Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The NHL on Telemundo

For the NHL playoffs, my own personal rule of thumb is that if you play hard and can construct a repeatable formula to score three goals per game, you’re a tough out. And really, all other nonsense aside, that is the Flyers in a nutshell.

Simply, the Phladelphia Flyers just have a lot of good wingers and centers. If you can roll second and third lines out offering multiple 20 goal scorers, that don’t look helpless back-checking any opposition line presented, playing a determined sixteen minutes and ending most games a plus- you have a pretty good hockey team.

The Flyers are unusual in that if their top line plays the opponent’s top defensive pair to a draw, they’ll take it. Between killing your own penalties and dealing with Prospal and Briere, the Flyers absorb a team’s number one post-season asset: the precious minutes of the top blue line pair. To wit, a formula: the Flyers can consistently get to three goals in a playoff game via the power play and secondary lines facing the second and third defensive pairings.

Then, add in the fact that Biron has played well- and Montreal’s Carey Price notsomuch- and the Flyers have moved from “tough out” to “leading the series”.

I woke this morning meaning to rant on the officiating- but Sam Donnellon in the Daily News beat me to it. There is a lot of talk about the 34-14 shot differential last night- but if the NHL is intent on allowing the Canadians to play half the game on the power play, you’re gonna get totals like that.

Now, I don’t buy into any conspiracy. However, in most professional sports, the official is charged with the administration of the game and enforcement of the rules. But the NHL official is unique; he is also directed to carry the mandate forward- to create a particular vision of the NHL, reward the player and team that conforms.

Scenario: the Flyers compensate for their lack of quality mobile defensemen by adding a little, dare I even say entertaining, chippy-ness. Well, the NHL can’t have its Finns and Swedes ruffled. So you get situation like the Derian Hatcher’s boarding major and subsequent game misconduct.

Fine, it is a penalty. Fine, throw the book at him. Zero argument. But that is a game changing, potentially series changing call. All this from an act that the recipient immediately got up from- then promptly commits a retaliation action.

A normal official realizes he was presented with numerous ways to penalize Hatcher sans agenda. The game misconduct was ridiculous- there are fist-fights every night in the League that are more premediatated than that hit ever was. Give him a double roughing minor instead of major penalty. In the NBA, that is a level one flagrant foul- shoot the free throw, move briskly on. But in the NHL, it is a chance to move the agenda of the Swedish Elite League forward- and you darn well better know the official is mandated to move the plan forward.

Accordingly, in the NHL offices, there was nodding heads of approval. They want to marginalize players gritty like Hatcher, they love the fact that it took an increasingly out-of-reach 3-0 game and made it a contest, they love the power play and the goals. No referee in the modern NHL will lose play-off assignments making calls that make the game more “interesting” and potentially more appealing to the casual fan surfing cable television.

For further evidence, I would steer you to this post on Jerry’s Wheelhouse- move down to the part about Crosby. Crosby is the end-state NHL star: promoted, scoring and diving. The soccer analogy he present is frankly a solid one- the evolution of the NHL to the beautiful game. It could work- completely the move from network television to Versus to Telemundo.