24 April 2012

MvsW #0108 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0108 (Apr 19, 2012) Question of the Day:
What team currently down in their series has the best chance to rally for a series win?

Edit: Again, this was supposed to get posted earlier, as in, before the Penguins were eliminated on Sunday afternoon.  Instead, I look silly saying that the Penguins had a chance to make a comeback, when they're already eliminated.  Whatever, I still think the point stands, and I think every other series going on is fairly boring.

Even when I answer these late, I try to answer them as if I were actually answering it at the time that it was asked.  In this case, this question was asked after Pittsburgh had convincingly won their Game 4, 10-3, finally getting on the board while still being down to Philadelphia, 3-0.  I don't think the fact that Pittsburgh won by such an overwhelming score means anything, with respect to the entirety of the series, outside of being further illustration of the fact that anything can happen in this series.  And that's the primary reason why my answer is Pittsburgh.

The Flyers/Penguins series is probably the strangest one I've ever seen.  Anything can and has happened.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a 1-0 game, nor a 11-10 one.  I wouldn't be surprised to see PIT make a comeback from 3-0, or to see Philadelphia settle down and skate through an Eastern Conference full of upsets to a Cup Final.  I wouldn't be surprised to see James Neal come back from a too-short suspension to score a winning goal in overtime of Game 7.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr both score hat tricks in a 10-0 demolishing of the Penguins in Game 7 in Pittsburgh.

No other series has that sort of feeling.  Vancouver seems like they're lost in the woods that Bryzgalov was lost in earlier this year.  The other series in the West very much have an air of finality about them, and I don't give the slightest damn about any of the other awful series in the East.  But in the PIT/PHI series, anything can happen, and PIT coming back from 0-3 is maybe the least of it.  I wouldn't be surprised if Chris Pronger returned in Game 7 with a bloodied eyepatch (shades of Curt Schilling!), ate Sidney Crosby for a pre-game meal, declared himself Stanley Cup Champion, and dared anyone in the NHL front office to deny his proclamation.

22 April 2012

MvsW #0107 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0107 (Apr 18, 2012) Question of the Day:
What do you expect to hear in the Flyers/Penguins handshake line?

Edit: This was supposed to get posted before the game today, but apparently I don't understand how the new post scheduling in Blogger works.  

Better question: What's the over/under on number of players who skip that handshake line?  After the way the Penguins gooned it up and earned themselves a few suspensions (though not nearly long enough), I think PHI would be totally justified to skip the handshake line entirely.  Moreover, for Philadelphia, who invented goon hockey with the Broad Street Bullies of the 70's, whose fans are noted as among the most hostile in all of professional sports, for that franchise to skip the handshake line entirely would be one of the funniest statements I could ever imagine.  I'm not sure if it would be hypocritical or ironic for Philadelphia to do so, but it would damn sure be hilarious, and more than that, it would be an absolute shitstorm for the NHL to deal with - another situation on which the league as a whole would undoubtedly screw the pooch once again. In all likelihood, it would the highest possible level of trolling we may ever see.

My answer to the question:
Bylsma: "Hey, where's Flower?  Did he skip the handshake line?"
Malkin: "Who cares, my mom made borscht!"
Crosby: "I don't know, come to think of it, I haven't even seen him around the last couple of weeks"
Meanwhile, a similar conversation happens amongst the Flyers...

21 April 2012

MvsW #0106 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0106 (Apr 17, 2012) Question of the Day:
Who is the biggest "MIA" player so far in the playoffs?

I have never in my life seen a performance as bad as the one Marc-Andre Fleury put in for the first several games of the PIT/PHI series.  The only thing that might be close is the time I had to fill in as goalie for my rec league team, and nearly (but not quite!) blew an 8 (!!!) goal lead while my team simultaneously almost had to forfeit for not having enough eligible players after several ejections and penalties.  Of course, picking on a goalie who is rocking a 0.837 SV% after having bounced back with two decent games is easy - it's like shooting fish in a barrel, stealing candy from a baby, or taking shots on Marc-Andre Fleury!

I am extremely happy at the number of people who've taken MAF's struggles this series so far to point out the fact that he's never been that good.  The guy has never been much more than a league-average goalie, but because he plays on a good team in a bad conference, and gets a lot of national TV coverage, he has a completely bogus reputation for "clutchness" or frequently considered some sort of great goalie.  As I recall, Fleury's rebound troubles this playoff are nothing new, being something that he has struggled off and on with throughout his career, though I thought he'd more or less turned the corner on that.

All of that said, I eagerly look forward to 2-3 years down the road when he turns in some more average or sub-average playoff performances but is dragged by his teammates on another long Penguins run, and the narrative is once again that Fleury is a "money" or "clutch" type of goalie.

18 April 2012

MvsW #0105 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0105 (Apr 16, 2012) Question of the Day:
What are your feelings on a "suspend to the injury" culture?

I already sort of addressed this the other day, but...

