The NHL Needs to Step in and Rig the Stanley Cup Final

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I realize I haven’t really commented too much on the NHL this year (mostly because I’ve watched about eight combined games), but I just had to float this take out there: the NHL needs to make sure the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup.

I know I’ve spent time waxing poetic about the chairmen of the Choker’s Club, and it would be really painful to lose Capitals jokes, but I’m trying to look out for the future of the NHL, here. True hockey guys are so blinded by their love of parity that they’d be thrilled if the Las Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup, but you absolutely CANNOT let an expansion team win the title their first year. Do you know how bad that looks for the rest of the league? At best it’ll say that every team in the league has a serious talent evaluation problem if they left all of these guys unprotected. I know they changed the expansion draft rules so you can protect less players, but still. The Knights front office ran circles around the rest of the league all season. I repeat: a team in its first year of existence was the smartest team in the league. Think about that. At worst, a Knights win completely de-legitimizes the Stanley Cup. “Hey, you remember when Sidney Crosby won those Cups?” “What, you mean that thing that literally anyone can win? In fact, a team in its first year won it. What’s the big deal?” This is why I don’t get why people hate on the NBA for being predictable. Don’t you want the best team to win the championship? Why would you want a fluke champion that looks terrible in hindsight? To encourage everyone to try? What’s the point of trying to be good if you know some rookie franchise can just steal the title away from you because they got hot? An expansion team is supposed to be a Mickey Mouse shitshow. You’re going to let them win the Stanley Cup in their first year???

Gary Bettman needs to step in. He cut his teeth working under David Stern, it’s time to either put that training to use or make a phone call to someone who can. The refs need to be in on it, the replay guys need to be in on it, Doc Emrick needs to be in on it, the zamboni guy needs to be in on it, literally everyone in the NHL needs to work together to ensure the Golden Knights don’t win the title. Sure, they’re a great story. Great arena, great fans, inspirational, all that. You know what else is a good story? Maintaining the status quo and letting an all-time great finally win something. Again, I realize most hockey guys would never say this, but that’s why I’m here. Parity and handshake lines only get you so far. At some point, someone needs to look at the bigger picture. The Caps need to win. Make sure it happens.

I have a Confession to Make

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There’s no way around it: I’ve been living a charade. I’ve been deceiving almost everyone I’ve ever met for far too long. I could feel the complex web of lies I’ve built starting to crumble around me for a few months now, but then, last night, everything came crashing down around me. So, it’s time to come clean: I am not a hockey expert. Man, that felt good. Like a giant weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’m not a hockey expert. Whatever you think the correct punishment is, I’ll take it. Throw the book at me. Lock me up and throw away the key. I’m not a hockey expert.

I thought I had everything figured out. Sure, pretty much all of my half-baked playoff predictions have been wrong, but I was still feeling good about my Finals pick. I mean, no one repeats in the NHL. It just doesn’t happen. It’s ingrained in the very fabric of the league: unpredictability and parity. But, lo and behold, the Penguins went and did it. It wasn’t always pretty, but they grinded out every game. Won it on grit and balls alone (with a sprinkling of two of the best players of the last 25 years). They just made the plays they needed to make. I’ve seen a couple places now comparing the Penguins to the Patriots due to the continued success in a league that doesn’t lend itself to it. I can definitely see the parallels. Built around a transcendent superstar (Brady/Crosby), a dominant secondary guy (Gronk/Moss/Malkin), and a rotating cast of fairly anonymous role players, both franchises are pretty much good every year. They’ve had the odd hiccup or two, but the Penguins almost always have one of the two or three best records in the East. They always play their best in the postseason. Literally everyone hates their fans and their best players. I’d embrace Penguins fans as kindred spirits, but then I’d have to associate myself with multiple people from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is one of those places where you really only want to know one person from there. One of my buddies is from Pittsburgh, so I’m at my quota. I’ll keep on disliking the Penguins so I can fit in with everyone else. Sorry. Now the question is, will they three-peat? Probably not. For all their talk of parity, the last ten or so champions have been the same three or four teams. It’s time for a random team to win. I thought we were gonna get that this year, but I’m definitely feeling it next year. I’m going with the Winnipeg Jets. Been a long, looooooooong time since a team named the Jets did anything noteworthy, and we all know the NFL version isn’t doing anything any time soon. So, the hockey version is about to pick up the slack. And, Canada is due for a win. The way these things work, the most forgettable Canadian team is going to be the one to break the dry spell. Write in pen: Jets 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

