Playoff Memories (Updated)

Jonathan Willis
May 04 2009 01:29PM

The alternate title for this article is: the day Mike Brophy went crazy. In his column today, Brophy suggests a radical change to playoff hockey (though he says it isn’t radically) – add 4-on-4 overtime if the score is tied after a single period of overtime hockey. I’ll quote the lead from his article:

A four-hour, 22 minute game in the NHL playoffs is not an epic battle. It's an excruciating bore.

I thought back to my memories of watching playoff games over the years, and that’s just a crazy statement. One of my favourite memories growing up was watching Pittsburgh and Philadelphia go into the fifth overtime; it’s the longest game to take place in the NHL since the 1930’s, and it wasn’t exactly a high-scoring affair (finishing 2-1). Despite that – and despite the fact that I really wasn’t a fan of either team - it was incredible.

On the Flyers side, Brian Boucher was having a brilliant rookie season, and had taken the starters job over from John Vanbiesbrouck. He’s never been as good in any season since, but every time he took off his mask he was grinning from ear-to-ear, enthused and enjoying himself. He was easy to like and his performance in that overtime was brilliant (although Philadelphia, as I recall, did have the edge in play).

For Pittsburgh, Ron Tugnutt played even better; he was repeatedly tested, and stopped everything he saw. Ottawa had swapped him to Pittsburgh for Tom Barrasso, hoping to upgrade their goaltending, but Tugnutt was the better of the two in the playoffs. It’s a goaltending performance I’ll never forget; it’s been nine years (to the day) but watching him in net he seemed unbeatable.

Keith Primeau scored the winner. He cut in from the right wing towards the high slot with the puck and looked to far side of the net; then quickly, without even looking at the net he fired. Tugnutt was already moving away from his post; the head fake had gotten him to cheat to the middle of the net and he couldn’t get back in time to stop the shot. I remember it being a perfect shot, but I was young and it’s been years so I could certainly be wrong about that.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are renowned as the toughest championship route of any sport; and part of that is the incredible length of certain games. There’s a feeling to watching these exhausted players, anticipation as plays develop that can’t be replaced. During the Oilers 2006 Finals run, there was a save in the second overtime that anyone who watched the game remembers; Jonathan Cheechoo was sent in alone (he’d scored 56 goals that year) and even before he shot the puck I knew the game was over. Except it wasn’t – Dwayne Roloson made a brilliant save and the game continued, with the Oilers eventually winning early in the third overtime.

Brophy suggests that this would make the game more palatable to Americans, and to the networks, but while he’s likely correct that NBC would prefer a more definite length, this isn’t a good way to grow the sport. Every kid who watched hockey growing up has similar memories to the ones I have about that Pittsburgh/Philadelphia game – memories of being allowed to stay up and watch a game late into the night, feeling that every moment was epic and enjoying the emotion of every rush and every save.

Brophy uses some misleading arguments: since other changes have made the game better, this one will too, an argument that seems patently false. Each change must be evaluated on its own merits. He argues that it doesn’t really matter anyway (“For heaven's sake, it's just a freaking hockey game! The fate of the world is not depending on the outcome.”) but he’s wrong there too – for every kid who watches the game, the outcome is desperately important – at least, it was to me when I was that age. The events that transpire in overtime enter hockey lore; players’ reputations are made or destroyed and fans can still recall the events years later. In this instance, Brophy needs to take the time to stop viewing the game as an analyst, and try viewing it as a fan.

UPDATE

In the comments section below, CruJones was nice enough to pass along this link to the New York Times hockey blog.  Apparently, the NHL Competition Committee seriously considered suggesting the change that Brophy is proposing to the NHL Board of Governors; it only missed being passed by a single vote.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Archaeologuy
May 04 2009, 01:46PM
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Mike Brophy hates hockey and wants to turn it into figure skating with a puck. He wants hitting, fighting, and toughness out of the game to go along with overtimes in the playoffs.

Obviously he should be fired, but likely wont be. Is it like when old rockers change to country music? Is it a natural progression? Is he like everyone else and has simply just come to hate his job and everything it involves? I dont know.

Maybe him and Jim Matheson have a running bet as to who could appear less in touch with reality.

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#2 Oilersordeath
May 04 2009, 01:53PM
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Why in the hell should we make our game more palatable to the Americans!! He needs to quit smoking that stupid shit and smoke the good shit! Never change playoff overtime hockey!

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#3 The Towel Boy
May 04 2009, 02:11PM
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I hate Brophy...with his stupid lithp.

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#4 Chris
May 04 2009, 02:13PM
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~Brophy has a point. Playoff games can sure be long and tedious; as is the two month marathon that is the playoffs. Why not just award the cup to the presidents trophy winner?~

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#5 Brian O'Neill
May 04 2009, 02:13PM
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The 5 on 5 OT is what makes the playoffs the playoffs.