It's stupid and inconsistent, and I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if eventually it bites the league in the ass in some sort of legal manner.  I can totally see a situation in which a court declares the NHL to have been negligent in terms of allowing risks greater than could be reasonably anticipated by participation in the game to have existed and perhaps even tacitly approved of such.  When the NHL loses a massive lawsuit to players on the issues of concussions (and this day is coming - the NFL already has such a class-action suit on it's hands), then we're going to see plays like Duncan Keith's (which, by the way, I think is by far the most egregious of anything we've seen this season, regular season or playoffs thus far) punished with some big (in the 10's of games, not 1's) suspensions so that the NHL can attempt to fix the environment that has been allowed to exist in the NHL.

Aside:  I've started a new career this week, and it's the kind of thing that's pretty demanding.  I've also had some other stuff going on around the house that has needed dealt with, but I should be back to posting again this weekend. I picked a stupid time to come back to writing, knowing that I had the career thing coming up, though a good chunk of this housework was unanticipated - trying to figure out what the hell the previous home owners did with this sprinkler system is a trip.  Anyways, this weekend I'm planning on having another pretty good post on this issue.

15 April 2012

MvsW #0104 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0104 (Apr 13, 2012) Question of the Day:
Which player or team made the biggest Game 1 statement?

A little behind (but hey, remember, I said that would happen.  I predicted the future!) but I'd have to say the biggest Game 1 statement was probably Los Angeles winning over Vancouver.  In retrospect, after the Flyers just winning Game 3 against the Penguins, maybe the way the Flyers won Game 1 is a bigger statement within the context of their series, but at the time when everyone had only played one game, I'd say Los Angeles' win over Vancouver was a bigger statement, largely because of how they played the Canucks.  The Canucks didn't look like the team that won a President's Trophy by just plain outplaying most of the league - they looked like a joke in that first game.  They were outskated, they were too busy trying to prove to everyone that they can be physical and made mistakes as a result, and they were diving in full-force.

Vancouver looked like a desperate team, and they were entering the game as the #1 seed, the President's Trophy winners, the defending Western Conference champs.  I'm not sure how much of that was Los Angeles' doing, and how much was Vancouver trying to exorcise their own demons, but in any case, it played right into LA's hands.  Most importantly (especially in conjunction with LA's game 2 demolishing of the Canucks), the Canucks are probably the biggest basketcase in the league, and the way LA beat them in the first game was perfect fuel for a fire begging to burn.  Los Angeles' win over Vancouver set the stage for some amazing organizational fireworks, and I'm excited to see who gets burned.

13 April 2012

Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, and Todd Bertuzzi

Preface:  I'm reluctant to bring up Todd Bertuzzi, because bringing up Todd Bertuzzi in an argument is pretty much akin to comparing someone to Adolf Hitler, but please, bear with me here.  This post is not campaigning about how long Weber (or anyone else) should or shouldn't be suspended, but is more about the NHL, the way the NHL punishes to injury and not to the action, the role that luck plays within the entire process, and how head injuries are still not being appropriately regarded as "serious" injuries by the league.  

Preface 2: Damn, Yahoo's Nick Cotsonika beat me to the punch, with an excellent post on the Weber thing specifically and a couple of the same points, particularly as it relates to the nature of head injuries and the difficulties inherent to punishing them.  I think my piece reflects a lot more on the relevance of "luck" within the entire process.  In addition, I think there's an interesting point to the contrast between Bertuzzi, who was publicly crucified by the hockey community, and the Weber and Keith incidents.  Each incident was obviously different in some ways and similar in others, but ultimately, what it boils down to is luck: Bertuzzi was unlucky, and Weber and Keith were both fortunate.  Read on to see what I mean.

In case you haven't seen them (or haven't seen them recently) before I talk about them, here's a couple of important videos.

Apr 11, 2012: Shea Weber, angry about the way Zetterberg hit him from behind, tries to punch Henrik Zetterberg in the back of the head, then grabs his head and slams it into the glass.  Weber earns a $2,500 fine.

Mar 21, 2012: Duncan Keith, angry about an earlier hit (which to be fair, was a hit to Keith's head), blatantly ignores playing the puck, and elbows Daniel Sedin in the face:  Keith was suspended 5 games.  

Mar 8, 2004: Todd Bertuzzi, angry about a hit by Moore on Markus Naslund 18 days prior, trails Steve Moore on a play, before sucker punching him in the side/back of the head, and then driving him headfirst into the ice.  Bertuzzi was fined $250,000 and suspended indefinitely (which ended up being 13 regular season games, 7 playoff games, and then was unable to play professionally in any other league during the NHL lockout in 2004-05).  

