Written by: Sean McEachern (@sportsfanspeaks)
There was a time back in the annals of NHL history – say 3 or 4 years ago – when you geared up for the postseason hockey pool with the list of the top 30 or 40 point-getters on the season, made the standard in-depth analytical guess as to the Hot Goalie Du Jour, formatted overly predictable brackets with maybe one 3/6 seed upset and threw your $50 in the old jam jar and knew you had a better shot than your clueless Maple Leaf fan buddies of taking home the loot. Now? I prefer the tried and true method of launching three 27-gram tungsten-tipped darts at a copy of Inside Hockey pinned to a Don Cherry replica jacket and hope some idiot analyst isn’t busy extolling the virtues of Ilya Bryzgalov’s eclectic goaltending style on the middle pages. Whichever method is currently sinking your playoff zamboni beneath the center ice circle, it will take more than photocopies and a signed affidavit for me to believe that you had picked a Kings/Coyotes Western Conference Final and had the Devils waiting in the East for the Rangers/Capitals victor. If by some John Edward/Mentalist miracle you had this bracket breakdown, I will safely assume you were laughed out of your local “Owl and Pussycat Pub” at first and are now being hailed as hockey’s Frank Rosenthal by your pool partners who prior to the playoffs thought Yandle and Doan were purveyors of fine pharmaceuticals to athletes everywhere. And Mike Smith…really, give your head a shake. I’m not picking a guy whose name fills the ledger of every Pink Flamingo Motel with hourly rates, from here to Glendale, Arizona!
Safe to say the glory days of Round 1 where US hockey ratings were higher than they had been in a decade are but a distant memory as perennial favorites such as the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Penguins and Bruins have felt the sting of NHL parity. The West will be won by either the 8th seeded Gretzky-less Los Angeles Kings who despite being a pre-season “Insider’s Pick” had been scrambling for their playoff lives since about January, and the 3rd seeded Gretzky-less Phoenix Coyotes who have Gary Bettman smirking like a gigantic Cheshire Cat who just swallowed Quebec City. Every Ray Whitney miracle brings us closer to new ownership of the over-achieving desert dogs, who, should they solve the enigma that is Kings’ net-minder Jonathan Quick, will be another step closer to Bettman’s self-presentation of Lord Stanley. That has all the awkwardness of allowing a “Hooters” to open in the Nashville Predator’s dressing room just to keep a Kostitsyn and Radulov closer to curfew. Nice professionalism boys - those that follow will remember you with the extra clauses in their contracts that prevent players from attending the All-U-Can-Drink Stoli Nights at the local “Russian Tea Room.”
I’m sticking with the Kings in the West, mainly because this team is a blood and guts team reminiscent of last year’s Champs. This team desperately needed the Darryl Sutter whip and defensive emphasis and to a man they are all in, including Carter and Richards who have yet to be caught on cell-phone camera in West Hollywood re-enacting their Philadelphia hijinks. Drew Doughty, always a dangerous offensive presence, is currently celebrating the long overdue rediscovery of his own blue line and Dustin Brown – proving a non-trade can often be the best Deadline Day move – is leading by example, especially on the penalty kill. Throw in Quick, whose ability to see the puck move in slow motion screams Conn Smythe, and one has a team who seems unafraid to ascend the mountain soooo… Kings in 6.
Speaking of ‘buying into a system’ – did you happen to catch the Washington Capitals resiliency? While the Flyers were channeling their inner Penguin and unraveling like a 2-for-1 Moores suit at the glove hand of the ageless wonder that is Martin Brodeur, the Caps were throwing body parts in front of all things puck in an effort to eliminate a la King and knock out the 1st and 2nd seeds from the 8th position. With Game 7 on the horizon, the roulette wheel that is Ovechkin’s ice time might finally be a safe bet to be in the 20:00’s as Hunter looks for The Great 8 to continue his evolution into an all-around leader of men. Written off more than once by hockey insiders and studio bobble-heads alike, at 26 Ovechkin still has the potential to be one of the all-time greats assuming some enforcer somewhere someday doesn’t take issue with one of his overly-enthusiastic checks or patented knee-on-knee confrontations. The Caps’ ability to recover from a 3OT loss and then the Joel Ward double minor in Game 5 is a testament to a locker-room united behind a coach and in front of a rookie net-minder… and I really can’t resist rooting for them but… Rangers in 7… followed by Rangers in 6 over the Devils.
Leaving us one issue left to deal with and I do not refer to a Finals pick which is best left for a future endeavor. I speak instead of the downright disgusting behavior exhibited in the Twittersphere by those who feel that social media is a vehicle for ethnist and racist rants – in this case directed at Joel Ward – that have no place on the rink, in the arena of sporting competition or on the planet which we are graced to populate. As a Bruins fan, I was embarrassed by the N-Word cyber-hate after Boston’s elimination and to see it rear its ugly head again after Ward’s unfortunate double minor in Game 5 forces all of us to recognize that while we continue to pat ourselves on the back for Black History Month and Martin Luther King Day in a pseudo-ceremonial, pseudo-enlightened dinner party conversation kind of way, there is still much work to be done to ensure this kind of bigotry and hate-mongering becomes a thing of the past. If perchance I have offended your sensibilities or some warped perspective you may have of the concept of Freedom of Speech then may I suggest you try yelling “Fire” the next time you catch a re-screening of “The Goon” and see how the legal system views your little snafu. Until next we rant, puck-heads…
Written by: Matthew Blunk
The Philadelphia Flyers aren't the only NHL team keeping busy this summer.
One week after locking up left wing Taylor Hall with a seven-year contract, the Edmonton Oilers signed forward Jordan Eberle to a six-year, $36 million extension. The newly "man-strong" Eberle posted 34 goals and 76 points in 78 during the 2011-12 season, in a breakout campaign for the 22-year-old right wing.
Written by: Matthew Blunk
Amidst the uncertainty of this NHL offseason, with murmurs of a potential lockout to come, the Philadelphia Flyers have signed two more players to long-term deals.
Philadelphia signed forward Wayne Simmonds to a 6-year, near $24 million extension on Aug. 16. On Monday, the Flyers agreed to extend forward Scott Hartnell with a 6-year, $28.5 million deal. …
Written by: Matthew Blunk
1) Evgeni Malkin, C - Pittsburgh Penguins
2) Sidney Crosby, C - Pittsburgh Penguins
3) Claude Giroux, C - Philadelphia Flyers
4) Steven Stamkos, F - Tampa Bay Lightning
5) Jonathan Quick, G - Los Angeles Kings
6) Alexander Ovechkin, F - Washington Capitals
7) Henrik Lundqvist, G - New York Rangers