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#6 Quinn
May 04 2009, 02:21PM
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I guess I feel fortunate not to have been subjected to Brophy (based on above comments), but I feel I can make this comment without ad hominem arguments.

Playoffs without an ~excruciatingly boring~ triple, quadruple overtime game is not playoffs. Everyone gets to watch players leave themselves (literally) out on the ice, trying for that win. And it usually comes down to the guy who has the last burst of energy, beating the guy who's tank is empty.

Yeah, I get not being interested if its not my team (I actually have only watched 4 periods of hockey this off season), but if it IS my team ... life doesn't get any better.

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#7 Thenosebleedsection.
May 04 2009, 02:25PM
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Why change something that defies the sport. Football has the superbowl to showcase its great, clutch players. Baseball has the world series to do it. Hockey has overtime playoff hockey. Yea the cup looks great on a resume but its all about being that clutch go to guy in the 3rd or 4th OT that in my mind makes a player stand out.

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#8 Thenosebleedsection.
May 04 2009, 02:26PM
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Defines*.

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#9 Robin Brownlee
May 04 2009, 02:41PM
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"Brophy suggests that this would make the game more palatable to Americans, and to the networks, but while he’s likely correct that NBC would prefer a more definite length, this isn’t a good way to grow the sport. Every kid who watched hockey growing up has similar memories to the ones I have about that "

Growing the sport means presenting it to people who aren't already watching, so the memories of every kid who grew up with the game don't matter in this context.

Those who like the marathons probably won't want to see the format change. Those who haven't yet watched -- those who must be reached to grow the game -- won't know the difference.

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#10 TOAST
May 04 2009, 02:46PM
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I remember the "Miracle on Manchester" as a very small boy. Hope was abounds as the Oilers entered the playoffs that year and elimination of the Kings seemed almost assured. When Daryl Evans scored that goal in overtime, I, after being granted the parental OK to stay up, immediately went straight to my room and hid under the covers crying. The world as I had known it was over, and no explanation from my parents who followed me upstairs shortly thereafter could convince me that the world would continue spinning the next day. In retrospect, a devastating experience like that surely made the win in 1984 that much sweeter.

My point: "for every kid who watches the game, the outcome is desperately important."

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#11 Archaeologuy
May 04 2009, 02:51PM
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@ Robin Brownlee: The height of hockey's prominence in the US was when there was no instigator, hits to the head were expected, there was no tag up offsides, there was a red-line, goals were coming down from those crazy 80's, playoffs were played 5 on 5, and there were no shootouts.

Maybe it's time to STOP d*@king around with the game and market it better. Perhaps stop burying the best players in the game in markets that wont ever support hockey. Soccer has to be the most boring game outside of Ball-in-a-cup and it managed to be the most popular sport on earth without constantly changing everything about it to make fringe fans pay attention.

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#12 sittingatmydesk
May 04 2009, 02:58PM
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i remember as i was a young child in the 1990 playoffs when peter "awesome hair" klima scored, cant even remember which OT it was, i was just so exited that my parents let me stay up so late on a school night.... memories....

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#13 CruJones
May 04 2009, 03:20PM
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You've got to wonder how much of this comes from having to cover hockey for a loving, and likely being in the position where watching just such a game has moved from the epitome of great playoff hockey to a arduous chore? I've heard this argument before, and it was greeted with the same sort of "enthusiasm" then as it is now. It's simply a foolish idea, and one that would likely result in many an actual hockey fan (y'know, the ones who already watch the games rather than those being courted by the NHL) seeing the playoffs as yet another slap in the face, along the same lines as the countless other decisions that have been made with little or no thought to how it would look in the eyes of those who have kept this league alive for the last 100 or so years.

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#14 Colin
May 04 2009, 03:34PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Maybe it’s time to STOP d*@king around with the game and market it better. Perhaps stop burying the best players in the game in markets that wont ever support hockey. Soccer has to be the most boring game outside of Ball-in-a-cup and it managed to be the most popular sport on earth without constantly changing everything about it to make fringe fans pay attention.

Cleanup is as easy as putting a ball in a cup!

But I agree.

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#15 CruJones
May 04 2009, 03:38PM
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On that note, when even The New York Times - not exactly a publication known for it's devotion to the age old traditions of hockey, and a likely candidate for "those who would love this sort of change" - publishes an article (okay, a blog) about what a bad idea it is, you have to wonder who's arguing for it (other than Brophy) and why?

http://slapshot.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/04/the-morning-skate-is-stanley-cup-overtime-in-danger/

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#16 Chris
May 04 2009, 03:51PM
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It would be nice if about six teams went away...

a) Better talent pool. b) Higher Salary Cap. c) The Oilers MIGHT actually make the playoffs.

