist and abusive) and this is the fault of a woman for being nearby.
It’s far past time we stopped accepting and enabling the trollish behavior of some athletes, but it’s also time for us to stop accepting the excuses of those who enable and promote that behavior.
it also needs to be remembered that MOST athletes do not act like this, but the locker room is still a stronghold of this kind of trollish attitude, because, frankly, if you win, people cut you a lot of slack and protect you from being responsible for your behavior.
And it was that kind of “well, he wins a lot of hockey games” attitude that allowed Graham James to prey on his players for as long as he did.
These kinds of attitudes need to die. We should move that forward a little bit by helping Don Cherry out of his spotlight. But it won’t happen, because while many of his attitudes and opinions are out of date (and head off into “downright reprehensible”), he draws audiences to CBC. And just like athletes, as long as you can do that, they’ll define your flaws as — character quirks and apologize for you instead of hold you responsible for them.