The NHL has always been very clear in the fact that the severity of injury (if one occurred) plays a very significant role when it comes to the league doling out supplemental discipline.  Obviously, there's some issues with that.  If Steve Moore doesn't break his neck, and merely just has the facial lacerations, Bertuzzi doesn't get suspended for almost 18 months.  Henrik Zetterberg was ok after the Shea Weber incident, but if Detroit sits Z for a practice or sends him to a doctor "as a precaution", does the NHL then allow itself to be baited into giving Weber a suspension where they otherwise wouldn't?  There's a couple points to make here:

- The NHL's safety and discipline processes lend themselves to manipulation
There's a dangerous situation there, with the NHL putting itself in position to be manipulated.  Teams setting guys aside for "precautionary examinations" or tossing words around like "upper body injury" or "concussion-like symptoms" can manipulate the league into coming down harder on opponent teams.  As unlikely as it is (though, in sports, you never know), it also opens up the potential for teams to outright fake or exaggerate an actual injury, particularly when it happens to a bottom-6 guy in their lineup.  

Obviously Detroit prefers to have Zetterberg in the lineup, but what if Shea Weber took his swing at someone with more of a propensity for faking injury, or if he hit a more "disposable" 4th liner, where the team could replace him while the 4th liner sat with "concussion-like systems", and Shea Weber missed games?  That's a net win for Detroit, in a tight series.  Worst of all, that sort of manipulation threatens the integrity of the league, as we start getting into issues of massaging injuries, or outright faking injuries, or begging the question of if a guy is really injured.

- Suspension based on injury is suspension based on luck
What Shea Weber did was reckless and stupid.  I think that's pretty much undeniable.  Slamming Zetterberg's head into the boards got most of the attention, because it's something incredible and dramatic to say.  However, the worse part of what Weber did, in my opinion, was the major league swing he took at the back of Zetterberg's head, which ended up missing.  Weber actually tried to punch a guy as hard as he could in the back of the head and neck.  I don't think it is at all unreasonable to say that, had the punch connected, he certainly could have done some extremely serious damage to Henrik Zetterberg - a concussion, fractured vertebra, or worse.

Take a look at the Bertuzzi video again.  There's two things that Bertuzzi does to Steve Moore.  The first is a sucker punch to the back/side of the head/neck.  The second is driving him down into the ice.  I'm not going to claim to know what damage was done by what action, but one thing we can look at is Steve Moore's body when Bertuzzi punches him.  Look at the way his body goes limp upon the impact of Bertuzzi's fist, and how his hands aren't reaching out to try to break his fall, even before Bertuzzi jumps on his back.  I think its pretty fair to say that the sucker punch alone by Bertuzzi did some significant damage to Moore.  

I also think we can agree that Todd Bertuzzi didn't mean to break Steve Moore's neck.  Yet, the fact of the matter is, he did.  Bertuzzi did something abhorrently reckless and stupid, and he ended a guy's career.  Duncan Keith did something stupid and reckless, but he didn't end Daniel Sedin's career (that we know of).  Matt Cooke did something stupid and reckless, but at the time, we didn't know that he would end Marc Savard's career.  Shea Weber did something stupid and reckless, but he didn't end Henrik Zetterberg's career.  Tie Domi didn't end Scott Niedermayer's career.  Chris Simon did several extremely stupid and reckless things, but he didn't end Ryan Hollweg or Jarko Ruutu's careers.  

We, as a hockey community, set Todd Bertuzzi as this example of someone who did something absolutely unconscionable, that has absolutely no place in the game, an act so vile that we cannot allow such a thing to be considered justifiable in any way, shape, or form.  The reason we set Bertuzzi aside as the "Hitler" of online hockey arguments is not because of the reckless action he committed.  It's because of the fact that he was the one who happened to end a guy's career.  Todd Bertuzzi is the pinnacle of dirty hockey plays, not for the sucker punch, or for the piledriver, but primarily because of bad luck.  

If Steve Moore just has stitches and a concussion, Bertuzzi is still considered a dirty player, but not the way he is today.  If Jarko Ruutu's leg is slashed open and tendons are torn and his career is over, we put Chris Simon on that cross instead.  If Marc Savard's neck is broken instead of getting a "mere" concussion, we put Matt Cooke on that cross.  If Shea Weber connects on that punch to the back of Zetterberg's head, we nail Shea Weber to the cross.  

But he didn't.

Shea Weber could've been Todd Bertuzzi 2.0, but he got lucky.  He was fortunate that Henrik Zetterberg's head was down, looking at the puck, trying to knock it loose.  Should Weber be excused for doing something stupid, reckless, and extremely dangerous just because he lucked out?  Do we give Weber more lattitude because the play happened "in the moment"?  Is the difference not just reckless or malicious behavior, but premeditation?  Obviously, Bertuzzi's attack on Moore had some degree of premeditation (not that Bertuzzi meant to break his neck, but that he certainly meant to rough him up), and I think it's clear that Weber's did not.  But then what about Keith?  

- The NHL's standard operating procedures are inadequate in the "Concussion Era"
Duncan Keith's elbow on Daniel Sedin's face clearly involved some degree of premeditation.  He sees an opportunity, he doesn't even look or move towards the puck going by, and he goes for the cheap shot that he was looking to deliver.  It was just as dirty, just as premeditated, as the Bertuzzi/Moore play, wasn't it?  But due to the nebulous nature of concussions and head injuries, as opposed to the dramatic clarity of "broken neck", Duncan Keith didn't get nailed to a cross either.  

Duncan Keith's hit on Daniel Sedin was widely agreed to be a dirty hit.  However, there was a lot of justification given out both for Keith's cheap shot, as well as for the relatively short suspension that Keith was given.  Many rushed to point out the check that Sedin had previously put on Keith as being justification for Keith coming back with the elbow to the face, or for a reduced suspension for Keith.  I guess you can use that as a mitigating factor, but I'd be curious to hear why Steve Moore's hit on Markus Naslund doesn't mitigate what Todd Bertuzzi did.  

What if it turns out that Daniel Sedin's career really is over?  If that is the case, how is the Duncan Keith play not exactly like the Todd Bertuzzi one?  A premeditated attack on another player for a previous incident, which ended the victim's career.  The Duncan Keith situation happened a couple weeks ago, and Keith is already back from suspension, while Sedin has not returned from his concussion.  It's a small possibility, but it truly is a real possibility, and we don't know if Daniel Sedin has played his last NHL game or not.  

If he does come back, haven't we Keith rewarded for the work of the Vancouver training staff, or for Sedin's body chemistry and a powerful constitution?  We assume that Duncan Keith didn't end Daniel Sedin's career or, just as significantly, severely detract from his abilities upon his return to the ice.  I guess because it's "just a concussion", and that's significantly less meaningful than a "broken neck".  Of course, I'm sure Eric Lindros, Marc Savard, Paul Kariya, and Jeff Beukeboom would have something to say about that.

*     *     *     *
"Mr. Bertuzzi pursued Mr. Moore on the ice, attempting to engage him in a confrontation.  When Mr. Moore declined to engage Mr. Bertuzzi, Mr. Bertuzzi responded by delivering a gloved punch from behind to the side of Mr. Moore's head, rendering him unconscious.  Upon falling to the ice, Mr. Moore suffered additional serious injuries.  We want to make clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated in the NHL."
- NHL Vice President Clarence Campbell, announcing Bertuzzi's suspension

So what exactly was "this type of conduct" that "will not be tolerated in the NHL"?  Premeditation in conjunction with an intent to injure?  Duncan Keith did that.  A career- or life-threatening injury?  Matt Cooke did that.  Does the injury have to be to a specific place, like the neck, instead of the head?  Shea Weber was pushing his luck on that one.  Maybe the conduct that Clarence Campbell meant was giving the NHL a black eye from a public relations standpoint?  

Or are we simply punishing for rolls of the dice, for simply having the misfortune to have been the one whose number came up, whose slot machine pull came back 7-7-7, and a sufficiently dramatic injury happened, leading to the end of someone's career?  

12 April 2012

Nashville is elite - but for how long?

I briefly touched on this in my response to a Marek vs Wyshynski Question of the Day prompt a couple posts ago, but I thought the entire thing merited its own post, because I think it's a fascinating little story within the context of the current Nashville-Detroit series.  Maybe you disagree with me on the idea that Nashville is an elite team in the Western Conference, on the level of Vancouver, for example, but you cannot deny that they are at least in the conversation.  Their roster, as currently constructed, has them poised to remain in that conversation for a long ways to come.

That "as currently constructed" part of it is what really makes it interesting though.  Nashville currently boasts the best defensive pairing in the NHL in Shea Weber/Ryan Suter, but Suter will reach unrestricted free agency this summer, and Shea Weber will get there a year later.  Neither has committed to Nashville for the long-term, and the general understanding of why is because neither is sure that they want to tie themselves to a team that may forever remain in "gets-to-the-playoffs-but-not-a-contender" limbo.  Nashville GM David Poile has made no secret of the fact that he wants to keep both, and that they're loading for bear to have a deep playoff run this year and start spending more going forward, in an effort to woo both defensemen into coming back.

Nashville is trying to prove something here, to two of the best defensemen in the game, and they need a deep playoff run to get there.  On the flip side, Detroit is staring a Lidstrom-less future in the face, and realizing that the sum of their team's defensive abilities is not enough to make up for the loss of one of an all-time great.  Detroit fans have been staring lustily at the embarassment of riches that Nashville boasts on their blue line for a year now, trying to come up with a plan to replace a formerly elite defenseman with one (or two!) coming into their prime.  Detroit is a hotly rumored destination for Suter as a UFA this summer, and whether they get him or not, they'll also be interested in Weber the next year.