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Finally, the matchup everyone wanted to see. Pittsburgh. Nashville. The most devoted, historic, and traditional hockey city in the world against everyone’s favorite player Sidney Crosby. This is what everyone was expecting at the beginning of the year, so it’s good to see the two best teams in the league all season matching up for a chance at immortality. Many people were wondering why I didn’t do a Conference Finals preview. Honestly, once the Bruins and Caps lost, my interest level went down the drain. Like, I get it, Nashville does some wacky stuff in the stands and they want everyone to look at them and tell them how special they are. But I don’t care about them whatsoever. And the Penguins are just kind of there. As I’ve established before, I’m not a Hockey Guy. I’m not deep enough in the game to go on long rants about how big of a pussy Crosby is or how much I hate the Penguins 4th line center. And when I’ve got to deal with the constant existential crisis of being a Celtics fan who thinks trading amazing picks for bad players isn’t a good idea (which somehow puts me in the minority), and I just didn’t have the energy to keep up. But now I’m back, and the Hockey Gods should be thanking me for doing my best to sell this weird Final (at least the Senators didn’t make it).

I’ll keep this short and sweet, because you don’t come here for in-depth hockey analysis, you come here for takes fired from the hip. And this is pretty simple: teams don’t repeat in the NHL. They just don’t. If this were the NFL, NBA, or even MLB, you could easily say there’s no chance a team like the Nashville Predators could beat a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals. But hockey’s different. Unless you’re the Caps or maybe the Blues, hockey teams don’t really have loser DNA. Random-ass teams win the Cup all the time. Everyone just kind of forgets about it right away and moves on. The NHL has somehow turned the NFL’s greatest wet dream into reality and created true parity. I’m pretty sure the league would rather rig the Finals than have the Penguins go back-to-back. They’re going to have snipers set up in some of the luxury boxes ready to take out Crosby or Malkin if need be. Gary Bettman has the entire families of each referee scheduled to work these games held at gunpoint in some undisclosed warehouse to ensure total cooperation. The zamboni drivers have probably been instructed to leave the ice a little choppy to slow the Penguins down. For the Penguins, this series is going to be like one of those annoying bosses video games sometimes make you face even though you literally aren’t allowed to win. No one is allowed to repeat in the NHL. It would ruin the entire league’s identity. Its self-worth would be burned to the ground in front of its eyes. The only things that would prevent a mass suicide of Online Hockey Guys after a Penguins Cup would be the classiness of the Postgame Handshake Line. The very fabric of the universe might be undone if someone repeated in the NHL. Then they’d just be like that damn NBA, full of Super Teams and non-competitive games. If you already knew who was going to win, why play the games, right? It’s not like hockey produced arguably the most famous and foundational upsets in American history or anything. Having a team everyone chases would be a death knell to hockey as we know it. The Penguins can’t be allowed to win. And Nashville’s defense will stifle the Penguins attack.

