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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gary Bettman: Tradition Gestapo

Now that the games are being played and things are getting hashed out on the ice, the way they should be, a pathetic yet fascinating battle has erupted with Herr Bettman and the Detroit Red Wings.

Gary Bettman would like the Detroit Red Wings to stop swinging their tentacles at everyone.

No, I said tentacles. Tentacles. Big difference.

That's right, Bettman and the NHL would like Joe Louis Arena zamboni driver/octopus retriever Al Sobotka to stop inciting the crowd by swinging the octopus that gets thrown on the ice during Detroit home games because, supposedly, the material that flies off the octopus gets onto the ice and makes it dangerous to players.

They make it seem like toxic ooze is flying on the ice, but leave it to Herr Bettman to make a mountain out of a traditional molehill.

All the more fun of this is that not only are Detroit Free Press cartoonists going out of their way to show that Bettman is a moron but scientists have also stepped up to say that he's overreacting to something that's been going on in Detroit for seemingly eons. Have a look from the Free Press:

Dr. Steve O'Shea director of the Earth & Oceanic Sciences Research Institute
at the Auckland University of Technology told me in an e-mail, "There's no
'matter' that could fly off and cause a hazard to players, but should a twirled
octopus rupture and send its guts over the face or clothes of a player I can
imagine there'd be an element of yuckiness." True, but I imagine avoiding
yuckiness isn't the primary concern of hockey players as they dodge hip checks
and flying pucks.

This, of course, means that Gary Bettman is now taking his inspiration from the NCAA. In case you didn't know, at any NCAA event, the host arena has to look and feel as impartial as possible. Have any championship banners hanging from the rafters? Hide them. Team logos adorning the building? Cover 'em up. Signs hanging up in support of the home team? Put them away, they're not welcome here.

Heck, the NCAA doesn't even want any banners at all hanging from the rafters. I noticed this in Albany at the NCAA Hockey East Regionals as well as the Frozen Four in Denver. All of the MAAC banners for Siena College basketball were pulled up and hidden as were all Albany River Rats and Albany Firebirds banners at the Times Union Center. If you went to Pepsi Center in Denver hoping to look at the silliest retired number in sports forget it - it wasn't there.

I will give the NCAA a little bit of credit, however, as they hung up banners in Denver celebrating all of the schools who have won National Championships in men's ice hockey. But that's besides the point and now I digress.

Bettman has gone as far to say that he'll fine Sobotka and the Red Wings $10,000 for swinging the octopus while on the ice and causing a ruckus with the fans. There are many folks in blogland through Red Wings fandom hoping that Wings owner Mike Ilitch will cut Bettman an advanced check to pay for any future octopus lassoing. Probably not a bad idea, really, plus it would have the added effect of making Ilitch even more of a hero in Detroit but also throughout the NHL for making Bettman look like a complete tool.

Not that he has a hard time doing that on his own, but still.

Point of the matter is that this is thorough stupidity for Bettman to make this his angle for the playoffs. He decides that picking on an Original Six team who does this same thing EVERY PLAYOFF SEASON and has for years upon years now is a good idea. This leads me to believe that someone else complained about this and Bettman rather than seem like he's playing favorites decided, "That's it, no one will have fun."

Perhaps he was having flashbacks to 1996 when Florida Panthers fans showered the ice with rubber rats whenever Scott Mellanby scored and thought that all Detroit fans would start bringing octopi to the games to make the ice look like a deep sea expedition.

Sound stupid? You bet it does - so does telling a team to bag an ancient tradition. God forbid fun be had in the new NHL.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Round 1: Mission Accomplished

Suffice to say I think we can say that Round 1 was an overwhelming success for not just this blog, but for the NHL in general.

This playoffs has seen the defending champion Ducks get shown the door. This is good because these guys weren't playing hockey in the first place and if anyone was kicking around the idea of emulating what they do in order to ensure success...forget it.

The Devils get the boot and that too is good because it means that Lamoriello-hockey takes another blow. After all, it was Lou and Lemaire that helped seal the deal for ushering in the Dark Ages of hockey. I've cooled in recent years on Lemaire but Lamoriello has shown that even without Jacques Lemaire he continues to run the organization the same cheap and awful way.

The way that shows that they'd rather not be bothered paying out for offensive skill players.

