Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The NHL Playoffs Begin Tonight

It's spring again, and you know what that means -- hockey! Some people associate hockey with winter, what with the part about it being a game you play on ice, but pah I say. Pah! Spring is when hockey starts mattering across the country more so than usual, because it is Stanley Cup Playoffs time and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are good times.

My loyalty priorities are a bit different than the ones you usually encounter; I like the Canadian teams as much as the next Cup-starved Canadian fan (as long as we aren't talking about some Leafs fan here, because diehard Leafs fans are seasonal depression factories), but my affections have a well-established hierarchy.

I automatically root for the team I find more entertaining (and I measure my entertainment value in how often they hit and how fast they skate, because I am a simple man with simple pleasures); if both teams are equally entertaining (or if neither team is), I root for the one with more old Winnipeg Jets on it; if both teams have an equal number of former Jet players (which is usually zero), I root for whichever team has more players I really like on it; if all of the above fails, that's when I finally say 'screw it' and root for the Canadian team. Go Canada!

The NHL Playoffs begin tonight, and here are the matchups we (and by 'we' I mean you, because you probably don't work evenings) have to look forward to in the first round:

Western Conference

(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (8) Calgary Flames

Let's not mince words -- Calgary are only in the playoffs because Colorado missed one overtime point somewhere this year. (And let's all just admit it: Detroit and Colorado in the first round would have been awesome.) On the other hand, the last few seasons of Detroit hockey have demonstrated that all the regular season points in the world don't make a team any good in the playoffs. So this is kind of tricky. Detroit are considered the heavy favourites here, but they're always considered heavy favourites and very rarely does that actually work out.

I like both teams, but I'm siding with Calgary because constant checking makes me smile really wide. Yes, Detroit has former Winnipeg Jet Kris Draper, so I'm partially going against my mindset on this one -- but, c'mon, the Jets sold Draper to Detroit for a dollar. (No, I'm not making that up. That actually happened.) Ergo I'm willing to make an exception on this one, and so I will. Calgary is most likely going to lose, because they win away games about as often as Ed Belfour goes to bars without getting into trouble, but I'm rooting for them anyway.

What I'd Want: Calgary in six.
What I'll Guess: Detroit in seven.

(2) Anaheim Mighty Ducks vs. (7) Minnesota North StWild

Minnesota are boring as all hell to watch and I hope Anaheim crushes them like ants.

There's more to it than that, but not really a whole lot more. Anaheim plays entertaining, fast-paced hockey and sports former Jet Teemu Selanne on their roster; Minnesota is relentlessly boring and their logo looks like the early design stages of a scratch-and-win ticket.

What I'd Want: Anaheim in four.
What I'll Guess: Anaheim in six.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Dallas North Stwait dammit no Stars

Dig the wacky seeding shakedown: the third seed has 105 regular season points and the sixth seed has 107 points. The division structure is just goofy like that.

Expect to hear the words "goaltenders' battle" trotted out roughly a million times in the television coverage, which is a special code phrase to tip you off that the entire series will have maybe nine goals tops between the two teams combined. I sure hope you like "defensive hockey"! Har har!

So much as I'm rooting for anybody (I don't anticipate a thrill ride of a series), I'm rooting for Dallas in this one. Dallas has Stu Barnes on their squad -- yes, Stu Barnes is still playing -- and, truthfully? I haven't cared about Vancouver at all since they let Anson Carter leave, because Anson Carter is one of my favourite players.

And we're Winnipeg, god damn it; our Jets used to hate their Canucks with a passion, in the grand spirit of friendly competition and rivalry between equals, and it says a lot about the reputational decline of our city that people now consider us lucky to hold a complacent role as Vancouver's farm system. Giving up the pretense of being a successful city and instead accepting second-class status to support an actual successful city? Why, that's Spirited Energy!

We can't have nice things.

What I'd Want: Dallas in six -- and hilarity at the airport when a Nordiques fan with a long memory, working as a customs agent, prevents Eric Lindros from crossing the border by speaking to him only in French.
What I'll Guess: Vancouver in five, with at least two of these games going into double overtime because Turco doesn't have the luxury of shootouts in the playoffs and it seems to take fifty or sixty shots per night just to get Luongo out of position.

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) San Jose Sharks

Not much to say here; this'll be a fun series, if we get to see any of it. I'm going to root for Nashville because San Jose won this series last year, and because I like Peter Forsberg better than I like Joe Thornton. Get 'em, Forsberg!

What I'd Want: Nashville in seven.
What I'll Guess: Nashville in seven.