And there's the rub.  Detroit wants Weber and Suter badly, and would also dearly love to cripple a division rival by signing them over the next couple offseasons, no matter the circumstance that they become available.  Nashville needs this playoff run in order to keep Weber and Suter.  It's a brutal matchup for Detroit to play Nashville on the road, but the stakes here are tremendous, beyond just moving on to the next playoff round.  Detroit, if they were to beat Nashville in this series, could help push Suter and then Weber toward unrestricted free agency.  Consequently, a Red Wings series win could cripple a Predators contender before it even gets going.  Moreover, knocking Suter and Weber loose gives Detroit a chance to acquire one or even both of them, which could help Detroit to move on after Lidstrom without skipping a beat, or to even step forward, back into the position of being elite Cup contenders.

This series is literally a fight for the future of the Central division.  That may be more significant than anything else either team could accomplish this spring, short of a Stanley Cup.  It's the highest stakes I've ever seen in a first round matchup.  One franchise's fortunes rise and it opens a nice long window at a championship.  The other falls and starts trying to build a new contender.

MvsW #0103 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0103 (Apr 12, 2012) Question of the Day:
Give us your best taunting tweet from any NHL team

This obviously stems from the LA Kings Official Twitter feed last night tweeting this:

That's just a fantastically awesome tweet.  And yet people are getting all worked up over it today.

WHO CARES?  It's some very well-done shittalking, and it's a pretty genuine sentiment - the Canucks are pretty widely reviled through the rest of Canada for being divers and complainers.  Even if it weren't true (but the fact that it is true is what makes it pure gold), who cares?  It's not crossing a line, it's not obscene, and it's not classless.  It's a smirk, it's a poke, and more than anything, it's a little bit out of the ordinary within a sport with entirely too much cliche and too little original stuff to say.  If that sort of little poke really gets you worked up, it's because you're looking for something to get worked up about, and you need to sit down, shut up, and relax.  Now, that said, my answer to today's Question of the Day:

After Pittsburgh wins the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup, and Sidney Crosby wins the Conn Smythe:
@PGHPenguins: "Sure am glad we won that lottery in 2005!  Thanks a lot Gary!  Better luck next year, everyone!"

11 April 2012

MvsW #0102 QoD

Marek vs Wyshynski #0102 (Apr 11, 2012) Question of the Day:
Give us one "rock solid" prediction for the playoffs.

I think this is the year that the hockey community is going to mark historically as the year that we saw a definite shift in the balance of power in the Western Conference.  Specifically, I think this is the year that we will point to when we say "This is when the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks stopped being the cream of the crop, and the baton was passed to St. Louis, Nashville, and Vancouver".  Maybe you can take Vancouver off of that list, as they've obviously been a top-shelf contender for the last two years or so, but the point is the ascension of Nashville and St. Louis, and more so, the end of the Sharks and the Wings as elite Cup contenders.

We'll point to this playoff in particular, not just because of the seedings of each team or their somewhat-less-than-expected regular season performances, but largely because of the way each will meekly bow out of the playoffs, with the new contenders climbing over the bodies of those who came before to take their place at the top of the conference.

That's not to say that these two teams will sink into complete failure and join such perennial failures as the Blue Jackets and the Oilers in the bottom of the conference.  Neither franchise may stay down long (though Detroit will rebound faster than San Jose, with a surprisingly healthy prospect pool), but the both of them will fall into the #10 to #5 seed area, where you see the teams that can regularly make the playoffs, but aren't truly contenders.  A good example of a team like this would be the Maple Leafs of the late 90's/early 00's.  Those Maple Leafs always made the playoffs, they could frequently upset a pretender, but they couldn't get past the elite contenders in their conference.  In the end, Detroit and San Jose will both be forced to yield to stronger powers in their divisions, and it will take time to reload from the losses that they're going to incur over the next year or two.

But in a few years, they'll be back.  At least, Detroit will be.  So enjoy it while it lasts, Predators and Blues.

Also worth noting: Nashville's stay at the top of the conference could be extraordinarily short.  This is an interesting situation, in that in their playoff series provides a remarkable opportunity for Detroit, allowing them a fantastic chance to crush Nashville's contendership for the next several years, and maybe in doing so, restore the Red Wings to elite status.  I'll post on this later this week.


From today's Puck HeadlinesRobert Ullman over at Atom-Bomb Bikini has put together a far better (and far sexier) NHL playoff preview than the one I did the last couple days.  My linking to it is largely an excuse to post one of the illustrations from his preview, because if there's one thing I like more than hockey, it's a woman with some curves. That said, if you haven't done so already, you should go check it out and see the rest of the illustrations for each series winner.  In addition, there's a contest in the comments to win a custom piece of artwork featuring one of these girls in your team's jersey, in addition to a few other nice prizes.  Sexy art is the best kind of art, right?

10 April 2012

MvsW #0101 QoD

Huh.  So apparently I come back to Blogger, just in time for them to unveil a new user interface that I don't particularly "get".  That figures.  I'll reserve judgement on the new Blogger interface for now, but my initial feeling is that I'm not going to like it much.  I'm a big fan of simplicity and clarity within a UI.  I don't need a hundred bells and whistles.  I prefer words like "Save" or "New Post" to pictures of things like a floppy drive or a pencil.  "I am a man of perfect simplicity!"

