ITPST: October 10th, 2019

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY….we’d all be confused because we’re only a week and a day into the regular season. HOWEVER, this what the playoffs would look like if the playoffs started….RIGHT NOW!!

The Atlantic would have the Sabres take the top spot with seven points on the year (3-0-1), with the ultimate match-up between the Bruins (3-0-0) and Maple Leafs (2-1-1) go at it for yet another chapter to their wonderful tale of playoff enjoyment. In the Metro, Carolina and their eight points (4-0-0) would take the top spot, while the Caps (2-0-2) would be second, with the Rangers (2-0-0) being third over the Flyers (2-0-0) thanks to goals-for. The Flyers, however, would get the Wild Card along with Detroit (2-1-0).

Thus, the East Playoffs would be Sabres and Flyers, Leafs and Bruins, Canes and Red Wings, and Caps and Rangers.

Out west in the Central, the Blues will get top spot in the divison (2-0-1) with the Avalanche (2-0-0) and Predators (2-1-0) going second and third. The Pacific would have Connor McDavid and the Oilers take the top spot, edging out the Ducks on goals-for since both are at 3-0-0. Vegas would continue their playoff streak with a third place showing in the Pacific (2-1-0). The Wild Card would be the Jets in the first spot (2-2-0) and the Flames (1-1-1) would hold the second part.

Meaning– the Oilers would take on the Flames in another Battle of Alberta, Avs and Preds, Blues and Jets, finishing up with the Ducks and Vegas.

There you have it– the first installment of ITPST and we’ll try to do this every Thursday until the end of the season.

Quickly Thrown Together 2019-20 NHL Preview

You’ve seen the best– now it’s time for the rest. Let’s go:

THIRD TIME FOR FIRST TIME??: There’s 11 teams who haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet: Arizona, Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Ottawa, Minnesota, Nashville, San Jose, Vancouver, Vegas, Winnipeg. Of those 11, you’d have to say that maybe four have a chance in Nashville, San Jose, Vegas, and Winnipeg; but the window is closing if it’s not already shut. Of course, they said that about the Caps two years back and they lifted the Stanley Cup.

HUNT FOR 50: Will Alex Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark for the ninth time?? Odds are pretty good given he has four of the last five 50-goal season, including last year. And let’s be completely honest– Wayne Gretzky’s goal-record is out of reach for Ovechkin. Even as a Caps fan, it’s not something I think is attainable. However, tying the mark for most 50-goal campaigns in a career with Gretzky and Mike Bossy?? Much more than attainable.

YOUNG GUNS ON THE HUDSON: You could argue that with Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko; the Devils and Rangers could be the best rivalry coming back– akin to Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby pumping new life in to a Caps-Pens rivalry that was fading into obscurity. Two young talents, ready to take over the New York Market in a big way, which the media there will undoubtedly eat up, overanalyze, and do their best to be like Toronto sports media figures.

McPLAYOFFS: Depending on what you believe, there’s frustration with Connor McDavid and the Oilers not making it to the playoffs but once in his tenure there. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you have one of the best players in the league not being on the biggest stage for the biggest trophy every year. Will that help with Mike Smith and James Neal coming from Calgary while Milan Lucic went south on the QE2?? The Neal part may help a little, but I’m not a believer in the defense and goaltending for Edmonton one bit.

RETOOLING EARLIER DYNASTIES: Both the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks had less than desirable finishes, with both teams looking to retool heading into this season. With both playing in divisions that may be tougher than they look, it might be an uphill battle. I wouldn’t put too much money down on either of them making it too far if they do make the playoffs.

WORTH THE WAIT??: A lot of restricted free agents waiting until the 11th hour to sign, but is it something that their teams will be happy about or upset about should they not perform to the contract they were dealt?? Let’s be honest, I’m shocked Patrik Laine didn’t burn the bridges in the locker room already with what he said and it’s probably awkward as hell right now. The Mitch Marner deal looks like an overpayment when you look at other RFAs signing for a bit less than retail, but in the market space. That said, regardless of the price– Marner and Laine will be on the hot seat regardless of what their contracts were since they’re on teams that are supposed to be contenders.

SUNBELT RISING??: We all know what the Tampa Bay Lightning are– but do we really know what the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers are outside of their team financials?? I would venture to guess that both teams are on the upswing, with Arizona getting Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz being healthy, and the possibility for solid defense. All the while, the Panthers have their goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, young guns primed to really break out and put teams on notice, all while maybe trying to snatch a wild card spot away from others in the strong Atlantic Division.