The Sharks bagged the Flames, finally, after seven games and did it all thanks to NHL '94 legend, Jeremy Roenick. Think about that for a second: Roenick was to video game hockey what Bo Jackson was to Tecmo Super Bowl and all of that happened in the early '90s with the exception being that Roenick is still playing.

What's more amusing is reading reactions from people who at one point in time really despised Roenick and now find themselves saying, "Ahh you know what? Get it done J.R." Incredible.

Also incredible in the process of last night's game was Mike Keenan ensuring that he'll have at least one superstar hating his guts next season as he yanked Miikka Kiprusoff after giving up four goals on thirty shots. Curtis Joseph then came in and gave up one more on one of the first shots he faced. Oops.

Oh, by the way, the Flames lost 5-3.

The Bruins bowing out quietly in the seventh game against Montreal, in hindsight, was rather predictable. The Bruins sucked it up enough the playoffs to make a show of things, inspire the locals to a degree (at least to the level where they may have actually drowned out the noise being made by the Canadiens fans that routinely take over the Garden), and even get some long since dormant "fans" to pay attention again.

That said, the Bruins played tough until Montreal scored to make it 1-0. Once the Habs were on the board, Operation "We Feel Good For Making It This Far" was on in full effect. After two periods it was 3-0, and then the Canadiens while up 4-0 score a fifth goal with five seconds left on Tim Thomas to throw a little salt in the wound and an extra kick in the junk.

If the NHL garnered as much attention and hype as Major League Baseball, I have no doubts whatsoever some sort of mythical story line would be tied into a Montreal-Boston matchup and it would be laced with a story that explains why the Bruins can never seem to get the best of the Canadiens.

Hey, why not, it worked for the Red Sox in dealing with the Yankees and made a mint for Dan Shaughnessy who fabricated the entire "curse" story to sell a book. Perhaps they could run with letting Bobby Orr end his career wearing a Blackhawks sweater and the Bruins never recovering since. After all, they haven't won the Stanley Cup since Orr was on the team and scoring legendary goals.

So there we go, done deal! It's the Curse of Bobby Orr everyone! Bobby Orr is the guy who shut the lights off in two different Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers (1988 and 1990). It was Bobby Orr who told John Muckler to rest Petr Klima up in 1990 and haphazardly put him out on the ice in triple-overtime to score the game winning goal. It was Bobby Orr who injured Cam Neely, not Ulf Samuelsson. It was Bobby Orr who told Harry Sinden to both not pay Raymond Bourque and then not surround him with capable talent so he could stay a Bruin forever and make a run at one more Stanley Cup Final that would ideally not feature the Edmonton Oilers, Wayne Gretzky or Petr Klima.

That said, even the loss of the Capitals to the Flyers can't totally keep me down and mainly it's because I have the comforting thought of knowing full-well that the city of Philadelphia will have another gut-wrenching loss in the playoffs set to be delivered to them. It doesn't matter if it comes at the hands of the Canadiens, Penguins or Rangers - two of those teams the Flyers have a blood feud with - it's going to be great to see. The Flyers have been on par for class and guts this year with the Anaheim Ducks and that's no compliment.

In a Flyers fan's mind, they think they're going all the way and those sissies from Montreal, those assholes from Pittsburgh and those motherf-ckers from New York sure won't beat them! No freakin' way! Excitedly for myself and many others, it will be one of them to get rid of them and send the misery meter up one more notch in Philadelphia.

The only real downside to the Capitals losing is that it prevents us from seeing Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin from taking on Ovechkin and Backstrom in the second round. Say what you will, but Bettman had the perfect opportunity to take what he learned under Stern and to put it to use to set up a real dazzler of a matchup.

Much like everything else, however, Bettman fails to put the hit out to guarantee this will happen. Perhaps he was too preoccupied hoping that Detroit would put Dominik Hasek back in the nets to keep the Predators involved in the playoffs. You know, to benefit the game and spread it to non-traditional and new markets (read: to spur on another buyer to pay a ridiculous amount for a team whose fans just remembered where the arena was last week).

That said, Detroit not failing (and looking tough to deal with in the final two games) draw their former blood rival, the Avalanche. Yes, that's right Woody Paige and Mark Kiszla and Adrian Dater - former blood rival. After all, if this was still the same old thing the Avalanche would be winning some of these matchups with Detroit.

