The Edmonton Oilers are mad. The Philadelphia Flyers, too. Imagine those Washington Capitals.
There they were, the three best teams in the National Hockey League, gnawing and clawing for regular-season preeminence, and what happened when they skated into the come-one, come-all, no-proof-of-purchase-required, 16-team playoff circus? They were beaten—the Oilers by a Calgary Flames team that had Edmonton on the brain from Day 1 of training camp; the Flyers by the Rangers, who rolled over dead six out of the seven times they played Philly in the regular season. And then the Caps, who had finished the season 29 points ahead of them, met those same Rangers in the division finals and...adios.
So, what does all this tell you, Wayne Gretzky?
"The regular season doesn't mean a thing," said the Great One as he received the Seagram Trophy as hockey player of the year this summer in New York. "Look at Philadelphia. Five years and they've been knocked out in the first round four times. We fought tooth and nail with the Flyers for first place [overall]. This isn't just us thinking this way. [Philadelphia general manager] Bobby Clarke's got to be thinking the same thing. Teams are going to be saying, with 15 games to go, 'Forget first place. Let's rest up.' "
October 12, 1986
So those Oilers and Flyers and Capitals won't just be mad this season; they'll be smart and see the regular season for what it's worth. Zippo. Hey, why bust your hump in a regular season that stretches out for more than six months only to be upset in the playoffs by some three-week marvel like Toronto? Why kill yourself when the wretched refuse of the Smythe Division's teeming shores can get in with the same ticket? So send Gretzky to Maui for a couple of weeks in February. Let Washington's Bob Carpenter sit on the beach and drink margaritas in March. Give Philly's Mark Howe a holiday. The regular season? The season-ticket holders? Forget 'em.
See ya in May, Gretz. And hey, no tan lines. They won't look good when they're taking team pictures of this season's Stanley Cup champions.