Into the Boards: End of the Regular Season
Well folks, we’ve made it: the final regular season edition of Into the Boards is upon us! We’d like to quickly thank everyone who has continued to read this throughout the entirety of the grueling NHL season and we sure hope you stay on board for the playoffs!
This week, Scott rips apart the NHL and the International Olympic Committee for this Olympic nonsense and also breaks down the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Out West, Vin will set you up to see what teams are trending in which directions. Let’s dive into it and get you ready for the playoffs.
Money Talks and the NHL Walks: No Olympics for NHL Players
This past Monday, the NHL announced that it will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Now, there are tons of nuances to this story and plenty of things to get into, but space is limited here, so please excuse my briefness.
Fuck the NHL and fuck the International Olympics Committee.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll dive into why all of these people are complete and total bastards.
The NHL has participated in the last five Winter Olympics, but not always with a smile on their faces. Their chief complaints have been as follows:
-Two and a half week break in the season
-Effect on the growth of the game is negligible
-No share in Olympics revenue
-Potential player injury
-Player insurance and travel costs (which they have never paid)
Let’s look at these one at a time. First, the NHL incessantly whines about the two and a half week break they have to take to accommodate the Olympics, claiming it ruins “momentum,” whatever the fuck that actually means. They phrase it like they’re losing money by taking this break when in reality, every team still plays 82 games. Yes, Mr. Money-bags team owner, that means you still have 41 home games worth of ticket sales and revenue. This does not change one bit because there’s a break.
Next, the NHL is pushing the idea that sending the world’s best hockey players to a non-traditional hockey market across the world will yield minimal growth for the game of hockey. This is a line of shit that not even the NHL believes, seeing as how they are kicking off the 2017-18 NHL season with two preseason games in China between the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings. Now, I understand that China is a much more populated country than South Korea and has made early strides to provide hockey infrastructure for its communities but, you are not going to convince me that two non-playoff teams playing meaningless preseason hockey for two games is better for the game than sending the world’s best to compete in the biggest sporting event in the world for the entire globe to watch for two weeks. The difference here? Immediate. Cash. The NHL is the most shortsighted league in existence, so they value a quick buck in China for two games over new fans across the world watching their players and potentially becoming lifelong fans, all because the Olympics aren’t their tournament to make money from directly. This brings me to the NHL’s complaint about not receiving revenue or advertising/marketing rights from the International Olympics Committee, which is on both the NHL and the IOC. The IOC can afford to let the NHL sell a fucking t-shirt that has Olympic rings on it. Give me a break.
Then, of course, is the player injury argument. The NHL loves to remind us about John Tavares’ season-ending injury in Sochi in 2014, but that very same thing could have happened in an NHL game in February. How about the preseason? Players get injured in that meaningless set of games every year. How about the World Cup? The NHL and NHLPA worked together to get it revived this past year and yet the injury potential has never been discussed. This isn’t about injuries and it never has been.
Last is the player insurance and travel costs. The IOC has paid these expenses for NHL players since the beginning of their participation. In an eye-rolling move, the IOC decided after Sochi that it will no longer foot the bill for these things, causing the NHL to pull out of the PyeongChang games. This caused the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to panic and make room in their budget to cover these costs in an attempt to keep the NHL on board, leading the NHL to pull off a feat of unparalleled pettiness by saying that they still refuse to go because they want the IOC to pay, not the IIHF. Yes, you read that right. The NHL does not have to pay, but they refuse to go unless the money comes out of the IOC’s pocket. If you feel like you are reading about two children arguing at recess instead of two major sports conglomerates negotiating, you are not alone.
As if all of this wasn’t enough to realize that the NHL is full of shit, let us not forget that many months ago, they offered to participate in the 2018 Olympics if the NHLPA would extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement another three years. So, the NHL was ready and willing to completely forget all of these horrible issues they have with going to the Olympics if the players were willing to give into extending a collective bargaining agreement that has been anything but friendly to them. If the NHL’s complaints were of any actual substance, they would not be willing to drop them like nothing ever happened. It is nothing but nonsensical, surface-level reasoning that the NHL has to put forward to try to save face with their loyal consumers who are furious about being robbed of a chance to see what some consider to be the absolute best brand of hockey. The fans lose, the players lose, the Olympics lose, and the NHL loses a chance to expose its best to a part of the world that would otherwise never see them.