But they're not. Detroit has put the boots to Colorado the last few years now and the only thing that's the same about these two teams is the Colorado lineup, thanks to this year's trading deadline. Peter Forsberg? Adam Foote? Why not go find Adam Deadmarsh and Mike Keane while you're at it.

The key for Detroit in the series is to make sure that Andreas Lilja and Dominik Hasek don't find their way into any games. Colorado is a bit of a wild-card at this stage, but they go from dealing with a 0.5 dimensional offensive team in the Wild to a much tougher and lethal offensive team with Detroit. Colorado will need Forsberg in every game they play from here on out and Sakic needs to keep being a hockey deity. The real Jose Theodore also needs to not show up as well. He could've beaten Minnesota wearing no pads and I assure you, Detroit will be a bit more intense.

As for San Jose and Dallas, this leads us to our other directive for the second round: Eliminate Dallas. Dallas brings nothing fun to the table at all and the only reason they were being rooted for in the first round was to God's work to eliminate the cheating Ducks. You've done your duty boys, time to pack it in...for the benefit of the game.

To recap, what we want out of the second round:

  1. The elimination of the Philadelphia Flyers
  2. The elimination of the Dallas Stars

I figure we've cut down on the teams, I can cut down on my demands. Philly and their goon squad and the Stars and their boredom can take a powder. Either the Rangers or Penguins bring the goods into a Conference Finals matchup, same goes for Detroit and Colorado (although I'd rather not see Peter Forsberg and his flopping ways not go any further).

Remember, this is all about what benefits the game the most and I'm trying my hardest to be objective. Something here is bound to fail - what it will be has yet to happen. Let's hope that Herr Bettman stays asleep at the wheel and doesn't make a move for a Dallas vs. Philadelphia Finals.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Two Needs Settled, Two Left Hanging

  Never before I have I rooted for the Dallas Stars so hard to just win a game and after watching tonight's God-awful Game 6 between the Ducks and the Stars, my goodness, I am really sorry that one of these teams had to move on to the next round. Dreadful.

 Someone should pony up the Pepto Bismol for Montreal and San Jose. Boston has decided to wake up and proceeded to hit Les Habitents in the mouth and then proceed to live up to being at least partially French and are laying down and taking it. Losing 5-1 is one thing, sure. Everyone has a bad game - however, Game 6 was the most lifeless performance I've seen out of a team that only lost by one goal.

  If the Habs don't get some shock therapy, there about to get the Julien debt repaid to them for what happened a few seasons ago. You know, back when Boston's reaction to losing to Montreal in seven games after being up 3 games to 1 was to run their captain and best player out of town and then trade him for magic beans. What would Montreal do if they lose this Game 7? It's tough to say, but if you thought the Boston media was hard on Sinden and Company then, you ain't seen nothing Jacques!

  As for the Sharks... yikes. This is what most top teams feared about dealing with Calgary. They've got the guy who should be a Hart Trophy candidate in Jarome Iginla and a goalie who is more than capable of making a couple of goals stand up to be too much in Miikka Kiprusoff. Teams have advanced deep in the playoffs on less than a hot goalie and an MVP-like player - San Jose at least gets the advantage of having Game 7 at home. It would be a shame to see a team with as much talent as the Sharks to get bounced this early and it would, again, speak volumes about how differently hockey is played in the Western Conference, and I say that as coyly as possible.

  There's one other series still going on and they apparently put it on the NBA Playoff schedule thinking it was the Wizards and the 76ers. That said, the folks in Washington, D.C. weren't expecting the Caps to make the playoffs, nevermind to have home ice, so Wizards games and concerts have helped to spread out the schedule. Philly leads 3-2 and will look to end things at home in the Wachovia Center. This series has seen the officials get influenced very easily by the home crowds, which I suppose could be a coincidence, but I'm not buying it. Calls have been brutally slanted towards the home teams and both home crowds have been especially frantic. Washington cannot allow the Flyers any space and must knock them around. Getting Ovechkin on the scoresheet more often might help too.

  The Flyers have to keep goading Washington into taking really stupid penalties and they've been playing the perfect way against the mostly inexperienced Capitals. I said this one would go seven, but I had anticipated home teams holding serve throughout this series. Washington laying an egg at home in one game may turn out to be the killer for them.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Here we are mired in the middle of the first round of the playoffs, and my own view of a beautiful second round is coming together just a little bit here.

