Now Hear Me Out: Loser Moves On

We’re in some extreme times. The clock is ticking down on the NHL season for 2019-20, even though they’re really trying to keep a brave face considering they’re losing billions if they in fact do cancel. Especially with the postponement of the NHL Combines, Awards (NOT THOSE!!!), and the Draft; there’s some pretty crazy ideas out there about if the season were to be severely delayed– who could get the first overall pick; especially since if the league were to come back; they’d go right into the playoffs.

There’s one eager team that thinks there’s only one way to rightfully see who gets the top pick– a tournament. Basically the NIT of the NHL. Sure, seems unfair to fuck over Detroit and Ottawa of that possible pick– despite the assurances they’re allegedly going to get.

This is a good idea. I think we all like a one-and-done situation, where each game is Game Seven. However…NOW HEAR ME OUT…THE LOSER MOVES ON IN THE TOURNAMENT!!

Why would the team that wins this whole damn thing be in line for a lottery pick?? In fact, it actually proves the opposite because if they win that damn thing; they’re the team that needs the least help of a lottery pick. Of course, you have to think it’s a fringe team that proposed this in hopes of fleecing the league and other teams to bolster their line-up and really spit in the face of parity.

Yet, when you think of the whole “LOSER MOVES ON” thing, it makes sense because teams that lose need the better odds at a lottery pick. Plus, after this break, you think players really want to prolong the season they got paused for a meaningless tournament that they might not reap the benefits from.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT TANKING?!?!” You’re screaming because you’ve been couped up in the house too long. Well, if you believe that the hockey players mentality is that they want to win their last game of the year and, for contract-year players, show off their stuff and how they can excel in these games against lesser opponents…thus getting them more money on the open market. Plus, a return to their summer vacation over playing meaningless games.

Listen, if you’re going to have a tournament for the lottery picks, it needs to be limited to the six worst teams. The worst and second-worst will get byes and then face against the winners of the other games. It goes with the whole thing that a team can’t move up more than five spots. Give that hope to the sixth-worst team they could get the 2nd overall pick without the use of a lottery ball. That’s the only way in the scenario that a “winner-moves-on” idea works.

It’s chaos out there– so why not flip the script on tournaments and have the losers move forward for losing…like how the Draft is supposed to be weighted.

NASCAR Does Right With iRacing Event

There’s a lot of things NASCAR has done that is considered silly and inane, but what the drivers did on Sunday in conjunction with iRacing was fantastic. It wasn’t the real racing we all know and love, but it was something to get the stress of the world off people’s mind in all of this. Especially since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was up at the front, even with Denny Hamlin taking the win.

Some people are on the fence with eSports because it’s virtual and the onus on the virtual sporting world is that they’re lazy people who just play video games for a living. From the small sample size I’ve seen, it’s probably more mentally wearing for these competitors than physically; which takes its toll in a different way. But this is the evolution of sports for people, especially with iRacing out there and NBA 2K leagues. Hell, people have been clamoring for Madden Leagues since the early-00s with having podcasts about it by that age.

But the racing today was fun from the virtual Homestead. A lot of racers who don’t get many TV mentions on the actual Cup races were front and center because they use the iRacing site for the testing their small teams can’t afford. Guys like Garrett Smithley, Timmy Hill, Chase Briscoe– all of them are very fluent in the iRacing scene and finally had a chance to really shine out there.

And let’s not forget the Fox NASCAR crew of Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Larry McReynolds during this race– actually calling it like a real life race. Granted, they had some fun with it every now and again, but they didn’t mock it like they could have because they don’t know much about it. They did it with a good sense of professionalism during a really bizarre time for everyone.

NASCAR is one of only a couple sports that could pull this off with all their stars in one stage since it is a single-entity race. Maybe golf and tennis, but it’d be hard for NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB players to play as themselves in a virtual world and have it worthwhile for a viewing audience. Too many moving parts, I would think.

If this were to happen for a while, I would definitely watch again. It didn’t take up my whole day, it was fun, and it was a different side of the sport I didn’t think I would enjoy– but I did. Congrats to the Fox and iRacing team for making this a great event to deal with and for getting people’s mind off some things for a bit.

On the Topic Of Leagues Shutting Down

The SPHL is over. The ECHL is over. Given the CDC’s suggestion of two months being the earliest this dystopian, confined atmosphere can maybe move toward living normally again– we could probably see the AHL and possible NHL do the same thing.

For the lower minor leagues, it’s understandable with the uncertainty of the ever-changing guidelines in the face of this whole ordeal. Add that to players visas, travel of teams and players over the border, availability of arenas that they don’t own; it was a perfect storm for these leagues to get shuddered early.

