The Los Angeles Kings won 3-0 today. It was the first game where the Kings were the better team in the Stanley Cup finals. We are now looking at a situation where it looks like we will have a short one-sided Stanley Cup final.
I know that I am a pariah for stating that there are no elite teams in the NHL this year and there haven't been any for many years. This is by the NHL's design and it comes at a real cost to the hockey fan. Hockey fans want to defend their game against such attacks whether they are true or false. One common attack is that we don't want one-sided Stanley Cup finals where an elite team dominates a weaker team. At least in the no elite team NHL there will be close playoff series. This supposes that all we want from hockey games is for them to be long dramatic three hour coin tosses. No team is better than the other. Anyone can win. It all comes down to which team is luckiest that day. That isn't something I want. I don't want 30 equal mediocre teams. I want elite teams that will play elite games. The fallacy that one elite team means that there cannot be any team to challenge them is easily shown to be false. Through much of the 90's and early 2000s there were at least two elite teams in the NHL that would face one another in exciting well played Stanley Cup finals. It is a shame we cannot have that anymore. That doesn't mean we don't get one-sided Stanley Cup finals. We have one now in 2014 without any elite teams. The entire attack laid out here is a big logical fallacy. The NHL is better with elite teams.
A couple weeks ago the Washington Capitals named Brian MacLellan as their new GM and I have not yet commented on that move, so i want to do so today. MacLellan takes over from the former Caps GM in George McPhee. MacLellan has been working in the Washington Capitals organization for fourteen years. He joined the team in 2000 as a pro scout and eventually took over their scouting staff and became their assistant GM. He isn't a new start for the Capitals. They fired their GM and replaced him with the number two guy.
Worse the Caps picked MacLellan's coach in Barry Trotz and announced both hirings at the same time. Trotz is a good coach but it sends the wrong message. A general manager should pick the coach. In this case ownership named the coach. A top flight experienced general manager would not allow this. He would demand his own coach. These moves seem to show that Ted Leonsis is effectively the new GM. Leonsis will make the important moves. MacLellan goes from being George McPhee's assistant to Leonsis's assistant. It is a step up the ladder but he really isn't in charge.
The second game went to a second overtime period before Dustin Brown ended it. Lengthy overtime games can be exciting and memorable. This series has had that going for it. The problem is it hasn't had the great teams that should be in a Stanley Cup final. There isn't anything memorable or elite about the New York Rangers or the Los Angeles Kings. Neither was able to finish higher than sixth seed in their conference. Neither is a team that anyone would have seriously picked as the best in the NHL at any pint this season. Essentially we have the main event on the season without main event participants. That takes away from the prestige of the series. It takes elite teams to create the drama and expectation to make a truly memorable series.
After two games it looks like Los Angeles has a good shot at winning the Stanley Cup. That probably shouldn't be a surprise. The West Conference has been stronger than the East Conference for several years. The West Conference team in this series was the stronger team in the regular season. One problem is that New York has been the better team despite not winning. Los Angeles hasn't held the lead at any point during any game and they are up 2 games to none. I guess it is a fitting result in the no elite team NHL if the Stanley Cup champion is neither the best team in the regular season or the Stanley Cup finals.
Yesterday the Hall of Fame media honorees were announced. Winning the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for hockey journalism was Kevin Allen and winning the Forster Hewitt Memorial Award for broadcasting was Pat Foley. Both are deserving honorees.
Kevin Allen first broke in with the Port Huron (Michigan) Times Herald and in 1986 became the USA Today hockey reporter. He is one of the most well-connected reporters in hockey today. In December he won the Lester Patrick award for outstanding service to hockey in the US.
Pat Foley broke in calling games for the Grand Rapids Owls of the IHL. In 1981, he became the voice of the Chicago Blackhawks. He has held that position ever since, except for a two year period from 2006-2008 when the Hawks let him go and he worked for the AHL Chicago Wolves. When he was brought back, this was acknowledged as a mistake by the penny-pinching Bill Wirtz Blackhawks. He also called games on Fox during the NHL's run on that station from 1995 to 1998.
Congratulations to both deserving Hall of Fame additions.
It took a while for them to get going, but the Los Angeles Kings were the better team and they won the game. It was an exciting ending in that it required overtime. The problem is when I look at a playoff series between the New York Rangers and the LA Kings, I cannot convince myself this is a great series. There were better series played in the earlier rounds of the playoffs. This is an inevitable problem in the no elite team NHL. If last night's game was a regular season game in January it would be a pretty good one, but when it has the expectations that come with being the first game of the Stanley Cup finals it falls short. The Stanley Cup finals should be something special. This year it's merely a match-up of number six seeds.
St John's IceCaps defeat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 4 games to two. St John's is the Winnipeg Jets farm affiliate and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton belongs to Pittsburgh. St John's has been led by playoff scoring leader Andrew Gordon and Eric O'Dell offensively. Will O'Neill and Zach Raymond have made significant contributions from defence. Michael Hutchinson is posting a magnificant .946 saves percentage so far in the playoffs for the IceCaps. The Penguins have been led by Chuck Kobasew and Conor Sheary, with Brian Dumoulin leading their defence and Peter Mannino in goal.