NHL Going Retro with Green Day Pick-up

In a summer of bridge deals, the NHL signed one of their own– as they signed Green Day to a two-year deal with an AAV of three-chords. I used that joke on Twitter and it moderately killed.

I’m glad the NHL is bringing in the Broadway performers and producers into the fold and will be using a song of theirs for NBC Wednesday Night Hockey. And honestly– since Green Day missed out on the Wednesday Night Wrestling Wars that are starting up, the NHL is probably a nice medal for their collection. They can collect a paycheck for royalties and promote their apparently upcoming album.

Two great quotes from the press release were:

“Green Day is the perfect band for the NHL. Their music fits so perfectly with the energy, speed and power that we witness on the ice and each and every night. We are so excited to start this partnership with the NBC Sports open. It was so much fun to shoot and we think our fans will love it.” -NHL Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President Steve Mayer.

“This NHL season is hereby known as LOUD season…where the toughest athletes to ever lace up a pair of skates meet the baddest rock band on the planet. So turn up the volume on your TV sets, fire, ready, aim and enjoy the ride.” -Green Day’s try-hard-to-connect PR staff

You know…forget about all the other bands who have closer ties to hockey– Green Day is the hottest act when the NHL was super popular: 1994. What better way to capitalize than right now?? Forget bands like PUP or Motionless in White or even the X Ambassadors for christ sakes– bands that were actually on the NHL20 by EA Sports soundtrack. The NHL needs Green Day….not bands that are on the scene now and actually have some popularity.

When all is said and done…it’s much better than the NASCAR on NBC’s annoying cover of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by ZZ Ward that has been used for the past two seasons. It’ll bring some kind of energy to start and then soon wain in popularity. There’s some people who like Green Day still or remember how they liked them in high school and will be amped for this. That said, I don’t think there needs to be a band that is the opener for the event. It seems outdated and a little bit hokey to try and force synergy like this. Of course, that’s why I’m not the one making the decisions and just taking about them.

On the Topic Of Hockey Burnout

You have to wonder if the all-year hockey is starting to take out players earlier and earlier. Whether it be over-conditioning leading to injury or playing for a team that has very high expectations all year or a team with low expectations and it makes them fall out of love for the game because those low expectations are met.

Hockey may be life, but sometimes life can really suck and you fall out of love of it and into a deep depression and despise every aspect of that life.

Alex Goligoski is the latest to step forward and share him falling out of love with hockey, following in the footsteps of Cam Atkinson and Ryan O’Reilly of saying burnout in hockey is real. Some one surmise that this is exactly what’s going on with Dustin Byfuglien now and his leave of absence from the Winnipeg Jets.

While it’s something to be a hockey fanatic year-round, it’s another to actually be the athlete dealing with this and having to be at a high-caliber to keep their spot in professional hockey; even if there are guaranteed contracts in the mix. You hear a lot of articles in the past few years talking about how younger players should actually venture out into other sports to develop their motor skills that can used in hockey and prevent burn-out at a young age.

Goligoski did say that the bye-week in the NHL did help his spirits a bit because he was away from the game; you have to think if there’s going to be something more on the horizon because of these players dealing with such emotions. The NBA has teams that sit out their star players, albeit to discipline by the league in doing so and the opinion of former stars that think it’s a detriment to the game.

Yet, could this be something that the NHL does?? Sure, the elite teams are harder to come by in the league and there would be outrage from the league and the fans for their top players not being around for people to watch given the cost of a ticket…but even with the bye-week, wouldn’t it give a team a better chance in the playoffs if they are rested by any means necessary?? Isn’t the Stanley Cup the biggest goal and not game 58 of an 82 game season when you’re in a comfortable spot in the standings??

Some teams did it later on in the season, like the Stars; while the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t. One team went to the second round and the Lightning were swept by the Blue Jackets. You also see players skipping out on the All-Star Game to rest and getting suspended for it because the NHL wants their top players at the top events.

You have to think that the league will need to do something about this since burnout has become more prevalent in the game. It’s not just older players, as it is guys who are supposed to be in their prime. You look at someone like Andrew Luck who retired from the NFL at 29 because he fell out of love with the game he used to; the NHL needs to find a way to curve the epidemic before they lose a lot more talented players before they reach their full career potential.

