I don’t want to say that Joe Pavelski looked ghastly after scoring a goal with a puck off his face on Wednesday night against Vegas, but his mouth looked like he had been bobbing for crushed grapes in a barrel filled with bees.
He lost “a few” teeth and his jaw appeared bruised. Any normal human probably would have taken off their gear and settled in for a night of DVR and aspirin. NHL players are not normal, by trade, and the ones in the playoffs are basically abnormal. All it took was one look at Pavelski’s face to understand that.
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“It’s playoff season,” Pavelski said, the words barely escaping his swollen maw. “We want to play some playoff hockey.”
This is because playoff hockey is the best. There isn’t a postseason tournament in sports that comes close to the skill, emotion, attrition and unpredictability of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And that was just on opening night.
How does one make a great thing even better? Here are five ways I’d improve the Stanley Cup playoffs:
The beginning of March Madness has become a de facto holiday for some, as they skip work after coming down with an inimitable 24-hour “flu” that can only be treated with Buffalo wing sauce.
I want that for hockey. I need that for hockey.
The NHL did a nice job of scheduling the first night of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, staggering the games from 7 p.m. ET through San Jose’s bludgeoning of the Golden Knights. But imagine that staggering of games through a full day of puck, starting at noon ET and rolling all night. Imagine a celebration where hockey fans hang out all day to watch (and preview) the games that really matter; and, wherever its legally permitted, perhaps lay a little wager here or there.
The pushback on this would come from teams stuck in afternoon games, who worry about being knocked off their routines and about whether they can pack the building for a lunchtime affair. Yes, it’s the playoffs. But it might also be a Wednesday.
Obviously, doing something like this on the first Saturday after the regular season ends would be optimal, knowing what precious cargo sick days from work are. Whatever the case, the opening of the Stanley Cup playoffs should feel like a holiday, a Carnivàle of Cross-Checking.
I mentioned this a few months ago in greater detail, but the abridged version: Expand the postseason by four teams with the creation of four play-in games, once the NHL hits 32 teams with Seattle.
From the first round all the way through the Stanley Cup Final, ESPN has you covered. Check out the full picture and coverage on each team.
The 25-year-old netminder seemed to come out of nowhere. But for those who know him best, they are anything but surprised.
We check in with Florida’s new coach on why he took the job, what he’s watching for in the playoffs and that viral video at the Bears tailgate.
This has actually been discussed, in detail, among the NHL’s Board of Governors: 10 teams qualify for the playoffs in each conference, but the bottom four have to play for their lives in a play-in game at the higher seed. The No. 7 seed hosts the No. 10 seed. The No. 8 seed hosts the No. 9 seed. The advantage for the higher seeds goes away quickly; the winners of those series have to play on the road the very next night against the first and second seeds.
I’m not someone that’s necessarily looking to expand the postseason, but even a curmudgeonly traditionalist like me can appreciate the happy medium this presents. The 16-team bracket remains intact; we’re just fiddling around with the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds. And who really cares about them? Plus, there would be added revenue for teams, and more hockey for us.
Oh, and while we’re at it: Please reapply the common sense of re-seeding after the first round, so as not to completely devalue the regular season.
The Stanley Cup playoffs-as-war-of-attrition is a noble virtue of the postseason. Who among us hasn’t put on another pot of coffee as the game we’re watching enters a second overtime, gearing up for another 20 minutes of sluggish play and sluggish players?
Playoff overtime isn’t broken. The true marathons of three or four OTs only happen, like, once a postseason. But my problem with it is that it can all be a little repetitive, with five or six periods of the same kind of play but with diminishing returns on quality. So here’s the remedy: Play 4-on-4 after the first overtime.
Yes, I know, the blasphemy making a material change to the extra, extra sessions. But it would break up the monotony and likely produce a winner before a third overtime that turns the game into that unfortunate binge watch you stick with just to see how it all ends.
(Please note that I did briefly consider a “drop it to 3-on-3 in the third overtime” plan, before realizing that I care too much about the integrity of the playoffs and because I’m not a complete sadist.)
The victors get many spoils in the NHL. They get time with the Holy Grail, and eventually get their names on it. They get spiffy commemorative banners in their arena. They get a ring worth more than the gross domestic product of Micronesia.
