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.
The 2010 Hall of Fame season has began. The media honorees have been announced. The Foster Hewitt Memorial Award is given to a hockey commentator annually. It was awarded to Ron Weber. He was the first voice of the Washington Capitals. He commentated their games from the team’s entry into the NHL in 1974 until his retirement in 1997.
The Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award is given to a hockey journalist annually. It was awarded to Marc de Foy. He is a French language reporter in the Montreal market. He originally broke into sports reporting with the now defunct Montreal Matin. Initially he was a football reporter with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. He branched into hockey when he moved to the Journal de Montreal in 1982. The recent dropoff in print media has moved him into blogging with ruefrontenac.com for the last year or so. This is a commentary on the state of print media - a Hall of Fame worthy reporter can no longer find employment in traditional print media.
Congratulations to Ron Weber and Marc de Foy
Another day and another sloppily played Stanley Cup finals game (though not quite as bad as game one). Instead of me harping on the same message here is Damien Cox doing so. Considering the inter-dependance of the media and the NHL, it takes a lot for mainstream media members to start to admit that the Stanley Cup playoffs are not being well played.
A bonus link puck update questions the NHL’s propensity to let former stars manage in light of the Steve Yzerman hiring in Tampa Bay. This is another trend that I see as questionable.
One nice thing about the Stanley Cup finals is that they give a chance for unsung players who have been playing well in relative anonymity a chance to get into the spotlight. The best example of that this season is Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson is a 22 year old Swede in his third year of his NHL career. In his first two, he shuttled between the AHL and NHL (spending more time in the AHL). This season he has established himself as a strong defensive presence on the Blackhawks. Fans have noticed him in the playoffs. He has seven points and a +7 +/- rating so far in the playoffs. He is currently third in playoff ice time on the Blackhawks. He looks like he should have a solid NHL career. It is nice to see that he is getting some publicity after a solid season.
The first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs was very sloppily played. There was enough poor goaltending and defensive gaffes to fill an entire series. It was the kind of game that drives coaches mad because their team didn’t execute the game plan.
Chicago won 6-5. It was the highest scoring Stanley Cup final game since 1992. It was a one goal game.
Gary Bettman has been trying to create a fanbase that wants high scoring close games without enough hockey knowledge to know or care if the hockey they are watching is actually well played (and judging by some of my past comments I think he is achieving his goal). This is a prototype game for that style. It was a one goal game. It was a high scoring game. It was a poorly played game.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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