To have a beautiful second round and subsequent semis and finals, a few things need/needed to happen:

  1. Elimination of the New Jersey Devils
  2. Elimination of the Boston Bruins
  3. Elimination of the Calgary Flames
  4. Someone dropping a bomb on the arena containing the Stars-Ducks series

The New York Rangers have already achieved the success of Point No. 1 and for that, we thank them profusely. Consider me also highly entertained with Martin Brodeur's extreme lack of class in losing to the Rangers. I'm entertained because this playoff series has showed what a prima donna Marty is. While I may not condone the actions of Sean Avery all the time, I am greatly entertained by him exposing Brodeur as a cry baby and a pansy.

An apparently fat pansy. To the quote board! First up, Martin Brodeur:

"I just shook everybody’s hand but one."

Gee, who could that have been? Hey Sean Avery, do you know who he missed?

"Everyone talks about how classy, unclassy I am, and fatso there just forgot to
shake my hand I guess."

I love it! Give me more, Sean!

"Yeah, you know guys like Clarkson, he's not much of a player, and really he's
not that effective when trying to play with me and we know he can't. I just
tried to keep my head on straight and play through it. It's more important that
I'll be playing in the next round and they won't."


Those quotes were all carefully edited in NBC's story, apparently either them or the NHL doesn't like hockey players talking trash. Who needs attention anyhow?! Not the NHL that's for darn sure! Hokey do-gooder morons.

And talk about your petulant French-Canadians...come on Marty, give up the facade here. I know Mike Milbury tried to bail out Brodeur on NBC's coverage today, but think about this to put it in perspective:

In 1996, Dino Ciccarelli, then playing for the Detroit Red Wings, made the ultimate statement on what it means to be a sportsman. After Detroit was beaten by the Colorado Avalanche in a series that saw Claude Lemieux lay one of the dirtiest hits in NHL history on Kris Draper during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.

It was the final game of the series and Lemieux received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the hit. He also was hit with a two-game suspension and a $1,000 fine by then NHL disciplinarian and current Ducks GM, Brian Burke. The suspension was the second one earned by Lemieux in the playoffs. He got to sit out of Game 4 against Detroit after being punished for sucker-punching Slava Kozlov in Game 3. Raise your hand if you're surprised that Brian Burke was responsible for such light-handed work in suspending a goon.

Draper suffered a broken nose, cheekbone and jaw as well as having his teeth broken, damage to the orbital bone around his eye and cuts to his face that needed 30 stitches to close.

During the post-game, after the end-of-series handshake, Ciccarelli, a tough veteran near the end of his career was asked about the hit and said:

"I can't believe I shook that guy's friggin' hand."

Dino would never get the chance to beat (or beat up) Lemieux as a Red Wing as he left the team at season's end. It's a shame because Dino probably would've beaten Darren McCarty to the punch the following year, but that's neither here nor there. Fact is, Marty Brodeur is now a cranky old man as well as a spoiled brat and apparently spends his time running his mouth more often than not. I'm sure he really sent the message home to Avery by not shaking his hand. I hope he enjoys being run in every game against the Rangers next season.

The Montreal Canadiens are busy dicking around and not securing Point No. 2 and the meltdown of goaltender Carey Price in Game 5 was particularly startling. Settle down Beavis and go get 'em in Game 6. After all, the game is in Boston and that's the Canadiens southern home base. Don't believe me? Listen to the crowd when the Habs score in Boston.

For all other sports teams in Boston, it's the self-named City of Champions. However, if you're the Boston Bruins not only are you dreadful to watch but you play in the subdivision of Boston titled, "City of Apathy" where chumps like these guys live.

No thanks.

As for the Flames needing to flame out of the playoffs, that is for the sole purpose of having San Jose run roughshod through the playoffs. They're the best team by far, but if the Flames are doing something at all in this series, it's exposing that soft underbelly of the Sharks. The Flames were able to do this somewhat to Detroit last year and it appears they're playing the playoff version of a spoiler this year again. The Sharks, however, have an awful habit of doing this to their fans each year - Sharks fans are quite the tortured group. This team managed to get over the thuggish Ducks and win their division and happen to be the fashionable pick to win it all this year.

Of course, the playoffs are a different season unto themselves - rule book and all and the Sharks have had the bad habit of getting hit in the mouth and wilting quickly. They did it against Detroit last year and they did it the year before as well against Edmonton. In both of those series, the Sharks held leads in the series only to have something dramatic occur where they couldn't get their heads together to overcome.