ECHL players get their last paycheck today, which is on average $600 a payday. Players are obviously panicking for money like everyone else who has their places of business shut down or reduced hours. Teams are also going to have plenty of losses with home games being removed, thus lost revenues and all of that. It’s a bad time all around.

And in all honesty, I wouldn’t hate it if the NHL and AHL shut down for the year. Would it suck for no Cup to be awarded?? Absolutely. As a Caps fan, would it suck for Alex Ovechkin not getting 50 goals despite being so close?? Most definitely. But for the greater good and not to rush a season in a half in what amounts to a calendar year– losses should be cut and then move on from there as a people into the next season.

For the players and for the fans, it’s the best to end it now and not give false hope when there’s other things to be concerned with. It would give one less financial burden for fans to worry about, it wouldn’t rush the players back into an important game-state after a long layoff, and it would reset the clock with the Draft and then into free agency.

Like I’ve said prior, shit’s crazy right now. The hope and the hype is all over the place. Common sense fails all of us right now and while sports are a nice distraction from it all– the best way is to throw it all out and start anew in October. It’s not just the staying away from people portion, it’s the matter of money is going to be very tight and the last thing people need to worry about is paying for playoff tickets and the other items that come when you go to a game in an arena.

Step off the ledge, everyone; breathe, and let’s get back at ‘er sooner than later, but not too soon to set people back more.

Now Hear Me Out: NHL Playoffs…March Madness Style

The NHL is going through their pause with everything else on Earth. Now, the NBA said that they’ll be delayed at least 30 days, which you’d have to think the NHL would be in the same boat. That puts us into mid-April right when the playoffs were to start.

Most teams have played around 70 games, leaving 12 games or so to finish out the season. That puts us until about early to mid-May for playoffs. There’s really two options: play out the season and really delay the playoffs or end the season and start playoffs right then and there when the season comes back. The first option will have some complain that the season is too long and isn’t give player recovery time for next season. The second makes people who have teams in heavy playoff races mad because they could have gotten in with the last games of the season.

So, here me out– end the season as it is, but everyone makes the playoffs. The NHL does a March Madness style playoff. The first round will be a one-and-done game, the next rounds will be Best-of-Five until the Cup Final, which will be Best-of-Seven. Seed in the way of points percentage to balance it out better, with the top team getting a first round bye to make sure the brackets are even through the rest of the playoffs. Opening round– 2 vs. 31, 3 vs. 30 and so on to get the 15 winners, then reseed again as per usual.

We’re in pretty crazy times in the world, so why not make it a crazy playoff as well. Is it a bit unfair?? Sure, but it’s also a bit fun and unpredictable. Why not make this season a fun one and bring some hype to the game, while also not getting too far off the track on how things are done in the off-season and maybe ending the playoffs early to get players more rest going into next season.

UND HOCKEY: What Could Have Been

Ralph Engelstad Arena, 03/12/20; Photo by Scotty Wazz

After I drop Jen off at work, I usually go for a ride around the city to decompress before going to bed. On a night like Thursday March 12th, it was probably much needed. Sports stopped on that day. Rightfully so, but still a bummer that the thing many used to distract themselves from the issues around them is not there. In any case, I decided to drive to Ralph Engelstad Arena and just zone out.

As I pulled up, no lights were on in the building or outside. Light adorn the plaza area with the statue of Sitting Bull, but not much else. It was a fitting scene for the night, as the NCHC cancelled their tournament, as did the NCAA. Again, rightfully so– still a bummer.

Mostly a bummer for the student-athletes on the University of North Dakota squad who had come back to life this season following two years of missing the big tournament. They were on pace to be one of the all-time great teams in North Dakota hockey history, as they were ranked 1st in the Pairwise and were odds-on favorites to win the National Championship.

Now, it’s a case of what could have been.

With the cancellations, all anyone can do is wonder if this team would have won the NCHC playoff title to go with the Penrose Cup, if they could have dominated the NCAA and have won the school’s ninth National Championship, and if there’d be another Hobey Baker Award winner from this team. It was a season to remember for the right reasons and for the reasons that could have been.

You hate it for the team, of course, but you really hate it for the seniors of this team. Colton Poolman, who came back because he had unfinished business; Cole Smith, the heart and soul of this team; Andrew Peski, who bookended his tenure with two solid seasons; Casey Johnson, who became a valued utility option for this club in any spot; Zach Yon, who fought through injuries his last season and was a bit of an energy guy; Dixon Bowen, who carried on the UND tradition his father started, as well as being an energy guy; Westin Michaud, who came to UND as a graduate transfer and made people wish this team had him for a full four years. Those are the guys who may not get much closure on this season.