Eastern Conference

(1) Buffalo Sabres vs. (8) New York Islanders

I'm rooting for the Buffalo Sabres to win the Stanley Cup this year, because they have Teppo Numminen and the other teams don't. Teppo Numminen is one of my all-time favourite players; how many current NHL players, or NHL players ever, can say they have their own theme song? Hmm? That's what I thought!

If you thought Buffalo had playoff injury woes last year, having lost almost every defencemen by the end of their run, consider this: if goaltender Ryan Miller gets injured, their playoff hopes will hinge on... Ty Conklin. Yes, that Ty Conklin.

So if Buffalo doesn't win the Stanley Cup this year, I'm blaming Ty Conklin. And I'm blaming that stupid new logo Buffalo introduced this year, because that logo sucks and I hate it. It's the San Diego Chargers logo with horns! Whose idea was this? What, honestly, what was so wrong with the original logo? Their original logo was freaking awesome! It had a buffalo, it had sabres -- they're the Buffalo Sabres! This is not rocket science! Aargh!

What I'd Want: Buffalo in four, with Brian Campbell obliterating Alexei Yashin in Game 1 for his second playoff-highlight hit-of-the-year in a row.
What I'll Guess: Buffalo in five. Because, c'mon, it's the Islanders.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Tampa Bay Lightning

God, I hate the New Jersey Devils. I don't think I've never met anybody who enjoys watching the New Jersey Devils; I don't think I would want to meet anybody who could enjoy the New Jersey Devils. Except of course for those brief bursts, back in the day, when the game would stop so Scott Stevens could hit somebody -- but these were five-second spurts of interest amidst sixty minutes of silence and inertia. And Scott Stevens retired three years ago!

I was really rooting for a Rangers/Devils showdown in the first round, because that's really the only time I'm interested in either team -- and a Rangers/Devils showdown in the later rounds would mean both teams have to advance first, and that would just mean way too many games of boring hockey clogging the airwaves.

And speaking of boring hockey clogging the airwaves, hey, guess what game is on Hockey Night in Canada this Saturday.

Uh huh.

God, I hate the New Jersey Devils. I have no particular affection for Tampa Bay, but oh man I hope they kill the Devils dead.

What I'd Want: Tampa Bay in four blowouts, and next year Claude Julien wins a Stanley Cup with whichever team hires him first.
What I'll Guess: New Jersey in five. Damn it.

(3) Atlanta Thrashers vs. (6) New York Rangers

I have never, in my life, ever seen an Atlanta Thrashers game. I keep forgetting the team even exists, and they've been around for eight years now.
But the heck with it, I'm rooting for them anyway. Why not? This is their first year making the playoffs, and I like to root for the newcomers. Everything I've read about them indicates that they're a good solid team, and if I ever actually get to watch one of their games (here's hoping, playoff television schedule makers!) I might find out whether or not they're fun to watch.
So already I like them better than the Rangers. Man, have I ever not cared about the New York Rangers since they traded away Anson Carter since they traded away Cory Cross since Mark Messier retired. But don't feel bad, Rangers! You're easily my favourite New York City sports team!

What I'd Want: Atlanta in six.
What I'll Guess: Atlanta in six.

(4) Ottawa Senators vs. (5) Pittsburgh Penguins

Say what you will about Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Jordan Staal, Daniel Alfredsson, whoever; my favourite player on either team in this series is Georges Laraque.

I'm serious!

Ottawa becomes an exponentially more dangerous playoff team when the Leafs don't make it out of the regular season, so I expect they're going to win this series; I like Ottawa, so that's cool. But I'm still rooting for Pittsburgh, just because I like Pittsburgh that little bit more. And I love that Georges Laraque made it into the playoffs when the Oilers specifically didn't. Suck that, Oilers! Should have known better!

What I'd Want: Pittsburgh in seven fast-paced and exciting games, with Georges Laraque scoring the winning goal in overtime. And while I'm dreaming, I would also like a rocketship that prints money.
What I'll Guess: Ottawa in six, to the great despair of the mainstream media. WE GET IT SPORTSWRITERS YOU GUYS LIKE CROSBY.

The first round of the Playoffs ends, coincidentally, at almost the same time my current employment does -- and, as you'll recall, my current employment runs from four to eight each weekday evening. So I'm not going to get to watch many of these games, and the ones I do get to watch are going to be Devils games because fate is a fickle strumpet when it comes to television schedules. Alas! Alas.


Tyler said...

What happens when you have two equally entertaining teams with an equal amount of former Jet players and an equal amount of players you like who are both Canadian?

James Howard said...

When it happens, I'll let you know. My preliminary guess is I'll start rooting for whichever team is hitting harder and more often.