Texas Stars defeat Toronto Marlies 4 games to 3. Texas is the Dallas Stars minor league affiliate and the Marlies belong to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Texas was led by Mike Hedden and Travis Morin offensively, Derek Meech has been a strong competitor from defence and Cristopher Nilstorp has been their goaltender. Toronto's offence has come from Peter Holland and Jerry D'Amigo, TJ Brennan has been a strong performer on defence and Drew MacIntyre posted a strong .941 saves percentage.
The finals will see St John's facing Texas. They begin on Sunday.
I am ready to post my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals. You can look back at my earlier predictions for the first, second and third rounds. In the semi-finals, i was correct in the East Conference but I picked Chicago in the West Conference. The 1-1 record in this round brings my overall record to 10-4. Each of the four series picked incorrectly went to seven games. Here is my final prediction:
Los Angeles Kings defeat New York Rangers. Unfortunately neither the Kings nor the Rangers are elite teams. The NHL hasn't had one of those since the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. This is a direct consequence of the salary cap. The liberalized free agency and increased player movement that came along with it has done what it was intended to do. Big market teams have accumulated more talent at expense of the smaller markets. We have Los Angeles playing New York in the finals. These are the two biggest cities in the NHL. If the NHL stays on this path we can look forward to a lot more finals just like this one. Big market teams that have no claim to being elite playing in the finals. This year the Rangers are a mid-level team that got through against mid-level opposition in the weaker East Conference. The Kings are about as good as we seem to get in the current CBA (though hardly dominant) and are much better tested by having to beat better teams to get here. Los Angeles is the better team and thus they should win. The hope for the Rangers is that the Kings are beaten up by their tougher path to the finals, but I don't see much evidence of that right now.
The Los Angeles Kings are bound for the Stanley Cup finals. Like their opponents the New York Rangers they are not an elite team. Los Angeles might be as good a team as can exist in today's NHL but their dominances pales in comparison to almost all of the Stanley Cup winners prior to the 2004/05 lockout season. This might be as good as it gets. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012. They did so despite only qualifying for the last playoff seed in the West Conference. This year they managed to take the sixth seed in the West Conference. These are not dominant regular seasons. This is not what one would expect of an elite team. There is no team that is good enough to transcend hockey and draw in casual viewers to see them.
How does Los Angeles stack up to my necessary but not sufficient condition that an elite team has a group of elite players including a top goaltender? Their goaltender in Jonathan Quick might be in the top goaltender group in the NHL. In 2012 he certainly looked like he was when he posted a .929 saves percentage and a 1.95 GAA. He was a Vezina Trophy contender and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Since then he has not been able to match those numbers. He posted a .902 saves percentage the year after his success and partially rebounded to a .915 saves percentage this year. He is only posting a .906 saves percentage so far in the playoffs. The argument that Jonathan Quick is a top NHL goalie was a very good one two years ago, but nothing he has done since is helping the argument. Fr the sake of my argument today, I will accept him as a top NHL goalie, though I am beginning to wonder if this is a stretch. At any rate, his Hall of Fame chances are not strong. At age 28, he has one season that makes a strong case and there is little to show that he can match it.
The news from Thursday is the New York Rangers will be in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. I think it isn't too controversial to say that they are not an elite team. The fact that they finished in 12th place in the regular season should be sufficient proof for anyone. The salary cap has brought us an era where there are no elite teams so we consistently see Stanley Cup finals without them. It is a significant loss to hockey fans.
The CBA has worked. The NHL has the situation they want. The most important thing the last two CBAs brought in is increased player movement. Liberalizing free agency by reducing the age of unrestricted free agents has led to more player movement. The best players who become free will be able to wind up in the market of their choice. Sure there is a salary cap to prevent one team from buying all of these players, but that is a smokescreen. You only need to buy some of those players to make a team. The bigger markets tend to get these players and the smaller markets tend to lose them. The NHL has a dream Stanley Cup final. The biggest city in the country will play against either the second or third biggest city in the country. They couldn`t ask for better.
The fans lose out. We have one Stanley Cup finalist who is clearly not an elite team in the New York Rangers. Historically nobody will look back on the 2014 Rangers as one of the great NHL teams of all time.
Last week the Vancouver Canucks announced their hiring of Jim Benning as their new GM. He replaces Mike Gillis who was showing that he wasn't up to the task of running the Canucks when the going got tough.
Jim Benning has worked his way up through the ranks of several teams to reach that position. His NHL career was spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks. After he retired he served as an amateur scout for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1993/94. The following season he joined the Buffalo Sabres scouting staff and by 1998 was named their director of amateur scouting. He held that position until the 2004 lockout. In 2006, he was hired by the Boston Bruins to be their assistant general manager. In 2011 he won the Stanley Cup in that position. While it is always hard for outsiders (and even insiders) to know exactly how much credit to give to individual members of the front office of a club, Jim Benning was an important part of the front office of a team that was built into the league's best.
Jim Benning has a good resume. He looks like he could be a solid GM. He is a good general manager prospect. He has a chance to work out as an NHL GM. Time will tell if he lives up to his potential and becomes as good as he might be. In the meantime, the Vancouver Canucks fan expectations have been reset.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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