The 2019 NHL draft is June 21-22 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Get ready with the latest prospect rankings and our mock draft.
What they don’t get are any assurances that their success can be maintained, which is why handing the Stanley Cup champion the 16th overall pick in the draft, the highest one outside the lottery, should be part of their overall bounty. Heck, in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks would have ended with the Stanley Cup and Vladimir Tarasenko at No. 16, years before we all got sick of the Blackhawks having this kind of good fortune.
If you’re tired of seeing the draft system abused by the worst of teams, then why not reward the best of them?
Booing Gary Bettman is now tradition at the end of the Stanley Cup Final. As he performs the ceremony for the new champion, the fans jeer him mercilessly for any number of justifications — the lockouts seem to be a popular catalyst.
As cathartic as this, it’s also distracting and embarrassing, like a brief political rally breaking out before the captain lifts the Cup.
The solution? Remove the boo magnet. Tell Gary to stay in the luxury box.
But rather than having another NHL proxy or a franchise legend award the Cup to the champions, how about this: The announcer says, “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Stanley Cup!” Then the two dudes with the white gloves wheel the Chalice out to center ice, and then they turn heel and walk away.
Put the spotlight on the Cup. Play “We Are The Champions” inside the arena. (That “Bohemian Rhapsody” … very popular.) And then just have the team celebrate. Maybe the captain picks up the Cup. Maybe they all do. Just let it be about them. No speeches. No longwinded thanking of team ownership. Just the boys and their new toy.
This could be the season finale of “The Week In Gritty,” at least until he shows up at the NHL Awards in June for inevitable overexposure. The season’s done. The whipped cream cannon has been put away. Gritty rests:
Oh, and I’ll repeat the only scenario I want to see at the NHL Awards this season: Gritty walks out to hand out the Hart Trophy at the end of the show, removes his head, and it’s Bettman in the suit. It would slay.
As some of you are aware, I grew up a New Jersey Devils fan, but obviously had put away childish enthusiasms when I became a Professional Sports Journalist. You won’t find me sleeping under Devils bedsheets anymore! (whispers: just footie pajamas…)
That said, it was with some exhilaration that I watched the Devils win the 2019 NHL draft lottery to earn the right to draft either Jack Hughes or Kappo Kaako, which is to say they’ll be drafting Jack Hughes because I can’t conceive a scenario in which Ray Shero passes over the American kid. That leaves Kakko for the New York Rangers, which leaves many Devils fans triggered with the anxiety written into their DNA about their neighbors across the Hudson. It’s entirely possible that we look back at this draft in 10 years and wonder how New Jersey could have passed up a sure thing in the Finn to draft a player who was too small to play center and ended up a poor man’s Patrick Kane on the wing. Which means it’s entirely possible the Devils beating the Rangers ends up hurting the Devils, and the little brother syndrome that’s inherent in Devils fandom is undoubtedly already kicking in about that.
The Devils have won the lottery twice in the last three seasons. Prior to that, the Edmonton Oilers won it three times in six years, and picked first overall four times in six years. This has caused some to wonder if it’s time to fix the lottery. Not in an “NBA freezing envelopes so the Knicks can draft Patrick Ewing” way, but in a “let’s not allow the same teams to keep winning it” way.
(One assumes the ultimate answer here is “wait until draft lottery sorcerer supreme Taylor Hall retires and it fixes itself,” but we digress.)
Brian Burke of Sportsnet recently went on a rant about this:
“How many times do you get to come to the trough and slurp the slop from the trough?!”@Burkie2020>#NHL>#DraftLottery>@JeffMarek>@JSportsnet>#HC12.
“How many times do you get to come to the trough and slurp the slop from the trough? How many times do you get rewarded for systematic failure? In my mind, if you pick first overall, you shouldn’t have the eligibility to pick first overall for three years. New Jersey just did it for the second time in three years. Is that right? Is that fair? Not for me it’s not. You pick first, the best you can do is pick fourth for the next three years. Fourth is still a good pick! You don’t have to go to the back of the line, but you can’t pick in the top three,” he said. “It’s gotta stop. These teams that fail systematically and want to get rewarded with the top picks, should not get that reward.”