Prediction: Predators in 6

I Guess I’m Not an NHL Expert ☹️

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Soooo, yeah. First round of the NHL playoffs officially ended yesterday and my predictions didn’t do too great. I’m trying to spin this into a positive, but I’m coming up empty. 2 out of 8 isn’t good no matter what you’re talking about. Even my beloved Bruins, who, as everyone knows, I’ve written about extensively in the past, shit the bed against an inferior team. Actually, maybe I am an NHL expert now that I think about it. The NHL Playoffs are known for being unpredictable. They’re built on the philosophy that anything can happen if you get in. There’s literally no difference being the one seed or the eight seed. It’s like March Madness, and unpredictability is just as important to the NHL as the Sacred Hand Shake Line. So really, correctly predicting the outcome of a series is worse for the game than getting things right. If I can get everything right, then the NHL will become what it hates: the NBA. If the better teams consistently win and prove that performing well in the regular season actually matters and has an advantage, why would Hockey Guys even care anymore? It’s all about the Crazy Tournament, bro. The NHL should thank me. They should award me with the Lady Byng Trophy this year. I should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame for Special Contributions to the Game. Getting six series wrong is really like getting six series right. I should become a new champion for Online Hockey Guys. I’ve arguably done more for hockey than Gretzky at this point.

Alright, I’m Back. I’m a hockey expert again and I’m pumped up. Let’s tackle these Second Round Series.

East

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Part of me is nervous for the Choker’s Club, since usually if a team like the Caps holds off the clear signs of an epic, epic collapse in round one, they can recover and go on a run. But, they’re playing the Penguins, who they always lose to. And if they somehow win, odds are they’ll be playing the Rangers, who they always lose to. I’m feeling good about the Caps, folks. No need to worry.

Prediction: Penguins in 6

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

I don’t really know how the Bruins lost to the Senators, because they suck. Besides Karlsson (who was apparently playing with a broken foot all series. Funny how these injuries that hockey players are “quietly fighting through” always get leaked so everyone can tell them how tough they are), they don’t really have any skilled players, everyone’s just tough and tries hard. Well, that was supposedly the Canadiens’ big thing this year. They had the toughness and added some players who are actually good. And the Rangers should have beat them at least a game earlier. This one could be over quick.

Prediction: Rangers in 4

West

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

When I think hockey, the first two cities that come to mind are Nashville and St. Louis. Who will win this historic series of longtime NHL powers? Nashville certainly looked like the team to beat in round one. I mean they totally dominated the Blackhawks. They didn’t have a chance to win a game. It looked like a college team going up against a high school team. They were completely superior in every way, and had all the ingredients you look for in a potential Stanley Cup Champion. Which is why I’m positive St. Louis will win this series.

Prediction: Blues in 7

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

The Ducks are just so forgettable. They easily swept the Flames, but no one is even considering talking about them. They’ve been the same solid team for years now. They also lose in the second round every year. The Oilers, on the other hand, are awesome. They’re fast, skilled, and young. In sports, teams like the Oilers usually have success against teams like the Ducks. Considering the Oilers are one of two teams I correctly predicted to advance, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on them.

Prediction: Oilers in 6

NHL Playoff Preview

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Playoff Hockey isn’t so much of a sport as it is a state of mind. It’s tense. It’s nerve wracking. It loosens the sphincters of even the most severely constipated. If we’re being honest, if your team is playing a Playoff Hockey game it’s a very unpleasant experience. But the highs of winning are almost unmatched. Every emotion you could possibly feel is ratcheted up to eleven during overtime. With the exception of playoff baseball, it’s probably prime Stress Eating Season. The NHL Playoffs bring a lot of things to the table, and all of them add up to one of the most thrilling experiences in sports. First round starts tonight, so might as well give some rapid fire takes about each series.