(Figures, part 2: I couldn't find the "Link" button, because it's now a button that reads "Link" rather than a picture of a chain.)

Marek vs Wyshynski #0101(April 10, 2012) Question of the Day:
Create your own NHL apology.

"Citizens of Atlanta, we, the NHL, owe you an apology.  You may hate us because we let your team be repossessed to the frigid wastelands of Winnipeg.  You would be right.  However, our greatest error was not in allowing a broken shell of a team to relocate.  Our greatest error was in allowing a team to be started in a non-traditional marketplace, with Don Waddell at the helm."

"Yes, Atlanta, the NHL is most sorry for allowing your city's second incarnation of an NHL team to be run by a complete moron.  In fact, SBN's Copper and Blue recently used a highly scientific process to determine that Don Waddell was actually the worst GM under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that's not even giving credit for pre-lockout blunders like Patrick Stefan and Luke Sellars, or those ugly jerseys."

"Yes, our greatest mistake was allowing a brand new team in a non-traditional market to be piledrived by Don Waddell into irrelevance.  Markets that are new to hockey demand competent leadership, out-of-the-box ideas, community involvement, and most of all, hope on the ice.  Don Waddell delivered none of these, and allowing him to single handedly ruin an entire market for hockey."

"The NHL is truly sorry for allowing a joke management group to employ a joke GM.  We hope that one day, we can return to Atlanta with a competent ownership group that will employ a quality GM with experience in an organization with a winning attitude.  Perhaps someone like Steve Tambellini, Scott Howson, Mike Milbury, Doug MacLean, Brian Lawton..."

2011-12 Eastern Conference Playoff Picks

If you write a Western Conference playoff picks, then it creates an expectation that you're going to do one for the East too, right?

In the West, while I think things are primarily between NSH/STL/VAN to make it to the finals, I could legitimately see any of the lower seeds making some serious noise and presenting problems for the favorites in the conference. In the East, NYR/BOS/PIT are here to take care of business, and no one else will or has any business going on any sort of run. In the end, a healthy PIT (if they stay healthy) is the closest thing to a perfect team in the East (and maybe the NHL), while every other team has some warts. NYR's position as the #1 seed gives them a dramatically easier road to the Conference Final, facing the East's weak sisters, but I don't think that I'm buying into Tortorella and the Rangers to do any more than that. Also, it's been a long time since I've mentioned this, but I really do hate the Eastern Conference.

Round 1:
#1) New York Rangers VS #8) Ottawa Senators
NYR in 4 - OTT isn't a lottery team, but they aren't a great team either. OTT can score, but that's about it, and it gets a lot harder to do that in April and May. Lundquist makes this one nice and quick.

#2) Boston Bruins VS #7) Washington Capitals
BOS in 5 - This matchup makes me smile. BOS is everything that WSH lacks, including playing in the next round. Maybe getting the heart, determination, physicality, sacrifice, and the defensive awareness that they lack shoved in their face helps WSH in the long-term. In the short term, WSH gets outmuscled and outworked in a short series.

#3) Florida Panthers VS #6) New Jersey Devils
NJD in 5 - After Florida made all their free agent signings, I sent this email which was read on the old Puck Daddy Radio show on The Score/Sirius, taking issue with Greg Wyshynski's contention that FLA was a free agency "winner":

Someone over there, please do me a favor and tell Wysh he's a friggin' idiot, if he thinks FLA was a winner in free agency. It's not just that [Dale Tallon] overpaid guys by incredible amounts - its that he did it long-term, for no reason at all - if you're gonna overpay guys, just sign em to 1-2 year deals, no point in tying up future money too. And not only did he pay guys for the sake of paying guys, but he didn't improve his team that significantly. At best, this pushes FLA into the 8-11 area in the conference standings, which is not good enough to actually be remotely relevant, yet its good enough to keep you out of the top of the draft.

Also, if the Panthers are going to overpay someone, why not just get some fan favorite grinder 4th liner type and give him 6M for 1 year? At least that makes a good story.

I was getting scared early on when FLA was really hot, but I think in the end, I'm right. This is an 8-11 team, and one of the worst division winners to ever appear in the NHL playoffs. The only reason this team is at #3 and not at the 8-11 spot that they belong in is because of an incredible collapse on the parts of both Tampa Bay and Washington. Basically, FLA lucked into their first and only division title, and they'll go home quickly to a NJD team that isn't great, but is better than they are.

#4) Pittsburgh Penguins VS #5) Philadelphia Flyers
PIT in 6 - This series is going to be mean and nasty, but it's going to be largely one-sided. If PHI were showing up healthy, I'd like them a lot better in this series, but PIT is coming in healthy at the right time, and PHI is just limping to game #83. I'm sure PHI will rush some guys back for the series, but they won't be in good enough shape to flip the script.