Postgame analysis and highlight show airing each night throughout the season from Barry Melrose and Linda Cohn. Watch on ESPN+
Putting aside that we’re entrusting the guy who made the Phil Kessel trade to explain the value of high draft choices, there are a few issues with this rant.
Let’s start with the Devils. Are they a team that “fails systematically?” I’d argue that as a playoff team last season, that’s not the case. I’d argue that losing the reigning Hart Trophy winner for the vast majority of the season is the reason they had the lottery odds they had. So is the issue here to ensure teams that “fail systematically and want to get rewarded” are punished and prohibited from attaining another top three pick, or is this some kind of hockey socialism initiative designed to spread the wealth? Because while logic would dictate they could really, really use another elite player, I’m not sure picking first overall was really the plan this season.
Like many Brian Burke ideas, there’s a kernel of good thought here that gets overheated and explodes into overstatement. Restricting lottery winners from picking first overall in a given time frame is an idea we could get behind. Dropping these ‘lucky in lottery but not in life’ teams down to fourth is ridiculous. That’s too harsh. The goal here should be to not allow those franchise-redefining, “generational” talents to be collected like Pokémon cards by inept franchises at No. 1. It shouldn’t be to weaken their ability to rebuild dramatically, because the second overall pick is demonstrably more important than the fourth to that end.
But like anything, you have to remember where this all comes from. If “The Burke Plan” was in place 15 years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been ineligible to win the 2005 NHL draft lottery because they picked first overall in 2003 with Marc-Andre Fleury. Hence, they wouldn’t have selected Sidney Crosby. Hence, that pick drops to the team with the second overall pick. Hence, Brian Burke drafts Sidney Crosby instead of Bobby Ryan with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
No wonder he supports this.
(For the record, I do agree with his other plan, restricting the lottery to five to seven teams rather than all teams that missed the postseason. Montreal had a better record than three playoff teams and had a shot at the first overall pick. That’s dumb.)
From the Shark Tank:
I just met a guy the other night who was telling me that his friend, a lifelong San Jose Sharks fan, had revoked his fandom in favor of the Vegas Golden Knights because he’s from Vegas originally. Whatever the case, my main gripe with this is that it can be argued the Sharks are the Knights’ biggest rivals in their short existence. These jerseys should reject each other like incompatible organs.
He’s played 20 playoff games. Twenty! Tim Thomas played 50. Even Jonas Hiller played more than 30. Hey, while we’re at it, let’s put David Pastrnak in the conversation for greatest playoff scorer of all-time since his 1.26 points-per-game average in 19 games is right behind Wayne Gretzky (1.84) and Mario Lemieux (1.61).
Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville joined use to talk about why he took the gig and that shot-ski he took with Chicago Bears fans. John Buccigross joined us to talk Frozen Four and NHL playoffs. And we previewed all eight first-round series. Listen here or grab on iTunes here.
Carl Hagelin on Tom Wilson, his still-new Washington Capitals teammate: “When you play against certain guys, especially in the playoffs, you obviously don’t like him. You dislike him a lot. And then you come to a new team and you get to know him as a person and all of a sudden he’s a great guy … It’s one of those things, just like any other person, you have to prove yourself to me as a person.”
Fun piece by Down Goes Brown: Eight games that changed this year’s draft lottery ($).
Good stuff here from Joey Daccord on the NHL and Arizona State, including how he fell down in his pro debut: “Last time I checked, ice is still slippery in any rink. Everyone falls, it’s just a little unfortunate it happened in my first game. After I fell and I got up, a couple of guys on the bench hopped up over the boards and were banging their stick and laughing. I just gave them a head nod and a laugh. Christian Wolanin came over and said, ‘Hey man, I wasn’t forechecking you, I’m on your team.’ We had a good laugh. It didn’t really affect me much.”
Remembering some Stanley Cup postseason heroes of yore.
A North Texas girls team won the USA Hockey national HS title, and why they hope it’s a sign of more success to come.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
An interesting post about the intersection of hockey and the Grateful Dead.
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Cool jobs in sports: Alexa Tanzi, Capitals game entertainment coordinator.