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Here’s one you haven’t read in this space all that often over the last 20 years, but Slap Shots has an ally in Gary Bettman with the commissioner’s opposition to expanding the playoffs by including a couple of play-in series per conference that would involve teams in seventh place through 10th place. All in the name of keeping more clubs in it.
That’s just what we all need, isn’t it, teams representing the bottom third of the league in the postseason and teams perhaps among the NHL’s five-worst artificially vying for spots down the stretch? All in the name of giving everyone a chance to win at the expense of quality control.
Why anyone would give credence to general managers supporting the proposal when doing so is nakedly self-interested balderdash is beyond me (“Hey, we finished over .500!” anecdotally said the GM of a team that won 36 out of 82 games, as a pair of clubs did in 2018-19). I’m sorry but no, no championship-caliber team has ever finished in 10th place in its conference.
The NHL is enough of a lowest-common denominator league as it is. Everything is skewed to level the playing field for lesser teams. The cap punishes and suppresses success (except when long-term injured reserve is available for a no-state-tax team). The loser point speaks for itself. The disappearing-ink rulebook whipped out for the playoffs benefits less-talented teams.
Now, we should give a chance to win the Stanley Cup to another four teams that couldn’t even make it into the top half of the league, in a sport in which we know that exceptional goaltending can be determinative in a short series?
If that’s the idea, why not just start with a convoluted 32-team field and play it out? Why should Buffalo feel left out every year?
Here, too, I find myself in agreement with the commissioner that sending NHL athletes — a fair number of whom have chosen against getting vaccinated — to the 2022 Games in Beijing might not represent the wisest decision.
This is not a matter about the collective bargaining agreement or whether a universal greater good is served by having the NHL at the Olympics. It is, regardless of whether Sixth Avenue acknowledges that.
Instead, this time, it is about operating within the good sense of player safety and protecting the athletes from what is still an evolving health crisis in many parts of the world.
This time it is also about considering whether a condensed schedule to allow for the necessary Olympic break is in the best interest of players who are going to be dealing with their first 82-game season since 2018-19 following the shortest scheduled offseason ever.
By the way, ignoring the rule book in the playoffs to aid less talented teams is nothing new. That’s the way the Panthers, then in their third season, were able to obstruct their way to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final by eliminating the Legion of Doom Flyers and the Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr Penguins on their way to being swept by Colorado.
That worked out well for the league, with the ’96 series either the worst or next-to-worst final of the last 60 years, vying for that dubious distinction with the 1998 sweep of the Capitals by the Red Wings.
Who would have wanted to see Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg versus Eric Lindros or Lemieux and Jagr, anyway?
(Psst. Unless something dramatic ensues in Monday’s Game 4 in Montreal, this ongoing series could be the least interesting final since ever.)
Marc-Andre Fleury had already won a pair of Cups in Pittsburgh — one as backup — but the first dozen years of the netminder’s career did not quite constitute a Hockey Hall of Fame résumé. The first-overall draft selection of 2003 never finished higher than seventh in the Vezina voting nor higher than sixth in all-star balloting.
But these last five seasons, his final one with the Penguins and his four with Vegas, have elevated Fleury — who won his first Vezina this year at age 36 — into that elite territory. It is rare indeed for this kind of late-career correction course.
The only precedent, if it exists, would be Gump Worsley, who had compiled an estimable career with the Rangers — first winning the Calder and then placing third in the Hart Trophy balloting in 1955-56 while actually gaining the most first-place votes — but was not on a HHOF track.
That changed when he was traded to Montreal in the blockbuster deal in which Jacques Plante, Phil Goyette and Donnie Marshall came to New York following the 1962-63 season.
After first losing the job to Charlie Hodge following a knee injury and then spending the majority of two seasons in the AHL with the Quebec Aces, Worsley then won four Cups in five seasons, won the first of his two Vezinas at age 36 (when the trophy went to the goaltender whose team allowed the fewest goals in the league) and sailed into the HHOF in 1980 despite a career losing record.
So how come, if the Islanders and Lightning could play Game 7 of the semifinals with maybe one mild, post-whistle scrum, can’t every playoff game be played that way?
They can, they could, they should and they would if, starting with Game 1 of Round 1, officials called unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on players mugging it up after the whistle.
And this. Of course there should be a cap for the playoffs, but it should be applied to a game lineup rather than a team’s entire roster that necessarily expands for the postseason. There should be no reason for either the NHL or the Players’ Association to oppose this modification to the CBA.
Here’s this truth about the Vegas operation run by the George McPhee-Kelly McCrimmon front office team: The more shiny new toys the Golden Knights have added, the more disappointing they have become.
Finally, I read something the other day about how Ryan Nugent-Hopkins reupping with the Oilers on an eight-year deal for an average annual value of $5.125 million coincides with Edmonton’s Stanley Cup window remaining open, and I must confess, the joke went way over my head.
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