Stanley Cup Final Preview

GettyImages-462323740.0Well I believe that was the first time I’ve ever seen a team win a series, 2 games to 5.  It just goes to show you how vital experience is, and how vital a winning environment is.  The Blackhawks just have that ultimate confidence, that swagger, that they knew they were going to find a way to win this series.  When they need to, they go to a level that other teams can’t match.  And the Ducks are a big, fast, young team which have all the ingredients.  But they also have no confidence or swagger when things get tight with other elite teams.  And that was the difference.

 

Why have I yet to talk about the Stanley Cup final?  What do you mean?  I JUST did a Stanley Cup final review in that first paragraph.  I’m KIDDING…sort of…

 

But let’s be real, for the 4th time in 6 seasons the Eastern conference looks like the B side of this tournament.  The 2 seasons I’m leaving out are 2011 and 2013 and to be really honest about it, 2011 looked like that as well.  Going into that series the Canucks were vastly superior team and then folded when things got tough against a far less talented but much more mentally tough Bruins team.

 

I do think this Stanley Cup final matchup is going to optically be the best series we could have asked for this season.  Tampa plays with so much speed, as do the Hawks.  The goaltenders are great at times, and terrible at times, which should give us at least a few real high scoring games.  And you have 2 of the 3 most exciting players in the NHL on each team in Stamkos and Kane.  The NHL should be pretty happy with this.  Sure, the Rangers vs the Hawks would have been enormous for the ratings.  But this series will draw real well.

 

 

And even though I don’t think the Lightning are in the same league as the Blackhawks, I do think they have a shot.  A lot would need to go right for that to happen.  They would need to get some bounces early on to build their confidence and get that belief going that they can do it.  And the Hawks simply can’t have much left in the tank after 3 straight deep playoff runs and coming off a physically brutal series against the Ducks.

 

But if you want a good comparison in styles, look at Minnesota and Tampa.  Both teams have elite speed, and have good but inconsistent goaltending (in the playoffs).  The Blackhawks swept Minny.  And if Tampa had trouble keeping the Rangers off the board in 3 of those 7 games, a team that is offensively challenged, then how the heck are they going to hold off the high scoring Hawks?

 

So I’m taking the Hawks in 6.  I took the Hawks at the start of the season, stuck with them in the playoffs, and I have little reason to move off of that now.  I do believe they will drop the first game of the series.  Much like last season with the Rangers, the Lightning DESPERATELY need game 1 to have any shot here.  At home, Chicago is on shorter rest and will have a lot more travel, you just have to take advantage of that and I believe they will.  If the Blackhawks win game 1, this will be a sweep.  But I’ll say Tampa wins game 1, but the Hawks come back and take the next 3.  Tampa stays alive in game 5, but Chicago being so experienced don’t leave anything to chance and blow out the Lightning in game 6 to win the Cup at home.

 

Having said all this, it is now highly unlikely this series goes anything like this.

 

And before I wrap this up, can I just say that the Hawks are on the verge of a dynasty?  People can hate that all they want because it’s not 4 in 5 years or 3 in 4 or anything like that.  But I wrote this a few years ago that this is the type of run that should now be considered a dynasty.  We live in a cap world now.  The Blackhawks should they win this series, are an extremely lucky Alec Martinez bounce away from winning 3 in a row and 4 in 6 years.  I’m sorry if you disagree, but it is a dynasty to me.  And with all due respect to the “Brad Richards returning to where it all began” storyline, the debate of whether or not the Blackhawks are a dynasty will be the biggest storyline of this final.

 

I don’t know if the series will go long, but I am expecting all the games to be at a break neck pace and REALLY fun to watch!

 

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Missing the TSN Boat

MMC-Championship-Game-2472210I hate that I didn’t have time to write a Memorial Cup preview this year.  Don’t believe I wrote one last year either, so 2 years now without.  This tournament deserves attention from the nation, and obviously me writing about it would give it that attention….

 

But seriously, it does deserve the attention and doesn’t get it.  Part of that is because the Stanley Cup playoffs are on at the same time.  I’m sure a little bit is because the weather is getting good and so us Canadians don’t want to be inside any longer!  But some of it, if not a lot of it, is because of the TV rights holder.

 

David Branch and the CHL had a perfect opening last year.  It was the last year of their deal with Rogers, and Rogers spent every penny they could find (can’t recall if pennies were out by then) on the NHL deal that now sounds like it is going to ruin them before the 12 years are up.  How in the heck did Branch not immediately run to Bell and TSN to get the best deal from them he could?

 

You know what TSN does?  It brings eyes to your games.  The World Juniors blew up as an event once TSN got their hands on it.  They put all their best people on the event and have turned it into a major event during the holiday season.  This year without the NHL, their best people were on the World Championship’s.  They aired just about every game, and while some of this was thanks to the presence of Sidney Crosby, I’ve never seen the World’s talked about more often on social media than they were this season.  The U 18’s, the CFL, NCAA hockey, TSN enhances all of these products.

