_The following is from an email exchange between Dave Lozo and Sean McIndoe (Down Goes Brown). Each month they will talk some nonsense and debate the biggest topics in the NHL in our monthly review. You can _also check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave as they discuss the events of the week.__
Hi Dave… happy April. We've got less than a week to go in the season, so let's figure out where everything stands.
First up: the playoff race. There, uh, kind of isn't one. The eight spots out West have been settled for a while, and only the long-shot Lightning are really still chasing a spot in the East. The Capitals are close to clinching first overall. The Avs clinched last overall around Halloween. The scoring races look done. We're probably going to go into the final weekend without anything really at stake other than seeding, the Pacific Division title, and a few home-ice scenarios.
Does that mean anything, other than that the NHL just got unlucky this year? We've been hammered with the whole "competitive balance, parity, everyone gets to be in the race right up until the end" routine so consistently that it feels weird to get to this point and have everything be pretty much settled.
Lozo: Hi Sean. It's good to see that unlike Thanksgiving, we Americans and you Canadians celebrate April at the same time. We aren't so different, you and I.
It's partly bad luck, as much as I enjoy dumping on the NHL. But there's something strange about how about 14 of 16 spots every year are decided by January. The lack of drama probably has more to do with there being so many playoff spots awarded and the quiet understanding that the regular season doesn't matter. Teams don't care about home ice all that much, so there isn't even all that much interest between, say, the battle between Pittsburgh and Columbus for second in the Metro. They both want Game 1 at home, but it's not as if that's deciding the series.
If you look at the NBA, they're in the same boat. It's not as drastic, but just about all the playoff spots except for two are sewn up. Baseball is a little different, because fewer teams get in and division titles mean more, but there are seasons where the division races are basically done with two weeks to go. Regular seasons don't seem to matter much in any sport except football, but that's only because there are so few games.
Maybe the NHL needs to spice up the regular season by rewarding teams that have great regular seasons. Maybe all division winners get a bye. Or the Presidents' Trophy team gets a bye, but then you'd have to add a 17th playoff team that would play the 16th playoff team for the right to face the bye week team in the second round, but that would mean doing a 1-16, 2-15, etc. format. That would be fun, but we both know how the NHL hates fun.
No lie, I typed "fans" instead of "fun" there by accident at first. Either way, still true.
DGB: This goes back to the idea we talked about on the podcast a few weeks ago, where the league could add two play-in games in each conference, and have the #6 through #10 seeds play each other in single-game eliminations. That would give the bad teams something to play for down the stretch, but also make the good teams work harder because they'd want to make sure they got a top-six spot and avoided having their season come down to a coin flip. Right now, there's no real reason for the Flames to care all that much where they finish, other than maybe avoiding Chicago. Under this system, it would actually matter.
That system would be fun and fans would enjoy it, so of course it will never happen.
Hey, speaking of the NHL hating fun (and fans): The Olympics. They say they're not going. Do you believe them?
Lozo: My first thought on the Olympics was, it was very much like the US women's team "boycotting" the World Championships. They weren't really boycotting; they were threatening to boycott them. And it worked. They got a whole bunch of money (they should have gotten more, but that's another email conversation). Now they are playing in the Worlds and crushing your puny hockey country.
The difference in these situations—the US women are smart and I think the NHL is incredibly dumb. So while the women were using a negotiation tactic, I think the NHL is dumb enough to blow off the idea of going to the Olympics in April. Yeah, there's enough time for the IOC to react to this by giving the NHL what it wants, but now I don't think so. The well feels poisoned. The IOC doesn't need the NHL. It's not like no one is going to watch the Olympics because Radko Gudas isn't there.
This is just the evolution of the NHL as a cartoon villain. The next step will be barring poor people from games because "they smell funny" to the owners.
My favorite part of the announcement Monday is the NHL felt by doing it then, it wouldn't overshadow the playoffs. Because if there's one thing I know about the hockey media, when they arrive in new cities to be around new players, they don't ask those players questions about international hockey or news that happened a week or two prior. That never happens. No sir. Nope. Nipped in the bud, NHL. Great job.
DGB: Yeah, that was brilliant. Let's drop the news now, when nobody's paying attention. Um, hey, Alexander Ovechkin isn't in our single biggest media market right now, is he? Oops.
The amazing thing here is that the NHL is basically going up against the IOC, which is the ultimate sports villain. Nobody likes the IOC. It should be literally impossible to lose a PR battle against the IOC, because all you have to do is point and say "We're not them" and you get a standing ovation. But the NHL can't pull it off. And it probably doesn't care.
There have already been reports that the next step is for the league to pass a rule forbidding teams from letting individual players go the the Olympics, like the Capitals had promised to do with Ovechkin. That should make an ugly situation even uglier. We might as well just start the 2020 lockout now.
Lozo: My dream is that Don Fehr and the NHLPA have been setting up a shadow league since the last lockout, this way when the lockout happens, the new league can start in October as per usual. No one has to go overseas to make a few bucks and stay sharp while NHL owners concoct new ways to steal from players. We can all go watch these new teams in our usual cities and remember what hockey can be when it's fun. Like Field of Dreams, only with fewer ghosts and no Kevin Costner.
I also get why the IOC is evil, but I don't get why it owes the NHL anything here. I'm seeing sentiments that the NHL isn't the true villain here. But why should the IOC pay all this money to get players from the world's ninth-most popular sport? Why should the IOC give up all this stuff when hockey is just a drop in the bucket for the Olympics anyway? It seems like the NHL thinks it's way more important in the grand scheme of sports than it is. It's like when Ellis tried to negotiate with Hans in Die Hard. Buddy, you should have just kept quiet and went along with the plan until John saved the day.
I'm not sure who John is in this metaphor. I just know the NHL screwed this up and they get all my anger.
