The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs got underway last night with five Game Ones. I tried posting this while watching the Penguins-Blue Jackets game, but Blogger was acting up and wouldn't upload my scans.
Whether you're a casual fan or a die-hard puckhead, the playoffs are always exciting to watch. The first time I remember following playoff hockey was in 1991, when the Minnesota North Stars had a losing record and somehow made it to the finals against Pittsburgh. I really wanted Minnesota to pull off the upset, even though the Penguins had traded for Whalers legend Ron Francis that year. Naturally the North Stars lost - and tomake things even more painful the franchise relocated to Dallas a short time later.
I have to admit I'm not as interested in hockey as I used to be. It isn't just because the Devils are lousy, or because scoring is way down from the 80's and 90's. It's because the same teams win every year, in both the playoffs (Blackhawks, Penguins) and the draft lottery (Oilers, Oilers, Oilers, and.. the Oilers). Baseball - a sport with no salary cap - has much better competitive balance; three teams with historically long title droughts have won a title since 2004, and the Indians came very close to ending theirs.
Hockey has started to resemble basketball, in that there are very few teams who can actually win a championship - and it's almost essential to build around a transcendent player acquired only through the draft lottery. You can't make trades anymore; every halfway decent player has a no-movement clause. And even with an insanely high salary cap you can't 'buy' a winner through free agency because star players never leave their original team (see Stamkos, Steven) This may be why I'm more excited for the Expansion Draft than the Entry Draft. Colorado will get Nolan Patrick, but who will end up on Vegas?
Most of the teams in this year's playoffs have had the good fortune to accumulate multiple first-round picks and turn them into key players. Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Washington are the obvious examples, but Toronto and Edmonton could soon be following their blueprint.
Here are the first round match-ups, most of which are already underway:
Capitals vs. Maple Leafs
Penguins vs. Blue Jackets
Canadiens vs. Rangers
Senators vs. Bruins
Blackhawks vs. Predators
Ducks vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Sharks
Wild vs. Blues
Are you a fan of playoff hockey? Is your team chasing the Cup? Got any predictions for the first round?