 

CHL hockey on TSN would have been enormous for the league.  With 5 networks now, I would guess they would be airing 2 or 3 games a week.  Not only that, but TSN seemingly does a much better job promoting these events than Rogers seems to.  How big for the CHL would it have been to have a “game of the week” for each league, rather than the one CHL game a week that Rogers does on Friday nights?

 

I have very little doubt that the Mastercard Memorial Cup transformed into a major event in this country with the TSN machine behind it.  We’re talking about a network that lost the national rights to NHL hockey this season and STILL kicked Rogers ass in the ratings!  If the Mastercard Memorial Cup was on TSN this week we would be sick of hearing the ad’s.  Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro would be doing the games, James Duthie and Bob McKenzie would be on the panel (with others of course), Michael Landsberg would be doing OTR from Quebec City.  I don’t care how much Rogers were willing to give the CHL to renew the deal, David Branch should have known that A) it was the perfect time to leave as exposure would be even less with the NHL coming to Sportsnet, and B) TSN is simply the better network to be on.

 

And this is nothing against the people at Rogers doing the event.  R.J. Broadhead, Sam Cosentino, Jeff Marek, they’re all great.  I by no means am trying to piss on the job they’ve done.  But it just would have been much better for business to walk away from Rogers when they had the chance.

 

It isn’t as if times are tough for CHL owners, but the opportunity they missed out on by re-signing with Rogers instead of walking to TSN is pretty mind blowing.  TSN with the national rights to the NHL would give the CHL a big boost.  With all of their attention on CHL hockey like it would have been, this tournament going on right now which has been incredible, would have the national attention it really deserves.

 

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Babcock of the Walk

mike-babcockLet’s just cut to the chase here and ask the question: Why did Mike Babcock choose Toronto?

 

Was it because of the money?  Yes.  Was it because of market?  Yes.  Was it because the Leafs haven’t won in 48 years?  Yes.  Was it because he’ll have more player personal control there than anywhere else?  Yes.  Was it because they haven’t won a Cup in 48 years?  Yes.  Was it because it’s an enormous challenge?  Yes.

 

What the hell though, I said yes to every single question.  Which one is it?  It’s all of them and they all lead to one thing….ego.

 

Mike Babcock took the Leafs job because of all the jobs he could have, this one has the ability to feed his ego more than any other.  And that’s not at all a criticism of Babcock.  I don’t know the man, but he comes across as a very decent and respectful guy.  He also has more self belief than anyone else in the coaching fraternity…which is a nice way of saying he has a massive ego.

 

You can’t succeed at anything in life without a big ego.  I’m not an egotistical guy at all.  But when I start talking sports, I become a bit of an ass because I believe I know more than 99% of the sports media, let alone the public.  And I believe most other people working in the sports media or trying to like myself think the same way.  You have to have that.

 

So Babcock goes to Toronto with the belief that he can take them from nothing to the promise land.  And he believes he should be making double what the 2nd highest paid coach in the league Joel Quennville makes.  And he believes he deserves the media attention he’s about to get.  And he believes he can build a better team than the other GM’s in the league.  And believes that he can take the Leafs from the outhouse to the penthouse.  It’s that belief, that ego, that’s made him the man he is.

 

Now the big question becomes where the Leafs go from here?

 

They aren’t in as bad of shape as a lot of people make them out to be, but it isn’t pretty.  I am interested to find out what they are doing on the GM front.  Shanahan isn’t your normal team President, he’ll have a big role.  Perhaps Mark Hunter will be given the title, or Babcock himself.  I can’t see them hiring Babcock only to then go hire a GM, but I guess it is possible.  No doubt though that Babcock will have another title that gives him major power in the organization.

 

The system isn’t good.  I’m not a big Willie Nylander fan, but the talent is definitely there.  The one thing to watch for now is a hard push to flip picks with the Coyotes to pick 3rd and guarantee themselves Dylan Strome.  The reason being that Babcock was adamant about having that big, young center to build around in his presser after the Wings got bounced by the Lightning.

 

But perhaps they won’t be that high on Strome.  His skating is questionable and he had a horrific playoffs (although he definitely appeared to be injured in the OHL final).  I’ve thought about this for a week or so, maybe they trade back?  If you’re a Leafs fan would you trade back with say the Avs for the 10th pick, a 2 this year, and their 1st next season?  At 10 you might get Matt Barzal who some might rank higher than Strome.  Then perhaps you use that 2 or their own to package with 24 to move up and take a D like Thomas Chabot or Jeremy Roy?  Just a thought on my part though.

 

I would be shocked if Phil Kessel is still around in September.  I think they can get something for him, and he doesn’t seem like a Babcock guy…nor does Babcock seem like a Kessel guy!  But I think Phaneuf will stay now.  Babcock knows how vital it is to have veteran D on a team and while Phaneuf isn’t a number 1 guy he is a top pairing guy who you can lean on for big minutes.

 

But it depends on what direction they go.  Babcock did sign an 8 year deal, so he has the job security to take a season or two to tear things down and do a serious rebuild.

