Overrated goaltending, underrated warriors and Yzerman's mission
My playoff bracket,
Obviously, that didn't work. Didn't even come close.
It's too early to say there's a trend in the NHL and all-world goaltending is no longer the primary reason for winning, but there does seem to be at least a case for saying that
The Canadiens won two series against two of the best teams in the game (Washington and Pittsburgh) with a smothering defense and the ability to quickly gain control of loose pucks in their own end and move them out in a timely fashion. The Flyers, with arguably the weakest goaltending coming into the playoffs, have won three rounds (including a comeback from an 0-3 deficit vs. Boston) with pretty much the same game plan. The Blackhawks, who don't often get credit for their overall team defense -- largely because they have such a talented young offense -- limited the Sharks to just seven goals in four games despite going with a goalie who had no playoff experience prior to this season.
That said, I'm probably jinxing Philadelphia by picking the Flyers to win the Cup in six. I realize that Chicago is the perceived team of destiny and the Blackhawks have more speed than the Flyers and superb mental toughness, especially when playing on the road, but I'm picking Philly largely because they can match up in front and on the back end. The Flyers also have a more physical edge to their game as well as an up-tempo attack that will get to Niemi in ways that other teams did not.
The Eastern Conference doesn't get a lot of credit for its quality of play lately, but you have to admire the commitment of certain players.
There were heroes in the West as well, as Chicago's
I know the Sharks are saying that anyone who knows hockey knows they weren't really swept by the Blackhawks in the western finals, at least not in the traditional way of being run right out via a bunch of lopsided scores.
Memo to San Jose: the history books will record four wins for the Blackhawks and none for you, and not only will that be recorded for all time, it will be remembered that way as well.
You didn't win a single game. With the exception of Marleau, who performed admirably, you produced almost no offense (seven goals), and provided no answers to the Blackhawks' offense, especially
Against the Hawks, Heatley added nothing and, for the record, took the penalty that led to the game-winning and series-winning goal. True, management covered for him with a claim that he was hampered by a groin injury, but lots of players play hurt in the playoffs and manage to accomplish something. Heatley played to the level of his one and only Stanley Cup Final appearance wirh Ottawa in which he also accomplished nothing.
It's hard for a conference champion to acknowledge defeat. Just ask the Capitals. And to be fair, the Sharks lost to the team that finished second in the West by a single point but with better numbers in goals-for (271-264) and goals-against (209-215) and, given the playoff results to date, appears to be better by a wide margin.
But this was supposed to be San Jose's year. The Sharks had a veteran team with players who have been tested both in victory and in painful defeat, and were up against a foe powered mostly by youth that hadn't been in this kind of situation. As a veteran and supposedly mature team, the Sharks had every reason to believe they could win.
There have been a lot of changes in San Jose over the past few years, but this fact remains: a franchise with four consecutive 100-point seasons has yet to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. One of the reasons seems to be that it accepts defeat and makes excuses for it.
In the NHL, anyone who knows hockey knows that won't get it done.
First off, the commissioner found an owner for the Lightning. Not just any owner -- and certainly not a "bunch of cowboys " as former head coach
But giving Vinik the benefit of the doubt created by the likes of NHL owners who are either in jail, going to jail, or should be in jail, he is the kind that appears willing to bring stability and a sense of business purpose to a franchise that desperately needs it.
It's fair to assume (because these things always go unspoken) that Bettman steered Vinik to
Despite being a former legendary Detroit Red Wings captain and celebrated player, as well as a GM-in-training with one of the best-run franchises in the league, Yzerman has no real track record. Sure, he had success at the World Championships and in putting together Canada's 2010 gold medal-winning Olympic team, and that counts for something, But it's an entirely different operation when you have most of the world's best hockey talent at your disposal and need only to fit the great pieces into a cohesive team. It's something else again to work against 29 other GMs with a talent pool made up of draft gambles, free agents of widely varying quality, and a salary cap.
To be sure, Yzerman was an in-demand up-and-comer. Some team would surely have taken him this offseason, but someone had to put the two together. Vinik wasn't well informed enough to make this happen all by himself. Yzerman is smart enough to know that he wasn't going to go to just any franchise. It had to be one that he had reason to suspect he could be successful with during his first time out. Tampa Bay didn't qualify until Vinik came on the scene, and even then there was reason for doubt on both sides.
Enter Bettman and a match that should work for all concerned.
Vinik gets a rookie, but one who has rookie of the year potential. Yzerman gets a team with some assets already in place --
Tampa Bay is a franchise in need of change. Vinik went on record as saying that Yzerman would answer only to him and not be encumbered by whoever is named CEO. That's important for any GM, especially a first-timer who is bound to make mistakes and needs to be able to defend his actions to the owner and not someone in the front office who might, in a power struggle, benefit from the GM's gaffes. That was pretty close to the norm in the previous Tampa setup, as there were turf wars throughout the operation that pretty much led to the demise of a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and appeared en route to being a model for success in Bettman's oft-criticized "southern strategy."
Yzerman needs to find a coach. He needs to meet with scouts and form a plan on how to play with the sixth pick in the upcoming draft. He needs to analyze a roster that has an almost equal blend of potential and problems, and he needs to put his stamp on a front office that likely will see more than a few changes over time. Oh, and he also has to win back a fan base that owes no allegiance to Steve Yzerman the hockey player or even the Steve Yzerman who was once the golden child in Detroit and seeming heir-apparent to head that operation.
He's out on his own now, but I for one wouldn't bet against him. Yzerman the player would do whatever was necessary to win, and Yzerman in his post-playing career didn't just say that he wanted to be a GM. He went to finishing school in and outside the Detroit organization in a committed effort to make it happen. Nobody is a sure thing in their chosen field, but when you look at Yzerman's pedigree, his work habits, his commitment to winning, and his commitment to being the best he can be at anything he tries, it's hard to bet against his chances for success.
This is a good move for Tampa and, arguably, a great move for Vinik and the NHL. The commissioner won't say a word about how it all came about, but he should at least take a silent bow. Tampa Bay is a franchise worth saving and there are now people in place who appear to have both the means and the ways to make it happen.