yankee hockey

DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

Posted in post-season, St. Louis, stanley cup, Vancouver by yankhockey on April 21, 2009

First off allow me to congratulate the Vancouver Canucks who became the first team this year to move on to the second round by sweeping the St Louis Blues last night. It was the first time in the history of the franchise that the Canucks swept a series (earlier it was the first time in franchise history that they were up 3-0 in a series). Don’t let the record fool you, the Blues also deserve congrats. They went from dead last to sixth in the West and then fought tooth and nail against the Canucks. They are young and inexperienced, but looked like veterans on the ice. The played with skill and determination. Let me tell you, there isn’t a single Canucks player who feels lucky for having gotten the Blues in the first round. This series was a power play goal or two from going in a different direction. We’ll be hearing a lot out of the Blues in the next few years, this team is definitely up and coming. As for the Canucks, they are getting no love from American media. This is a team that was one of the best in the league in the last half of the season, a team that performed a solid sweep, a team that is as solid as any in the playoffs… and many are still giving Calgary a better chance at the Cup.

Now for the meat of my post. I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations lately, some initiated by me, some by others… about the length of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Personally I think they start too late to begin with, but I understand why the league thinks it’s best to have an 82 games schedule. But the fact that it is likely that the Cup won’t even be rewarded until June is insane. Look, it was 98 degrees here in Sacramento today, and in Anaheim where the Sharks finally beat the Ducks there was a high of 90. That’s just nuts, imagine if Phoenix had made it into the post-season.. deep into the post-season. I’ve lived in Phoenix, it can get to 110 degrees in May.

Keeping an ice rink frozen is not like keeping items in a freezer frozen, especially not when you are talking about an arena. The freezer in your kitchen spends most of its energy keeping foods at a constant temperature in a closed, often vacuumed environment. A rink in an arena doesn’t just have to keep itself at a constant temperature, it has to fight against all the other higher temperatures trying to melt it. An arena is a vast open space and air transfers temperatures very efficiently. Not only that, there are near 20000 people, all at around 98.6 degrees, heating the space around the ice. Plus those people are eating hot foods and drinking hot beverages. PLUS the ice is constantly being melted by the players playing on it. PLUS since it’s not a closed vacuum the temperatures outside really mess with it.Even if Calgary makes it to the Cup finals in June there’s a good possibility it will be in the nineties outside.

There isn’t a rink in the league that can keep ice as pristine as it needs to be under all those conditions. By the end of the playoffs the ice will be soft and wet no matter where the finals are being played. This doesn’t just make for bad ice hockey conditions, it makes for dangerous ice hockey conditions. Anyone who has skated can tell you that soft ice poses a huge risk to skaters. Instead of stopping on crisp hard ice, when players attempt to stop the ice will dent and bunch. This isn’t bad just for the player whose feet and ankles aren’t used to playing under those conditions, it’s bad for anyone else who tries to skate in that same area and has to deal with the huge ridge that has become a permanent fixture on the ice surface. All that and I haven’t even mentioned what it does to puck movement.

What needs to happen is to drop everything down to best of five. Hell, I’ll even allow for the final series to remain best of seven, but to have all the series best of seven takes far too long. Making the series best of five will dramatically shorten the post-season making for both better play and more enjoyably viewing.

I admit there have been many great game sevens in the history of the league and I hate to take that away so there is another solution, drop the number of teams that make it to four per conference. It doesn’t sound like much but consider this: Right now 16 teams make it into the playoffs while fourteen don’t. How can you consider the playoffs to be exclusive when more teams are included the excluded? Cut each conference into two division, top two get automatic entry, and then the next two down in points. Not only does this make the playoffs actually something that takes real effort to get into it cuts the playing time for the playoffs in half.

Neither of these two things will ever happen. As I’ve said in this blog before, the NHL is a business and a business exists to make money, and the playoffs are big money makers. Not only would you be cutting the playing time in half with my suggestions, you’d be cutting the revenue in half too. Not just cutting the revenue, but in the case of dropping the number of qualifying teams to four you’re cutting not just league revenue but team revenue as well. Even though it’d be safer to end the playoffs earlier the NHLPA will never suggest it because it affects player salaries too. The funny thing is, every hockey fan I’ve talked to has told me that they would prefer to playoffs to be shortened. As the customers of this particular service shouldn’t we always be right? Well, the NHL knows we’ll watch anyway. We’d watch if they went on into October and ended two days before the season began. Why? Because we are hockey fans damnit!

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SPECIAL PLAYOFFS WEEKEND UPDATE

I’m currently watching the Rangers/Capitals game. This has been the best series in the East. I expected Washington to win both games at home but they’ve run into a monster goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. The more I watch this Rangers team, the more I believe they can go really far into these playoffs. They remind me of the Sweden team Lundvist won a gold medal with. They have some speed, some skill, some size… the only thing they are missing is a really good puck moving defense. Nik Antropov was the perfect pick-up (and for only a second!), he can complete the plays started by Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund, and Chris Drury. Even if New York wins today, I still think this will be a long series, Washington is too skilled offensively to allow a single goaltender to sweep them.

The series in the East that was supposed to be the most exciting, Flyers/Penguins, has been so very boring. Yes I know they went into overtime yesterday, but there was no drama, it was obvious the Penguins were going to win. It’s too bad, for awhile it seemed that the Flyers had it figured out, but then they started playing scared again. When you play scared you start making mistakes and taking penalties… see the overtime 5-3 for an example. The Flyers really need Darrien Hatcher to come back from his injury. Hatcher is such a great defensemen, he made me want to like the Dallas Stars. I couldn’t, of course, because how can they take a team from Minnesota and move it to Dallas? Plus, in ’99, Brett Hull’s foot was so in the blue paint (it was a stupid rule, but it was still a rule). Hatcher isn’t afraid of anything. If I had to travel through the mystical Realm of Spiders (where everything is spiders) I’d want Hatcher there to carry me. If I had to perform an exorcism I’d want Hatcher there to hold the possessed down. They should make stuffed Darrien Hatcher dolls for children who are afraid of the dark. The point is Hatcher wouldn’t let the Penguins run all over the place like they have been. If the Flyers can’t start playing with confidence it’s going to be a short boring series.

In the West the Blues/Canucks series is the best hockey I’ve ever seen. I guess that’s what happens when the two hottest teams in the league meet in the post-season. The Canucks are up 2-0 in the series, but there should be no shame in the Blues lockerroom. They haven’t lost a game, the games were won by the Canucks and Luongo. Luongo is proving that he really is the best goaltender in the game now. Whatever is in the water in Vancouver the two teams need to bottle it and bring it to St Louis cause these teams are playing better then anyone could have imagined. I hope it’s as electric in St Louis as it was in Vancouver. Last night the players couldn’t even hear the whistles.

I’m looking forward to the second game of the Flames/Blackhawks series. The ‘Hawks started the first game very nervous, but by the end were playing with the confidence they had in the regular season. Calgary is going to see a different team at the start of game two. I wonder if they can match the intensity and tenacity of the young Chicago stars.