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Monday, April 9, 2012

2012 Torontonian Guide to the Playoffs

mark recchi bruins stanley cup
Some drink to celebrate; Leafs fans drink to forget.
This was a column I planned on retiring. For the first five months of the season it looked like I might get that chance. Then the Leafs went into an unprecedented tailspin­—described by Brian Burke as a 18-wheeler going over the cliff, but really more like if that 18-wheeler was carrying a nuclear warhead and decimated the entire city of Toronto on impact.

If you've totally given up on hockey and decided to become a widow until you get some irrational pre-season hope, I don't blame you. Baseball is here and the Blue Jays were a Spring Training juggernaut, which everyone knows is a guarantee for success (spring optimism!). Throw yourself head first into baseball and never look back.

If the only amount of interest you can muster is for the money you dream of winning in your playoff pool, well you might prefer to read this.

For the brave souls that wish to watch playoff hockey and need to find some team to give your temporary loyalty, while still letting those abusive Maple Leafs keep your heart, I present the 2012 Torontonian Guide to the Playoffs.

Northeast hate-on

The Ottawa Senators are an obvious choice to hate with full passion. Leafs Nation—okay, specifically me—spent an entire summer ranting about how the Senators were going to be absolutely brutal. Well, fast-forward to the end of the season and the Senators are back in the playoffs, while the Leafs are nestled cosily at the bottom of the standings—for once inside the draft lottery, however. Boy is my face red...with rage.

The Ottawa Senators are like the Montreal Canadiens—that is if the Montreal Canadiens had no history, no real success, a fan base made up of bandwagon fans, and were from a city that's idea of fun was touring parliament buildings. What's not to hate?

The other resident of the Northeast, the Boston Bruins, whipped the Leafs pretty mercilessly this season, outscoring them 36-10 in six convincing wins. Plus, they've got Tuukka Rask (I don't care if he's hurt) and Tyler Seguin. Any more success in Boston thanks to the Leafs is too much to endure.

The Phil Kessel trade is tiring enough to hear about every single day. If more Stanley Cups get added to that argument it doesn't matter that Kessel is only the second Maple Leaf to break 80-points since 1993-94.

Oh, Canada, how I hate thee

The Vancouver Canucks are really trying to get a good Canadian bandwagon going, being Canada's best hope for a Stanley Cup for the second year in a row. Unfortunately, the rest of Canada, particularly out West, hates Toronto as a city, and hates the Leafs as a franchise even more. I'm not just going to temporarily forget that and send my love westward.

Plus, the Canucks are a team with goaltending so good that they have the audacity to boo one the best goalies in the league because their backup is just as good, if not better. Whenever the fans boo Luongo they might as well be mocking the Maple Leafs, whose idea of quality goaltending is a .900 save percentage and only one cheesy goal a game.

I'm sorry, Vancouver. You have a really beautiful city and I really love it, but I can't support your taste in hockey teams on moral grounds.

The rat factor

Speaking of moral grounds; if you don't want to hate the Canucks for their Canadianess, why not hate them for their rat factor. No team has amassed such a collection of punchable faces. Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, and Max Lapierre are some of the yappiest, most annoying players in the league that are nowhere to be seen when push comes to shove. That's not true, they're probably on the ground sometime before push, waiting on a penalty.

Suck it, Phaneuf

Scott Hartnell hates Dion Phaneuf. I understand that you too might hate Dion Phaneuf right now, but are you really going to cheer for Scott Hartnell and the Flyers? Hartnell's only redeeming quality is that he looks like Rowlf the dog from the Muppets. (Ok, #Hartnelldown is kind of cool, but not cool enough to make me cheer for the Flyers).

Plus, there is still some residual bitterness I hold towards the Flyers for eliminating the Leafs from their last trip to the playoffs. Yes, I'm bitter about something that happened almost a decade ago. On a scale of 1 to "I'm still mad at Kerry Fraser", that's nothing.

Oh, and don't forget they're THE FLYERS! You might as well cheer for Iceland in D2.

Florida has a hockey team, apparently

I forgot there was one franchise in Florida, let alone two. If we ignore their right to exist maybe they'll just go away.

Quebec City

Speaking of teams with no right to exist... The Phoenix Coyotes are still around—showing a pulse despite having their life support yanked years ago. This is a team that will just not die. Impressive, really.

It's time to deal the final blow. Another quick playoff exit, no extra revenue, and a rebirth in Quebec City faster than you can say, "Gary Bettman hates Canada".

Smashville

The Preds are all in this year—dealing a first and second round pick for Paul Gaustad and Hal Gill, plus wooing Alexander Radulov back from the KHL. Nashville knows their window is open and it might close in a hurry if they don't make things happen soon. Ryan Suter is a UFA at season's end and both Shea Weber and Radulov are RFAs, the former entering his final season before becoming a UFA.

The Preds are a budget team and are going to have difficulty signing everyone, especially after handing out major cash for Pekke Rinne. You know what's good for cash flow? An extended playoff run. Plus, if the Predators make a major run you might just see Suter get sucked back in and give it another go, money be damned. Maybe Weber leaves money on the table and signs a big extension as well. Radulov, well, he has shown he just wants to get paid, so he seems like a candidate for a summer trade regardless of what happens this post-season.

I'm not saying the Leafs will be front-runners to land any of Suter, Weber, or Radulov—either through signings or trades—but the possibility that one or more might be available provided things go wrong for Nashville is reason enough to cheer against them.