 

It is going to be extremely interesting to watch unfold.  I am excited for Leaf fans, and also nervous.  Why did Ken Holland basically allow Babcock to walk out the door?  Did he perhaps come mainly for the money?  I’ve thought the Leafs had the answer a few times before only for it to go horribly wrong.  A lot of people are going to be sick of the attention the Leafs are going to get this offseason with Babcock now on board, but that’s good.  Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t deny that the league is better when Toronto is relevant and they just got a whole lot more relevant!

 

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Time to Unshun

 

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Ok, so AMC has a lawsuit on their hands.  All freaking week they had an ad running that had Don Draper and Roger Sterling’s first conversation on Mad Men, and we were to witness their last on the Mad Men finale.  Well guess who didn’t have ONE FREAKING CONVERSATION SUNDAY NIGHT!?!?!?!  I never knew where Mad Men was going, and really the show was going nowhere, and didn’t really seem to go anywhere in the end.  Much like the Oilers for the last 9 years.  But that looks like it’s about to change.

 

I didn’t write anything the day Bob Nicholson was appointed to oversee the Oilers.  I didn’t write anything the day Peter Chiarelli was hired as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager.  Today however I’m writing, because it is official that the Oilers FINALLY have their shit together, their ducks in a row, and the future is back to being bright as can be with McDavid, Chiarelli and now new head coach Todd McLellan all in the fold.

 

As of writing this we still don’t know OFFICIALLY that McLellan is the new head coach but it is expected to be announced later today.  Back in November I wrote a pretty popular piece.  Well, I wrote my most popular piece.  It wasn’t popular in terms of actual popularity, but more people read it than will read this.  And it was telling fans to basically boycott the team.  And here I am today, telling fans to end the boycott.

 

31 days ago everything for the Oilers changed.  31 days ago Oiler fans woke up hoping/praying that they would catch a huge break and land the golden ticket which would give them the chance to select Connor McDavid in the draft.  It happened.

 

Now what followed is anyone’s guess.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I believe that either someone from the league, Bettman himself, or McDavid’s agent Jeff Jackson placed a phone call to Daryl Katz congratulating him on winning the pick.  In fact, here is how I believe it would have gone: “Hey Daryl I just want to say congratulations man….now clean up your act because you’re the worst owner in the league and you aren’t about to f*ck up the best prospect to come along since Crosby”.

 

Something like that.

 

That Monday Bob Nicholson is announced as the…well I can’t keep up with all the titles these days but basically he is running the show which meant that Kevin Lowe was out.  And Kevin Lowe isn’t out, but he no longer had any power.  People such as myself were pumped about the move, others didn’t think it was a big deal, but just 4 days later it proved to be huge.

 

Enter Peter Chiarelli as President of Hockey Operations AND GM.  Nobody thought he was coming in with the title of GM as well.  Why was MacTavish not just simply shown the door?  I don’t know.  But whatever, we all know Chiarelli wouldn’t take the job if he had anyone in his way like he did in Boston, so Oiler fans are safe and the circus has left town.

 

You can’t get a guy with a much better resume than Chiarelli has.  Pretty much did all the building in Boston to get them a Cup and get them to another final, he’s unafraid to pull the trigger on a big deal, and he’s widely respected around the league which is the most important factor.  MacTavish and Lowe from all accounts had no respect around the league, where Chiarelli is legit.  He has a great eye for talent, understands the intricacies of scouting, and knows how you need to build a team.

 

And Todd McLellan is his guy.  Now some might be disappointed it isn’t Mike Babcock, I was hopeful it would be Babcock, but remember this: Todd McLellan with a slightly worse roster was 2-0 against Babcock in the playoffs.

 

I know McLellan hasn’t won a Cup, but he is where Joel Quennville was when the Blackhawks hired him.  Respected coach, hadn’t won and some questioned whether or not he could win the big games.  McLellan inherited that group of choking dogs, that wasn’t on him.

 

The job he did in Prauge was impressive.  I know that roster was loaded up front, but they were shaky on the blueline and in net, and it’s never easy to get Canadian players to care about that tournament.  He had them buying in from day 1 and they absolutely destroyed the competition.  Some of that was having Sid on that team and probably made the other guys a little more driven to win.  But to dominate like that?  That was McLellan getting his guys to buy in.

 

We all know that Peter Chiarelli will be busy this summer trying to plug the Oilers massive holes on D and in net.  But McLellan has never had much in net and just an average blueline to work with.  The Sharks over the years have been known for being a real good puck possession team and having an elite PP, 2 things that the Oilers roster is set up for.  He has had players come up from the farm like Joe Pavelski, Tommy Wingels and Ryane Clowe who were role players when they arrived, only to be transformed into top 6 guys under McLellan’s watch.

 

The guy is a high end coach, and he might be the perfect fit for the Oilers.  He won’t be in awe of Connor McDavid, he’ll command respect and get the kids already on the team to buy in.

 

Rejoice Oiler fans.  It just keeps getting better.  The Oilers are starting to look like an NHL organization again, and there for it is time to get behind them again.  As long as Katz kid isn’t up on stage with McDavid on June 26th…

 

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