Then you look at guys outside of the seniors that may think about leaving, but could reconsider given the way this year ended. This is going on nothing at all, but you’d have to think the Ottawa Senators were heavily invested in what Jacob Bernard-Docker did this year and may have even taken a look at him moving forward. Jordan Kawaguchi’s Hobey Baker-esque season could have gotten him looks by NHL teams, but he might stay to finish this fight off. Then there’s Shane Pinto, who was looked at by the Senators heavily in the World Juniors– like JBD– but assured everyone that he would be staying at UND; but time can changes things.

Those are the stories to look at now– who stays, who goes, who comes in. There is no pomp and circumstance, no banner, no one-last-hurrah for the seniors. It’s just over. And now UND fans and players alike will have a chip on their shoulder with how this season ended and what could have been.

Rightfully so.

Media Access, COVID-19, and You

We are all mind-numbingly aware of the COVID-19 virus (I’m only going to call it C-19 moving onward) and we know what it’s done to the social landscape of the world. Obviously, sports is put into this and has led to leagues shutting down their locker room access and even possibly playing in front of empty arenas (although the AHL already did that).

My opinion is good. While it’s probably an overreaction to what equates to a beefed-up pneumonia, you rather err on the side of caution rather than have to clean up the mess that comes from not taking the right moves in the first place. Playing catch-up is never fun, especially in a wide-spread illness.

But seeing media people hem and haul about the shutting down of locker rooms and access to players and give a vague threat to the leagues bascially saying, “This better be temporary,” makes me tilt my head. As someone who has pieces of laminated paper saying I’m part of the media, I’ve never once thought that locker room access is needed to have a good story. Hell, at the University of North Dakota games; all the interviews for the masses are done in a scrum style with two or three players and head coach Brad Berry. We all get our stories, we all move along. Brad Schlossman is one of the finest writers in hockey and he rarely gets the locker room access some of these reporters in sports get, but he’s still churning out bangers week after week.

Does that help with some stories and such?? Sure. Is it a necessity?? That’s a hard sell for me. Does it equate to better stories?? I’m sure it does. Ken Rosenthal thinks it does (subscription because innovation). To a point, it can be true because access and having a good standing with the players can lead to things down the line and becoming an insider. Also, the point that it’s making the media members look petty because they’re getting singled out and other groups aren’t.

But, when the Colorado Avalanche have a sign reminding media members not to hug players or sit at stalls seems more to me like writers are mad because they can’t be buddy-buddy with some players. There’s not many other entertainment industries that allow people to be as tight-knit as the sports community. It can be considered both awesome and invasive all in one.

If you’re a good reporter, you’ll find a way to get the story without having to make brunch plans with the top-line guys or deal with the stench of equipment by your nose when you sit down in one of their stalls. People’s story writing abilities aren’t tied to all-access approaches in locker room settings. Yes, it makes a story better…but there’s tons of people out there writing quality stuff without having a fraction of the access or really needing it– but they’re still getting respect from people who enjoy the content they put out– access or not.

If worst comes to worst– everyone is connected. If you have a good relationship with a player now and need access to the room without getting access to the room– you should have their number. Text them, call them, email them– if they’re really your buddy, they’ll find a way to make time for you either in-person or virtually. Does it tell the whole story you’re looking for?? No, because it doesn’t have those subtle nuances of a locker room…but it’s still better than no access at all.

And yet, the story the writers are really missing are the impact around the games. The fans who may have taken a vacation to see a game, but will have to wait because the game was shuddered down to fans. The impact this will have on local businesses on top of the impact of non-gameday happens with this panic. The workers inside the venues who are going to be losing money and might already be on a tight budget as it is.

But no, let’s talk about the locker rooms shutting down. Let’s talk about the lack of access being the reason some can’t create a good story. There’s stories to be had out there that don’t require direct player access. You just have to be good enough to find it.

Clutch and Crab Hockey Weekend Preview 023

MARYLAND BLACK BEARS vs. Johnstown Tomahawks

After a sweep against Jamestown, the Black Bears enter another crucial weekend not only for playoff contention, but for a rivalry weekend. Not only that, but it’s “Guns N’ Hoses” weekend for support local fire and police officer. These two teams don’t like each other, especially with who’s between the pipes at the other end and the tactics that were pulled last time the Tomahawks were at The Den. Some upsides is the Black Bears looked solid and will build off it and Johnstown played two games earlier this week, which could make them a team primed to beat.