DGB: Is the NHL a Christmas movie? My column:
Hey, speaking of poorly run disasters—the Kings. We kept waiting for them to flip the switch and slide into the playoffs, and it never happened. I wrote a thing a few weeks ago rating the biggest disappointments from the non-playoff teams, and I had the Panthers in top spot. But that was when the Kings were still in the running. Now that they're out, they have to be No. 1, right? I know that you've made the case that they're not as good as we all give them credit for—you've compared them to the NFL's Giants—but missing the playoffs entirely is a disaster. And now there are rumors that they may make major changes, including in the front office and maybe behind the bench. I'm not even sure I'd want the job at this point.
Lozo: Yeah, that situation isn't getting any better. The Panthers group can turn it around in one year. I don't see the Kings doing that. I mean, yeah, they can be a playoff team next year, but those championship days are long over. Dean Lombardi is the anti-Stan Bowman. It's too bad. I mean, not for me, but for other people.
Who do you think is getting the last spot in the East? Ottawa ends its final week with five games in seven days, which started out with a shootout loss to the Red Wings, and then a 2-0 win over them the next night. Then the Senators end games against the Bruins, Islanders, and a Rangers team with nothing to play for that may rest injured guys, but that's just a lot of games in a short window at the end of the season. That may be the Lightning's best target if they get in.
DGB: The Senators are struggling and have a ton of injuries, and if the season was 85 games long I think they'd be in real trouble. But it's not, and with just three games left I think the Lightning are out of time. The bigger question for Ottawa, Toronto, and Boston is which of those two teams gets to play each other, and which one gets stuck in the wild-card spot and faces the Capitals. That's a big gap—the #2/#3 matchup in the Atlantic will be the worst in the league in terms of the final standings, and getting sent over to the Metro instead is basically game over.
Speaking of the Senators, one of the big stories of the month was Sidney Crosby's slash on Marc Methot that sidelined the defenseman with a lacerated finger (and gave everyone who saw it recurring nightmares). Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk lashed out, as he tends to do. This time, he called for Crosby to be suspended and labelled him a whiner. Putting aside the wisdom of calling out the best player in the league, did he have a case?
Lozo: God, no. What Crosby did happens 50 times a game. I'm all for those lacrosse whacks being illegal, but they're a routine part of defending in the NHL. It's magnified because of the gnarly nature of the injury and the fact it was Crosby, but again, it's such a routine part of the game now. And I don't get how we got here. Just because you have one hand on the stick it doesn't mean that you, a very strong man, can't hurt me. Hockey is dumb, man.
Speaking of dumb NHL things, I particularly enjoyed the Matthew Tkachuk-Drew Doughty thing. Tkachuk delivers the rarely seen sucker elbow to Doughty's mouth. He gets suspended two games. But in the NHL, that's not enough. You need on-ice justice.
So in their next meeting, Tkachuk has to fight Brayden McNabb. So they fight. Everyone applauds. That's a lesson for the rookie. You elbow a star, you have to fight. That's how you deter that dirty stuff. So what happens in that very same game?
TKACHUK TRIES TO MURDER DOUGHTY WITH AN OPEN-ICE HIT!
I genuinely hate this dumb sport. I do. I can't wait for the lockout.
DGB: I miss the days when big hits happened several times a period. Not because of the violence, just because we were used to them and didn't need to have an international debate over each and every one.
Let's try to think of something good. The playoffs are almost here, and we know a few of the matchups. Blues/Wild should be good. Rangers/Canadiens will too. And Penguins/Blue Jackets should be downright amazing. Is anyone going to pick Columbus here? Probably not, but how much fun will it be if the Blue Jackets win?
Lozo: None at all! If the Penguins are fully healthy, they should win that series relatively easily, depending on how much assault the referees let Brandon Dubinsky get away with on Crosby. The Blue Jackets aren't in the class of the Penguins but if they are without Kris Letang and/or Evgeni Malkin or those guys aren't close to 100 percent, then they have a chance.
The only series I care about are the ones involving Toronto and Edmonton. New blood. Boy oh boy is that Rangers-Canadiens series going to be annoying. Any time a series promises announcers will say "Original Six" at least 50 times, it ain't for me. Give me Leafs-Bruins or Oilers-Ducks. Sean, I don't know if you remember this, but the last time the Leafs and Bruins met in the playoffs, it was seven games and was quite exhilarating.
DGB: I PVR'ed that one and haven't finished it quite yet, so no spoilers.
Oilers/Ducks would be great, but we still have a shot at Oilers/Flames, which would be madness. McDavid vs. Gaudreau. Tkachuk vs. Lucic. Brian Burke vs. Kevin Lowe. And two fan bases that legitimately hate each other. It's the best possible matchup of the first round. I'm almost afraid to even mention it. It's like talking about a no-hitter that's still going on.
OK, time to wrap up. This is our last email exchange before the playoffs start, so do you want to go on the record with a Cup pick?
Lozo: Absolutely not. I need to see matchups first. And who is healthy. When I have my picks thrown back in my face in May, I want them to be as thorough and incorrect as possible.
But Connor McDavid better get the MVP or I'm coming to fight you. Yes, you. Specifically.
Sorry, that was aggressive. I'll fight someone else.
DGB: He will. Most of the awards are basically locked up at this point. McDavid gets the Hart. Matthews pulled away from Laine for the Calder over the final two weeks. Burns holds onto the Norris, although it was closer than we thought it would be. We're kind of down to the Vezina (Bobrovsky vs. Holtby) and Jack Adams (guy who actually deserves it vs. guy with a team that overachieved and will be fired in a year).
OK, I think we're done. Any departing words?
Lozo: Stop putting Peeps on pizza.
DGB: I bet Gary Bettman puts Peeps on his pizza.