Playoffs could produce more than a Cup champ
Here they come. The Stanley Cup playoffs are just days away and they're going to be good.
The dream scenario?
That could involve scheduling a secret marathon meeting at the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, meaning Bettman, Goodenow and their underlings could be secure in the knowledge that they wouldn't be recognized in an NHL city.
Or they could meet in New York or Toronto, for that matter, with media hordes camped out in front of the buildings.
Whatever it takes.
Regardless, wouldn't it be great if this collective bargaining agreement mess gets settled, forestalling a work stoppage, and it happens soon enough to allow the World Cup to become a celebration of the sport, not a somber prelude to the shutdown?
We only can hope that the way the first-round matchups fell into place turns out to be portentous of a great postseason -- and that, if this indeed turns out to be the case, it truly matters.
It would have been difficult for the NHL to gerrymander the matchups any better than the way they turned out.
In the East, especially.
Start with the battle of Ontario, with the mayor of Ottawa presumably preparing to patrol the Corel Centre concourses and censure anyone wearing Maple Leafs jerseys; the Bruins-Canadiens reprising a deep-rooted, Original Six matchup; the Flyers-Devils rivalry, which always is interesting because so many Flyers fans come up the New Jersey Turnpike; and even the Islanders posing the relatively easy first question in the on-going testing of the Lightning as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Even in the West, having Nashville in the postseason can provide a shot in the arm for the NHL as it continues to dismiss the need for and the possibility of contraction. Even if the Wings sweep, the Nashville guitars won't be sounding mournful choruses. The Predators and their fans are just thrilled to be there. And the other first-round series, including a replay of the back-to-back Western Conference finals matchup from 1999 and 2000 (Dallas-Colorado) and the other Canadian series between Vancouver and Calgary, make for great drama.
Here's how the whole thing could play out best for the NHL.
Having a Cup Finals in Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver would be doubly invigorating for the league.
For one thing, the truly diverse and thoughtful nature of the Canadian fan base would be in the spotlight -- perhaps even for those American journalists who excessively generalized about the sport's fan base during the Todd Bertuzzi furor.
For another, the excitement would be catching. For Jose Theodore to have a terrific run and draw even more comparisons to Patrick Roy would be great for the league. Heck, even if Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch are staunch for the Leafs, causing the Barenaked Ladies to write a song about them, that would work, too -- and Leetch's involvement might even keep the folks in that most provincial of markets, New York, paying attention to hockey.
Nothing personal, New Jersey. But it would not only increase Toronto's or Ottawa's chances of making the finals, it would prevent the Devils from, in effect, slipping the finals a lingering dose of tranquilizers when the league needs them to be energizing.
Even a reprise of the evolved Detroit-Colorado rivalry, and perhaps even Colorado-Vancouver, could serve to illustrate that for all the enmity, the game doesn't have to be dragged into the gutter to be sharp-edged, tension-filled and dramatic.
One of the reasons the NHL got into this fix in the first place is that it isn't taken seriously in enough places. We're not just talking about the flatlands of Kansas, but in major markets. It's time to stop talking about how unfair some of the perceptions are about the sport, and instead aggressively combat them to give any new economic order that comes out of the new CBA more of a chance to succeed.
(An aside to those who hold fighting in the NHL so dear: Your season is over, right? Or do you just tune in once you hear that a relatively rare blowout is unfolding, increasing the possibility of dropped gloves and "message-sending'' mayhem?)