Round 2:
#1) New York Rangers VS #6) New Jersey Devils
NYR in 6 - I just realized that I picked the same seeds to advance in both the East and West. In any case, this is where the NYR #1 seed really helps out. NJD will put up a fight, but they aren't good enough on the back end and in goal anymore to pull off the upset.

#2) Boston Bruins VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 6 - If the Penguins get through PHI relatively healthy, they should be able to take this one. I like their offensive depth, even against as good a defensive team as BOS. BOS has faltered at times this year, and they already play on the razor's edge, having to play the low-scoring style that they do. It's a hard line to walk, and I think PIT can push them off.

Round 3:
#1) New York Rangers VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 5 - NYR can probably beat any other team in the conference, but I can't see them beating PIT. The Penguins are just too fast, too good, too deep, and are a fully balanced team from top to bottom, front to back. The Rangers play defense, they block shots, they rely on Henrik Lundquist, and they don't score that much. If PIT can score 3 goals a game (and they can), they can beat NYR (and they will).

Stanley Cup Finals:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 7 - In 2009, DET lost to PIT in 7 games in the Cup Final. That year, PIT got to cruise through a joke conference (PHI, a soft WSH team, then swept CAR), while DET got murdered by ANA and CHI on their way. DET started the series strong, but couldn't keep it up for 7 games, and PIT got their first Cup in almost 20 years.

Why do I mention this? Because I think the same exact thing happens this year. PIT is going to make it, and their road may not be as easy as it was in 2009, but it won't be the sort of brutal that VAN is likely to see from CHI and NSH (or STL or SJS for that matter). It may be one of the best Cup Finals we'll ever see, between two fantastically talented teams, but PIT's road won't be nearly as arduous as VAN's. Besides, if the city of Vancouver thought last summer's riots were bad, can you just imagine the completely shitstorm that happens if the Canucks lose in Game 7 at home again?

09 April 2012

2011-12 Western Conference Playoff Picks

Hey, more easy content! I've been pointing at the Nashville Predators for the last couple years, and this year is no different. Even before they brought back Alex Radulov this spring, I was picking Nashville to go deep this year in the playoffs. I don't know if they can win the Stanley Cup, but I think they've got a damn good chance to make it out of a hellacious Western Conference. I think it will largely come down to Nashville or Vancouver to make it out of the West, and assuming Daniel Sedin comes back 100%, I give VAN a slight edge in that matchup, but I could definitely see a series between the two going either way. With that said, let's dive into my playoff picks for the spring.

Round 1:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #8) Los Angeles Kings
VAN in 5 - Los Angeles gives in to the inevitable and maintains their underachieving ways. They might steal a game or even two, but they'll quickly get back to mid-season underachieving form. VAN is just too good for LA, and LA just isn't good enough for themselves.

#2) St. Louis Blues VS #7) San Jose Sharks
STL in 6 - As soft and slow as SJ plays, without a good goalie or a good defense, I can't honestly give them a chance in hell against a Hitchcock team. Like taking a fish (Sharks aren't fish, but that's not important) out of water, the Sharks will thrash wildly, and might surprise STL to win 2, but they won't win 4.

#3) Phoenix Coyotes VS #6) Chicago Blackhawks
CHI in 7 - I was really hoping DET would choke their way down to this spot, because PHX is a tough team, but they're not deep, and that makes you vulnerable in the playoffs. CHI isn't perfect either, so this will be a long series, but with Toews coming back, I'm giving them the edge.

#4) Nashville Predators VS #5) Detroit Red Wings
NSH in 6 - As I've said, I'm buying what the Preds are selling. This team is too physical, too good on special teams, and they've got the style and the scheme to give the Red Wings fits, and that's before you consider the Wings sub-.500 record on the road. Everyone noticed the Preds last year, but my money is on this year being their real coming out party.

Round 2:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #6) Chicago Blackhawks
VAN in 6 - A large part of this series boils down to the returns of Toews and Sedin, and the level each is able to play at upon his return. If either is less than themselves, it could change this series, but I'm assuming both make it back at full power. Having Corey Schneider as a fall-back and with Chicago's defensive troubles this year, I'm giving this one to VAN.

#2) St. Louis Blues VS #4) Nashville Predators
NSH in 7 - A central division battle between two physical teams who can score capably, but are more known for their goaltending and defensive accomplishments? Yeah, this one goes long. And not just 7-games-long, but multiple-multi-OT-games-in-a-long-series sort of long. I could see it going either way, but I give NSH an edge for experience. STL has a long championship window in front of them, but you have to learn the hard way, and this is where STL does it.

Round 3:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #4) Nashville Predators
VAN in 7 - If each team comes in healthy, I think VAN has an edge in offensive depth that NSH can't match. The big question mark here is going to be how each team gets into the series, after having both gone through a grudge match in Round 2. VAN is a better team, but this is the playoffs, and a lot of times it comes down to depth and health. VAN has a deeper pool to drain from, and that could be the difference.

MvsW #0100 QoD (And Day9!)

