Slap Shots: NHL going crazy inside bubble
Let me be the first to observe that there has never been a week like this in NHL history.
The teams that finished 22nd, 23rd and 24th in the overall standings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs ,and a team that finished in the top 10 is alive in the lottery for the first-overall draft pick. The stuff about the bubble, COVID-19 testing and protocols, and no fans in the building(s)? Old news.
At approximately 10:15 Friday night, it was common wisdom that the Maple Leafs were a structural disaster and would obviously have to re-examine the wisdom of devoting $40.5 million of cap space — essentially half of the club’s allotment — to four forwards.
Fifteen minutes later, those four forwards — Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander — had been on for the three Toronto goals within the final 3:57 of the third period that erased a 3-0 Columbus lead and created the overtime in which the Leafs completed the most stunning comeback in playoff history to stave off elimination.
Which means we won’t know until late Sunday night, following the decisive Game 5, whether everyone was right about the Maple Leafs in the first place.
Checked to see whether, 45 years and 4 months later, Zach Parise was on the ice for Alex Edler’s overtime goal for the Canucks at 0:11 that KO’d his Wild on Friday just the way his dad, J.P. Parise, was for the goal he scored at 0:11 to knock out the Rangers at the Garden in 1975.
The answer was no.
By the way, two playoff-round victories to show for the eight years Parise and Ryan Suter have been teammates in Minnesota after signing those twin, 13-year, $98 million free-agent contracts in July 2012.
Can I say this? If the Rangers had beaten Carolina, David Quinn would have received a fair share of credit. But I am still trying to figure out what share of the blame, if any, should fall on the coach for his team’s abysmal showing in Toronto.
He was not part of the solution, so he obviously was part of the problem. But I cannot figure out if it went wrong after the Rangers arrived in the bubble or before?
Because, after Montreal-Pittsburgh, I think we can discount the catch-all of inexperience versus a grizzled playoff team.
Though Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov are hardly grizzled.
New rule: A moratorium on comparing Kaapo Kakko to Svechnikov.
Here’s one following Week 1 of August Madness: Two of the three Hart Trophy finalists, Artemi Panarin of the Rangers and Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, are from teams that wound up not making the playoffs.
But you say that Draisaitl’s official career record includes a stat line of three goals, three assists in six points in four playoffs games? (And Panarin’s shows one goal, one assist and two points in three playoff matches?)
That’s so 2020.
And while we’re on that topic, no, it does not bother me that, say, Matthews, has these extra five games to produce playoff scoring records any more than it bothered me that Jean Beliveau’s playoff record of 12 goals in 1956 while playing two rounds was broken by Phil Esposito’s 13 in 1970 while playing four rounds.
Montreal and Chicago, of course, and Vancouver, too, but no team was better served by the 4 ¹/₂-month pause than the Islanders, who suddenly resemble the team that went to the second round of last year’s playoffs and not the floundering outfit that lost its last seven (0-3-4) and went 2-7-4 in its final 13 matches.
It is never pond hockey with the Islanders.
It is Trotz Hockey.
And, for the second straight year, Barry Trotz is one Washington victory away (Sunday against Boston) from a matchup with his former team.
Quick quiz: Which Rangers goaltender has the highest playoffs winning percentage (minimum five decisions) in the modern era traditionally recognized to have begun in 1944-45?
It is not Mike Richter, third at .554 with 41-33.
It is not Davey Kerr, .567 at 17-13 (and two ties).
Not John Davidson, either, at .552 with his 16-13 record.
It is … Eddie Mio, clocking in at .600 by going 9-6 in 1982 and 1983.
The Puddy Tats of Florida, now coached by the estimable Joel Quenneville, have not won a playoff round since 1996 and are looking at six more years of Sergei Bobrovsky at $10 million apiece.
Are you really so sure that Aleksander Barkov, 25 in September, is sticking around when his contract expires in two more years?
I’ve heard it too from a number of sources the last couple of months. The folks at Sixth Avenue are lobbying for Peter Chiarelli to snag another shot as an NHL team’s general manager, and I guess I’d have to ask why?
Finally, ratings for last weekend were lukewarm in the heat, with the audience for Pittsburgh-Montreal on NBC down about 9 percent from 2019’s first-round Boston-Toronto telecast over the network.
Which serves as a welcome reminder for those who think this new crazy calendar might suit the NHL: It is the summer and it does not.
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