Team defense will be a big deal, as it was very solid last week, limiting the Rebels to 36 shots the entire weekend and Cooper Black stopping 35 of them. That said, one thing that needs improve is the power play, which has no goals in their last 37 attempts with their last power play goal being on January 24th. Keeping the defense strong and making the power play effective will be the biggest keys for the weekend and season ahead.

TEAM MARYLAND vs. Philadelphia Little Flyers

Though it won’t start until the 9th, Team Maryland will start their playoff run after the weekend and hope to take it home. They’ll take on a team that they had a 4-2-0 record against during the season, out scoring the Little Flyers 29-21. One thing to look for from coach Josh Fusco is who will start in net– either Peter Siolas or Zach Richards, both who have had ups and downs.

With seven players in double-digits for goals, offense shouldn’t come at a premium, but it’s a matter of keeping their hot streak alive– as they come into the playoffs on a four-game winning streak. It’s a landmark time for TM and they will hopefully make the most of this during the week and beyond.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 WOMEN at Elmira College

After a huge win against Neumann, Stevenson reaches the UCHC Final Four against the host Elmira. In their only meeting this season, Elmira took it 2-1, though Annie Smyth-Hammond played stellar with 45 saves in the loss. Smyth-Hammond was amazing against Neumann last weekend, with Nikki Kendrick and Trin Barcless leading the way scoring.

More impressive during this five-game win streak is the defense the Mustangs have played, only letting up three goals in those five wins, while scoring 20 in that same span. If the team defense can keep the solid work up, they’ll move onto the UCHC Final and maybe an automatic NCAA bid by the weekend’s end.

NAVAL ACADEMY MIDSHIPMEN D1 vs. ECHA Playoffs

After some time off, the Mids are back at it and are at home for the ECHA Playoffs, which is something that will play well into Navy’s hands with their supporters right there at McMullen all weekend. The rest can be really great for some teams or a detriment to them, especially in a one-and-done tournament scenario. In games coming out of an off weekend for Navy this season, they were 2-1 with their only loss coming early in the season.

That said, as the season rolls and going against a team that will have played the day before– as Navy has a quarterfinal bye– the odds seem in their favor. Add to the fact they were ECHA runner-ups last season, they’ll want to get the championship and have it mean that much more to do it on home ice.

Following the Yzer-Manifesto

There has to be a plan in place in Detroit, doesn’t there?? They were eliminated for what would seem eons ago and looked primed as the favorite for the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft– should the lottery balls be in their favor.

But thus goes Steve Yzerman and what I can only assume is the plan he has called the Yzer-Manifesto.

With the talent they have offensively, the ability to score should be there with Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina, and the potential of Robby Fabbri are better than what they’ve put out there…at least some would hope. Maybe an addition here and there is needed, but it’s not much of an overhaul as it is developing together a bit more.

Yet, the biggest part of the Yzer-Manifesto should be working from the goal and work outward. Obviously Jimmy Howard isn’t the future of this team and Jonathan Bernier is the veteran back-up to move forward. There’s plenty of money to be had for the Red Wings, so the idea of bringing in Robin Lehner for big money and term isn’t the worst idea. Of course, Braden Holtby is out there– but his instability this season will make some shy away from signing him. Of course, this is all dependent upon how they feel Filip Larson is progressing or not to make a long-term offer to anyone.

Moving upward, building the defense around Moritz Seider– maybe not for 2020-21, but as a starting point for when Seider does get to the NHL full-time. Joe Hicketts will have his time to shine because he could be a now-or-never situation considering he’s wrapping up his fourth season in Grand Rapids.

The Red Wings are notorious for keeping their prospects down on the farm to really grow, but maybe a new point of the Yzer-Manifesto is to not let the prospects overripe in the AHL and give them a bigger stage to perform on. That could be a case for Seider and Jared McIssac to maybe break the cycle of prospects and only be in the AHL for a year, two years at most.

Defensively on the free agent market, the idea of Tyson Barrie is a nice one, especially in the cap crunch the Maple Leafs are in– though if it boosts up as much as they think it will– maybe that’ll be enough to get Barrie under the Leafs banner for years…but you never know in this crazy business.

It is just Steve Yzerman’s first year with a team who has been trending down for a few seasons. This being the rock bottom situation may allow him to sit back and write out his Yzer-Manifesto from atop the Little Caesars Arena, trying to make HockeyTown, USA a thing again and more than just a night for teams to start their back-up goalie against.