Whether it’s a shorter schedule– which is doubtful because profit margins– or more bye-weeks to extend the calendar year for teams; they really have to worry about the mental health of players as much as they do the physical health.

It Should Have Been the Battle of Atlanta

Though I know it was a long-shot because it would have been funny, the NHL Media website pretty much shuts down the official idea of having the Battle of Atlanta, as they revealed the logos for the Heritage Classic in an email for accreditation. The logos of the Jets looks like one they had for the Heritage Classic in 2016, while the Flames look like a take of their original uniforms as the moved from Atlanta. Of course, we got a hint of what the Jets were doing when Connor Hellebuyck donned a retro mask for pre-training camp in Winnipeg.

What could have been with the Atlanta Thrashers and Atlanta Flames coming back to life again in, of all places, Regina, Saskatchewan.

While we won’t know the actual Jets uniforms until September 13th when they’ll officially unveil their duds for the event, you look at the Jets jersey history– even with the original team; the pickings are very slim. When you look at the Flames, who have yet to set a date for their jersey reveal, the pickings are as slim– though plenty gaudy. Hell, the Flames needed to make up a jersey for their outdoor game in 2011 from a Calgary team few knew about.

Thus is the issue with teams that are in these games and want to do something special for their jerseys– but have a limited palette to choose from when it comes time. The Blackhawks ran out of idea, the Canadiens only have limited options, as do many of the “Original” Six teams. Then you have teams that don’t have a lot of old jerseys– like the Jets, Flames, and Capitals– and have to model some kind of faux-retro to go along with the idea of the game. Which is what’s going to make the Winter Classic jerseys interesting with Dallas and Nashville not being known for their jersey history.

Part of that is the reason why I suggested it becoming the Battle of Atlanta. I mean, sure– it helps that both teams defected from Georgia to move to Canada, but at the same time– it’d be a different jersey take than we may have expected. Plus, it would annoy Canadians who believe they are gatekeepers to hockey and all that it means to people. Plus, it’s about fun, right?? What’s more fun than to bring back two old teams and their jerseys for a night?? People want all kinds of old jerseys back– so here’s a perfect chance to do it.

But the NHL botched it. The teams botched. Now, we have to be subjected to recycled jersey concepts and act like we are happy about seeing something we’ve seen before– like the Blackhawks in an outdoor game.

On the Topic Of Jersey Sales

The bane of existence for the sports merchandising industry– Fanatics— put out the highest selling jerseys for the 2018-19 season. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise when you look at who’s at the top of the list, but there are a couple of interesting trends when you look deeper into the whole thing.

Compared to last season, there’s some shuffling: Sidney Crosby went from second to first, Alex Ovechkin vaulted from sixth to second, while Auston Matthews fell from first to third. M-A Fleury held steady at fourth, while Henrik Lundqvist left the top-15 altogether. Connor McDavid went from fourth to 10th with playoff darling Jordan Binnington jumping up to the seventh spot on the year.

Now, Fanatics doesn’t break things down– which I’m shocked at since their apparel breaks down very quickly. There’s not a date range for it all if it’s the actual season or if it includes playoffs. One can assume that people rebought jerseys because the Fanatics stitching is horrific at best. Plus, it doesn’t mention if this is just Fanatics brand or if it includes Adidas authentic. Nor does it mention the sale of alternate jerseys at all– just the players.

The alternates are something to really put the Crosby clan over the top with the alternate yellow and Stadium Series black the Pens had this season, on top of the ASG jerseys that probably should have boosted more players on this list.

In any case, it’s always odd to me that the same players keep ending up on the top players list for jerseys. You’d think that it’d be a little more interchangeable with the amount of hot rookies that come through. The hype on them alone should drive sales. But, again, if Fanatics is only going on their personal sales– arena sales won’t count, nor will local shops. We’ll have to see if the Jack Hughes Effect will put a Devils’ jersey on the list next season.

