O Captain! My Captain!

WeberCaptain

Unlike the character in the legendary poem by Walt Whitman back in 1865, the Montreal Canadiens’ newly appointed captain, while on the injured list until November, is very much well and alive. General Manager Marc Bergevin, head coach Claude Julien, the players in the dressing room and hockey fans around the NHL all know that Shea Weber was the ultimate choice to become the team’s 30th player to wear the “C” on their jersey.

But before we get into that, I unfortunately have to get something off my chest immediately before chanting the praize of the man, the hockey player who is known everywhere in the NHL as a rock, Man Mountain as declared by Team Canada and Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock. It’s something troubling, somber, sad but also frustrating. It’s about those who don’t have the mental capacity to understand that it’s not Weber’s fault if their golden boy, whom I won’t even bother to name, was traded from Montreal.

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It’s comments like this one that make me sick to my stomach. It’s comments like this one that fans around the NHL are laughing at. Don’t recognise that the player that you love had major issues. Hate the trade all you want, but give your head a shake if you start hating on an amazing player, individual and leader like Weber because of it. To be truthful, behaviour like this makes you look like idiots, and I hope I’m wrong.

What this nomination means

“I prefer to sail in a bad ship with a good captain rather than sail in good ship with a bad captain.” ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Many had jumped to the conclusion that departing captain Max Pacioretty wasn’t cut for the job. Some went as far as accusing him of being a bad captain, a bad leader. Seeing how he appeared to abandon ship last season with a less than stellar effort, perhaps the captain abandoned ship when things got rough last year and that won’t happen with the new guy. Fans will need to point the finger elsewhere than “bad leader” when describing the current captain if things don’t go the way they should.

“A brave captain is as a root, out of which, as branches, the courage of his soldiers doth spring.” ~ Philip Sidney

Dad. Yes, dad. That’s the nickname players have for Weber in the dressing room. Someone whom they look on to lead the way, for advice, for leadership. A rock, full of experience and wisdom though having done it all, even at the international level. One thing is missing, something that drives him, winning a Stanley Cup and he will lead this crew in that direction. Whether he’s successful or not will depend on many factors but leadership won’t be an issue.

“In calm water, every ship has a good captain.” ~ Grover Cleveland

When things are going well, everyone is a leader. Everyone can smile and have fun. That’s usually when you hear stories about a tight dressing room. But when things get rough, when injuries happen, players underperform, when losses pile up, that’s when you see leadership. It may not always result in more wins, but it does have its impact on team morale and keeping a team focused on the ultimate goal… for when results and fate start smiling at you again.

“When the storm brews and the waves swell, only an experienced captain can control the ship and save it.” ~ Mata Amritanandamayi

Weber has the experience. In junior with the Kelowna Rockets, in the NHL with the Nashville Predators, where he wore the “C” for six seasons, at the international level as an alternate-captain for Team Canada. Not that one needs hardware to have leadership, but the NHL recognised his by awarding Weber with the Mark Messier leadership award in 2016, for his on and off-ice qualities as a leader.

“When you are captain, you are never speaking for yourself.” ~ Brian O’Driscoll

The media. Oh boy, the media in Montreal. When Andrei Markov was offered the captaincy a few years ago, he declined it because he didn’t want to have to deal with that aspect of the job. That’s saying much about the wolfpack mentality of some, but they will never admit to their wrong doing, we know that. They’ll play the ‘poor me’ or be sarcastic about it instead. Weber knows what he’s getting into and he accepted the title. Fans who are afraid that he could crumble under mediatic pressure don’t know him at all. As a matter of fact, there are media members right now who aren’t happy to see him there… because like Bergevin, he won’t be bullied by by them and they know it. The reporters, the old school ones, are happy because they have a man of integrity to interview.

“The captain of a ship can run a great ship, but he can’t do anything about the tides.” ~ Matthew Norman

While there’s no shortage of quality leaders in this dressing room, the Canadiens also named the best two guys as alternates who exemplify hard work and relentlessness, two guys who were told they would never make it to the NHL, let alone have success. Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher will have Weber’s back and the captain will be able to lean on them. Bergevin has his captain. Julien has his captain, his leaders. Now it’s up to them to right the ship. It’s up to Bergevin to provide his coach with the crew to right the ship. It’s up to Julien and his assistants to find ways to make them produce to their potential. They may not control the tides, but they are dictating the route the ship is taking.

In conclusion, I admit that Shea Weber (and Jarome Iginla) have been some of my favourite players in the NHL but I did not realise how much I miss the new captain out there, how much the Habs miss him, until I watched this clip published by the team. If you haven’t watched it yet, have a look. Season starts this week and soon, the captain will step on board. Let’s enjoy the ride together. Go Habs Go!

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NHL Playoffs Format

NHLplayoffs

A few days off NHL hockey for us, fans, as we await the Stanley Cup finals, provides us with plenty of time to think. You see, many NHL fans are very much like team executives and players in the sense that until the final buzzer has sounded and the Commissioner has been booed to death when presenting the Stanley Cup, hockey is on our mind. For some, it’s a 12 months endeavour. With all of that said, what better time to look at what’s wrong with the current playoffs’ format, right?

With the current format, where the first round of the playoffs is played within the division, the NHL is losing teams who have seeded very well during the regular season every year at the expanse of other teams who have not faired quite as well. So really, aside for allowing the team owners to pocket their dollars and perhaps home ice advantage, what is the incentive for ranking higher in the standings? As Montreal Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin always says:

“The goal is always to make the playoffs. Once you’re in, anything can happen.” ~ Marc Bergevin

While some pundits don’t like it as it appears to them as aiming too low (which really isn’t the case), history is proving Bergevin right. It’s often not the best team in the NHL who wins the Stanley Cup, but the hottest team going in, with a bit of luck here and there, and being able to stay relatively healthy. Here’s a look at the teams who have qualified for the playoffs this season, and the matchups:

2018 current

Now let’s have a closer look at the number of points gathered in regular season, as well as in brackets, their league-wide rankings:

WESTERN CONFERENCE 2018

Nashville 117 (1) vs Colorado 95 (16)

This one makes sense.

