It’s been a while since I’ve used this blog to talk, you know, hockey. Hockey that’s actually happening right now. Or the NHL. But hey, let’s give this a shot, eh?
– The NHL is getting two things very wrong in the playoffs. Letting the post-whistle scrums happen as often as they are, and not calling cross-checking in front of the net. We don’t either of these happen as often in the regular season, and there is no reason to have it here.
First, the scrums. Once or twice, the fans of the game don’t mind. It’s a little exciting. It’s violent and passionate, without being too violent. After a few times, the message is sent. No, you ain’t gonna take it. We get it. I think this should be treated by the officials like they treat bean balls in baseball. You get one. You might get two. Then the refs send the warning to the benches, and start handing out penalties. Matching minors isn’t going to get the job done, so start shortening the benches. Start sending guys for two and a ten-minute misconduct. That will put the cramp on things. You start a scrum, two and ten. Pop a guy in the face with a glove, two and ten. Try to shove off a ref to keep a scrum going, two and ten.
This means players may try to get a star player to engage in a scrum to get him off the ice for ten minutes. That just means stars have to stay out of it and the refs have to protect the players who don’t want to engage by getting the instigators sent off the ice. A few of those and you can kiss many of the scrums goodbye.
Second, the cross-checking. This has to stop. Battles are fine, but using the stick to clear a guy out is cheating. It’s cheap. Most of the time, it’s at the least interference. Start sending guys to the box for it. It’s already a penalty.
In these playoffs, we’ve seen a few cross-checks called, and almost universally, the player sent off complains in some fashion about the penalty. NHL players complain about almost every penalty (stop it, we know you’re embarrassed and don’t want your penalty to be a liability), but here I think they have a point. If the refs are only going to call the most obvious cross-checks and not the ones that still knock a guy down but seem incidental, it isn’t consistent enough. Call them all. Set the tone, and keep the tone.
– The Winnipeg Jets are now down 3 games to none. It’s not surprising, considering they were the last wild card team and Anaheim is tops in the West. Still, they aren’t doing themselves any favors. They can’t seem to stop doing dumb things like punching Corey Perry in the back of the head. Sure, lot’s of people want to do that, but if you are Dustin Byfuglien, you could have picked a better time than immediately after he scored a goal. It was the definition of the undisciplined play that held Winnipeg back in the regular season.
Somehow, the Ducks did not score a power play goal last night. That honor went to the Jets, but if you want to put yourself in a bad position, keep taking useless penalties. Shake your head like it’s not your fault. Guess what. It is your fault.
– There was a time when the most overused phrase was “active stick.” Someone must have pulled Eddie Olzcyk aside and told him to give it a break. This year, it’s “big boy hockey.” OK, we get it. It’s funny for a moment. Then it isn’t. Let’s retire this one after this round of playoffs. Or even sooner. It’s already overused.
– Josh Cooper of Puck Daddy called Patrick Roy’s coaching style “nutso.” No, really. Of course, that’s not what the players say. They say he is positive. They say he is calm. When they are expecting him to blow his top or scream at them, he doesn’t. He explains, he teaches. This is from the players. Other than shoving the glass in game one of his first season behind the bench, where does the “nutso” thing come from?
– I’ve seen it before, but the claim that Connor McDavid should have gone to Toronto, and that it would be the best thing for the league, is completely ridiculous. Why would you want the best player in the draft, the best draftee available since Sidney Crosby, to go to hockey hell? Why would you subject him to that kind of media attention, which TOTALLY isn’t the problem in Toronto? Why would you want to ruin him by putting him in that environment? Instead, he will be in a city that doesn’t question his every move, that doesn’t demand an explanation for every step or misstep, that doesn’t slag him at every turn. Hockey entitlement isn’t exclusive to Eastern Canada, but there’s less of it.
It sucks that the Oilers get the number one pick again simply because they have done so little with their string of number one picks in the past. They haven’t gotten the goaltending they need, even if they have thrown every goalie they can against the wall to see what sticks, then thrown them under the bus when they don’t. They haven’t made moves that have dug them out of the basement, and they get another shot to draft a very good player and do nothing after.
I believe they are going to finally start moving some pieces around, now that McDavid is in the mix. First, Nail Yakupov is probably trade bait. Why would you keep him around? He hasn’t worked out, he could use the change of scenery, and you aren’t going to be able to pay him once you give McDavid a big fat contract in a few years. Flip him for a solid defenseman and a potential defenseman or prospect and you have started to right the ship. Then go shopping for a goalie. The Oilers are about to have some serious goal support. They are about to become a destination, not purgatory. They might even get a good head coach this season, considering all the firings that have happened this summer. McDavid is going to be a draw, for fans and players. Everyone will want to play with him.
– All of that is contingent on McDavid transitioning smoothly to the NHL, and some fourth liner not taking his head off in a “welcome to the NHL” moment. Ben Lovejoy on Nathan MacKinnon in the first game last season, anyone? That kind of garbage has to stop. I wouldn’t mind the NHL doing some unfair and uneven protecting of it’s stars and top draftees. Throw the book at players trying to injure the new kids. The bias needs to be in favor of the talent.
As for making the transition, we’ve seen this take time. The leap from the minors to the NHL is large enough. From juniors, where you might be the only player worth a damn on the ice on any given night, to the NHL is a gigantic leap. It can take time to get used to adapt to having teammates that can catch passes, or how fast the league is. You are used to bouncing off of boys in their teens. Now you are slamming into men at high-speed, who have done this for years. Be prepared for it to take some time for the adjustment (another reason putting him in Toronto would be bad for him).
– If and when the Penguins are eliminated from the playoffs, there will be a search for a scapegoat. This season, it will not be Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s been solid all season, and he has been good in these first few playoff games. His problem is that he hasn’t been this good every year. He is a question mark because he used to be a question mark, and some day, he will be be one again. For now, he is playing solid hockey. Were his star forwards playing the same way, they would be in command of this series.
– My buddy Bill Rob asked me who was going to win the Cup this year. I told him the same thing I will tell everyone: who knows? Too many toss-ups in the first round. We will have to see how this shakes out. There are a few certain series, but most of them are too close to call. That’s part of the fun.