THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME (OF THE YEAR)?

 

They like to sing about how Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.  I beg to differ.  Not to take anything away from the most festive of holidays, but for me, this is the most wonderful time of the year, the spring time.  You have Easter, a holy holiday if ever I saw one.  You get nice weather, melted snow, and the most important part of all Ė the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Itís been two years since we last saw the Cup awarded, but the NHL has (almost) made up for it with the tightest playoff races weíve ever seen.  I guess it was the least they could do given we missed hockey for as long as we had, but I digress.  Iíve begun to realize exactly why last year was necessary, and while I hope it never ever happens again, as long as the intensity of the games weíve seen over the past six months remains intact, they can take two years off if and when thereís a next time.

The quote/unquote ďNew NHLĒ hasnít been without its growing pains, however.  With so many rule changes and tweaks to the schedule, at times itís almost as though they overdid it.  Donít get me wrong for a second, I really like what the rule changes and the better enforcement of the rules has done for the game.  I like the fact games are decided with shootouts instead of just allowing teams to play for the tie.  I love how exciting the playoff races have been so far.  This is where it ends for me.

I know what youíre going to say next.  ďOK, so Adam, youíre essentially telling us you like the new NHL, but you donít like it?Ē  Au contraire, mes amis.  The NHL is to be commended for the masterful job theyíve done so far.  But being the perfectionist I try to be (and fail miserably at I might add), I canít help but wonder just how much better and exciting the game will be with just a few tweaks.

I mentioned before I would weigh in on what I think about the new NHL schedule at a later date just as we were sifting through the new CBA and what it means for hockey.  Well this later date has arrived.

Iíll make no bones about it.  I hate the new schedule.  There, I said it.  I understand what the NHL is trying to do, build rivalries.  Quite frankly though, we had great rivalries before the NHL lockout, and those same rivalries have intensified this year, but not because divisional rivals play twice more than they used to, but because the new rules have opened up the game.  To add insult to injury, there are some rivalries which under the new scheduling formula wonít see the light of day for another 2 years, and to me this is a damn shame.

Statistically, Ottawa and Detroit are the two best teams in the entire NHL.  One leads the Eastern Conference, one leads the Western Conference.  There are those who believe (and Iím one of them), barring any monumental upsets in the playoffs, these two will go head to head for the Stanley Cup in June.  But why wait until then?  It isnít exactly a given this will happen, as both teams have on occasion managed to look like rusty nails in the end boards, and as we all know once the playoffs start, anything can happen.  We still have to play the games to take us there.  Why then, does the NHL want to deprive the fans of the two top teams in the league from playing each other right now?  It just doesnít make any sense and I canít accept it, no matter what they say.

Under the new system, teams from different conferences will be lucky to see each other in their home rinks once every three years.  Not only does this mean the two top teams this year are denied a chance to fight for first overall on the ice, but it also means many fans in the Western Conference are denied their chance to see some of the up and coming stars of the game.  Of course I mean Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in the East, but what about Dion Phaneuf and Marek Svatos in the West?  As Western fans will be denied a chance to see two of the most exciting players in the game, some fans out East wonít even get to see one of the most all around defensemen and hardest shot since Al MacInnis (well Svatos is injured, but you get my point Iím sure!).

Letís go back to Detroit for a second.  They play in the weakest division in the entire league, and no wonder.  They have to play against the three weakest teams in the Western Conference eight times apiece.  Thatís 24 total games against Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis.  While I donít have the exact numbers readily available, letís make the assumption theyíve won at least half of these games.  Iíd even go so far as to say 75% of these games have been Red Wings victories.  Nashville, the only other team in the Central division considered a threat for the Stanley Cup, hasnít fared too well against Detroit.  So letís add another six wins to the slate.  They swept their four game series against their biggest Northwest Division rival in Colorado, but outside of this and their own division, are lucky if theyíre playing .500 hockey, yet as of this writing lead the Western with a comfortable lead over Dallas and 105 points.  But take away even half of the points they won against division rivals, and the Red Wings would be struggling just to make the playoffs.  Heck, take away half the points they won against just Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis (who, not surprisingly, are all eliminated from contention), and a playoff appearance still isnít guaranteed.

Eight games against divisional rivals is simply too much, period.  Letís go back to the old way, 6 games maximum against teams in your division, and letís bring back more Inter-Conference play.  Teams would have eight more games a year to play with.  I would even go so far as to lower it to 5 games each, and lower the Intra-Conference play to 3 games instead of 4.  This way every NHL fan in every NHL city could see every team play at least once.  Isnít this what the NHL wants, more exposure?

Another example the eight divisional games arenít working is the tight races in the Northwest Division, the tightest division in hockey by far.  In particular, out of the eight games played between Edmonton and Vancouver, the final three were played over six nights last week.  Even though the Canucks took 2 out of the three games, one was in a shootout, so the Oilers gained a point.  When the dust settled, both teams were tied in points.  Are you telling me we wouldnít have seen a similar result if we get rid of the three extra games?

You can make the argument the eight divisional games have helped the Ottawa Senatorsí cause this year, simply because theyíre almost perfect against their division, save for a few hiccups (namely Boston, a team not even close to making it).  Buffalo was knocking on the door for awhile, but since theyíve played Ottawa in two key games (and lost), the spread is now almost insurmountable for the Sabres.  This is clearly an exception though. 

You can still schedule the more meaningful games towards the end of the season to make the races exciting, and schedule the teams you think could potentially be leading each conference closer towards the bottom 3rd of the schedule when they mean something.  I remember a few years ago Ottawa played a home game against Dallas in March.  At the time both teams were leading the league.  The end result was a game tied after regulation and an exciting overtime finish.  While they fell short of winning it all, Ottawa never looked back after that game and won the Presidentís Trophy.