Before we begin, though, I have to add an important disclaimer: I’m not a Hockey Guy. It’s just not in my DNA. You’re either born a Hockey Guy or you aren’t. I never played growing up (unless you count a student-faculty game in high school where I was like a faster Jerome Iginla). Every few years I’ll try and force myself to become a Hockey Guy and it inevitably fails. That’s not to say I don’t like hockey. I actually like it a lot when I watch it and I love going to games. It’s just never been my priority. One of the ways I build my relationship with a sport and further my knowledge is by doing things like tweeting and playing video games and the like. Hell, that’s how I turned myself into a Soccer Bloke. But hockey is, to put it mildly, unforgiving to newcomers. It’s not like I draw a ton of activity whenever I fire some tweets off, but I wouldn’t even think about tweeting a hockey take if I wasn’t 100% sure it was the consensus opinion. Online Hockey Guys are absolutely brutal to outsiders. They’d sniff out my basketball fandom a mile away and instantly label me as a soft-as-toilet-paper idiot who will never know anything about hockey and I should kill myself for thinking I might. I’m not funny enough (i.e., I’m too white) to endear myself to them and have them treat me like a human being. Online Hockey Guys are the guys who spend their entire lives calling Sidney Crosby a pussy online but then if someone like me said it they’d jump down my throat and say I can’t appreciate his superior skill level. They’re the guys who bash basketball for anything and everything while failing to see that their Napoleon Complex and standoffish, holier-than-thou attitude towards anyone who doesn’t watch every second of every game drive any casual fan unfortunate enough to try to enjoy a nice Playoff Hockey game straight back to basketball, furthering the NBA’s stranglehold on the popular conscience. They’re the guys whose favorite search term on PornHub is “postgame handshake line.” They’re annoying, is what I’m getting at. So, I must respectfully ask all hardcore Online Hockey Guys to stop reading this now. It’s about time you feel what it’s like to be excluded from something you’re trying to like. This is a thinking man’s Playoff Hockey preview. This is an in-depth, measured, factually accurate preview coming from someone who’s fandom falls somewhere between casual and diehard. This is coming from a true sports savant with a penchant for nailing predictions. This is the Brian’s Den Playoff Hockey Preview.

East

Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

I’ve made my thoughts on the Capitals playoff hopes clear. I’m rooting very hard against them. But they are going to win this series. That being said, there’s hope in Toronto. It feels weird to say, but it’s true. Their rookie class is crazy good. Auston Matthews is ridiculous in front of goal and has a ridiculously annoying way of spelling his first name. He combined with Mitch Marner and William Nylander to form one of the highest scoring rookie trios in NHL history. They could finally fulfill the NHL’s biggest, longest-running pipe dreams: the Stanley Cup coming to Toronto because the Maple Leafs won it, not just because that’s where the Hall of Fame is. Knowing Toronto’s luck, all three will suffer career ending injuries in this series.

Prediction: Caps in 5

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s one of the rare takes I’m usually hesitant to offer, but I’ve always secretly liked Sidney Crosby. Guy’s just really, really good. People act like he’s a giant coward, as if guys like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were mixing it up every night like an Irishman on a bender. So he doesn’t fight a lot. So what? He’s the best player in the last 20 years whether you like it or not. That being said, I’m definitely rooting for Columbus here, and I think they’ve got a good shot to not only win this series but go on a deep run. As They will tell you, goaltending wins championships, and the Blue Jackets had the best tender in the league this year in Sergei Bobrovsky, who lead the NHL in goals against average and save percentage. They’ve been ice cold (get it? Because hockey is played on ice) lately, but here’s one analyst not afraid to stay on the BJ Bandwagon.

Prediction: Jackets in 6

Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers

Every year I love to revel in the Canadiens inevitable playoff disappointment. They’ve become Caps Lite. “But it’s different this year!” They say about the Habs. “Now, instead of a great goalie, fast and skilled forwards, a handful of cheap shot artists, and soft players they’ve got a great goalie, fast and skilled forwards, a handful of cheap shot artists, and tough players.” And it’s true. They’re a stingy and fast team going against a lousy defense. They’ve got the better coach. In a classic jersey matchup, they even win there. So, yeah, they’re probably going to win this series. But they’re out next round. Book it.

Prediction: Canadiens in 5

Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins

Listen, I’m a pretty unabashed homer. I’m a Bruins fan. I’d spend hours trying to drum up an argument for why the Bruins would beat just about anybody. But the Senators had a negative scoring differential. As in, they gave up more goals than they scored. I don’t give a shit how gritty a team is, if I could join a team and become the most dangerous goal scorer that’s a very, very bad sign.

