It's not often that the annual Winter Meeting of the NHL Board Of Governors has a response like the one that happened last evening. Hell, it's carried into the morning like the hockey version of the Berlin Wall coming down. A great many are celebrating what they see as mostly positive points in the new realignment plan, while a handful are angry, scared and upset. It's understandable, as this is going to basically turn the clocks back about 20 years to a time when the NHL kinda sorta made sense. There is a difference from that time period, the NHL I grew up with, in that there's a few more teams now than when they made the change in the first place. We're losing some rivalries and renewing, not gaining, renewing old ones. So like every other hockey blogger out there, I am gonna dish up my thoughts on all this, and try not to forget the Canucks have a big game against a divisional opponent before heading out on that Eastern road swing.
First, let's look at the selfish aspect of realignment: How does it affect the Canucks? Right off the bat, the thing that jumps out for me is that there's no possible way to meet the Chicago Blackhawks until at least the 3rd round of the playoffs. This sucks for a bunch of reasons. First, it's one of the NHL's newer but most intense rivalries. These playoff battles and even the regular season games became the stuff of legend when Chicago joined the NHL 4 years ago. Now, unless the stars align and we draw them again this spring, it ends up feeling they've been transferred to another branch of the company. We'll see them at meetings and stuff, but it will be awkward.
Then one of the bright sides? 2 games against Minnesota, bitches! They've frustrated, annoyed, bored to us to tears and trolled us over the years. We can kiss that nonsense goodbye. This of course guarantees we will meet them in the playoffs since they're all good again and stuff, right? Let's just see how well they handle those nerve-wracking playoff shootouts first, shall we?
The realignment means a fairly significant reduction in travel for teams on this side of the continent, something that has always been a major issue for teams like the Canucks. While it will never be as cushy as some of the Eastern teams have it, the mere fact that the Canucks will be in a grouping with teams actually in the same time zone is amazing. It retains our current rivalries with the Edmonton
Nugent-Hopkinses Oilers, tonight's opponent the Colorado Avalanche and those sad-sack Calgary Flames. We get a healthy dose of California, which is good for travel and time zone concerns, but bad for the inevitable injuries the Canucks will suffer due to slashes and cheap shots from guys like Joe Thornton, Corey Perry and Drew Doughty.
I haven't mentioned the Phoenix Coyotes yet, and for good reason. I don't want to upset Coyotes fans, but they need to get real here. The league simply cannot prop up this franchise any longer. There is reportedly a contingency plan in place to allow for a move to Quebec City (which would take care of one of the real negative aspects of realignment). The onus is on hockey fans in Arizona. The team can't possibly make it any easier for you to support this team. The tickets cost next to nothing. The team is playing reasonably well. If you can't get decent support for this team after all these years, it's time to say goodbye. It may not be what's best for hockey fans in Arizona, and the City of Glendale. But it's without a doubt what is best for the NHL and the game itself.
The playoff structure certainly has it's pros and cons, doesn't it? The divisional part I can rationalize, as it's a return to the way things used to be. Even the possibility of an all East or West Cup final. A lot of times that could end up being the best matchup. I mean, these used to happen. Look at the New York Islanders first Stanley Cup win. Bob Nystrom's ot goal in game 6 helped them defeat the Philadelphia Flyers. NBC be damned, I want to see the best teams go to war. This set up may actually do a better job of producing that. The downfall of it all is the 16/14 West/East difference. It is statistically easier for Eastern teams to make the playoffs because of this (all the more reason to move a team from an undesirable market to one that's more willing and able to support it). The sooner the NHL evens out the number of teams the better. And good lord, let's hope it's not through expansion. There are already too many teams.
On to more pressing matters, the Canucks look to win their 3rd of the 4 game homestand as they take on the Avalanche tonight at Rogers Arena. The Avs have managed to plug the holes that appeared to be dragging their ship to the ocean floor, and in doing so have likely bought coach Joe Sacco some more time. They've won three straight games but are only 5 and 5 in their last ten games, and currently sit 3 points back of the 8th place Los Angeles Kings. Semyon Varmarlov has been key in their recent turn around, along with a sudden surge in offence, that's seen the Avs score 18 times in their last 5 games. Sounds similar to the way the Canucks have turned things around: Better goaltending, scoring by committee, etc.
Roberto Luongo will start again tonight, looking to build on a solid performance the other night against the Flames. There will be some line shuffling thanks to the staph infection on Chris Higgins' foot that will keep him out of the lineup, but hopefully things won't be too out of sorts. Just a shame that Higgy had to go down for a bit, that second line of Higgins, David Booth and Ryan Kesler is developing into something awesome.
As you may have heard, NHL head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan announced a two game suspension for Nashville's Jordin Tootoo for his hit on Ryan Miller the other night. I would have liked to see more, but I liked that Shanahan pointed out the way Tootoo veered into Miller as the puck left his stick. He also made mention of leaving his feet on the hit, something that Tootoo said was done to avoid the collision, actually causing more harm than good, as it caused him to make contact with Miller's head. I expect we will get an announcement on a suspension for Mark Fistrick of the Dallas Stars later today. And thank you to Ryan Lambert, who gave us the hockey meme of all time with #SidneyCrosbyIsAVampire. Absolutely amazing.
BAND OF THE DAY- ROTTEN SOUND
In honour of Finnish Independence Day, today's band of the day is Finnish grinders Rotten Sound. Here's to our resident Finn Sami Salo, blast some Rotten Sound and have a great game. Just sit down while you're listening to them please.