Now that the NHL season has ended with the Los Angeles Kings putting a halt to the Blackhawks dynasty discussions it's time to take a brief look back at year that was. Every season is a learning experience so here is what I learned starting last October.
- Gary Bettman is pretty much loathed by every hockey fan in the world, but the man knows how to make money for his league despite being low man on the totem poll in America. I thought the Stadium Series was going to be an over saturation of the outdoor games, but I was wrong. Not only did the fans enjoy them, but they made a lot of money for the league. As long as they make money we will see more and more outdoor games. The game at Dodger Stadium with the Kings and the Ducks was visually awesome, even with the inclusion of KISS. The ratings keep rising and the salary cap will go up as more money comes in. Maybe, just maybe, we can watch playoff games without commercials for hillbilly dating services and earwax removers
- As more people start tuning into to NBC to watch the game of hockey, it is time to get rid of Mike Milbury and Keith Jones as your flagship analysts. These two cavemen still think it's the 70s and 80s where knuckle draggers beat people with their own shoes. Those days are long gone and they are not coming back. It is time to bring in some people who have more to add than just screaming for hits and momentum. I know NBC can do a better job. The crew they hired for the Premiere League this year was fantastic. I never got into soccer until this past season and a lot of it was because of the analysts who helped teach me the game, not pine for the glory days of a dead era. Imagine what a crew like that can do for the game of hockey in America. I am all for bringing in more fans into the mix, but you are not going to do that with these two boobs.
- Speaking of subpar television, can the league put a little money into the NHL Network? I think they have a good studio crew and the content is fine but the production value is crap. I feel like I am back in high school and staying up late to watch videos on JBTV when I watch the NHL Network. It has too much of a public access feel to it. A better presentation will do wonders for the amount of people who will tune in and the new fans you can draw
- Somehow the league needs to figure out a way to make goaltender interference a reviewable play. I understand both sides of the argument with adding more reviews. But, if Major League Baseball can implement a challenge system I don't see why the NHL can't. Yes, some plays are not black and white but if you have the means to get the calls on the ice correct then please do it.
- Embellishment is starting to get out of control in the NHL. I can't remember a playoff season with more of it than this year and the Vancouver Canucks didn't even make the tournament. I don't like the coincidental minors given out because a guy can feel a stick at his feet take a dive and at the very worst the teams play 4 on 4. I would change the rule to where an embellishment call is a double minor so a power play will occur. That would make some of these Vlade Divac on skates think twice about flopping.
- Head shots are still a major problem in the NHL. This will not change until the players themselves decide to wise up about. The league is so inconsistent with their disciple that you can't expect them to remedy this problem.
- Once again this season proved that you don't need an "elite" goalie to win the Stanley Cup. While Jonathan Quick is a top tier goalie, he was average at best for the majority of the Kings' playoff run. Takeaway his shutouts against the Sharks and Rangers, and he wasn't spectacular. He finished the 2014 playoffs with a 2.58 GAA and a .911 save % a far cry from 1.41 GAA and .946 save % when the Kings won the Cup in 2012. The difference is that Quick had to put up those numbers in order for the Kings to win in 2012 but he didn't have to this year. The bottom line he gave up fewer goals than his opponent 16 times and that is all that matters.
- The two goal lead really is the most dangerous lead in hockey. During the Stanley Cup playoffs teams gave up two goal leads 23 times and lost 16 of those 23 games.
- I have learned this final lesson many times over but I am always reminded of it every season and that is the regular season means nothing come playoff time. The St Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche were media darlings and were deemed for greatness during the regular season. Both teams got knocked out in the first round. Patrick Sharp led the Blackhawks with 34 goals during the regular season and was pretty much a ghost in the playoffs. Speaking of ghosts, Sidney Crosby paced the league with 104 points in the regular season but only put up one goal and eight assists in the postseason. The Los Angeles Kings finished the regular season 26th in scoring with 2.43 goals per game but was the highest scoring team in the playoffs with 3.38 goals per game. These are just a few of many reasons why there isn't anything better in sports than the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there today. I thank my father for instilling the love of hockey and the Blackhawks in me. This is my second Father's Day without him but I think about him every day. I hope I am making him proud.