This year's playoffs have been a treat to watch, but some just can't see the bright side of things. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Stanley Cup final is two games old and so far the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins have treated us hockey fans to some absolutely stellar play.
The fact the refs have let the teams play and decide the games themselves has been a breath of fresh air. Now, I’m all for getting rid of the obstruction that once ground this game to a halt, but it’s almost as if these two teams are so good and filled with so many great players they won’t take those dumb penalties, anyway. The way the refs have put their whistles away and not called the chincy little taps by the defender that simply let the attacking player know he’s there – without slowing anything down – has provided us with some great games unimpeded by man-advantages that shouldn’t be a main story in any battle for the glorious Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup.
But, amazingly, there are still complaints. They focus not just on the refereeing, but a range of topics from the instigator rule to conspiracy theories. This really sticks in my craw, because if all you can do is whine and complain while this great display of skill, grit, desire and hunger is going on in front of us, then, I’m sorry, ya just ain’t a hockey fan.
I’m convinced the NHL, the refs and the players simply can’t win. So, by the year 2050, the NHL is going to undergo some on- and off-ice changes that will do nothing but subtract from the game. It will be all thanks to those who just couldn’t enjoy the raw emotion of a natural, free-flowing game of hockey.
Here’s how the NHL will be in 40 years should the complainers get what they want:
When in doubt, suspend them
Scott Walker should have been suspended for punching Aaron Ward, but wasn’t, and Evgeni Malkin wasn’t suspended for his own instigator penalty in the final five minutes of Game 2. Those who were up in arms about Walker’s non-suspension were even more upset that the league again opted to rescind a sentence in the Malkin case. They just can’t understand why some rules apply more stringently to certain players. Yet you can be sure if Malkin did get suspended, the same people would be livid he got the automatic ticket to the press box. Wait a minute. Didn’t you want those penalties to be suspensions?
(Note: The NHL isn’t breaking any of its own rules by rescinding these suspensions. It clearly says in the rulebook the league is entitled to do so in these instigator situations.)
Just to be sure they aren’t ‘offending’ anybody, in 2050 the NHL will suspend any and all players who get into a scuffle at the end of a heated matchup, even if it’s on the grandest of stages, the Stanley Cup final. No one going to a hockey game or watching on TV wants to see any emotions boiling over – after all, who wants to watch players who actually want to win and get agitated when they fall agonizingly short? Hockey isn’t meant to be an emotional game anyway, right?
Bodychecking is allowed, but only if you ask the other player first
Niklas Kronwall’s devastating – and perfectly clean and excellently timed – hit on Martin Havlat in the Western Conference final was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, Havlat was injured on the play and that’s something no one wants to see.
But no one wants to see car accidents or train wrecks, either, but they are a part of life. It falls under the ‘stuff happens’ banner; you can’t protect everyone from everything – and the pursuit of doing so is foolish, over-protective and restraining.
What other play was Kronwall supposed to make there? Try to knock the puck out of Havlat’s feet? Because if he did that and Havlat fell, you can be sure he would have been called for tripping. No, the hockey play was to put Havlat on the ice. The Chicago right winger had seen the puck, looked up to make a decision on what to do with it and looked down again to see it in his feet. Havlat is a very skilled player, so don’t think for a second he didn’t know where the puck was or what play he could make with it to get it out of the zone.
But because the hit was so huge and eye-popping, the nagging pacifists among us couldn’t live without a message-sending penalty and they got it, along with the ridiculous game ejection.
So, to make sure no one sees anything that will give them nightmares and to make sure no one gets injured in the NHL ever again, bodychecking will only be allowed in the league in 2050 if one player stops short of another and asks, “Are you ready? I’m going to hit you now,” and follows that up with a weak little push into the boards without any momentum that could put the other player at risk. Because this game isn’t meant to be a physical challenge, is it?
No all-stars allowed in the Cup final
Like him or lump him, Sidney Crosby is one of the world’s best players, no bones about it. Even if you use every ounce of energy to cheer against the guy, you have to appreciate the talent and drive he brings to every playoff game. But to take the disdain to a whole new level, some are intent on letting everyone know – despite the numbers against them – Crosby is nothing more than a soft whiner. Oh, the irony.
To make sure none of the league’s best players are able to partake in and create era-defining moments or turn in record-setting playoff performances, in 2050 the NHL will ban any player who scores more than 90 points from playing in the NHL playoffs. Their team will have to use call-ups or double shift its current roster players, because as fun as it is to watch Sidney dangle, I’d rather watch Aaron Voros play on the first line in Game 7 of the final because I never notice that guy. Wouldn’t you like to see that, too?
Every potential penalty will be instantly reviewed
When the same two teams – full of the world’s best players – make it to the biggest stage two years in a row, something is up. It’s obvious the NHL, led by commissioner Gary Bettman, has come up with some master plan and orchestrated the biggest coup in sports history by ensuring its best make it to the final showdown. Never mind the fact both rosters are full of experience, skill, all-world class and the ability to take it up a notch in the post-season; it’s blatantly obvious the referees have been the only reason we are where we are.
So, to eliminate any chance of a conspiracy, each coach will be given an unlimited supply of red ‘challenge’ flags they can throw to the ice if they think the refs have missed a call. The play will be blown dead immediately and the reviewers upstairs will take their time to make sure the right call – or non-call – has been made. Because hockey isn’t meant to be a fast game, is it? And besides, we don’t want to see dynasties or watch the best-of-the-best play for the Cup against each other too often now, do we?
It’s amazing – absolutely mind-boggling – to me that people have still found ways to whine and complain with the great games that have been given to us so far; they won’t be happy until the raw game has been completely dumbed-down. The first three rounds of the playoffs weren’t intense, fast, or good enough to escape the grasp of complaining and now the final has to be surrounded by the same old rubbish, too.
I know when the shining Stanley Cup is brought out onto the ice to be awarded to one of these two fine teams I might shed a little tear at the sight and history of it, knowing the greatest sports season is behind us for another year, because I love the game.
But for those who can only find faults and shortfalls of this tremendous post-season, the only tear you might shed stems from the fact you won’t have anything to cry about until next October – or maybe even September if you want to get in on the pre-season warmups.
Lighten up and let it go. And if you can’t do that and just enjoy the contest, I almost feel sorry for you.
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before and the games ahead, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
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