Ah, to be an expert!
It has its perks, for sure – after all, they do get PAID to write about hockey – but the problem with being a respected source in the field of sports journalism is that when you write, people actually read it. And believe it. And then you start to believe that you actually know what you’re talking about, and you start writing crazy things that have no business being passed off as “insider information,” because now you have fooled yourself into thinking that, if you write, it must either be true, or will become true, when it’s all just educated guessing.
Being a blogger, on the other hand, means I work for free . . . but when I write stuff, I think everyone understands I truly have no idea what the heck I am talking about. I’m guesswork without the work . . . but even I know fiction when I see it, which is why I wrote this piece. If you’ve been reading about the NHL this week, chances are close to 100% that you read one, two, or all three of the ideas I address below passed off as certainties for this year. Problem is, these “certainties” are really just myths that everyone seems to be buying into – everyone but me, that is! I’m here to debunk these bad boys and set you straight in time for Saturday’s first drop of the puck.
Myth #1: A hot start is an absolute essential if a team wants to make the playoffs this year.
Is that so, sonny? Why don’t you give Martin Brodeur a call and see what he says about that. The last time the NHL experienced a shortened season was in 1994-1995, the year in which the New Jersey Devils swept the Detroit Red Wings in their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Devils played 48 games that year . . . and got off to a less-than-impressive start. Their record through their first ten games? Three wins, five losses, and two ties. They didn’t even get their first win until the season was eleven days old. Their record after the first month of play? A mediocre 6-6-3. Anyone out there consider this a “fast” start? Didn’t think so. Apparently, New Jersey’s slow start wasn’t impossible to overcome, so fans: if your team doesn’t go 9-1 right out of the gate, R-E-L-A-X. Hot and cold streaks don’t last, and this is a 48, not an 18, game season we’re talking about here.
Myth #2: The shortened schedule will force teams to change the way they approach the game.
I’ve been reading about Pierre McGuire (SI, NBC) a lot this week. McGuire worked for the Ottawa Senators during the shortened 94-95 season, and he did a study of what successful teams did right that year. His five keys (scroll WAY down) to having a successful lockout season? Good goaltending; having four solid lines; avoiding losing streaks of five or more games; having a coach who employs a fair work-rest ratio; and creative coaching. Wait a minute – are we sure he performed that study during a shortened season? Because to me, those sound like the keys to success FOR EVERY NHL TEAM, EVER. I’m sorry, but under what circumstances is, say, bad goaltending a key to success? Or only having only two good lines? Or losing more than five games in a row? Or . . . okay, enough. I just find it amusing that these five keys are being discussed like they’re something new, like they only apply to a shortened season. It’s true that a shortened season will produce a different game in many ways – more back-to-back games, less rest, shortened training camps, more injuries related to conditioning (groin and hamstring pulls) just to name a few – but the same strategies that produced wins last season will work again this year, guaranteed.
Myth #3: The shortened season will bring about a rise in fighting.
I’m not as certain about this myth as I am the other two – hockey guys love them their fights! -but I don’t see this happening for three reasons. First two: injuries, and penalties. Sabres fans know how badly their team struggled when Tyler Myers went down last year, going 9-11-7, but the team had time to regroup and almost made up enough ground to squeak into the playoffs. Posting that type of record should he get injured this season would be impossible to overcome, so why risk having any of your players get injured just to throw a couple of poorly-aimed punches at an opposing player? Coaches will be finding ways to minimize the injuries all season; preaching discipline and restraint should be one such way. Likewise, coaches will be looking to avoid handing out quality scoring chances to their opponents. With fewer points to be won this season, and with fewer games to make up ground should you fall behind in the standings, teams would be wise to keep the fisticuffs to a minimum.
And let’s not forget, folks: the NHL has just a tiny image problem it is dealing with right now. Truth be told, it had a bit of an image problem stemming from last year’s playoffs, when a few illegal hits were ignored, resulting in a first round that caused every hockey writer not named Don Cherry to rip into hockey and accuse it of being an out-of-control joke of a league. Combine that with the fact that the NHL then went on to burn bridges with its fans, TV networks, and advertising sponsors by allowing the lockout to occur, and you have a league that is desperately fighting to retain its fan base and keep the sport from going the way of Arena Football. When your reputation is lower than dirt, you don’t allow your product to begin resembling Roman gladiator matches, so I have a feeling that Bettman and company are going to try and squash the pugilism before it even gets off the ground.
There – I’ve done it. My good deed done, you may now gear up for hockey, free of the restrictions these myths had placed upon you. Enjoy, and remember: if I’m wrong, and these so-called myths do become certainties . . . well, I am just a blogger. What the hell do I know?