Winnipeg 114 (2) vs Minnesota 101 (15)

This one also makes sense. So far so good, right?

Las Vegas 109 (5) vs Los Angeles 98 (12)

This is where it starts getting messed up, but since we’re staying within Conferences, it’s also right as LA had fewer points than both the Ducks and the Sharks.

Anaheim 101 (9) vs San Jose 100 (11)

See above comment for the Vegas vs LA series. The NHL  will never revert back to league-wide ranking and get rid of Conferences.

EASTERN CONFERENCE 2018

Tampa Bay 113 (3) vs New Jersey 97 (15)

That’s actually spot on when looking at league rankings.

Boston 112 (4) vs Toronto 105 (7)

That’s the most messed up. Both teams got the short end of the stick here.

Washington 105 (6) vs Columbus 97 (14)

The Caps got a slightly good deal in that one.

Pittsburgh 100 (10) vs Philadelphia 98 (13)

Not only should the Pens have faced the Leafs, but Toronto would have had home ice advantage! Philly got an easier matchup as they should have faced Ovy and the Caps.

But is this just a one-time phenomenon, right? No, it’s not. In the 2017 playoffs, instead of facing off with the 7th seed in the West (Calgary), the 2nd seed Minnesota Wild lost in the first round to the St. Louis Blues, ranked 5th in the Conference. The Montreal Canadiens, who had won their division, had to face the New York Rangers, a team who finished one single point behind them, and lost. The Pittsburgh Penguins finished with 111 points (2nd seed) and had to face Columbus (3rd seed) who finished only 3 points behind them, while 6th seed Boston played 7th seed Ottawa.

In 2016, the Washington Capitals won the East and should have technically played the 8th seed (Detroit). Instead, they played the 7th seed (Philadelphia). Instead, it’s Tampa Bay (6th seed) who played the Red Wings! Meanwhile, the Penguins (2nd) had to play the Rangers (4th) in the first round. In the Western Conference, the NHL was guaranteed to lose their 2nd (St. Louis) or 3rd (Chicago) seed in the first round as those two faced off against each other! How messed up is that?

FIRST ROUND IMPROVEMENT

As mentioned, there is no way that the Board of Governors and the NHLPA would ever vote to revert back to a league-wide standings to determine first round playoffs’ seeding, where the President’s Trophy winners would be facing the team finishing 16th overall regardless of conference. Too much travel, too costly and a definite advantage for teams happening to face a closer geographical rival.

As the very first step to improve the playoffs, considering that the NHL now has 31 (soon to be 32) teams, the league should revert back to the four divisions instead of six. This means that next season, you would have three divisions of 8 teams and one division with seven teams. That seven team division would be formed with keeping in mind the soon to come expansion of Seattle in the North West.

Then for playoffs, if the league went at the very least with Conference standings, keeping with the Wild Cards, three of the four 2018 playoffs’ matchups would have been different this season. The goal would be to avoid top teams being eliminated in the first round, while still giving Division winners an advantage. Here, have a look:

EasternCO

WesternCO

SECOND ROUND IMPROVEMENT

So far so good, right? I’m not quite done yet. In the current format, you could never see a Stanley Cup finals between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, or the Edmonton Oilers facing their arch rivals Calgary Flames in the finals. Same goes in the states, as how entertaining would it be to see the Chicago Blackhawks fighting their neighbouring state rivals St. Louis Blues in the finals? Or even better, any of you old enough to remember the hype in Major League Baseball for the 1989 World Series between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants? Imagine now the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, within a 40 minute commute between them.

What? It wouldn’t draw enough interest nationwide, you say? And having an expansion team facing the Capitals in the finals is drawing interest outside of Las Vegas and Washington, aside for some curiosity for the Golden Knights? Think again.

But how do we achieve this, will you say? By simply adopting a system that already exists at the international level. There is no need to re-invent the wheel here. Just apply the IIHF format, with a crossover between Conferences, where the highest seed coming out of the first round in the East would face the 4th seed in the West, and the 1st seed in the West facing off against the 4th seed in the East. Just like in the IIHF, the 2nd seeds would cross over facing the 3rd seed team in the other Conference as well.

What? The cost of travel? You mean to tell me that sold out building for a guaranteed 4 home games minimum (two rounds), with all the revenue attached and no players’ salary to pay couldn’t more than cover for that travel for the eight remaining teams?!? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Teams would still fill their pockets, you better believe.

Just for the sake of discussions, let’s assume that all top teams win their first round series. I know, I know, there are always upsets but those are pretty hard to predict so bear with me here and play along. The following would have been the 2018 2nd round matchups based on seedings:

Crossover2018

The goal and hopefully results would be to give more meaning to the gruelling 82-games schedule by rewarding teams who finished with more points, while greatly improving the quality of the product on the ice by having the best teams, for the most part, make it further into the playoffs. Oh there will be upset, there has always be and it won’t change, but at the very least, you won’t see the best series at the start at the expenses of the later rounds.

 

In the meantime, have fun watching an expansion team in the finals, playing for what’s supposed to be the toughest trophy in the world to win. As you do that, I will be doing things outdoors, dreaming of a Leafs/Bruins and Canadiens Stanley Cup finals. Go Habs Go!