Better Know An Affiliate: Columbus Blue Jackets

AHL: Cleveland Monsters (37-29-8-2, 4th in North, lost in second round)
TEAM LINEAGE: As one of the new kids, the Jackets don’t have much of a lineage for their primary affiliates. While it took forever to get the Monsters on board, it only makes sense to keep the prospect within reasonable distance. Prior to Cleveland, the Springfield Falcons served as the Jackets’ affiliate for five seasons and before that, the Syracuse Crunch were the Jackets first affiliate and lasted 10 years with the Jackets.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: The Jackets will give Eric Robinson every chance to make the team this season, but his size could be the only real upside, as his offensive output in his first pro season didn’t set the world on fire. Another inconsistent big-man is Kevin Stenlund, who had 15 goals in his first North American season, but couldn’t balance his defense, as well as not finding consistency finding any spark offensively.

ECHL: The Blue Jackets don’t have an ECHL affiliate and having had one since the end of the 2015-16 season when they had the Kalamazoo Wings as their secondary affiliate. The Jackets have been all over the map for secondary affiliates with the Evansville IceMen, Chicago Express, Fort Wayne Komets, Gwinnett Gladiators, Johnstown Chiefs, Elmira Jackals, and Dayton Bombers.

Better Know An Affiliate: Arizona Coyotes

The season is right around the corner, so why not let people into the whole line of teams that their parent team will be dealing with throughout the season. I did this a few years back on another website of mine, so why not revive it and go from there??

AHL: Tuscon Roadrunners (34-25-5-3, 5th in Pacific, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: After the California teams moved, the Coyotes bought the Springfield Falcons and moved them to Tucson in 2016. Much like the rest of the AHL Pacific, the reasoning was so that players didn’t have to make cross-country flights in the event of a call-up. Before the Roadrunners, the Coyotes bookended their affiliation with Springfield– who was their first affiliate from 1996 until 2004, with the IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder taking some players in 1998-99. After the first time with the Falcons, the Coyotes put their prospects with the Utah Grizzlies, San Antonio Rampage, and Portland Pirates before returning to Springfield and the moving to Tucson.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: Goalie Adin Hill is a likely candidate depending upon the health of the goalies above him, but it could be a look at the blue-line for guys moving up and down. Robbie Russo, who signed a one-year, two-way deal this summer, has a lot of offensive upside that could be useful for the Coyotes moving ahead. Though, Russo’s age could play a factor– which means that another talented blue-liner– who already had some time with the Coyotes– Kyle Capobianco has the same offensive upside, but is four years younger and has a better two-way play element that Russo has; albeit very slightly.

ECHL: Rapid City Rush (30-33-5-4, 6th in Mountain, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Coyotes moved back to the Black Hills of South Dakota, as the Rush return as the ECHL affiliate after the Coyotes left in 2017. The Coyotes have had a bevvy of secondary affiliates across a couple leagues– ECHL, UHL, and CHL– over the 23-year franchise history. In fact, the Coyotes have had multiple secondary affiliates four times in their franchise history: 2001-02 (Mississippi Sea Wolves and BC Icemen), 2006-07 (Phoenix Roadrunners and Laredo Bucks), 2010-11 (Las Vegas Wranglers and Laredo Bucks), and 2012 until 2014 (Gwinnett Gladiators and Arizona Sundogs).
NOTABLE GRADUATES: There have been a couple of Rush players who have moved up from the Rush to the NHL, including Adin Hill, Marek Langhamer, and Michael Bunting– all of which were called through the Coyotes system.

On the Topic Of Parity, Marketing, and Bitterness of the NHL Playoffs

The other day, a writer for The Athletic tweeted something “edgy” about the comparison about the NHL and NBA playoffs. It’s often something that circles the wagon of hockey fans to unite in saying how much better hockey is than basketball. To which NBA fans couldn’t care less because they are focused on their playoffs because they don’t have a chip on their shoulder about their sport’s standing in the US.

Ah, yes– the great parity debate and the great “playoff system is broken” rallying cry. Look, I’ve gone over the playoff system before and it’s not great, but it’s the best we’ve got since people wanted more rivalries. In the new system, the only match-up that would have been changed is the Bruins would face the Penguins and the Islanders would have the Maple Leafs. For what it’s worth, the Eastern and Western Conferences would have had the same match-ups in the second round with re-seeding.

Shocking. Something doesn’t go Toronto’s way and people kick up a giant fuss. To counter that– because it seems he heard a lot of that– he tweeted this.

