Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Happened?

It's been a couple weeks but Gainer is back...I think!

I'm not sure how Blue Jackets fans reacted to this one...oh wait, screw off!
Well the Stanley Cup Finals are in the books and so is the 2011-2012 NHL season.  Congrats to the Los Angeles Kings for their first ever Stanley Cup and those fans who've waited their whole lives for what happened Monday night at the Staples Center.

The Kings took the series in 6 games.  After dominating throughout the playoffs beating the #1,2 and 3 seeds with a 12-2 record.  This #8 seed traveled to play the first 2 games of the Finals to another surprise contender in the New Jersey Devils from the Eastern Conference.  The Kings continued their dominance early in the series by leading 3-0 and it seemed inevitable that this team would not only sweep and win their first Cup but also put a sweet touch on one of the most dominant, if not THE most dominant, playoff performance of all time.

Fortunately for Jersey fans, the Devils decided to make the Finals watchable (well for their own respective niche markets, nationally this series was terrible!).  Taking the next two games, the Devils hoped to do the near impossible by overcoming a 3-0 deficit.  This plan was "Quick"ly squashed in game 6 thanks to an inopportune 5 minute major penalty on Bernier's hit on Kings' Scuderi in period 1.  With an unlimited 5 minute power play chance, the Kings knocked in THREE power play goals.  If the Cup wasn't in hand then, it was when Jeff "Cry Me a River" Carter buried his 2nd early in the 2nd period to go up 4-0.

The arena went crazy when the final buzzer sounded and the Kings won 6-1.  It's truly a testament to the sport when the losing team in these playoffs shakes the other teams' hands after a series.  I can't even imagine the emotion going through these player's heads as they watch the other team dog pile each other for winning the game's ultimate prize.  Just this past Saturday night, we watched the possible ending of the Big 3 era in Boston as the Celtics lost game 7 to Miami in the ECF.  We watched Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett leave the court before time even expired after they were taken out late in the game.  I support the raw emotion of players but the NHL makes the NBA look utterly silly in this instance.

For only the 2nd time ever, an American born Captain got to hoist the Stanley Cup.  27 year old Dustin Brown was the first to touch Lord Stanley after Commissioner Gary Bettman made his presentation (by the way, I'm not sure LA booed this guy at all, crazy!).  It's a special feeling watching each player hand the Cup to each player on the team.  You wonder which player will get it next as certain veterans and leaders wait their turn.  Former Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi got to lift the Cup for the 2nd time (Pens in '09) and is the first defenseman since the lockout to hoist it twice.  Jonathan Quick, the Kings' goalie, was superb throughout these playoffs and deservedly won the Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP) trophy.  He posted 3 shutouts and a 1.41 Goals Against Average which is the best of all time.  He's the second straight American goalie to win this award (Tim Thomas of Boston last year) and it's the first time EVER that the Captain and Playoff MVP were both American.  This is a testament to USA Hockey and the NCAA system of producing players.

And all of a sudden, the offseason begins.  The first day after the Cup ends, odds are already out and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the favorites at 7-1 while the LA Kings are second at 11-1 for the 2013 Stanley Cup.  No pressure right?  Next Wednesday night on NBC Sports Network will be the annual NHL Awards in Las Vegas featuring none other than Nickelback!!  Spare me now Lord.  Regular season trophies will be handed out to the finalists by celebrities and hockey personalities everywhere.  Next Friday and Saturday, also on NBC Sports Network and the NHL Network will be the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.  Our home state Columbus Blue Jackets have the #2 overall pick and it's still not certain whether the Oilers want to keep their #1 pick (3rd one in a row! C'mon!).  Will Rick Nash be traded Friday night in round 1?  It could get interesting, very interesting indeed.

 And just a tad over a week later, Sunday July 1st, is "Free Agency Day" in the NHL.  Unrestricted free agents with no new contracts hit the open market.  Unlike other sports, most of the top free agents will be gone that day in a matter of hours.  Twitter makes it absolutely breathtaking!  On top of all this, this summer is unique due to the fact the current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) is set to expire in September.  Similar to the NFL and NBA of the past year, a potential lockout is a possibility.  Hopefully, for the fans sake, we will not have to endure another season ending lockout (2004-05).  The game has really rebounded strong since then, especially in the playoffs (minus these Cup Finals, but hey, can't win em all right?).  Forgoing a month or so wouldn't be bad but hopefully it doesn't trickle any further than what the NBA experienced.  Many topics will be on the table including reducing the player's share of revenue, hits to the head, hybrid icing, realignment, 2014 Winter Olympics and beyond, etc.

2011-2012 NHL Season in Review 

There may or may not be a Columbus theme listed among these things...

Surprise Teams:  
Florida Panthers - clinched 3rd seed in East after being abysmal for entire existence thanks to changes to half their roster this past offseason.
St. Louis Blues - new coach Ken Hitchcock restored pride in the team which is now the oldest in the league without a championship.

Disappointing Teams:
Buffalo Sabres - with a new owner who went out and made big free agent acquisitions, this team didn't even make it to the playoffs.
Columbus Blue Jackets - for a team with no tradition or culture, can they be disappointing?  Yes, with the worst record in the league after a summer of a few high profile moves, the season was an utter disaster.

Surprise Players:
Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators - the only defenseman in the top 30 of NHL scoring for a surprisingly good Senators team.
Ray Whitney, LW, Phoenix Coyotes - in an offensively challenged lineup, the 40 year old wunderkind had 77 points which was good for top 15 in the NHL for a team that finally got out of the first round.

Disappointing Players:
Ryan Miller, G, Buffalo Sabres - when you are the most disappointing team, somebody has to take the blame and Ryan Miller started to show signs of wear and tear this season.
Jeff Carter, C, Los Angeles Kings - after signing a lifetime extension with Philly, it's a shock to hear you're traded but to sulk because you went to CBJ until you were traded to LA? Unforgivable.

Teams and Coaches on the Hot Seat heading into next season:
Dan Bsylma and the Pittsburgh Penguins - coming off the most disappointing playoff exit in franchise history, Byslma needs to figure out what won them the championship in 2009 because standards are high in Pitt.
Todd McLellan and the San Jose Sharks - a perennial Conference Final contender, the Sharks evaporated in the first round this year and will look to make personnel changes...again. Rick Nash anyone?