Thursday, May 28, 2009


I find it endlessly amusing that the team with the least physical play, constantly derided for having no grit and playing boring hockey, is in the Stanley Cup final for the second year running.

Oh, and the Red Wings are also the defending champions.

Who says skill teams can't work? And amazingly, they work in the west, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Playoff Hockey 2009

You know, in a way not having the Senators in the playoffs makes for a more relaxing spring. There are so many more options open to you.

The game is boring? Flip to another! Or turn it off! Going to miss a game? Who cares!

I'm not invested anywhere as a fan, so I can either watch for entertainment value... or decide to go and do something else.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Playoff Hockey, redux

My god, the officiating is just plain horrible.

Let's review: A knocks B off his skates, who slides at high speed into A's goalie. Result: B gets a goaltender interference penalty.

Tepid stick-work: a slashing penalty. And by tepid, I mean tepid. The only time this would get called in the regular season would be if it was a Toronto player, and the Toronto team had been bitching about the bad officiating non-stop for the previous week.

Knocking someone off the puck, from behind, onto his face: no call because ITS PLAYOFF HOCKEY, DUDE!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Playoff Hockey

Long term Ottawa Senators players probably sighed a collective sigh of relief this week. The San Jose Sharks, winners of the President's Cup for the best regular season record, suffered an ignominious exit in round one of the playoffs at the hands of eighth place Anaheim. And into the gap that is the 24 hour news cycle, sports writers everywhere fired up their computers and submitted stories and opinions comparing the Sharks of 08-09 to the Senators of 2003, and many years since. And interestingly, many of the comparisons are not favorable to the Sharks.

I think that the Sharks exit, as Ottawa's did in previous years, comes from one truth that nobody really talks about: regular season hockey is different from playoff hockey.

The thing of it is that the officials call playoff hockey games differently from regular season games, a difference that is defended up and down in many opinions. Don Cherry's attitude said it best when he said: let the boys play the game!

The problem with letting the boys "play the game" is that there is less "playing" and more... I guess the word we are looking for here is "grit".

Hitting. Hooking. Holding. The three stars of playoff hockey. But don't forget such journeymen components as: boarding. Goaltender interference. And rushing an overtime celebration even if the goal is clearly not allowable under any other circumstance beyond "overtime in a playoff game".

Players and coaches talk openly of "pounding" the opposition players. While the ability to put the puck in the net is required, at least minimally, the playoffs seem to end up being more about a team's ability to dish out, and withstand, physical punishment.

My problem with all this is that the rule book doesn't describe what we see played during the playoffs.

Now the fans clearly love playoff hockey, since it is an opportunity to not only prove your team better than the opposition, but to grind the opposition's nose in how great your team really is. Which is good if you are the winner, but not so good if you are a loser. And at the end of the playoffs, we will end up with 15 losers, and one winner.

Anyways. The point is that to succeed in the regular season requires a different kind of team than what is required to succeed in the playoffs. Regular season games require more than just a nod of skill, as the refs are far more inclined to call the rule book. This means you need to load up on skill just to get into the playoffs. When teams are built around this, magic can happen -- look at the Senators in 2003, or the Sharks this year.

But because the rule book is only consulted in passing once the regular season has concluded, you need to load up on "grit" to survive them.

This is, I think, why the west has won the recent Stanley Cups. The western game is closer in form to playoff hockey than the eastern game, which has recently been more about skill. When the best of the skilled has gone through a grinder and then faces the best of the grinders, well the outcome is pretty much a forgone conclusion. And really, the only way to prevent this would be to have more east-west games in the regular season.

The exception may be Boston this year, as they not only have the skill, but their back end is incredibly tough and will probably cause more damage to other teams than is caused to them.

Now I have personally made no secret that I don't like "grit". The natural fall-out of this is that I am not particularly in favor of playoff hockey as it is currently played. Which puts me in an interesting position, where I want my team to excel, but don't like the game they have to play in order to get there.

I think the question I am trying to ask here is: why does playoff hockey have to be different from regular season hockey?

And: what is the point of having those rules in the rulebook if they are not going to be followed?