Saturday, June 26, 2021

Playoff Party Crashers

30 years ago, a team with a losing record reached the Stanley Cup Final.

I was ten years old when the Minnesota North Stars made their miracle run. Checking the box scores in the sports page to see this Cinderella squad had won again were some of my first memories of being a hockey fan. It was fascinating to me that a 27-39-14 team could suddenly become unbeatable.

The North Stars finished fourth of five teams in the Norris division. They beat the NHL's best regular season team:

Then they beat the NHL's second-best regular season team, which also happened to be in their division:

Then Minnesota defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions:

This was wild. How does a team that won or tied only 42% of their games in the regular season go 12-5 against the best teams in the NHL? How did they even make the playoffs in the first place?

The answer to the second question is quite simple - there were only 21 NHL teams at the time and 16 of them qualified for the playoffs. It should be noted that the 1990-91 Flyers had a better record than three playoff teams - but didn't qualify because they finished last in their own division. Hold that thought.

Minnesota won the first game of the final, and actually led the series against Pittsburgh 2-1. But the clock struck midnight as Mario Lemieux and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in six games.

I thought about this Minnesota team recently as I watched the Montreal Canadiens march to their 35th final.

Les Canadiens posted a 24-21-11 record in the regular season - which looks like a winning record.

Montreal's 11 overtime losses gave them an actual Win-Loss record of 24-32. Howeva the 2020-21 season was shortened to 56 games due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Canadiens surely would have won more games than the 1990-91 North Stars in a 'full' NHL season - though it should be noted that teams didn't get a chance to win games via shootout until 2005.

The 2020-21 Canadiens finished fourth among the seven teams in their division. Howeva their division was not only the weakest in the NHL it should not even exist.

Montreal finished with a worse record than two non-playoff teams (including a 2020 Stanley Cup finalist) and would not have made the playoffs if it weren't for a temporary realignment due to Covid-related travel restrictions.

This is the North division (officially known as the Rogers Scotiabank Tim Horton's Canadian Tire North division presented by Molson) Under normal circumstances, Montreal would be in the Northeast division with much stronger competition (and Ottawa, Detroit, and Buffalo.) Based on 2020-21 results the  Habs would have finished fifth:


Tampa Bay3617375

I can't figure out how to center a spreadsheet. :(

The Canadiens wouldn't have finished fourth in the Atlantic Division, either. In fact they wouldn't have even been fifth:


NY Islanders3217771
NY Rangers2723660
New Jersey1930745

There's no way to know how game-by-game results would have changed when teams would have played a traditional schedule rather than facing only divisional opponents in order to minimize travel. It's entirely possible that Montreal would have caught fire down the stretch in a traditional 82-game schedule. If you add their 12-5 postseason record the Habs' points percentage increases from .527 to .575 - better than 2021 postseason participants Nashville, Winnipeg, and St. Louis.

Howeva it is a fact that the Canadiens finished with the 10th-best record of all Eastern-based NHL teams, 12 points behind the "eight-seed" Islanders. And even if the team had maintained a .575% throughout the regular season - they still wouldn't have leap-frogged any Eastern Conference teams.

Several clutch performers have made the Montreal Canadiens' run to the final possible including Carey Price, Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and "Goal" Caulfield. But I doubt that anyone in the province of Quebec will take a minute to thank the real MVP of the 2021 playoffs. The man who closed off cross-border travel, effectively creating the "North" division and giving Montreal a path to the playoffs:

Montreal will face the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in an all-Eastern Stanley Cup Final. With Covid under control (knocking on every piece of wood) the 2021-22 NHL season will return to normal and we'll have East vs. West again. Unless Mr. Trudeau decides to keep the border closed ;P

I'll be back with some NBA-related posts next week. Until then, enjoy the weekend and the playoffs!

Thanks for reading!


Monday, June 14, 2021

Boog, Moon, Strong, and Associates


It's been a while since I've done a mailday post. TCDB trades have come in regularly but I haven't been scanning the cards before sorting them into my collection. I made sure to do so this time.. for the most part.

Michigan man and Justin Verlander fan Dennis is one of my most frequent trade partners here on the blogs - and possibly the most generous. He sent me a small flat rate mailer last week that briefly had me worried as it felt very full. Not to worry as Dennis didn't send me 200+ base cards.

Nothing but the hits, including these Red Sox relics and a Brandon Moss auto numbered to 199.

