(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
7 – THE RATINGS!!!!!
One of the things that has been pervasive in hockey over the past few weeks has been the smug chortling from Canadians like, “Oh ho, the ratings for NBC will be really bad if it’s a Ducks/Senators final, haha,” as though: a) anyone outside of an NHL or NBC boardroom should give a rat’s ass, and b) the real loser wouldn’t be the hockey fans who have to sit through up to seven games of the stultifying, ugly hockey both teams are capable of playing.
Like honestly, this is one of those things I cared about when I was 14 and wrestling ratings were a thing. The Monday Night Wars. I was a WWF guy, myself (though I also watched Nitro!) and so to see my preferred brand of pro wrestling pull ahead was something of a personal vindication. In retrospect, it was dumb to feel this way.
Again, I was 14.
So why does Canada care? As though they have some sort of provenance over Hockey Caring, after the Senators didn’t sell out a home playoff game, and after ratings for Sportsnet’s coverage are repeatedly abysmal. (Apparently they’re just fine from these playoffs, but guess what: It’s because the Leafs and Oilers made it for the first time in a million years.)
Point being: Who cares however many million people? If you’re the only one in the United States watching a game, what’s the big deal?
Go back to worrying about whether the Senators are Hashtag Canada’s Team.
(They’re not, by the way.)
6 – Battle of the Ryans
Not that I’m choosing sides here because their names are both so so good, but Ryans Johansen and Kesler are in a bit of a feud.
It’s not hard to see who has the moral high ground, though. Kesler chicken-wing elbowed Johansen right in the chin — and shocker: he didn’t get a call from DOPS about it — and Johansen was steamed. Understandably so.
Of course, Johansen did a dumbass thing by complaining about it, because when you tell a goalie “cut it outttttt!” and there’s no discipline forthcoming from someone in a position of authority, the bully is only gonna turn up the heat on you. Perhaps Kesler will resort to the “I’m not touching you” trick in future meetings. I hope so.
To be clear: Kesler should have been suspended for last night’s Game 3. Johansen is right that the stuff Kesler gets away with — and in fact, gets praised for on every broadcast and every article from a non-Nashville outlet about this series — is beyond the pale. There’s no way it should happen in today’s game.
But it’s the playoffs so it’s going to. Peter Laviolette would be wise to use last change to free Johansen from his tormentor as much as possible, not just because Kesler might try to pants him during the national anthem, but also because he’s very clearly leasing space in Johansen’s head at this point. Which is, of course, the plan.
Why play into it?
5 – The Stars goaltending situation
“Hmm,” thought Jim Nill as his team’s season prematurely smoldered, “I have two goalies who are very bad and over-30 and quite expensive. It’s a real problem. What to do, what to do?
“Ah, I know. As a GM who people used to think was very smart but who let two middle-pairing UFA defensemen walk for nothing in the offseason because of how expensive my two bad, old goalies are, I will sign a bad, old goalie for a lot of money. And a lot of years. And I will be sure to give up an asset to do it!
“And sure, I could wait until the playoffs are over and see if I can get, say, Marc-Andre Fleury, or maybe one of Detroit’s goalies. But what’s the fun in that?
“So who can I get who fits the bill? Has to be a UFA. And preferably he’d already be pretty close to 31. And he’d have to be coming off a career-worst season. And if possible, it would be ideal to get someone who was also plagued by lower-body injuries, which are particularly bad for goalies because they aren’t easy to recover from. Especially if they’re really tall!
“And what, if — and maybe I’m being crazy here — what if we also didn’t really have a good plan for how to deal with the two other old, bad goalies I still have on the roster?
“Jimmy, that just might work!”
Ben Bishop. Who will be 31 in November. Got six years and a little less than $5 million per. And all for the low, low price a fourth-round pick and a goaltending logjam that will be almost impossible to work out without dead cap space.
4 – The Penguins goaltending situation
The good news for the Penguins, though, is that Marc-Andre Fleury continues to play some very good hockey in Matt Murray’s stead. That gives them approximately a million options for the next two seasons.