Why are there THREE teams in New York? Why are there teams in Atlanta, Tampa, Phoenix, Nashville, and Calgary?

Oh...Best playoff memory: May 19th, 1984. That's right MAY 19th.

Let's GET R DUN by may long shall we! Even Canadians don't like watching hockey in +30 weather.

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#17 Rice
May 04 2009, 03:57PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

@ Robin Brownlee: The height of hockey’s prominence in the US was when there was no instigator, hits to the head were expected, there was no tag up offsides, there was a red-line, goals were coming down from those crazy 80’s, playoffs were played 5 on 5, and there were no shootouts. Maybe it’s time to STOP d*@king around with the game and market it better. Perhaps stop burying the best players in the game in markets that wont ever support hockey. Soccer has to be the most boring game outside of Ball-in-a-cup and it managed to be the most popular sport on earth without constantly changing everything about it to make fringe fans pay attention.

I would say that the majority of the reason that Soccer has succeeded is that the fans have passion. I am not saying that hockey fans don't have passion, but it is not the same. When you are in a stadium filled with 70000 fans and they are singing songs making fun of the opposition (not just "lets go Oilers Lets go!! Clap! Clap!) you get the idea of why soccer is so successful. Whoever, or where ever that started is why soccer is the beautiful game (even though it is like watching paint dry).

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#18 Chris
May 04 2009, 03:58PM
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@ CruJones:

Good read... But seriously. Doesn't anyone out east own a PVR?

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#19 Jonathan Willis
May 04 2009, 04:04PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Growing the sport means presenting it to people who aren’t already watching, so the memories of every kid who grew up with the game don’t matter in this context.

I see what you mean, but I wasn't always a hockey fan either, and part of the appeal of the game - one of the things that made me stick with it - was the incredible emotion of a playoff game in overtime.

I think it's a selling point, not a flaw, even for new fans.

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#20 Uncle Geoff
May 04 2009, 04:22PM
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Everyone here remembers the marathon game ended by Petr Kilma. Ron Low commented on this just alst week (or so). What made that especially interesting was the "behind-the-scenes" personality conflict that kept Muckler from sending Klima over the boards. Even though I was in my basement watching, I could hear every fan in the city yelling at Muckler to send out Klima, even if only for Klima's fresh legs.

But not necessarily would everyone watching the game know about the "behind-the-scenes" story. Probably only Oilers fans would. And in addition, the TV commentators and analysts would.

My point?

If TV can make a CFL Canadian Draft interesting (and I think they did a pretty good job of it); If TV can turn a minute horse race into 4 hours of compelling coverage (and they did); then they should be able to turn even "an excruciating bore" (Brophy's words, not mine) into something at least watchable. What is Brophy saying about his colleagues (from other networks perhaps) who do the broadcasts? That while they can make a draft, or poker, or a pre-season baseball game watchable, no amount of their skill can save an NHL, Sudden-death, playoff game from being boring?

Give your head a shake Brophy.

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#21 Jamie
May 04 2009, 04:55PM
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The 3OT game against the Sharks is one of my favourite memories from '06. It was exhausting just being a fan in the seats, so I can't imagine what it was like for the players. The experience of almost two full games, five hours' worth of playoff hockey when everyone knew if the Oilers lost they were done for, living and dying with every chance around either net. Most of all I remember how they reopened the concessions and started selling beer again, hah. Walking out of there at 1 AM ... it was madness. It was awesome.

Regular OT is practically meaningless now, what with the shootout. I agree, unlimited overtime periods are flat out defining characteristics of the playoffs.

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#22 Joel Quenneville's Moustache
May 04 2009, 05:12PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I wasnt a hockey fan either until 2005. Its still only my 2nd favorite sport, but I never used to give it the time of day and now I read this stuff, listen to radio shows, watch all the games etc.

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#23 Smokin' Ray - NNC
May 04 2009, 06:02PM
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Hockey is the only sport I know and as long as I can remember, I have always watched it. Maybe my Mom watched a lot of hockey when I was in utero? My wife did with our daughter. Who knows... she just may be the next Wickenhiser and win Gold for Canada? She's turns one on a few days and she is sitting here with me watching the Caps/Pens game. She was around for every Oiler game this year. Hockey is all that she knows too.

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#24 cm
May 04 2009, 06:26PM
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I don't think there was a single wings or ducks fan that found the game boring yesterday. I love overtime even if they don't call any penalties. There is nothing in the world that makes my heart pump like seeing the oilers in sudden death. I would be very sad to seem them change the rules.

