(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
You know the Department of Player Safety is a joke when a sucker punch to a decent player from a total scrub results in a one-game suspension. That’s a joke.
7. Classic NHL
Oh man how about Las Vegas, huh? The NHL finally gets its foot in the door on an untouched market. First major pro sports team in Vegas!
“Okay sure,” you say, “That first press conference was a disaster. Lots of stumbling on the way to getting the team rolled out. But hey, they’re the only game in town, and they’re brand new. Cut ’em a little slack.”
And yet — before the league ever has a chance to, say, get this club to sign someone who wasn’t a major junior player relatively few people had heard of, or unveil their jerseys, or have their first draft — here comes the NFL.
All that big-time work to get things done in something resembling a professional manner, all that time fumbling around in a nearly dark room. And now the NFL — professional, incredibly popular, and ready to throw hundreds of millions into this market — shows up and says, “We’ll take care of this instead.”
Interest in the Golden Knights is about to drop off significantly. They’ll still pack the building, but the Raiders have a chance to be pretty decent next year, while the GKs very much will not be. So as this team cruises through its first few seasons and finishes with something like 78 points, while the Raiders go, say, 12-4, who do you think gets more play in the local market?
Guess what: It ain’t gonna be the damn National Hockey League.
Which, if you think about it, is the only way a National Hockey League expansion to a new market could ever go.
(Side note: Hilarious to see Bill Foley, who’s understandably pissed off about this whole NFL thing, go in on publicly financed stadiums, which are gross and bad and never work out for the cities that build them. And which the NHL pushes for constantly in a number of markets. I love this stuff, man. It rules.)
6. The Crosby Slash
The thing with the Crosby slash that almost took off Marc Methot’s finger is this: That exact kind of slash happens approximately 25 times a game. Guy comes across the blue line, gets a slash on the hands by a backchecking forward. Watch a hockey game and you see it constantly.
This was one slash that had an horrific outcome. You never want to see a guy almost lose a finger, obviously. It happens but obviously Crosby’s not going in on that play like, “I’m gonna try to take this guy’s finger off.” It’s a bad outcome on a routine play. Those happen every once in a while.
Here’s how you need to frame the slash, alright? You know how there was this one time Sidney Crosby got run into pretty bad by David Steckel and almost ruined his career? Everyone was really mad but you couldn’t do anything about it because, well, there wasn’t really a rule against that kind of thing and it’s impossible to judge intent. I bet Steckel felt really bad after the fact. I bet Crosby did here too.
The hockey world basically says, “These kinds of slashes are okay.” Again, one bad outcome understandably gets people all riled up but if you didn’t like the play, you only didn’t like it because of that outcome. Unless you’re up in arms every time Methot does it — and like most players, he probably does it a lot — then you don’t really have a lot of standing to get up on a high horse about this.
Don’t like the rule? Demand the NHL enforce every glove tap with a two-minute slashing minor. Enjoy the 20 power plays a game that results.
But in the meantime, remember Crosby didn’t get away with anything because of Who He Is. He got away with it because everyone does.
5. The Jack Adams race
Over the weekend I saw the first of what I’m sure will soon be many Give John Tortorella The Jack Adams thinkpieces. What was truly mindblowing about it was the mental gymnastics routine needed to explain away that the argument effectively boiled down to “Bobrovsky is having an all-time elite season and the team is shooting 10 percent.”
There are three-to-five legitimate Jack Adams candidates in the league and Torts ain’t one of ’em, folks. How about Mike Babcock getting a bunch of children into the playoffs? How about Mike Sullivan navigating this season — and finishing with a very similar record to Tortorella — despite missing half his blue line for most of the year? How about Joel Quenneville fixing a relatively thin, mediocre team on the fly and turning them into a juggernaut again? How about Barry Trotz somehow improving on the season his team had last season? How about Bruce Boudreau demolishing the Central until Devan Dubnyk broke?
Hell, I’ll even listen to arguments for Glen Gulutzan depending on how the Flames finish.
The Blue Jackets had a few very good weeks but were otherwise a fairly mediocre team. Frankly, I’m more impressed with Babcock’s work given the relative quality of those rosters.
4. The Calder race
With that having been said, you know who should probably win the Calder? Zach Werenski. I was a little skeptical of his play for a while there just because you never know with a rookie defenseman and the team had a ridiculous shooting percentage and its power play was even more ridiculous for a little while there.
I thought all the “The power play is so good because of Werenski specifically” talk was overblown — very much the equivalent of Lisa Simpson’s tiger-preventing rock — but after 70-something games I can say definitively that his quality is very much right there with Matthews and Laine.
Now, I know Werenski won’t win because you don’t have two rookies scoring 30-plus goals while playing in Canada, so it’s one of those nice boys for sure (and of the two, I’d prefer Matthews, a top-line center, to Laine, a second-line winger). But man, Werenski has had a whopper of a season, the kind you just don’t see from teenaged defensemen in this league.
3. The Pacific
My wonderful friend Andrew Cieslak of Hockee Night pointed this out on Twitter yesterday:
The Pacific is completely up for grabs pic.twitter.com/qnePDrflNe
— Torque Penderloin (@AndrewCieslak) March 28, 2017
That’s right: The entire top-four in the Pacific is within striking distance of each other and pretty much all their games are against other teams in the Pacific.
Anaheim plays Edmonton and Calgary (twice). San Jose plays Edmonton and Calgary twice each. Listen gang, that’s a lot of four point games. It is truly awesome and it will make the stretch run just about perfect.
We must celebrate these nice things in this dumb sport.
2. Brock Boeser
Pretty crazy weekend for the kid, y’know? Goes from ending his North Dakota, y’know, in double OT, y’know, in what is effectively a home game, y’know? And the very next day he gets to play with the damn Sedins, y’know, and score, y’know, his first career goal.
That’s awesome, y’know?
1. The Guardian Project
The fact that I still get occasional Guardian Project news? That’s the good stuff, people. What could be better than being reminded of The Maple Leaf’s sap bombs!
(Not ranked this week: The whole U.S. women’s hockey team fiasco.
I haven’t seen USA Hockey take this many Ls in a row since the World Cup. Folks,)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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