I think one important part of the NHL story that is under reported is that of the NHLPA. Therefore I have kept a short history of the NHLPA that I am updating annually.
Here is the most recent version. A far more detailed history that ends in the early 1990’s is the book Net Worth by David Cruise.
Now that the off season has arrived, there will likely be a few retirements of future Hall of Fame players. The first one has not been officially announced yet, although the story broke during the Stanley Cup finals. Rob Blake is retiring.
Rob Blake was born December 10th. 1969 in Simcoe, Ontario. He grew up playing hockey in the Ontario hockey system and made it to the junior B level before jumping to the US college system to play for Bowling Green University in Ohio. In those days there were significantly more junior hockey opportunities for Canadians in the US system than there are today. After his first year in Bowling Green, the Los Angeles Kings selected him in the fourth round of the draft 70th overall. Blake was a big talented defenceman, but he had yet to show dominance at any level.
With their 4-3 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup finals series four games to two and won the Stanley Cup. This is the first Stanley Cup victory for the Blackhawks since 1961. That was the longest Stanley Cup drought were the team had existed during the entire period. The new longest drought is that of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who last won the cup in 1967 and the St Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings, who expanded in 1967 and have never won the cup.
Jonathan Toews was given the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, but I would support giving it to Daniel Briere of the Flyers, who was the playoffs top scorer and had a much better final series than Toews, but never had a serious chance as his team was not the cup winner.
The Stanley Cup may be won tonight. Along with it comes the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. The race for Conn Smythe is pretty open. As the main story in the Stanley Cup finals has been the poor quality of play, it is easier to make a list of who will not win the Conn Smythe than who will win it. Goaltenders will not win the Conn Smythe because they have not played well in this series. With 40 goals in the five games so far, the goaltending has been sub-par. Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton cannot be seriously considered for the Conn Smythe. In fact, if there was a trophy for best goaltender in the playoffs, I would support giving it to Jaroslav Halak of Montreal, despite his failure to make the finals.
It has been a busy couple of days of coaching news in the NHL. Both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning have dipped into the AHL to hire new coaches. Columbus began by offering their coaching position to Guy Boucher, the coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL. Surprisingly, he declined. They quickly offered the job to Scott Arniel, the coach of the Manitoba Moose in the AHL and he took the job. Boucher’s declining the Columbus position was explained when the next day he accepted the coaching job with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The NHL’s turn to AHL coaches for many of their coaching vacancies over the last couple of years seems to have began when Washington hired Bruce Boudreau as coach . Boudreau won coach of the year, largely because his team had a very good young core built around Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green that was ready to take off and they did. That was followed up by a talented Pittsburgh team in a cold spell that hired AHL coach Dan Bylsma and then won the Stanley Cup. Suddenly, AHL coaches were the coaches to hire.
The series looked like it might be okay. Game one was poor quality hockey, but games two through four were passable Stanley Cup finals games. They were not the most memorable well-played games, but they were not too bad. Then along comes game five. I strongly disagree with Pierre Lebrun , Chicago brought their B game at best and it was enough to win big. By the end of the first period, Chicago had a 3-0 lead and Michael Leighton was pulled from the game (the second time that he was pulled in the finals so far). That was all it took. From then on it was not an intense game for either team. Defensive gaffes were commonplace. Both teams scored four more goals each and the game ended 7-4.
What does Philadelphia do for goaltending in game six? Leighton has not carried the load in the finals. Brian Boucher hasn’t been any better when he came in in relief. Their lack of quality goaltenders seems to have stopped all momentum. It is surprising it took until the Stanley Cup finals to occur, but otherwise very predictable.
Despite the fact there has been a lacklustre Stanley Cup final, television ratings are up. Game two of the finals (for example) had the highest rating the NHL has ever had for a game. Jeff Z. Klein and Stu Hackel at the New York Times Slapshot blog have an interesting theory to explain this. They argue that this upswing in TV ratings corresponds with a downswing in the success of the NHL’s southern teams that do not have as strong a following.
They consider nine teams to be southern (Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Dallas, Nashville, Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida). Of these nine teams only three made the playoffs this year (Los Angeles, Phoenix and Nashville). All three of those teams were eliminated in the first round. That left as many games as possible for the NHL’s more traditional markets. The traditional markets seen to be the ones that draw fans.
The Stanley Cup finals are a situation where too much analysis is pit on every individual game. Nothing else of significance is going on in the hockey world. Everyone who is still following the season is watching the game. Things are analysed to the nth degree, often beyond any meaningful level. The bottom line is that in any given game anything can happen. In a short series, the improbable still has a reasonable possibility of occurring. If you match up a 3rd overall team with an 18th overall team, there is probably about a 70% chance the third overall team wins the series. That means the weaker 18th seed still wins around one out of three potential series. When we shorten our sample size to four games there is an even better chance that things will be tied - or have the weaker seed leading at that point.
Philadelphia played the best game of the series - for either team - last night. A late empty net goal made the game the only one decided by more than one goal. This game deserved to be more one-sided than the score indicated.
The Chicago Blackhawks are not an elite team in 2010. They might have a core that could get to that level in a few years if they can be kept together. The problem is that there is no chance whatsoever that they can be kept together. Dan McGrath of the New York Times writes an article explaining the problem. This summer, the Blackhawks will have Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, John Madden and Adam Burish in free agency. There isn’t enough money under the salary cap to keep them all. It is entirely possible that other players on the roster may have to be moved to get enough cap room to sign a full line up of players.
The Stanley Cup finals continued last night. The Philadelphia Flyers won. The story is that now we will have a series. Chicago is not going to win in four straight (it may take them five or more games). This is a forgettable Stanley Cup finals series played between teams that are not historically elite (and in Philadelphia’s case arguably the worst team to make the Stanley Cup finals ever). In lieu of quality hockey, we have had close games. Every game so far has been a one goal game and game three was decided in overtime.
Why did Philadelphia win game three? I think the biggest reason is a coaching mistake made by Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. Quenneville has been trying to match lines with the Flyers throughout the series. At home where he has the last change, this has been a possibility, but but on the road where the Flyers have the last change this is much more difficult. Immediately after a faceoff, win or lose, the Blackhawks were attempting to change lines in game three. That is a good way to give up momentum after a faceoff win and to distract the team from playing their game of hockey.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???