Even the Dustin Pedroia Stadium Club is a holofoil parallel. This worked out perfectly because my Red Sox binders are stuffed - and my bookshelf is stuffed full of binders!

The box was packed with supplies including top loaders, some penny sleeves, and a handful of uncirculated Topps Pristine cards. I've mentioned my affinity for these beauties a couple times on this blog:

*These didn't come from Dennis.

I'm always on the lookout for 2002 baseball and football singles and 2003-04 hockey RCs. Dennis handles the rest for me. He plucked these out of a 50 cent box at a card show and sent 'em my way:

These were all encased by Topps but the dealers scratched the heck out of them so I busted 'em out.

That Josh Howard refractor looked familiar to me... turns out I already had one!

How many of these are circulating in the Ann Arbor area?

Dennis, thanks so much for the Pristine singles, supplies, and the Sawx! Next time I'm at a card show (or shop..?) I'll be looking for something to send your way.

As for that Boog Powell card at the top of this post, it arrived in a Beckett Marketplace purchase from Birmingham Sportscards. It was one of three cards I selected to upgrade my All-Time Teams binder. Unfortunately the seller was "way behind" on filling orders and by the time he filled mine.. the other two were sold out. Hmm. :/

Everything else in the order was a football card, including this Ken Strong Classic Singles insert:

2008 Donruss Classics cards account for over 25% of all Ken Strong cards ever produced. I now have four different Strong singles.. but the photo is the same.

The rest of the cards were set fillers including these two rated Rookies from 2016 Donruss:

I'm one big ass ham away from finishing this 400-card set.

Rounding out the order we have a dozen singles from 2015 Panini Prizm:

The eleven base cards bring my total to 138 of 300. I added the Warren Moon blue prizm for my Oilers mini-collection. 

Here's a closer look at the blue Moon. I still love the look of color-matching refractors and prizms, even if they're no longer a focus of my collection. Which reminds me.. I've updated my wantlists. The first three tabs are at the top of the blog (I'll probably add hockey later.)

I'm planning a celebration of basketball around the start of the NBA Finals and I'll be hosting a PWE swap so prepare those unwanted hoops cards! This time I might go "rack pack" style and let participants pick their own return PWE based on the front-facing cards :D

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, June 10, 2021

New York Saints? Or New York Devils?

It takes a lot for me to cheer for a New York team over a Boston team. Basically, three things need to be in place:

  • a salary cap (so New York doesn't try to buy a title)
  • a roster of decent human beings on the NYC side
  • the Boston team has to have Tom Brady

That is why I was disappointed when the Bruins were eliminated by the New York Islanders in the East final last night - even though I probably should have been rooting for the Islanders the whole time.

Many of these Bruins players have won a title, or at least played in a recent Stanley Cup final. Taylor Hall is not one of them. I could say that I wanted Boston to win one for Hall, but I sometimes forget he's on the team.

It's hard for me to make the case that a team with Brad Marchand on its top line can be considered more likeable. And Long Island isn't exactly New York City. But these Islanders aren't exactly "Saints" themselves. Maybe Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has a point. Maybe the B's reputation precedes them and the two (French-Canadian) referees swallowed their whistle for the Isles in the series. 

Regardless, the better team won. And I should be happy about that, considering that team looks a lot like my favorite team.

Kyle Palmieri played 5 1/2 seasons with the Devils before being shipped to Long Island in an April trade.

Travis Zajac was also included in that trade. The longtime Devil played over 1,000 games for New Jersey in his 14+ seasons with the team.

Veteran defenseman Andy Greene served as captain of the Devils until the team traded him to their tri-state rivals last season.

Former Devils goalie Cory Schneider signed with the Islanders in January but didn't see any NHL action. 

And who assembled this Devil-heavy squad? The same man who built a three-time Cup winner in Jersey.

Uncle Lou couldn't lead the Leafs to a Stanley Cup title, which led many so-called "experts" to think the game had passed him by. Time to retire, Lou. Let an analytics whiz kid take over. (How'd that work out?)

It's become clear that no one can build a winner in Toronto. Not Lou, not Kyle Dubas, not John Ferguson. No one. Perhaps the Leafs should give Theo Epstein a call. He knows a thing or two about ending long title droughts with high-profile franchises.

The New York Devils - er, Islanders - take on Tampa Bay in the conf- er, semi final. I'm sort-of a Lightning fan as three of my favorite players happen to be playing for the defending champs. But I'd be happy with seeing one more celebration (or two) at the old Nassau Coliseum.

Thanks for reading!