May 13 2011 11:24AM
With the post-season at the midpoint, it's time again for a review of matters around the league. In this installment, the Sharks finish the Wings, the Eastern Conference goes on vacation, and the league puts out a fire in the desert. Maybe.
Not much happening on the local front, since the team apparently needs more time to decide who should be the GM. As Kent and I discussed on Matchsticks and Microphones, the delay has made both of us a touch suspicious. If the Flames had settled on Feaster, what conceivable reason could there be to prevent announcing that fact? No matter who gets the job, it does appear, as Scott Cruickshank reminded us yesterday, that the club is living up to its reputation as one that acts at the speed of sloth.
On the player front, Cory Sarich had a few words with Vicki Hall, and beyond his self-confessed surliness when confronted with the sight of hockey on the tube, the primary item of interest was his injury status. He specifically mentioned that the cortisone shot he took appeared to wear off after about a month. Been there, done that, and I'm not remotely surprised to hear that answer from Sarich. Anti-inflamatories can only take you so far.
Calgary's main team and AHL franchise have been on holiday since mid-April, but a few young men of note have continued their work this spring. In the WHL, Max Reinhart was in on the two Kootenay OT winners this week, the second of which has them a victory away from the Memorial Cup tournament. He's had a wonderful run through the post-season, topping the Ice in goal scoring thus far, and having watched several playoffs games, he seems full value for the numbers. Kootenay can close the series with a victory tonight in Portland.
Meanwhile, two Swedes of interest are in the final four at the World Championships. Mikael Backlund's icetime has been a bit sporadic, and the 30 seconds I saw him play versus the Germans was long enough to see him make a Sparklepants-worthy pass that lead to a goal against. He was really struggling in the tournament, so his fine effort this morning versus the Czechs was more along the lines of what Flames' fans would hope to see.
On the backend, Tim Erixon has been a regular for the Swedes on the blueline ths far, and at least to this juncture of the proceedings he's never really looked out of place for Tre Kronor. I'll put a marker down right now; if he plays as many 60 games in the AHL next year before becoming a full time NHLer, I'll be surprised.
A few memes have been killed off through two rounds, and as much as I'd rather see other teams in the Conference final, the Canucks and Sharks are participants on merit. This is a point I've made on Twitter, but it bears repeating here. The regular season Fenwick-tied numbers for the teams in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs read as follows:
VAN .539 – CHI .540
S.J. .537 – L.A. .508
DET .536 – PHX .499
NSH .511 – ANA .464
Three teams appeared to enjoy a clear edge, with one series looking dead even, and of course that's exactly how things rolled out, with the toss-up series being won by the home team in a game 7 OT. In round two, the matchups were VAN .539 - NSH .511 and S.J. .537 – DET .536. Again, one tossup and one series looking not quite so even. The tossup went to 7 games with the home team hanging on for a one goal win, and the other series was only close on the surface. Almost makes a guy think there might be something to this stuff.
The other nice thing about this series is that the “choke” nonsense will settle down for a bit around both teams left standing. The Canucks lost to a superior Chicago team the last two seasons, so I've never understood the idea that they were somehow a team that should have won either of those playoff rounds, only to gag at an inopportune moment. Based on depth of talent, a victory in either year would have been a non-trivial upset for Vancouver.
As for San Jose, Joe Thornton has had his share of detractors over the years, but the guy has had a terrific playoff this year, and his team is deeper than ever, so it isn't him against the World anymore. The emergence players like Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture has afforded Thornton the sort of quality help he never had in his early days with the Sharks, which has made all the difference since one man armies aren't going to win multiple rounds in the post-season. It should be a fine series, and the winner should be the favourite in the Stanley Cup final.
In all honesty, every time I watch an Eastern Conference playoff game, the gap in the quality of play between any club on that side of the draw and the top clubs out West seems almost jarring. I can't imagine that contrast will be any less stark after the next round gets going on Saturday. Both the B's and Lightning swept aside their second round opponents, so if nothing else, they should be well rested.
Boston's chances did take a heavy blow with the injury to Patrice Bergeron, and if he's unable to play, I can't see the Bruins having a hope. He's their bell cow, taking on the toughs so that Krejci and Lucic can have the high ground. Absent Bergeron, the entire calculus that Claude Julien has used in organizing his matchups is no longer valid.
Tampa, on the other hand, has had another superb performance from their geriatric netminder. Dwayne Roloson hasn't lost a series that he's finished since the lockout, so the edge that might normally presumed for Tim Thomas in this series might not that great. Of course, if Marc-Andre Bergeron wipes Roli out at some point, all bets are off, but he normally saves that type of action for the final round, so I do think the Bolts might have a good shot at another final.
FYI, the Fenwick-tied numbers for these two clubs in the regular season finished TBL .520 – BOS .504, so if Roloson can match Thomas' efforts, the Bolts should be on their way.
(re)Location, (re)Location, (re)Location:
“So we lost 25M and the NHL, I guess, lost 12M. That is not a profit.” - Norma Alvarez
“I'm gambling with your money.” – Joyce Clark
Those are just two of the memorable quotes from the most heavily scrutinized council meeting a city of 227,000 is ever likely to endure. The 5-2 vote at the end of said meeting means the people of Glendale will see hockey for at least one more year, as their city council decided that having a $25M bonfire seemed like a better idea than letting the Yotes head for the swamps of Southern Manitoba. Kent covered off the psychological aspect of this affair quite nicely yesterday, but the math behind the council's decision still leaves me a bit perplexed.
In the farcical meeting held last month between the Goldwater folks and the city, Matthew Hulsizer made it clear that 15M was a reasonable figure to run Jobing.com arena. That number never appeared to be able to withstand much scrutiny, and yet during Tuesday night's edition of “Let's All Give Money to the Rich Man”, the councilors that were in favour of flushing another 25M insisted that they were getting value from the NHL in terms of an
egg arena management fee.
I'm pretty much onside with Brahm Resnik's description of that nonsense, but for all the internet wags (including myself) joking about monorails and the like, what really struck me about this whole fiasco was how incredibly small it all seemed. Dave Naylor rightly pointed out the almost total absence of serious financial discussion at the meeting, and while public meetings aren't always the perfect forum to explore budgetary matters in explicit detail, I'm left with the lingering sense that a rural municipality council in Western Manitoba might have gone into greater depth if they were replacing half a dozen culverts. I have no ill will towards the residents of Glendale, so for their sake, I hope this all works out. I wouldn't bet a nickel of my own money on it, though.
That leaves Atlanta in everyone's crosshairs, and the City Too Busy to Hate (or watch a bad NHL team) isn't rushing to the collective wallet. Mix in an ownership group that's had enough and no local groups stepping up to take a financial beating, and here we are. Bruce Levenson's uncomfortable interview before last night's Hawks-Bulls game certainly wouldn't give me much comfort if I were a Thrashers' STH, as the Atlanta Spirit partner did everything but say he wished he'd never heard of hockey. The NHL will almost certainly exhaust every last opportunity to keep the franchise in place, but in the end, if a local owner isn't ready to step in, the patient men of True North might yet be rewarded.
Again, as a Jets and Expos fan, I wish no ill towards the fans in Atlanta. It's sometimes hard for Canadians to understand, but being a serious hockey fan in some of these southern U.S. cities isn't that easy. There's no reinforcement in the broader community, so cheering for something unknown or unfashionable ends up becoming a bit of a cult experience, only understood even in a superficial way by your fellow fanatics. That might be why the fans that do object to potential relocation seem so vociferous. They're being asked to accept that their fandom, passionate as it is, wasn't worth anything in the end.
That's all for this time.