Stanley Cup playoffs structure highlights absurd regular season
Nashville, which finished with the exact same record as the Islanders and with the same number of points as the…
Nashville, which finished with the exact same record as the Islanders and with the same number of points as the Lightning (with one fewer victory, no less), is four wins away from the Stanley Cup — so remind me again of the value of the six-month, 82-game grind of the NHL regular season, if you please.
Don’t get me wrong, the Predators — whose David Poile somehow became a finalist for the General Manager of the Year Award in balloting by a panel that took place before the tournament began, by the way, for constructing a roster that managed to finish in a three-way tie for 16th-overall — have earned their way to the finals against the defending champion Penguins.
The series, which presents the league’s marquee player in Sidney Crosby against the league’s marquee personality in P.K. Subban, could be mighty entertaining and should be extremely competitive. The Predators’ top-four defense, featuring Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Subban, is the NHL’s best since the 2003 Cup-winning Devils presented Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Colin White on the blue line. Both teams skate. The winner will be a worthy champion.
As coaches are so fond of saying, however, don’t focus on the result, but on the process. This year’s playoffs bring just the latest example of the postseason tournament essentially nullifying the regular season, which is so important it cannot be disrupted for anything as mundane as, for exa
In a dozen playoffs since the introduction of the hard cap, the Presidents’ Trophy winners not only have won the Cup only twice (Chicago in 2013 and Detroit in 2008) but have appeared in the finals just three times (with Vancouver losing to Boston in 2011). What’s more, teams with the NHL’s best regular-season records have made it to the conference finals just one other time. That was in 2015, when the Rangers lost in seven games to Tampa Bay.
Of the 48 conference finalists since 2006, 13 have finished lower than 10th in the overall standings, including this year’s 12th-overall Senators. Had Game 7 overtime of the Eastern finals broken the other way, the league would have had its second all-double-digit final in five years — after the 2014 Kings-Rangers matchup between No. 10 and No. 12, respectively.
So what, exactly, is the incentive to pursue excellence in a league that dilutes the impact of regular-season victories by doling out losers’ points and makes life as treacherous as possible for clubs at the top with a playoff format that can (and does) match up each conference’s best two teams as soon as the second round?
What is the rationale for an owner or general manager to go above and beyond merely trying to finish in the top 16, when 16th apparently is good enough to be recognized for an award?
Super teams have been legislated out of existence by the punitive hard cap. The best teams are forced to go through a playoff gauntlet for no other reason than to allow the league’s marketing department to promote its bracket challenge. Excellence yields nothing but its own reward (and the ability to jack up season-ticket prices).
True enough, this playoff experience has been far more fulfilling and fan-friendly than the NBA’s. Until now, that is. Because now the NBA has the captivating and irresistible matchup of superpowers in the finals that the whole world will be watching, while the NHL completes its nullification process.
Mike Sullivan of the Penguins and Peter Laviolette of the Predators, are bound not only by their common Massachusetts birthplaces in what is the first all-USA matchup behind the bench in Cup finals history, but both coaches originally were hired for their first pro jobs with AHL Providence by then-Boston general manager Mike O’Connell.
Laviolette got his start with the Wanna-B’s (as the Boston Globe’s estimable Kevin Dupont would say) in 1998-99, and Sullivan went behind their bench in 2002-03. O’Connell, swept out of Boston months after dealing Joe Thornton, survived the management purge in Los Angeles and remains a Kings assistant GM.
Is Sami Vatanen, 26 next week, a less desirable commodity on the trade market in light of the news that the Ducks defenseman’s offseason major shoulder surgery will prevent him from opening 2017-18 on time or is a month or two of waiting offset by the three years remaining on his contract?
And if his value has been damaged, does that create a ripple effect in which expected suitors such as Tampa Bay move on to a Plan B that could feature Justin Faulk or Jacob Trouba?
So that Subban. Terrible influence. Am I right?
And what we also have learned from these playoffs is that the league sure has a funny idea of what it means to protect Crosby, given the consistent extra-legal abuse to which he has subjected throughout the tournament.
What do you think? Do the Ducks qualify to join the list of greatest teams never to win the Stanley Cup — which would include the Emile Francis Rangers, the French Connection Sabres, the Tony Esposito Blackhawks, the Cam Neely Bruins, the Mike Keenan Flyers, the Henrik Lundqvist Rangers, the Alex Ovechkin Capitals and, perhaps, the Joe Thornton Sharks?
The Maple Leafs’ William Nylander, by the way, was 10 years old when his dad, Michael, reported to his first Rangers training camp in 2006 as NHL rookie goaltending hopeful Lundqvist’s teammate.
Probably jumped on him a time or two then, as well.
Finally, mired in the most miserable era of their 35 years in New Jersey, the Devils most certainly are allowed to make whatever organizational changes ownership and upper management deem necessary.
But was firing Sherry Ross, a journalist and a pro who earned her voice on the radio broadcast, necessary? Or was she simply simply an innocent victim caught up in a purge of Lou Lamoriello holdovers?