With the first round of the playoffs winding down, there has been no shortage of drama with this this year's spring showdowns. Heightened intensity and vivid angst have marked these matchups and helped produce the fierce climates we have come to love with the hockey being played at this time of year. We separate the pretenders from the contenders, and bare witness to the war of attrition that will serve to crown this year’s ultimate champion.
With the beaming spotlight that showcases everything we love about this sport, that same light can sometimes illuminate many of the games shortcomings. Whether it be in the quality of the TV productions, the way the game unfolds as a result of uncontrollable circumstances, or the way the game is presented to both die hards and casual fans via various media outlets, this year’s playoffs have brought forth some issues that plain and simply annoy man fans. Gary Bettman's circuit aims to gain in notoriety amongst an already ultra-saturated and competitive major sports league market in the US and to do so, certain issues must be resolved.
Here are some of the things we HATE about playoff hockey.
15 Pierre McGuire
We get it, Pierre. You can tell us what PeeWee team the AHL call-up played for and his coaches names. You know what year and where the second paring defencemen earned his first shorthanded point in overtime. The point is, for all the incredible insight McGuire has to offer, even the most avid of fans finds themselves annoyed when he spins off on tangents that are not related to the game at hand. We'd much prefer more tactical, real-time analysis and less history lessons, especially with an American audience with sporadic attention spans for the 4th ranked major sports league in the country. Captivate the audience by teaching the game, not with all the other stuff.
14 Advanced Stats
For something so complex that remains in its infancy, one too many analysts swear by these new advancements and calculations. Puck possession stats and a bunch of other confusing equations are made to predict player and team performance. Until a formula can quantitatively calculate the value of experience on a team, along with the drive and desire in different players, then all the fancy math in the world cannot yet accurately predict anything. This is not to downplay these new breakthroughs, as they do help with understanding the game and noticing patterns that can be useful in analysis. However, to swear solely by them like some do is just wrong. Not to mention how those who understand the math tend to flaunt it to those who do not.
Every. Single. Year. There is always that friend who hops on a bandwaggon right about this time of year. Probably because his team did not make it to the big dance. Or there's the person whose hometown team finally made the playoffs and they have all of a sudden been life long fans. There are also those who have been Blackhawks and Kings fans for a while now, supposedly. Curious to see how many of them convert to Blues or Sharks fans soon. For fans who swear by their team since before they can remember, these spring birds irk them. A lot.
12 Inconsistent Officiating
This is not strictly a hockey thing. All major sports are subject to it, so long as human beings who react in real time are officiating the game. The pressure is not only felt by the players, but by the officials to perform come spring time. No one wants to be the referee who influences the outcome of the game with a bad call. However, there is a glaring discrepancy when it comes to regular season officiating versus playoff officiating. There is no inbetween. There are games with virtually no penalties and others with way too many. There are phantom calls and there is preferential treatment of stars. Are you even allowed to hit Jagr?
11 Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby is arguably the best player in the world. That label can bring on some heavy scrutiny, as his every move is analysed to the core. Despite all the skill in the world, a lot of people still cannot stomach Sid the Kid. Referees protect him. He complains when they don't. When his team struggles, he carries a stink face that does not reflect that of a rallying leader. He dives. And he usually gets away with it. He is spared the blame when the team falters and glorified when they succeed. During the playoffs, we are force-fed the Captain Canada narrative despite what we can see actually happening on the ice. All the skill in the world should not entitle you to different treatment.
10 Wild Card System
Some think the new system is great, with so many first round rivalry match-ups. A few years into realignment, however, and we've noticed that some teams have easier paths than others. It is a shame that some very good teams draw unfavorable opponents based on the new seeding scheme and cannot seem to escape the first round. First round matchups between LA and San Jose or St-Louis and Chicago could very well be dramatic Conference Finals, if not for the new system. Arguments can be made in either case, though we believe that first place should play the eighth seed, and so on, rewarding a successful regular season.
9 Cheap Shots
Referees are normally a bit more lenient when it comes to calling rough play in the playoffs, as heightened emotions amp up the games. There is always that one player who tests that threshold and seemingly attempts to take out a key opponent on purpose. The hits are late, from behind, to the head, you name it. The game is faster than ever and fans still love a good, clean hockey hit. But a troubling pattern is noticed in the playoffs where a culprit will travel to any length to gain a competitive edge, even if it means injuring an opponent and risking suspension. These hits exist in the regular season as well and they are punishable acts. It is always comical to see how the NHL discipline committee handles these situations in the playoffs with so much at stake when determining how many games to be dealt to the offenders.
