Saturday, April 09, 2011
Back in October I thought things would look like this.
Now usually I do alright in these types of things when it comes to the West but not so much for the East. Two years ago I predicted seven out of eight playoff clubs that came out of the Campbells but out East I think I only got four. Something like that.
This year though, I've pretty well nailed it, if not the order of finish at least those clubs who will play after this weekend.
And for all the talk of parity and how the salary cap brings clubs back to the pack (hello Chicago) and how the three point game keeps teams in the race longer I think that this predictability is a good reflection of what has really been a forgettable year.
Now this may all change with the playoffs but the year has been a dull one, lets face it. This is often typical for a league whose season runs probably twenty games too long, imo, and which is so poorly run that fans end up talking about what is going on off the ice more often than what is going on on the ice. And so this year we had the Colin Campbell fiasco, the Phoenix situation and the whole headshots' debate. What goes on off the ice overshadows what happens in the games and when the one story that had folks talking this fall, that is, the incredible play of Crosby, is derailed by a concussion then this is what we get.
To be fair to the NHL its a hard act to follow, what has happened these past few years. Coming out of the lockout the game has become far more pleasing to watch although the increased speed has led to the current injury issue that is so troubling. Players are bigger and they are not being impeded anymore and while this has made games fun to watch it has also led to the awful results from more violent collisions. Anyhow the game has gotten better and coming off of three seasons where the Stanley Cup ended up being decided by marquee matchups, each year ramping up the drama, it makes it difficult for the NHL to become more interesting. First a Cup for the premier franchise in sports, a victory over the genius that is Crosby. Then a rematch where revenge was achieved. And then two of the premier clubs in the league, ending with a victory for a franchise that had not tasted victory since 1961.
Only a Leafs' victory could outdo that of the young Chicago club in terms of pure historical cachet and we all know that is not happening, again. A championship for Washington or San Jose or a return to glory by Detroit or Pittsburgh won't have the same impact as last year's return to glory by the franchise of Mikita and Hull.
This is not to say that all is lost. The storylines are there and even a Caps or Penguins' championship would be a dramatic result. A long and successful Canucks' run (I know, I know) or a miracle for the long suffering Sabres would be engaging. Really though, if we want to see a truly magical moment, how about a return of the Cup to the Boston Bruins? I'm kind of hoping that is what we see this spring.
As for this season which is winding down there were a few surprises.
If the Hawks make it then the only mistake I will have made out west will have been to select the Flames to make it rather than the Ducks. I said that at least two teams would have to make it from the NW but apparently I was wrong. The Flames would have made it but for that awful start but their decline is going to continue I think. They are against the cap and that is going to cost them Glencross as well as a few other useful veterans. Their farm system is bankrupt and the problem they have (not uncommon) is that they are caught in a tough spot. Many players have no value. Move those who do and you're destroying your team's competitiveness. Its going to be a long decline for the Flames I think.
I did not think Vancouver would be this good. Quality club and I think that barring injuries they have to be the heavy favourite to win it all. They are just so deep and so good at every position. They are going to probably get Chicago or Anaheim in the first round and while I know there is a lot of talk that they welcome the challenge of Chicago in particular I think that facing a Blackhawks team (if they make it!) that probably should be seeded higher is not really their first choice.
I really did think the Hawks would be better this season but they were poor early in the season, Kane and Keith and Hjarmalsson especially, and their goaltending was below average until Crawford earned the job. The biggest killer though was that even after their veterans got it together the kids who I expected to pick up the ball from those who had departed were not able to do so. Brouwer and Stallberg and Skille were inconsistent or not up to the task and I guess while that might have been expected, that, in the end, is what has made it a difficult year for the champions. I suspect that they will bounce back next year in a big way.
Out east the Devils' collapse was unexpected by everyone and I also had the Sens in there and in their place we have the Habs and either the Rangers or Canes. The Devils' poor showing was, strangely enough, laid at the feet of pretty well everyone but poor John MacLean, who like Wayne Cashman, waited and waited and when he finally got his shot, was found wanting. MacLean, like Craig Hartsburg, must be a great guy, as media blamed Kovalchuk most of all. Thing is, its probably as simple as MacLean was out of his depth. Its funny though. I remember when Hartsburg failed in Ottawa how the blame was laid on the players and all I could think of was how Hartsburg, an excellent junior coach, had failed miserably three times in the NHL. Oh well.
To me the East looks like it did last year, top heavy, but we know how that turned out in the playoffs. It should be a great spring in the Prince of Wales though, with the Flyers ripe for upset after sagging badly, the Bruins trying to forget last year's ghosts (staying healthy should do it), the Caps trying to get over the hump and the Penguins lurking in the weeds, somehow staying near the top without Crosby and Malkin. Dan Bylsma is some coach, huh?
Eugene Melnyk showed that apparently he is cut from the same cloth as Daryl Katz, giving the man who destroyed a perennial contender a three year extension. Its going to be a long road for Sens fans one has to think.
And finally a few thoughts about the local team. I'm not a big fan of Brian Burke or at least his public persona but he's a good hockey man I would say. He got a bit lucky being unable to unload Grabovski last summer and yes the Leafs have again fallen short of the playoffs, a streak longer than the Oilers, but this club is a lot better than last year's and one would think that they have a good shot at the playoff spot next year. If they stay reasonably healthy and get good goaltending I think its a sure bet.
What Burke has done is turn an aging team with plenty of bad contracts into a young one with a lot of promise and only Mike Komisarek as a truly awful deal on the books. They have a lot of room under the cap. They have four young defencemen in Phaneuf, Aulie, Schenn and Gunnarsson and up front they have Kulemin, Grabovski, MacArthur and Kessel. Lupul is playing his best hockey since his first tour in Anaheim and Kadri, brought along slowly, looks like he may be a player.
I'm not saying the Leafs are all the way back but Burke has a team that is young and it is cheap and if Reimer is the real deal then its a team on the way up and that is far better than the mess he inherited. There are holes but the holes are fewer than they were and they can be filled with the proper moves.
Proper moves, imagine that?
And of course, being an Oilers' fan you might understand the lack of enthusiasm from this corner for the season just past. Some hope, yes, but another terrible year, the fifth in a row. Hard to stay engaged as a fan. And a little hard to hear Cogliano say the other day, in the wake of another disaster, that the players want to win, unlike the fans (I am paraphrasing). Matheson tweeted this and I replied almost immediately that he might tell Cogliano that the fans want to win pretty badly too. Its management and ownership that need to figure it out, the stupid fuckers.
Next, a little writeup on the Oilers and then, playoff predictions.
Posted by Black Dog at 7:32 PM