The question is whether teams will be willing to accommodate a team that has gone to two straight Conference Finals (and perhaps more before this postseason is all over) that might need some cap wiggle room. As I said in the mailbag yesterday, there really aren’t a lot of teams that need goaltending help, and a $5.75 million backup probably isn’t ideal as part of a going concern.
But if Dallas is willing to give up all that to get Ben Bishop, imagine what a desperate team would give up for a goalie who only has two more years left and is coming off what will probably be, at worst, a .925 postseason save percentage.
Not ideal, but not terrible.
3 – Jason Botterill
First of all, you don’t get to all of a sudden decide to say, “My name is pronounced this other way,” after decades in hockey. This is Jason “It’s pronounced Kroag now” Krog and Brad “Marsh-AND” Marchand all over again. This isn’t on us, Jason!
But second of all, shoutout to a college hockey guy finally getting his shot to run a team. Of course, that team happens to be the Buffalo Sabres, at a time when their blue line is made up of a bunch of guys I wouldn’t trust to protect my computer at Starbucks while I went to the bathroom for a second. And also their owner is a huge fanboy who thinks he knows anything about hockey, when in fact he does not.
So congrats on the job and everything, but uhhh, good luck.
2 – Angry Phil Kessel
A million individual blessings to America’s most beautiful and kind hockey boy, Phil Kessel, who loves to shout at his teammates and score goals and be perfect in all ways.
Kessel’s goal on Monday night to win that horrid 1-0 game and even the series was his 29th in his playoff career. And despite playing in Toronto for a bunch of years, that puts him in fairly exclusive company.
Since Kessel’s career began, he’s one of only 20 guys to score at least 29 playoff goals. But again, because his teams were so bad, you have to keep in mind he’s only played 60 playoff games, compared to the 85-plus for literally everyone in front of or behind him.
So how’s this one for a stat: Out of the 231 players to appear in at least 50 playoff games since 2006-07, Phil Kessel — who plenty of people hated and called an out-of-shape loser right up until he won a Cup — is first in goals per game, at 0.48.
That’s ahead of playoff choker Alex Ovechkin, but also playoff Clutch Performer Daniel Briere.
So, y’know, stay angry, Phil. It’s working!
1 – Watching paint dry
Okay so an interesting lesson anyone on Twitter has learned in recent weeks is that you should not under any circumstances express your extremely correct opinion that the Ottawa Senators play boring-ass, defense-only-ass, Ambien-ass hockey.
They do. Everyone knows that it is boring and no one besides Senators fans should enjoy it. In general, you want to be scoring about one goal per period. Ottawa’s offense is well below that number, and it should come as no surprise that they’re last in the playoffs in goals for per 60.
This isn’t a value judgment, by the way. To say they are boring is not to say they don’t deserve to be in a conference final. When you have a minimally talented team and you’re trying to get wins, you use whatever tactics work. Obviously. Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final are a great example: Ottawa scored three goals in six-plus periods and held the Penguins to two. Now, this is a badly banged-up Penguins team. And they’re still only 1-1 in the series.
But the best Ottawa can do is hope to make every game a coin flip, especially at this point of the postseason. The idea that you’re going to get reliable results in the form of really close games that go one way or the other is preferable to playing run-and-gun, because everyone on earth knows the Penguins would shred them playing run-and-gun.
Point is, of course Ottawa fans don’t think this is boring. Either playing to come back from a 2-1 deficit or protect a 1-0 lead is going to make you really goddamn nervous. That gets the adrenaline pumping, and if your heart is racing for the last 20 minutes of every game, you’re going to feel like, “Wow I just sweated my way through a really intense hockey game.”
But believe me when I say, if you don’t have skin in the game, you’re gonna find this hockey boring as hell. It’s by design and everything, but that doesn’t make it aesthetically pleasing. Try not to equate “unimaginably tense for you” with “enjoyable for everyone.”
(Not ranked this week: The Nashville anthem guy.
My man, this is like Harry Zolnierczyk complaining to the media that Filip Forsberg is getting the big minutes. Figure it out.)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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