That’s a wrap, ladies and gentleman! After an exciting year of hockey and an unpredictable post-season, the Los Angeles Kings hoist the Cup over Hollywood for the first time in their franchise’s history. Jay and Stephen, the resident “hockey krishnas” (trademark, Jay), talk the final games, what lies in store for the winning and losing clubs, and what we predict will happen in the off-season (including a possible pending work stoppage). Read on!
Jay: Well, the long NHL season is over and there’s a new champion. Congratulations to the LA Kings, who took out the New Jersey Devils with relative ease last night to win the Stanley Cup in 6 games. After a couple of exciting NJ wins, I was hoping they’d take the series to a game 7, but it wasn’t to be. What are your thoughts on the new Cup champs?
Stephen: It was definitely an improbably run by a team that just barely squeaked into the playoffs. But once they got there, they made it clear they deserved to be. The defense was sound, the offense got points when called upon, and Quick was unreal. Many thought Tim Thomas’ performance last post-season was a revelation, but Quick’s numbers were even better. He was the undisputed Conn Smyth winner.
Jay: Quick’s numbers were better, but I still think Thomas had the more impressive postseason last year because of the degree of difficulty: The Bruins won three seven-game series on their way to the 2011 Cup. But that doesn’t take anything away from Quick’s performance, or the overall team excellence that the Kings displayed. Early on in game 6, it looked like it would be another close game, with both teams playing with intensity. Then NJ’s Steve Bernier took an absolutely senseless boarding penalty that put the Kings’ struggling power play on the ice for five minutes, and the Kings cashed in three times to put the game out of reach early in the first period. Tough to bounce back from that, but we’ve seen teams come back from those deficits. The Kings never let up and ended up taking the game 6-1. The Devils certainly had their chances in the series and put up a good fight, but in the end, the Kings were too much to handle.
Stephen: It was somewhat fitting that in a season of crackdowns on headshots, it was an egregious one by Bernier that sealed his team’s fate. A few people felt that an earlier non-call against the Kings for a hit from behind was a mistake, but whether it was retaliatory or just stupid, Bernier’s hit deserved the call. And even with the penalty, the Kings PP had never been that potent all post-season. It was just their year.
Jay: Yeah, the Kings were definitely a team of destiny. Even Dustin Brown dropping an f-bomb on national TV in his postgame interview doesn’t diminish their accomplishment. If anything, it typifies their blue collar work ethic. Brown really stepped up last night after having a quiet first five games of the series, scoring the first goal, assisting on the second and hitting everything in sight. Looking ahead, it seems as though the Kings will be a force for years to come, since pretty much all of their good young talent is locked up. Unlike the 2010 Cup champs Chicago, who had serious salary cap issues and had to jettison about half the team days after they won it all. I can see LA contending again next year.
Stephen: The biggest challenge they’ll face is that everyone will be gunning for them. Part of their success came from the element of surprise, the fact that they weren’t really a team scruitinized in the regular season as a clear contender in the same way Pittsburgh, Vancouver, St. Louis, and Boston experienced. But everyone will be analyzing their defensive spread and picking apart film of Quick for weaknesses. It will be a challenge to survive that.
Jay: The book on Quick was to shoot high on him, and teams were attempting it throughout the playoffs with little success. But you’re right, the Kings will no longer be the underdogs. I still think the team is extremely deep and will be a contender. It might not be so easy for New Jersey, which faces the big question of whether Martin Brodeur will return. One of the best goalies in NHL history, Brodeur certainly had a big playoff run, although he had the tendency to give up a softie here and there. There’s no goalie prospect waiting in the wings, so that’s a concern. The Devils will also more than likely lose their captain Zach Parise, who’s an unrestricted free agent now and will command the attention of several teams looking to add a top-line forward.
