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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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
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.