Against the Oilers it was a Game 3 loss in overtime. Even while still holding a 2-1 series advantage, the Sharks were toast as they went on to lose the following three games. Against Detroit, they were moments away from being up 3-1 in the series when with 33 seconds left, Robert Lang tied it at two. Mathieu Schneider beat them in overtime and the Sharks went down the drain losing the next two games 4-1 in Detroit and being shutout at home 2-0.

The Sharks have been taking body blows this whole series with Calgary. They got up 3-0 and chased Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff in favor of Curtis Joseph. CuJo turned the clock back and shut down the Sharks while the Flames rallied to win the game. The flashbacks started happening, but the Sharks have turned it around and have all the big names getting on the scoresheet. Should they survive this, their second round fate resides in either Dallas or Anaheim unless the Minnesota Wild get their heads out of their rearend. This leads me to the final part...

Dallas vs. Anaheim has been horrendous to watch, mostly thanks to the typical goonery of the Ducks and also thanks all-around inept officiating. Trevor Daley of the Stars had a goal disallowed because, apparently, Niklas Hagman interfered with Jean-Sebastian Giguere. Problem was that Hagman never touched Giguere nor did he stand in his crease. All Hagman did was get mauled by the Ducks defenseman in front of the net and keep Giguere from seeing Daley's shot from coming in at all.

Somehow, someway Giguere gets these calls. He doesn't appear to whine to officials as much as Martin Brodeur does but that makes twice this year where he's gotten such a call, the other time coming in a game against Detroit where the Red Wings thought they had tied the game up late in the third period only to have it disallowed due to another phantom interference call because Tomas Holmstrom was standing in front of Giguere. Fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice...it's a budding conspiracy.

I'm not a fan of Dallas. At all. That said, it's better for hockey in general to have the Ducks get a quick exit. Unfortunately, quick at its quickest will be six games. All bets are off if it goes seven and you know damn well it'll be prison rules hockey in a seventh game and the Ducks play like they've escaped from Oz. This is why we need the bomb dropping on the place. Spare the rest of us from one atrocious to watch team from moving on.

God help us all if it's Anaheim.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Preview Time - Fun Time!

Here we go, no screwing around this time - we're getting right to it.

First off, the Fun Conference where offense hasn't completely gone to die.

1. Montreal Canadiens vs. 8. Boston Bruins

No, that's not a misprint, the Bruins really were that terrible against Les Habitents this season. It'd be one thing if they perpetually lost in the skills competition or by a goal all the time, at least then you can say, "You know what, we're going to beat those guys and they'll be sorry."

But no, that hasn't been the case at all. The Canadiens have mopped the floor with one of their heated rivals all season long. So much so, that folks are making embarassing videos about it on YouTube. It's been that sort of year for the B's against Montreal and frankly, it couldn't happen to a more boring team.

Claude Julien, however, is one of those demented evil geniuses. Bruins fans will recall him as being the head coach of the Canadiens back in 2003-2004 when the Habs came back from being down 3-1 in the playoffs to the Bruins to beat them in seven games and then lead to the swift departure of that bum Joe Thornton out of Boston. Don't worry B's fans, Thornton has only gone on to lead the NHL in assists the last three seasons, won an MVP the year he was traded to San Jose and yes, Marco Sturm is all you have left to show for it. Congrats!

There is an upside however. Marc Savard is talking like he'll be back in time to play and Patrice Bergeron who was thugged out of commission by Philly's Randy Jones (sounds like a bully, doesn't he?) earlier this season is back on the ice and practicing and there's potential he'll play in this series....if it lasts long enough.

That, right there, is the rub. Montreal has pasted Boston all season long and beat the snot out of them in each game. The Canadiens enter the playoffs with loads of injuries which have done nothing to stem the tide of their success. However, since its the playoffs and anything can happen....


2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 7. Ottawa Senators

You either love them or you hate them. Their boatloads of talent make you ill and the legacy of past playoff runs have made you nauseous just at the sight of them being in the playoffs. I give you the Pittsburgh Penguins. Funny thing is, that same statement said last year would've applied to the Senators and they got all the way to the Finals.