8 Lack of Fighting
While fighting has subsided even in the regular season, with all the data on concussions made public, the stricter penalties with the instigator rule and a general decrease in willing combatants, it is no surprise that fighting is even rarer in playoff hockey. During the playoffs, you would expect the increased animosity and do or die nature of the games to produce the willingness to pummel your opponents to send a message, regulate troublemakers or rally the troops in desperate times. Though long before the recent decrease in regular season fighting numbers, playoff hockey has always produced less fighting. It seems teams are not willing to take the risk of getting the extra two minutes or keeping a key player off the ice for at least five minutes. With the traditional role of the “goon” edging towards extinction in today’s game, it is no surprise there is less fighting even though we would expect more of it during this intense time of year.
7 Key Meltdowns
This is the time of year where careers are forged in glory or regret. Some rise to the occasion like John Tavares did to get his Islanders over the hump with his heroics in game 6 against the Panthers. Others like Steve Mason crumble and place their teams in insurmountable holes. The point is, every spring, we can count on one monumental meltdown that will sink the legacy of a player. One unfortunate play will inspire a new SportsCentre top 10 list. While I am not sure we necessarily “hate” these meltdowns based on entertainment value, someone, somewhere is spending a miserably long summer because of a play like Steve Mason’s goal against from behind the red line. The aim of this argument would be more highlight reel plays and less bloopers for the overall good of the game.
6 The Eastern Conference
An Eastern Conference team has not hoisted the cup since the Bruins did it in 2011, despite winning four of the last five President’s trophies. It is clearly the weaker Conference of the two and it is a reoccurring theme year after year. It is a shame a team that LA was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs due to the depth of the West, while they could arguably win the East if they played there. We would like to see more parity, for the overall quality of the game. The Capitals pose the biggest threat in some time to dethrone a Western Conference squad, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
5 It’s Not on ESPN
NHL television coverage in the US is sparse. In order for the game to grow and reach broader audiences, it's essential that other major networks pick up television rights. It is a shame that the leading sports network in the US, ESPN, no longer broadcasts games and leaves very little airtime on SportsCentre for coverage. It is an even greater shame that they employ some of the most brilliant hockey minds like Pierre LeBrun and do not get full value on his abilities as an analyst, which could help educate the occasional fan on the game.
4 No Canadian Teams in Playoffs
This would not be an entry every year, but since this year is the first year since the 69-70 season where no Canadian teams qualify for the spring dance, its impact is quite significant. Canadian teams went 0 for 7 in their attempts to make the playoffs this year and that has huge economical repercussions on the league, as some of its biggest markets, like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, reside north of the border. Hockey is a Canadian game, plain and simple. Each Canadian team carries the weight of the country on its shoulders during this time of year. The passion of the fans spills over onto the ice and makes for compelling television, even for the American audiences.
3 Don Cherry
Even Americans are aware of his insane wardrobe and brash analysis. He is a hockey legend and icon. But in his age, Grapes has soured (no pun intended). Sometimes, we wonder if he even watches the games he references in his comments during the infamous "Coach’s Corner." He's riding the glory of his past to preserve his historical first intermission segment on Hockey Night in Canada, but he has lost his touch with the younger generation, with outdated philosophies and interpretations of an evolving game. It's time we move on from the legend and infuse a fresher face with relevant, informed and critical analysis that helps teach the game, versus his occasional highlight-based critiques with seemingly little research.
2 Game Times
The NHL is jockeying for position amongst the other major sports leagues in North America and the US when it comes to television time. Bettman often succumbs to the demands of the larger networks who puppet the league into slotting games at their convenience rather than that of the fans in the city where the game is played. Some game times have 8:30PM local starts, keeping children awake on school nights and forcing fans out of market to tune in at inconvenient hours, all while never knowing if the game might go into a lengthy overtime session. This has created problems for the viewers. Game times should start at a convenient hour for the local city and their fans before submitting to the demands of the networks. Don't get me started on those NBC afternoon games....
1 Your Team Doesn’t Make It
Bottom line, despite all these nuisances, there is nothing more beautiful than playoff hockey. It is a race to 16 wins, a gauntlet that can last almost two months, all to claim the game's most coveted prize, Lord Stanley’s cup. Fans invest all year in ticket purchases, merchandise, TV program add ons to catch their team’s game and there is nothing more defeating and infuriating than when your team does not qualify. It is a long season to cheer on a team only to be left disappointed come spring time. It is one thing to go down in defeat during the playoffs, but it is a whole other level of disdain and hurt when you cannot cheer on YOUR team during the playoffs.
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