To which, another user had a reply to him to counterpoint this writer:

You cannot compare the two playoffs– so doing such is stupid. The NBA has clear winners and losers in their game. There’s no point for an overtime loss– it’s just a loss and no ground gained for the losing team. Hockey’s one point for extra time loss. Why even have the loser point anymore?? Just have a straight loss and that’s that. No incentive for losing, actually play to win the damn game.

More over…isn’t parity something that people love about hockey…hell, love about sports?? Are Toronto media and fans– OF ALL PEOPLE– tired of parity happening and other teams in maybe non-traditional markets actually getting some kind of success at the expense of them?? It’s a helluva thing, isn’t it??

Yet, there’s a much better thing that people are missing from the amount of parity that happens in the league and that’s the casual fan being lost during playoff parity. Look, I won’t lie– I go back and forth when it comes to parity in hockey all the time. As much as I like the idea long-shot story being a thing…it does hurt the casual fan base in the US and thus, the ratings– which is really what people look at when it comes to judging the popularity of a sport. Losing the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, PK Subban, and to a lesser extent (not a short joke) Johnny Gaudreau– they are names that are somewhat recognizable to the casual hockey viewer.

Of course, that then falls on the NHL, NBC, and the marketing of them both. NBC wants ratings, so they’ll go with teams that have a bigger following nationally– rightly or wrongly. When you hang your hat on those teams, you leave a lot of room for error and a lot of room for people missing out on teams that should be profiled later on in the season. The NHL wants to put out their superstars– so the Caps and Pens are thrown out on national broadcast ad nauseum.

It’s really up to the NHL’s marketing department to work with NBC to make people care about players in Carolina and Dallas and Colorado and the other markets who are underserved. There’s no conceivable reason that every team cannot be the focus of some of these Wednesday Night Hockey deals that NBCSN has. Hell, the NBC afternoon games would be great for the teams out west with an afternoon eastern start time.

So, how did this start as a self-righteous Toronto writer comparing the remaining seeds of the NHL and NBA to the marketing of the NHL and NBC need to be better?? I don’t know. Things just work that way. The point is the NHL needs to be better for their teams so that when some of these teams goes on a “shocking playoff run,” it won’t matter that some of the top names are out because the NHL and NBC would be profiling stars across the league by showing their games rather than just mentioning them in passing during the season in highlight packages.

NHL Playoffs 2019: Round One

Since no one asked– here’s my picks and a reason.

TAMPA BAY vs. COLUMBUS
Prediction: Tampa in 5
Reason: As much as I may no believe in the Lightning down the stretch, the Blue Jackets were too hot going into the playoffs to have much left in the tank. Also, Nikita Kucherov will most likely continue to step-up his game in the second season.

BOSTON vs. TORONTO
Prediction: Boston in 6
Reason: We’ve seen this song before and Toronto isn’t that great against Boston in the playoffs. Goaltending is a disaster for the Leafs, while their defense isn’t much better.

WASHINGTON vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Washington in 6
Reason: Give the Jerks credit, they clawed back to get in this spot. However, the Caps seem to enjoy feasting on the Canes in life. Plus, the Caps want to get back to the Promised Land to hoist the Cup again, so they’ll do whatever it takes to win it again

NY ISLANDERS vs. PITTSBURGH
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Reason: As much as I want to believe in Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss; Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and a somewhat healthy Evgeni Malkin trump that. Only hope is Matt Murray stinking up the joint

CALGARY vs. COLORADO
Prediction: Calgary in 6
Reason: Goaltending aside, the Flames won the Western Conference for a reason. Especially with Mikko Rantanen just coming back from injury– who knows how effective he will be. Though, some pressure may be on Johnny Gaudreau and friends to make an unexpected run.

SAN JOSE vs. VEGAS
Prediction: Vegas in 5
Reason: Playoffs is about defense and as much as the Sharks have Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson to add some punch offensively, Martin Jones hasn’t been great. The Knights enjoyed a nice taste last year and probably want to make people know it wasn’t a fluke.

WINNIPEG vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: St. Louis in 7
Reason: I don’t know why, but the Blues could be a sleeper team to make some noise. They weren’t even supposed to be here, but Jordan Binnington decided that he’d show Jake Allen how to play in net. They’ll be a tough out with JB in net.

NASHVILLE vs. DALLAS
Prediction: Nashville in 6
Reason: With the window for the Preds and all their talent, it could be the perfect time for them to run wild in the West. They probably still feel the sting of the lost to Winnipeg and want to make a statement run at the Cup this year.