Prediction: Bruins in 4

West

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

These guys are still around? In my mind, the Blackhawks get the same respect as the Giants (mostly baseball but would have applied to football before the Boat Boyz came to town) in that I expect them to win every playoff game. The old standbys are still here playing well, but now they’re adding some young guys like Artemi Panarin to the mix. This team just never dies until their body is cremated and the ashes are stuffed into a can of giardiniera. This is a tough Nashville team, though. Well rounded with dynamic players at every position. But I just have a tough time saying the Blackhawks are about to lose in the first round.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Maybe it’s because of the somewhat fluky nature of the NHL playoffs, but it seems like hockey really lends itself to the “teams that perform well enough to get every expert picking them as The Next Team only to fail repeatedly” archetype of Choking Teams. If the Capitals didn’t exist, both these teams would be able to steak their claim to the NHL’s leader in that category. The Blues looked like they were about to break out of that last year, but then they lost to the Sharks, and being the team the Sharks didn’t choke against is like being the team that lost to the Cubs in the World Series. I don’t think I can take them seriously anymore. And the Wild wouldn’t know what the second round looked like if it walked up to them and slapped them in the face. This series may go to game 7, where it would go to endless overtimes because both of them are scared of success. Still, the Wild aren’t playing the Blackhawks, so they might actually be able to win a series.

Prediction: Wild in 7

Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames

I feel like we’ve all kind of forgotten how goofy it is that there’s a professional hockey team in Anaheim, a professional sports team based on a Disney movie, a professional sports team named the Ducks, a player who’s in-game villainy is so over-the-top it would be rejected by every sports movie ever written, and that all of those things apply to one team. The Ducks make the Las Vegas Golden Knights seem like a well thought out, fully developed franchise concept. Maybe I’d like the Ducks more if they kept the original green and purple design, not the weird robo-duck motifs they use now. Meanwhile, there’s something I love about Calgary. I love when people pronounce it Cal-GARY, I love that they play in the Saddledome, I love that the city flag has a cowboy hat on it, and I love that Alberta is pretty much just one big Canadian Western movie set. I’m a big Flames guy. If they wear their red and white jerseys and bring Bret Hart to every home game, it’s over.

Prediction: Flames in 7

Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks

Connor McDavid is lead the league in points and is going to win MVP (sorry not sorry for not using the trophies’ fancy names). He’s 20 years old. Is that good? I think it is. Because they’ve been absolute ass the last decade I think people think the Oilers are the classic One Year Away playoff team, but they’ve got a shot of doing some real damage this season. This is a fast, explosive team, and once my guy Milan Lucic starts taking ill-timed penalties they’ll have the whole game working. As for the Sharks, they had a bit of an out-of-body experience last year when they finally made the Stanley Cup Finals. Since the lockout, they’ve dedicated themselves to blowing 3-0 leads, losing series in the most devastating ways imaginable, and generally letting their fans down (just kidding, they don’t have any fans). They’ve packed a lot of heartbreak into a short amount of time, which is never a good thing. Plus, as I’ve stated before, anyone who’s entire persona is based around their beard annoys me greatly, and the Sharks have like 20 of those guys. Needless to say I’m not a fan. Plus, they’re dealing with injuries to their top guys. They’re out.

Prediction: Oilers in 5

It goes without saying, but I should probably be treated like a bona fide hockey expert now. After all, giving the number of games in each series is a surefire sign of expertise. I might be close to becoming an Online Hockey Guy now, too, which would be an odd twist. Unfortunately writing this might disqualify me from every writing about basketball again, because everyone knows you aren’t allowed to like both. In fact, now that I’m a hockey expert, I might not be allowed to like any other sport at all. At least, that’s what the Online Hockey Guys tell me. Luckily for you, I’m not afraid to break with tradition, so I’ll risk arguing the Hockey Gods by choosing to enjoy both the NHL and NBA. Don’t ever say I’m not revolutionary.