Pittsburgh, however, is functioning with two all-universe players in Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin. Their questions lie in goal and whether its Marc-Andre Fleury or UNH's own Ty Conklin that carries them remains to be seen. Here's to hoping the Penguins don't emulate their state-mates in Philadelphia when it comes to goaltending, otherwise the Pens could be in for a lot of trouble.

Ottawa hobbles into this series with both Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson nursing injuries that should keep them out of the series with Pittsburgh. NOT GOOD! Add to this that the Senators have been lifeless since December and Bryan Murray sending John Paddock packing did nothing to inspire anyone to play better...you just can't see this going well for Ottawa.

To top things off, their goaltending situation is about as stable as nitro glycerine. One bad game out of Gerber might lead to Ray Emery and his alligator skin skates having to play and he hasn't been good since the Ducks bounced them out last year. Yikes.

I enjoy both of these teams, Ottawa a little less so since they decided to go Devils-style to beat the Sabres last year in the playoffs, but Pittsburgh has the glitz and the glamour and the star power this league is DYING for. If they can't get over the hump this season, an entire off-season of questioning and finger-pointing will ensue. I don't think we want that. I sense a Gerber meltdown followed shortly thereafter by a Murray fuse shorting out that looks oddly like he's disinterested in what's going on. Give the Sens Alfie and Fisher and this is a different series, I just can't see Spezza and Heatley alone getting it done for Ottawa because neither of those guys can help contain Crosby or Malkin.


3. Washington Capitals vs. 6. Philadelphia Flyers

This was the series that needed to happen. If this had been Carolina and Philadelphia...honestly, how many people even bother to watch? I mean, no one is going to bother to watch in the first place, but this time, The Man is involved. Alexander Ovechkin had to make the playoffs. No ifs, ands or buts about it - he needed to be here.

I don't care if the NHL had to pull off NBA-like shenanigans to make it happen, it's for the betterment of the game. I don't care that it took a miraculous hot streak and playoff run to get the dust off of all the Capitals fans that used to hang out in Washington. I also don't care that their bandwagon filled up like mad and most people probably don't know that the team played in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. It don't bother me none. It's all for a higher purpose.

With that said, good luck to the first Flyer player that decides to take a cheap-shot run at Alexander Ovechkin (Scott Hartnell, I'm looking at you). AO isn't at all like Sid the Kid. AO will knock your block off if you try those tactics on him and I'll enjoy watching him man-up and drag Hartnell all over the ice. There's high potential here in this series for a B.S. overload. The Flyers for the better part of the season were grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons, most of which I covered here in this online scripture.

The Flyers have talent, which is incredible considering some of the cunning stunts they've pulled off this year (thanks to Riley Cote and Steve Downie). These guys clearly want to be the Anaheim Ducks of the East...they're just not as capable of pulling it off because there's a handful of guys that still want to play the game the right way and not the jerk-off way.

That said, the Flyers are a hornet's nest in waiting for the Capitals and the Caps are in danger of being the team that's "Just Happy To Have Made It." They could end up being tired out from having busted their tails over the last 15 games of the regular season to make sure they won the Southeast Division and make the playoffs. They could be that team that gets caught off guard and gets smoked off the ice left wondering what the hell just happened.

We saw it happen last year to the Atlanta Thrashers who tired out at the exact wrong time and got blown off the ice in four straight to the New York Rangers. Could we see this happen again? Absolutely we can, but this Caps team is a lot more talented than last year's Thrashers team. They're more stable in goal with both Huet and Kolzig. They can trot out two solid scoring lines, a third line that manages to grind and score and a fourth line that has Donald Brashear. Yikes that's pain in the ass.

The Flyers appear to be headed into a post season where they're not ready to string up the goaltender. That's a good thing and a pleasant change for the organization. Martin Biron is good. He's often very good and he's got playoff experience. That said, if the carousel begins and Biron and Antero Niittymakkiayyiyi start shuffling in and out because the boo birds dictate it - forget it. The Flyers need Mike Richards and Daniel Briere to be huge (not in stature) and some how piecemeal together two scoring units. Boy, they really could use Simon Gagne right about now, Joffrey Lupul alone just won't cut it. The Flyers, however, get success by getting under the other team's skin and they will be going all out to work over Ovechkin and Huet's every last nerve.

This series will not be easily won. This series will be the one that leaves everyone talking.

This series will put Alexander Ovechkin on the map for good and the Flyers out of our hair for this season. But they'll be back - you can't kill a zombie easily.


4. New Jersey Devils vs. 5. New York Rangers

Please, God, someone shoot me.

The brainchild of Herr Bettman comes alive in this series. Two teams that are already bitter regional rivals who have already played each other eight friggin' times this year get to play up to seven more times. Fan-freakin'-tastic.

Can the Rangers finally prove something to all of us and beat the Devils in the playoffs? Can Henrik Lundqvist finally hit Martin Brodeur with the "Heir Apparent" Throne and overtake him as the top goalie in the East? Can either of these teams score more than 10 goals in this series?

Lundqvist has been better head-to-head against Brodeur in the regular season. Congratulations, that means nothing.

The Rangers beat the Devils seven out of eight times in the regular season. That's good!

Three of those wins came in the skills competition. That's pointless.

The Devils only win against the Rangers came on Sunday via the shootout as well. Stupid.

This series is where Gary's brainchild fails every test possible. If these teams played half as many games against each other, for example, the heat would still be there, the rivalry would still be just as hot as ever, people would still argue about who's better King Henrik or Marty, and the Rangers would still essentially be playing up to seven home games in this series.

Nothing is altered by them playing each other every tenth game of the season. These teams don't dislike each other any more or less than they would've before. If anything, they're probably annoyed that it's come down to this. I really thought variety was the spice of life, but in the NHL under Herr Bettman homogenized action is the wave of the future!


Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

End this series and end it fast. And Rangers...vanquish the Devils while you're at it - the East doesn't need to be made any more boring past the first round.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Almost there...

The season wraps up this weekend and, just as Herr Bettman wishes it, not all the playoff spots have been decided but many of the top seeds are squared away.

In the more boring of the two conferences, the West's top three looks like this:

1. Detroit

2. San Jose

3. Minnesota

Minnesota locking down the Northwest Division title and the #3 seed is key for them as they'll likely face another team from their division in a battle of attrition. Given the number of ups and downs teams in the Northwest have faced this year, Minnesota rising to the top is a bit more surprising given that for a good part of the season, the scoring touch was gone. Now with Marian Gaborik and his wonky groin (knock on wood) both working at optimum potential, the Wild can be a scary team. If the standings hold in the West, and there's still potential for movement here below the top-3 fold, your first round matchups look like this:

1. Detroit vs. 8. Nashville

2. San Jose vs. 7. Calgary

3. Minnesota vs. 6. Colorado

4. Anaheim vs. 5. Dallas

Fans in Nashville, hey remember that team?, are happy to not have to get eliminated by San Jose again this year and for their reward they get a banged up and much-maligned Red Wings squad.

Out for Detroit: Tomas Kopecky - done for the playoffs. Kirk Maltby and Mikael Samuelsson out for Game 1. Kris Draper and Tomas Holmstrom will play the final game against Chicago to warm up and get their legs back for the playoffs. Brad Stuart may be ready to go in Game 1. Add to that that Dominik Hasek is old and bat-crap crazy and hasn't been right most of the second half of the year leads you to believe that Chris Osgood may get the nod for Detroit. Heck, Detroit just signed Michigan State product Justin Abdelkader to a pro deal and he's probably going to be starting in the playoffs.

Nothing like hitting the playoffs in full stride!

San Jose against either Calgary or Minnesota in no way scares me if I'm Ron Wilson. The scarier of the two matchups, to me, would be Calgary given that Mikka Kiprusoff still plays goal for the Flames and Jarome Iginla has very secretly been having an MVP season. Two guys cannot carry a team through the playoffs. They might steal you a round, but San Jose is too freakin' good to get beat by these guys.

I hope the Sharks are wise enough to unleash Douglas Murray and Jody Shelley once Iginla decides the Flames have had enough, things can get ugly fast when he gets frustrated...he might even get a backup goalie to follow him.

Minnesota seems destined to have the "Familiarity breeds contempt" Herr Bettman special series with getting either Colorado or Calgary to face off with in the opening round. Minnesota can knock around Colorado, but again, the wild card is Calgary. I fear that Kipper and Iginla might be the dynamic duo that could derail a team like Minnesota. If I'm Jacques Lemaire, I'd much rather not see Calgary come waltzing into Minnesota ready to play. To add to this, Minnesota's past with teams like to come out and hit you in the mouth doesn't look so stellar after they allowed every loser who laced up skates for Anaheim get under their skin last year.