Eastern Conference Playoff Picture
Now that I (Scott) have gotten my fury out about the powers that be robbing us of good hockey, let’s take a look at what’s happening in the East in regards to the NHL playoffs. The Washington Capitals have clinched their second straight Presidents’ Trophy and the third in their franchise history. Pittsburgh has clinched second place in the Metropolitan Division which will guarantee home ice advantage for them in the first round as well as solidify their matchup with Columbus. Montreal is sitting pretty at the top of the Atlantic Division and is locked into a first round matchup with the Rangers which should prove to be the most even matchup. Boston is officially in and the Ottawa Senators clinched last night with a shootout win over the Bruins.
This brings us to that final wild card spot that we have been talking about so much. The spot is currently occupied by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but with another regulation loss, they have yet to clinch it. While it’s still pretty unlikely, the more the Leafs continue to lose, the more their playoff berth is in jeopardy. The Islanders looked like they were all but out of it when they dropped three gigantic games in a row against Boston, Nashville, and Philadelphia, but have since won four in a row to stay alive, despite losing John Tavares to injury. Tampa Bay beat the Leafs last night to help out both themselves and the Isles to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Just over a week ago, it seemed that the Leafs were somewhat comfortably inside the playoff picture, but nothing is less predictable than hockey. Two Leafs losses and a couple of wins from the Islanders or Tampa could push the young Toronto team out, but the odds are still heavily in their favor. By this time next week, we will know for sure.
Western Conference Playoff Picture
With the postseason less than a week away, the West is pretty much wrapped up as far as the standings go. As I (Vin) write this article (Thursday night), there are two major games happening right now that will offer us good insight on what’s coming in the next few weeks.
In the Pacific Division, the battle for second place is up for grabs between the San Jose Sharks and the Edmonton Oilers who are both tied with 97 points. The Thursday night matchup has been solid with the Sharks taking a 2-1 lead going into the third, but the momentum shifted and the Oilers forward Milan Lucic went beast mode and scored three unanswered goals. The Sharks have been struggling lately and have fallen from grace so to speak, going from first place to third in recent weeks and losing seven of their last ten. Sharks fans can’t help but feel uncomfortable as they’ve been here before — a stellar performance all year just to have it all come crashing down in the end. Hopefully San Jose is just laying low until playoff hockey starts, but this team needs to start scoring more goals and all eyes are on their superstar defenseman, Mr. Big Beard himself, Brent Burns.
We also got to take a look at the two first place teams going at it over in Anaheim, where a red hot Ducks team took on the Chicago Blackhawks. Gibson had a stellar shutout performance and is proving that he’s still the man to start after returning from a lingering LBI. To be fair, the Hawks were not at full strength and had stars like Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith off the ice to rest up for postseason hockey. Despite the loss, the Hawks still managed to keep it competitive and showed plenty of grit in their performance. I feel like this isn’t the last time these two teams will face each other this year. The Ducks have a tendency to lose momentum and fall short in the playoffs, but if they can continue their great defensive game and stellar goaltending they have a good shot at changing history this year.
Scott: Jaroslav Halak, hands down. Jaro was treated quite unfairly by the Islanders who came crawling back to him and are now realizing they should have done so much earlier. Halak has started the last four games and posted a 1.00 GAA and a .967 SV% in that time. An earlier call up could have easily been the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs.
Vin: We head to Beantown to look at the man between the pipes for this week’s star. Tuukka Rask’s tremendous play this week has earned his team the third spot in the Atlantic Division. Rask has four victories in his last five starts including two shutouts against the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning. Tuukka also held the Senators to just one goal on Thursday, stopping 25 of 26 shots on goal. Rask has been solid all season and will be huge for the Bruins down the stretch.
Plays of the Week
Scott: Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett on an absolutely perfect give and go. Bennett starts at center ice, feeds Johnny Hockey over the blue line, Gaudreau makes an absolutely dazzling return pass behind himself to Bennett, and Bennett returns it once again to the streaking Gaudreau who redirects it past Martin Jones. It looked like they were playing around with the Sharks out there with that kind of control.
Vin: Jonathan Quick robs Peter Holland of a goal with a kick save. A true “see it to believe it moment” by the future Hall of Famer.