Sorry, Nashville. You're a model expansion franchise, the way you've built your team is truly impressive, and you're one of the few southern teams that seems to have actually built a grassroots love of hockey, but I'm going to have to cheer for your demise. Sorry, it's not you, it's me. I'm a bad person.

Contract Amnesty?

There are some rumours that the owners might try to include a one-time contract amnesty in the next CBA agreement, meaning teams can shed one contract off the books, penalty free.

If that's the case, buh-bye Mike Komisarek. More importantly, however, is the potential for some very interesting players to become free agents.

Surely, the Vancouver Canucks would cut Roberto Luongo free, handing the starting duties to Cory Schneider. Seeing the Canucks and/or Luongo crumble in the playoffs would make this even more likely. Of course that brings up the question: why would you want your team to go after a player who has just fallen apart in the playoffs (again).

Well, when there is the potential (in this semi-outlandish hypothetical scenario) that the goalie with one of the highest save percentages over the last five years becomes available, you sort of ignore some of the (MANY) blowups in the playoffs. That's what happens when you watch a team with goalies struggle to break a .900 save percentage.

Is it clear enough that you shouldn't be cheering for Vancouver? Do I have to make up a story that Johnny Canuck kidnapped and killed Carleton the Bear?

Now, please turn off the rational part of your brain and take a step out into an even more outlandish territory.

A crazy idea—and this is certainly crazy, although it has been suggested on ESPN (who know nothing about hockey)—is that maybe the Washington Capitals would entertain the idea of using the clause on Alexander Ovechkin. The Great 8 has a $9.5 million annual cap hit that doesn't end until 2021. Ovechkin hasn't been the same player he was when he first broke into the league. His point totals have declined over the past four seasons and he is showing an inability to adapt to defences that have figured out how to stop him.

If the Capitals flame out, maybe bold things happen in DC. Maybe it's time to make a major change. Maybe it's time to reassess Ovechkin as the face of the franchise. Maybe it's time to stop paying $10 million a season for a first-round playoff exit.

Maybe it's time to stop dreaming.

Vultures

Following the same line of thinking, there is no reason to cheer for the San Jose Sharks. At some point they have to concede that this whole thing just isn't working and changes must be made. The more talented teams out there willing to blow things up and make good players available can only be a positive.

Who's Left?

Ok, that leaves us with Pittsburgh, New York, and New Jersey in the East; and St. Louis, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago in the West.

Either you love Crosby or you hate him, so I'll just assume a large portion of people are crossing Pittsburgh off their lists. Fine, whatever, he hasn't done anything for you lately. He only brought the Gold Medal back to Canada. That's cool, keep hating him. No, really, you totally sound super knowledgeable when you call him Cindy Crybaby. I can't wait to hear what other witty nicknames you've come up with.

Likewise, I know a lot of people hate Detroit simply because they have been good for so long, so I understand a lot of people are knocking them off their short-list as well. Have fun disliking the most well-run organization in the league. You're unnecessarily bitter and probably think The Godfather is overrated.

I still hold the New Jersey Devils responsible for the crimes they committed against hockey during the Dead Puck Era. I'm definitely holding their forefathers' sins against them. They're out.

The Blues have really come out of nowhere this season, and could be fun to watch smash their way to a Stanley Cup Final. They may not score a lot of goals, but they sure make up for it in crushing physicality. Unfortunately, I can't help but feel like cheering for the Blues is like cheering for the Dead Puck era Devils. I'm not sure I can do that.

LA? They're in. Just imagine the bender Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will go on if the Kings win the Stanley Cup. The debauchery they bring the Cup along for is reason enough to cheer for LA. Plus, who doesn't want to see Dustin Penner try to mix pancakes in the Cup?

Cheering for the Blackhawks is harder with Jonathan Toews out of the lineup and after Duncan Keith took a surprising heel turn, complete with a new elbow-to-the-head finisher. It would be awfully nice seeing them knock off the Canucks again, however.

Finally, if you want to know what Brian Burke's initial plan for the Maple Leafs was, look no further than the New York Rangers. They are built from the net out, and play a brand of in-your-face, physical hockey. Truculence! They are almost built more like a Western Conference team in that regard (think Nashville or St. Louis). They also have high-priced superstars in the line-up (Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards), another thing Burke really likes. Although, cheering for the Rangers might just make you sad when you realize the Maple Leafs squad that Burke constructed are almost the exact opposite of the Rangers.

The last playoff hope in Toronto

Or you can renounce the NHL and cheer for the only true contender: the Toronto Marlies. Yes, it has come to this, Leafs Nation. Ignoring that the NHL playoffs are going on because the farm team is the only Toronto team that has played a meaningful game in far too long.

These are dark days, my friends. Dark days indeed.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I disagree with everything in this article, but I love this blog. Keep it up.

Matt Horner said...

Well since you have such nice things to say you can disagree all you want!

hobey1 said...

I'm not a Crosby hater, but he wasn't really that good in the Olympics. And you say he brought the Gold back to Canada. Jonathan Toews got MVP for a reason, and he wasn't the only one better than Sid.

Matt Horner said...

Johnny Toews got the MVP, but Sidney got the Golden Goal. Saying he wasn't THAT good is just nitpicking. I know other players had a better tourney, but he got the game winner. If he doesn't score that it doesn't matter how well anyone played - they're all seen as losers.

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