And yes, Iím a bit of a disgruntled fan this year, because for the second year in a row thanks to the lockout, but for the first time in 9 NHL seasons, I havenít been given the opportunity to see my annual Ottawa vs Edmonton game.  You want to believe I seriously considered flying out to Alberta for the one game they did play on the road.  As it turned out, somehow I ended up in Toronto for the weekend, watching the game in a hotel room.  How do you like those apples NHL?

Another thing I donít like is the points system, but given the races the way theyíve been, I doubt this is going anywhere.  I donít mind giving a bonus point for making it to overtime, but I hate giving a point for a loss in overtime or a shootout.  Yes, Iíve been torn about this enhancement ever since they started awarding the bonus point, and this dates back long before shootouts debuted.  What needs to happen in one of two things Ė either they up the ante in regulation time, meaning award a total of three points if you donít tie in regulation, or keep it two points for a win, and award no points for a loss.

Itís funny, once the playoffs start, if two teams go to overtime, there are no points for a loss.  Thankfully there wonít be shootouts to decide the Stanley Cup (and there better never be).  You win, you move on.  You lose, you go home, or to the golf course, whichever comes first.

If they keep the points system the way it is, one thing they can do is bring in a preliminary round similar to what the AHL used to do, where you allow the two teams who donít make the playoffs to prove they belong.  Let them play against 7th and 8th in a best of three, and then let them go up against the top seeds in the conference.  This would be the only way they could justify the bonus point for an overtime loss, because in all honesty, they arenít making a very good case for it right now.  Donít think this type of a playoff format hasnít been discussed.

And another thing, if youíre going to keep the shootout as a staple of the regular season, then we need to do like every other league and International competition does and make it five shooters a side.  Furthermore, this measuring of the sticks in the shootout has got to go.  Fans are leaving the building or booing, and this just wonít do.  They seem to be getting better at it, but why bother?  I figure since the losing team is getting a point anyway, and since they arenít counting the individual shootout goals towards the scoring statistics, who really cares if Jaromir Jagr curves his stick like a snake or a banana?  They should be more concerned on whether or not the stick will hold up enough for the player to even get a good shot off in the first place.  I was going to say ďget good wood on the puckĒ, but whoís using wood anymore, aside from Jason Spezza?

MUSICAL NOTES

By now you all know the trading deadline was all but a complete waste of time.  There were some good deals for sure.  The Jose Theodore for David Aebischer had everybody doing a Patrick Roy double take all over again, and Edmonton did address a few things with Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Samsonov.  But who really won here?  Detroit and Ottawa, the top teams, didnít do much, if anything.  The Senators picked up a goalie off waivers who will probably never play again once Dominik Hasek comes back as well as a Chicago reject in Tyler Arnason, who has shown signs of brilliance, but has yet to actually score a goal.  Detroit picked up Cory Cross for some added defensive depth, but also let defensive depth go in Jamie Rivers.

Sure you make the deadline a week early, but when the economics prevent teams from loading up, whatís the point, really?

It was a lot of fun to see Hockey Night In Canadaís Don Cherry grill Dick Pound hard on his comments a few months back stating ď1/3 of NHL players are taking or have taken performance enhancing drugsĒ.  Somehow, he now extends this to also include "Stimulants".  It was one of those rare television moments were Cherry actually accomplished something.

Apparently, Pound's excuse for making the comments he did was 1) He's not aware of what the NHL is doing or what they're testing for in their random tests, and 2) Claims the NHL has been dragged kicking and screaming to finally comply with World Doping standards.

I will say this - maybe Pound should stop "being a Dick" and actually come on over to Puckin' Around and read a few of my articles - namely the one where I went over the new CBA in its entirety (at least the points we all know about).

In any event, Cherry and Pound both invited Gary Bettman to clarify exactly what the NHL is testing for.  Mr. Commissioner the floor is yours...

I tend to agree with Pound's sentiments of using a third party to conduct testing, but who really is he to say the NHL isn't serious about not allowing hockey to become like baseball?  For one thing, the sport doesn't require the juice as it is already the most exciting sport on the planet, bar none.  I know a few folks south of the border won't agree with me, but so be it.

Iíve been on a bit of musical roll lately, but for those of you who know me well enough you wonít be one bit surprised.

Recently, I was very pleasantly surprised to see one of Canadaís most respected club disc jockeys post one of the hottest tracks to hit an NHL arena in years as a free download on his website.  Hailing from Montreal, M.C. Mario is well known not only at his own club The Dome, but also from his many dance compilation CDs he releases on a quarterly basis Ė the latest one being ďMixdown 2006Ē.  The track entitled ďMake Some NoiseĒ was first posted on February 1st (of course as usual Iím always the last to find these things out), a track screaming hockey.  In fact, Don Cherry featured it in his latest DVD ďThe Best Of The BestĒ and Iíve been scrambling ever since to find it.  I began to wonder once I started to hear it played at almost every game Iíve seen in past little bit.  A quick visit to www.mcmario.com and lo and behold, there it is!  Well bless you Mario, I have it saved and archived for many years to come.  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!  I canít even begin to imagine the effect this track will have on a home playoff crowd.  I get chills up my spine every time I think about it.  Arena directors south of the border will be wise to fit this into their game program.  But donít take my word for it Ė check it out for yourself Ė and play it loud!

By the way, since weíre on a musical theme Ė whose idea was it to program ďBennie & The JetsĒ into every arena organ from here to Torino?  Just curious.

Anyway, on with the show, and you know what Iím going to say next.  Whatever you do, donít blink, because you will miss something!  Although easier said than done, those are words of wisdom to live by if ever I heard them.

 

More Puckin' Around...