Stephen: Yeah, New Jersey has the harder road forward for sure. While LA just has to be sure they evolve the game plan with the team intact, the Devils are going to need to overcome the disappointment of missing the Cup while simultaneously patching holes and balancing budgets. Even if Brodeur returns, he was a bit soft at times and not getting any younger, and they really need to start trading or drafting for a replacement. And they still live in the extremely difficult Atlantic Division, where they’ll compete with the highly competent Penguins, Flyers, and Rangers. It may be a rebuilding year in NJ.
Jay: And now that the champs have been decided, we move on to an interesting part of the process: The NHL draft on June 22-23, followed by free agency on July 1. The Edmonton Oilers hold the first pick in the draft, but there have been rumors they may be willing to trade it for some good young talent since they had the last two number one picks. Some have speculated that Toronto may try to deal for the pick, but GM Brian Burke denied such a move yesterday. Still, those denials tend to fly out the window if the right deal is available. As for free agency, the usual suspects–Detroit, the Rangers, Toronto, Pittsburgh–will be looking to improve, with a limited number of top players like Parise and Ryan Suter available.
Stephen: For some reason, the NHL post-season never quite gets as much hype as in other sports, but it really can have huge impacts, even if the ramp up time for rookies in the league is a bit harsher than in other sports. Edmonton already has some solid young talent, so I wouldn’t blame them for trading that first pick away if they can get an established name to balance their roster. I would love to see Parise on the Pens, but honestly our front line is pretty solid with Malkin, Crosby, and Staal still together. If we make moves, it will be to grab some solid defenders.
Jay: We might see more trades since the free agent crop is rather thin this year. I always enjoy the draft/free agency, but I’m a hockey krishna. Of course, as we mentioned previously, there’s also the specter of labor unrest hanging over the proceedings. Hopefully the NHL and the players’ union work out a timely deal to allow the 2012-13 season to start on time, but I think there’s a decent chance that doesn’t happen. The salary cap, which was instituted after the last work stoppage eight years ago, has risen to $70 million and the players, who took a 24% pay cut last time around, won’t be in such a giving mood this time. I hate to be thinking about this stuff the day after the Kings won the Stanley Cup, but there’s a chance that last night’s game was the last hockey we’ll see for quite some time.
Stephen: And as much as I love hockey, it is, at least in the US, kind of a second tier sport. I don’t think they can afford a labor strike killing what little momentum the Kings victory may have given to the sport. The NBA was able to weather their shortened season, but I’d hate to think what the NHL would face if they lost half or even a whole season. But as always, at the same time you don’t want to see players getting short-shifted.
Jay: Work stoppages are never good PR moves. I thought the last one would be devastating for the league but it managed to bounce back impressively. That isn’t to say the NHL would this time around. I hope both sides realize that, but common sense doesn’t often enter into these things. Given the state of the economy, people are a lot less tolerant of the salary complaints of multimillionaires.
Stephen: Very true. We’ll wait and see, and hope that any talks don’t cast a pall over the action of the off-season. All that’s left now is the awards. I don’t think either of us are going to prove to be correct on our Vezina predictions (you have Lundqvist, I had Rinne, I expect it to be Quick), but will be interesting to see who takes the Calder.
Jay: I don’t know, Lundqvist could still win the Vezina. The voting takes place right after the regular season, so Quick’s ridiculous postseason won’t be taken into account. I have Nugent-Hopkins of Edmonton as the top rookie and he’s one of the finalists along with Landeskog and NJ’s Adam Henrique. Honestly, any of them could win it. As for season MVP, I had Ovechkin and that sure isn’t happening.
Stephen: I had Landeskog, so we’re both in the running there. I forgot the post season won’t come into consideration, so Lunqvist could still have a chance there. And no way Ryan Kessler makes it as MVP for me.
Jay: Well, it’s been a fun inaugural season for Cold as Ice.
Stephen: It has indeed been fun! Hopefully for more than just the two of us.
Jay: Agreed. Now I just have to hope my Maple Leafs actually make some intelligent moves in the offseason. It’s never happened before, but there’s a first time for everything.
Stephen: We’ll find out in a few weeks!