There's one significant inspiration for my coming back to write at Sacrifice the Body: one of my favorite people, the most bejujular Sean Day[9] Plott (newly added to the Inspirations group on the sidebar!) and the Day9 Daily. One of the primary points of the Day9 Daily was that Day9 didn't have the time to play Starcraft professionally, but he still wanted to do something involved with the game. Moreover, he also wanted to push himself a little bit, to make sure he actually did it, and stayed on top of it. It didn't necessarily have to be something huge or incredible each day, but the point was that he wanted to make himself do something each day.

I wanted to do something similar, here at StB. One of the challenges with writing is coming up with something original or interesting to say, especially when you're talking about a hockey blogosphere in which pretty much everything has already been said. So I tried to think of a way to give myself something to write regularly, whether it be something big or small, and the best thing I could come up with was to steal a prompt.

Specifically, to steal the Marek vs Wyshynski Question of the Day prompt. "Talent borrows, genius steals," right? It won't always be something heavy or involved, and maybe it ends up being the only thing I write for weeks at a time, but the idea is that at least I'm writing something. It also won't always be up to date, as I rarely listen to the show as it airs, but it gives me a place to start. So, with that said...

Marek vs Wyshynski #100 (Apr 09, 2012) Question of the Day:
Which goalie has the best chance of pulling a Halak/Hextall/Giguere in the playoffs?

The context for this is obviously the incredible runs that each of the aforementioned goalies have pulled off in previous years. For my money, J. S. Giguere's Conn Smythe performance in the 2003 playoffs was the single greatest playoff performance that I've ever seen. Giguere was absolutely insane, carrying an 8th seed to 15 wins and a game short of the Stanley Cup. 15 wins, with only a +5 goal differential. 0.946 SV% on a playoff-high 697 shots (over 21 games, that's over 33 shots/game). He carried a Mighty Ducks of Anaheim team that should've been out in the first round to within a game of a Stanley Cup. The dude just plain went to another level.

To me, a critical component of that performance (and one reason why I put Giguere's 2003 over Thomas' 2011) is the underdog factor. Obviously, guys like Lundquist, Thomas, and Halak could have a lights-out playoff, but they're not really the underdogs. Looking among the non-division winners, my pick has got to be Pekka Rinne (NSH). I'm not sure that Rinne and the Predators really count as an underdog, being a #4 seed, but they are a team that does have some even strength problems and makes their living on special teams, with a NHL-best PP% and the 10th PK%.

In order to make a run on your goalies' back, you have to play a brutally physical defensive style, where you win games not by scoring goals, but by not giving them up. NSH certainly has the players and the scheme to play a style like that and enjoy a long playoff run as a result, riding Rinne and the Suter/Weber pairing to a Stanley Cup, or at the least, a very deep playoff run. In a very tight Western Conference, it's a hell of a road to walk, but if anyone is going to walk that road this year, I think it's going to be Nashville.

Writing and Commitments and Expectations

Stream of consciousness incoming...

The problem with writing is that it's sort of a commitment. If I were to write a piece about hockey today, just because of a whim, the problem is that it creates an expectation that I will write again. This applies to generally anything that you write. If I write a best selling novel, into which I have put every single ounce of everything that I can give, the expectation is that I will write another one, even though I may not have anything left to say. If I wrote a movie, there would be an expectation of a sequel. If all I did was write a poem to my wife, there would be an expectation of future poems, or maybe even, god forbid, a sonnet.

I certainly cannot begrudge that expectation. I do the same thing - I want a new post up on Puck Daddy, I want a new A Song of Ice and Fire book, I want another (good) series of Star Trek, just like anyone else. That expectation obviously places a pressure upon the creator of the media being consumed. For some reason, that pressure to actually write something, rather than writing because I enjoy doing it, makes it somewhat less fun for me, and I think that's a pretty silly thing for me to admit, but it's the truth.

Whereas George R. R. Martin has a legion of fans clamoring for another piece of the ASoIaF saga, it's not like I have a horde of people outside my door waiting for another post, whether it be for a hockey post, a novel, a movie, or even a poem. That pressure doesn't really exist, because I don't really have an audience to put that pressure on me.

So I guess it's all in my head, huh?

I'm the one who puts that pressure upon me. I'm the one who lets myself think its sort of stupid to write every once in a while, and that I should either jump in with both feet and write frequently, or not at all. That I should write something big and impactful, or not at all. That I should have always have something interesting and unique to say, or not at all.

And that's all bullshit. Writing is something I enjoy, and it's stupid to let myself ruin it. I enjoy writing, and I should pick it back up. I should write about whatever I want, whenever I want, and to hell with any bullshit expectation that I put on myself.

So I think I'm going to do that. I want to start writing regularly again, but I don't want to ruin it for myself. I've got a couple ideas, so I think I'll try to start over here. I almost feel like I should come up with a new website or something, but I guess that's just letting bullshit get in the way of actually writing. So here we go...