As the sun sets on another year of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we are reminded of a few things about the NHL in general.
2) Winning the Stanley Cup must be freakin’ sweet. That trophy is amazing. Not only do the winners get their names engraved on the side, they get to drink out of it and shepherd it around town, showing it off like a newly purchased cashmere scarf.
In what other sport is the regular season so utterly pointless than in the National Hockey League? Each and every season, one team battles their way through an arduous and long 82 game regular season to win the President’s Cup. This team is deemed the best over the longest stretch of evidence we are given in determining who can make that claim. They, of course, lose in the first round.
Another 15 teams, through grit, determination and mostly just osmosis, also make the NHL playoffs. More than half the league makes the NHL playoffs. Bad teams make the NHL playoffs. Unlike say the NFL, in hockey, many teams make the playoffs almost by default. All the other teams are so bad that the mediocre ones are forced to continue playing through the beginning of the summer. Also unlike other sports, once a team gets in the playoffs they legitimately have a shot at winning the title.
It seems that every season we now see one and two seeds being knocked out in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It happens so often and the President’s Cup has been marked as so utterly frivolous that it is almost more surprising when a top seed does not lose.
Imagine for a second if college basketball worked this way. Sure a lot of teams reach the NCAA Tournament in college basketball. The percentage does not compare to the NHL postseason but a large amount of teams are given the chance to win a championship. However, how many of those teams actually have a chance? If college basketball worked like the NHL, all of them would. And the most surprising scenario would be if we had a season where all the one seeds advanced. It would be unexpected to see all four 16 seeds get knocked out in round one not because they would have better players but because the seeds would be meaningless and something happening four out of four times when each situation is a 50-50 chance seems unlikely.
If that unnecessarily elaborate analogy fell flat, take a look just at the hockey playoff results from recent years. At what point do the seeds and, even more astonishingly, home ice advantage, mean nothing? The NHL is already surprisingly progressive as far as making changes to their game. They instituted an entertaining twist on the All-Star game where captains pick the rosters. Perhaps a better twist would have been to eliminate regular season play and have each team’s captain Rock, Paper, Scissor their way to a playoff berth. I feel as though Zdeno Chara would be just as intimidating dropping a paper as he is crossing the ice.
Whichever franchise ends up lifting the cup at the end of each June, their accomplishment is not diminished in any way. The thing that is marginalized is the month by month, long, extended regular season that is supposed to help us determine the best teams in the league. Instead, a cup champion is nothing more than a paced offense that takes shots and has a hot goalie behind them regardless of what their seed or record was.
Hot goalies are so in right now; trying to win that coveted title without a hot goalie would be like entering a singing competition without the use of a microphone. You could still sing, and your voice might be good but no one is going to be able to tell.