With all due respect to Andy Williams and, well Christmas, we all know that this really is the most wonderful time of the year. For hockey fans, there is no better two weeks on the calendar than the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The pace is frenetic. There are always a couple of shocking upsets. Overtime games abound. Pacing yourself and dealing with little sleep, particularly on the nights when the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings play, is paramount.
When the league came up with its current playoff format that puts more of an emphasis on divisional play and geographical rivalries, this is exactly what it had in mind. And I wouldn’t be surprised if NHL chief operating officer John Collins, the marketing genius who has transformed the league into a big-time, event-driven cash cow, wasn’t in on the planning.
Because what the NHL has done has taken a page from March Madness with its new playoff bracket system. Who had ever heard of a playoff bracket before this season? Prior to this spring, doing playoff brackets were too unwieldy because you always had to wait until the rounds were over to untangle the seedings and move on to the next round. Now it’s nice and tidy. We know that regardless of upsets, the winner of the Boston-Detroit series will play the winner of the Montreal-Tampa first round set, and so it goes.
With that in mind, and in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I would provide my playoff bracket and my completed ballot for the NHL Awards. First, here’s the bracket, which I did with the help of my 14-year-old son, Lukas:
A couple of notes:
• You’ll notice we have Colorado going to the Stanley Cup final, one year after finishing 29th overall. That’s more of a hunch on the kid’s part, but why not? In Patrick Roy’s first playoff as a pro, he led the Sherbrooke Canadiens to the Calder Cup championship. And in his first post-season as an NHL player, he backstopped Montreal to the Stanley Cup. And you know he’ll have his team prepared for this, despite its lack of playoff experience.
• We have Montreal taking out Tampa Bay in the first round. Frankly, the kid had to give that one to the old man.
• Chicago upsetting St. Louis? Well, that wouldn’t qualify as much of an upset, would it? Both teams trended downward at the end of the season, but I’ll take Chicago’s healthy stars over St. Louis’s healthy bodies.
• Boston winning the Stanley Cup was an easy choice for both of us. I’ve been banging the drum for Boston since last summer, even when THN as a staff was picking the Blues to win the Cup. My main reason is this: the Bruins are the only team in the Eastern Conference that is as good as any team in the west. And the Bruins will cruise relatively easily to the Stanley Cup final, while whoever wins the Western Conference will undergo a battle of attrition the likes of which they’ve never seen before.
Now my ballot for the major awards: