CONSPIRACY THEORY?

 

The question everybody is asking today: was it a goal, or wasn’t it?  At this point, it doesn’t matter, the Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup Champions.  I still can’t get used to the concept myself, but I, like many hockey fans, was very happy to see tenured veteran Dave Andreychuk hoist the cup after 22 seasons, whether or not they decide to put an asterisk in the history books beside 2004’s playoff run.  It’s just been one of those years.

I won’t take anything away from Tampa, or Calgary for that matter, both teams played their hearts out, regardless of the outcome.  What I find most intriguing is all the hoopla surrounding the finals and the ensuing award presentations, particularly the so-called conspiracy theory comments offered by Calgary’s head coach and general manager Darryl Sutter.  I didn’t read too much into all the hype at the time, until I watched the NHL Awards, when it hit me like a brick.  Is there truly a conspiracy brewing here or was Sutter merely blowing off some steam?

Now given the fact I was in the process of moving during the finals, I’m sure there’s something I missed here, so upon further research, I felt I should maybe clarify a few facts before I get too far ahead of myself, not just for my own benefit, but for all my readers as well who may not have paid as much attention as I usually do.

Sutter himself accused “unnamed forces” of trying to keep Calgary from winning the Stanley Cup after a post game press conference the day after Game 4.  This was mostly in reaction to the one-game suspension given to Flames forward Ville Nieminen for his borderline from behind hit on Vincent Lecavalier.

Sutter was quoted as saying "We know what we're up against. We're the underdog, we've said that. I am not saying it now to make a point, but it's dead-on true.  We're the little team that wasn't supposed to be here, and a lot of people don't want us to be here and to make sure we're not successful. We know that."

Upon further discussion, it was aptly pointed out to Sutter the suspension was handed down by NHL executive vice president Colin Campbell, whose office is in Toronto.  To this he retorted “The decisions are made in New York, not Toronto. So you can talk to Colie all you want.”

The next question was met with the following interruption mid-sentence:

“Hey, the media is a powerful tool, believe me,” he said. “I hold myself responsible because I don't bitch and whine in the media. I don't let our players talk about officiating in the media.  Something I have learned, you should bitch and complain and whine, and it has an impact.”

Sutter called for another question when asked who specifically was trying to prevent Calgary from winning the Cup, the League?  The Media?  "None of your business.”  OK then.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman later released a statement in which he called Sutter's comments “ill-advised, inappropriate and inaccurate.”

“The focus of the Stanley Cup Final should be on the ice, and to the extent any response is needed to any gamesmanship off the ice, it will be made after the Final is over,” Bettman added.

Well, here we are, exactly one week since Tampa Bay hoisted the Stanley Cup, and neither Bettman, Campbell, or anyone with any clout in the NHL has even said boo, let alone address this issue, which leads me to ask the million dollar question, did the NHL prefer Tampa winning the Stanley Cup over Calgary?  Are there really “unnamed forces” at work behind the scenes?  As Mr. Commissioner puts it, is there any response needed to gamesmanship off the ice seeing as the Stanley Cup can now work on its tan in the Florida sunlight?

Surely from an administrative perspective, awarding the Cup to Tampa has to be a marketing executive’s dream, in a time where the financial future of the NHL has never been in more doubt.  The NHL powers want hockey to thrive in the expansion markets, particularly the ones they’ve invested most in, like Tampa, Florida, Anaheim, and even Nashville to some extent.  Calgary proved fans will show up regardless of the season’s outcome, even if they aren’t in a position to make a run for the Cup.  The fact they were merely one victory away is just gravy.

So I ask this question, why wouldn’t the NHL push for Tampa Bay to win it all?  The series had everything, it was entertaining, hard hitting, fast paced, and as I mentioned off the top, both teams played their hearts out, and unfortunately, one of them had to lose.

But then, what about the phantom Game 6 goal everyone is talking about?  Was it actually a goal?

Now I personally had to hook up an old fashioned rabbit-ears style antenna to my TV to see the game as I didn’t as yet have cable reconnected in my new digs, so from my perspective the play in question was nothing more than another awesome save from Nikolai Khabibulin.  Then instant replay had to interfere and show the puck on edge in what was ruled as an inconclusive play on what would have been a sure goal for “the Eliminator” Martin Gelinas had they counted it.  Not so fast.  Neither the referee, nor Gelinas himself called for a review of the play.  Why?  From what I saw, the play happened so fast, the whistle was blown, and next thing you know play resumed.

The rule is, if play resumes without further review of a questionable play, tough.  Goal or not, it was ruled inconclusive.  This would be like saying Brett Hull’s goal from the 1999 Stanley Cup final wasn’t good because of a foot in the crease.  Can you imagine what would happen if the NHL would come forth and override the play and call it a goal/no goal (depending on what play you’re talking about)?

Let me throw this at you.  Let’s just say this was a goal and it was in Game 7 in overtime, for the Stanley Cup and the decision was made at the league level to actually award the play and the ultimate prize based on inconclusive evidence.  There’d be a riot, you know it, I know it, and the league knows it.  This is why the rule exists, once play resumes, too bad so sad, better luck next time. 

I left it at this until the annual NHL Awards gala just three days removed from the Stanley Cup celebration hangover.  For the most part, I thought the winners of all the trophies truly deserved them, except for one: the Jack Adams.  Once again, Darryl Sutter was up against his Tampa nemesis John Tortorella, with Ron Wilson of San Jose added in the mix for good measure.  When they announced Tortorella as the winner, I began to wonder.  Is Sutter right?  I mean, sure, Tampa finished first in the East and went on to win it all, but here’s something you might not have considered: Tampa Bay also qualified for the playoffs last year, and may have gone farther had it not been for Scott Stevens and the New Jersey Devils.  Calgary hadn’t made the playoffs, let alone the Finals, for eight years!  This, in my mind, should have decided the whole thing.  I know Ron Wilson won his division with San Jose as well, but nobody had the year the Flames had, absolutely nobody, even if you factor out the playoff run.  But unfortunately my vote doesn’t count.  You have to admit, though, it’s a great way to start a conversation, even if you aren’t a hockey fan.

So tell me something, Mr. Andreychuk, just how does Florida orange juice taste from the bowl of the Cup anyway?  Just wondering.

In retrospect, Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Lightning for winning the Stanley Cup after a banner regular season and playoffs (in only their 12th season I might add!), Congratulations to the Calgary Flames for making an entire country believe, and Congratulations to the NHL for setting the stage for arguably the most interesting roller coaster ride of a season I’ve ever witnessed.  You couldn’t have written a better script if you actually hired wrestlers (and Hulk Hogan doesn’t count).

Next time around I’ll give my year end synopsis of who made the grade.  You guessed it, the end of season report cards are coming, after I’ve had another week or two to settle into this new pad.

Thanks to everyone for putting up with me all season long, thanks to all my friends and family members who supported me during my move, and hopefully you the readers will stay tuned over the summer, both at Sports Byline and right here at Puckinaround.net, where we never stop living, breathing, sleeping hockey.

 

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