Calgary is low on skating losers, but with Keenan cracking the whip on them, I'm sure their tired of hearing it from him and besides, I can only imagine that Mike Keenan becomes even more of a psycho in the locker room once it's playoff time.

Dallas and Anaheim. Yeah. I just can't picture Dallas having the cojones enough to get through a full series with this pack of felons. Steve Ott is going to be a very, very busy guy for Dallas and the unleashing of Krys Barch on the rest of the hockey world should be short-lived but quite exciting when he tries to put his fist into everyone on Anaheim's mouth.

Perhaps he could start with Randy Carlyle or jump Brian Burke in the parking lot before the game. You know, do things in real WWE style since that's what its going to best resemble. For things to go right for the Stars, they have to not get completely frustrated with Anaheim's abject ruination of hockey and for Jean-Sebastian Couchcushions to go ice cold while Marty Turco stonewalls everything.

Yeah...that's not looking good at all.

The East is just one spot away from being filled...and its the #3 seed. Yeah, I know, everyone's been busy taking a dump on the Southeast division this year and folks are treating whoever ends up the #6 seed as the favorite to beat the #3. There's one huge thing here, however. Most people were expecting that Carolina was going to be that team and the Washington Capitals are one point away from winning the division. That means the league's most dynamic and damaging scorer, Alexander Ovechkin, becomes a huge factor for whoever #6 turns out to be. Ovechkin has morphed into what folks expected we would get out of a guy during the Boring Years of hockey. Big, physical, scores in bunches. Problem was that hockey sucked then and scoring was viewed as the ever-present Satan.

Now that scoring isn't quite the demon it used to be, and now you've got a guy scoring like the old days, at last count 65 goals, people are seeing him as the new Messiah, usurping the throne out from under Sid the Kid. After all, Sid isn't getting MVP talk this year (thanks injuries!) and his teammate Evgeni Malkin more than aptly held down the fort in his absences.

Ovechkin, on the other hand, has dealt with having a team of nobodies around him, the second best player on the team being injured and ineffective for most of the season (Alexander Semin) and is single-handedly responsible for the awakening of Nick Backstrom emerging as Joe Thornton-lite in his assisting capabilities. Not to mention that if you tick off AO even a little bit, you won't catch him flopping on the ice or feigning injury to get the refs eye. He'll come right back and hit you in the mouth, good friend or not.

That said, the fact that Washington needs just one point to win the Southeast Division and the #3 spot in the playoffs speaks a lot to the shortcomings of Herr Bettman's points welfare system. For Washington to make the playoffs, all they have to do is either: win in regulation or make it to overtime. Not win in OT - just get there.

Does that sound even remotely sane?

Anyhow, here's how things sit in the erstwhile East as of this writing:

1/2. Pittsburgh/Montreal
3. Carolina or Washington
4/5. New Jersey or New York
6-8. Boston, Ottawa or Philadelphia

Montreal is mercilessly banged up at this point, but with that said, they could still end up with the top seed. The Bruins went 0-8 against Montreal this season and looked like that even if Montreal played each game a man down, they'd still win. The B's would very much like to not see their playoff nemesis in the first round.

Ottawa, too, is much maligned as both Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson are out for "weeks" of time and appear to be gimping into the playoffs. Bryan Murray's career in Ottawa is on the line here after firing John Paddock earlier this season and hopping back into the chair as head coach the team has been listless and uninteresting while being consistently mired in problems ranging from Ray Emery being a weirdo who can't stop pucks anymore to swinging a deal that helped out Carolina more than it did his own team. Whoops.

Philly is lurking in the weeds as a potential Anaheim-lite type of team that will require dirty tricks and shenanigans to advance further. If they end up against a team short on both nerves and people to fight, they could provide oodles of headaches. The Flyers relish wearing the black hat in the playoffs, however, and are used to being booed both on the road and at home. If the Flyers end up playing Pittsburgh in the first round, get my popcorn ready and the dent in my couch warmed up...it'll be a bumpy and entertaining ride.

New Jersey and New York seem destined to face off in the first round, which, works out well for the Rangers as they have flogged on the Devils all year long and Martin Brodeur seems to really hate that....that and Henrik Lundqvist.

Once the field is squared away - the real analysis, poking and prodding begins here. Giddy up!