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#25 Uncle Geoff
May 04 2009, 06:47PM
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Jamie wrote:

Regular OT is practically meaningless now, what with the shootout. I agree, unlimited overtime periods are flat out defining characteristics of the playoffs.

I am picking up what you are laying down, bro.

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#26 blackadder
May 04 2009, 08:41PM
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So, if I understand the argument, a shorter playoff OT will somehow attract this magical horde of people who are apparently just one rule change away from becoming a rabid hockey fan.

But it's an argument based on assumptions that are obviously false. The NHL has been chasing after this magical horde since they initially expanded in 1967, and they're still waiting. They've desperately attempted to grab network coverage, placed teams in non-hockey markets, sometimes twice (Atlanta?) in the mistaken belief that if we build it, they will come. But, they never do. NASCAR dads and soccer moms are never gonna be hockey fans. It's never been part of the culture in those parts of the US and never will be. They then convince themselves that it's not that we don't have teams in these areas, it's that there's something wrong with the game itself. All sorts of ridiculous rule changes have been proposed, this being the latest, based on this assumption.

There have been more changes made to the game since the lockout ended than there were in the fifty years before. Ironically, the one thing that had the biggest impact wasn't a change in the rules but rather the decision to enforce the rules already in place. But, has the shootout, 4 on 4 overtime, or other like minded changes brought in more fans? Nope. And this won't either.

Here's a thought. Let's make sure rule changes are about making the game better, not trying to make it bigger.

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#27 heavyd
May 04 2009, 09:27PM
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I remeber todd marcahnts goal in 1997. My parents let me stay up late and wacth the game and I was so excited to wacth the game jumping up and down whent he oilers got close to scoring, and I would hate to see this leave hockey.

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#28 Reaperfunk
May 04 2009, 11:00PM
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@ Robin Brownlee: When will people realize that pursuing mainstream america is the wrong goal. No one should care if NBC or any major network carries the game right now. What they should care is the growth of the regional markets. Get back on ESPN which has a lot of TV's under its umbrella (metaphorically) so the product has constant exposure and let the individual teams grow their markets. The original 4 american teams are doing just fine because they are staples in their cities. Patience is the key. Groveling for the almighty dollar is not going to work. That is a fact.

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#29 Hemmertime
May 04 2009, 11:07PM
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I remember sitting down for Pittsburgh vs Capitals way back when, was a playoff game Mario got thrown out in regulation that went awesomely long. Memories. If its your team then it makes it easier to watch a marathon. That being said a 6 period trapfest can tire non-hockey fans.

Let them tweak the regular season rules all they want, but leave playoffs pure (minus 2 line passing is good).

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#30 David S
May 04 2009, 11:39PM
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I think the problem is rooted in the fact that Americans don't have any of those "I remember" memories. They didn't spend their youth whipping frozen tennis balls at a dented garage door and unlike most of us, didn't freeze their butts off as kids playing outdoors in community rinks dreaming of being the next 99. Hockey is a sport embedded in Canadian culture, whereas it's just not anywhere else.

The biggest mistake the NHL made was overextending the game to the U.S. and assuming that the game would be accepted to the same degree it is here. That has never been possible. They're trying to sell the game down there as a cold version of the NBA and in doing so are failing miserably. Although I would give the American teams props for bringing in Ice Girls. My god the Ice Girls. *sigh*

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#31 Archaeologuy
May 05 2009, 09:11AM
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If the League wants to grow the game they should contract the league and get out of the weak markets. It sounds contradictory, but it really isnt. Television is the great equalizer and the NHL doesnt have any TV draw. Why? Because teams like the Islanders cant even find a 20 goal scorer due to the fact that the league is so watered down. The league isnt as exciting as it used to be. Why is goal scoring down? Because every team has its Liam Reddox or Shawn Horcoff who is sucking up time because their respective team just isnt that good.

Contract the league, have a contraction draft, then watch ratings grow as better players are put back into major markets like New York and Los Angeles. The NHL will never be able to tweak the rules enough to attract every region in the US. No one in Alabama can spell "Ice", never mind consider playing a game on it. Stick to the upper half of the continent and reach the rest through NBC and ESPN. Almost every kid in the world knows who Cristiano Ronaldo is despite never stepping foot in the UK or Portugal. The product is fine, there just isnt enough of it to spread across 30 teams.

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#32 BURKEtheTURD
May 05 2009, 01:01PM
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Baseball goes hours into extra innings, no rules changed or proposed

Basketball the other night went into 3 OT's fans loved it, no way they would change the rules.

OT is the most exciting hockey to watch, everyone remembers there fav moment in a long OT game where there team won. Example SJ vs Oils in 06.

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