NHL’s best? We’ll have to wait until summer

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Canadian hockey fans are blessed with the best of the four National Hockey League divisions. 

Those who can’t get enough of puck play are offered televised action almost every night, and most of it features teams in the Scotia North Division, where the likes of Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Mark Scheifele, Johnny Gaudreau and Brock Boeser frolic and make life miserable for goaltenders.

While the high-scoring games featuring explosive offences are exciting to fans, it’s difficult to look into a crystal ball and see what will transpire once divisional champions are determined this summer and crossover playoff action begins.

For instance, how will the high-scoring, wider-open play of the Canadian champion compare to a tighter-checking, lower-scoring team representing, say, the MassMutual East Division, where Boston Bruins, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Islanders are battling it out for supremacy? 

How will it work against the winner of the Discover Central Division, where the two Florida teams, the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina appear to be the division’s powers? 

And how about the Honda West Division, where Vegas and surprising Minnesota are off to great starts?

The unique scheduling of this COVID-19 season creates a lot of mystery as to where the power actually lies. 

Because teams play only within their division — and won’t meet any other team until this summer’s playoffs — the NHL’s overall power rankings are impossible to determine.

For instance, how would the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs (16-4–2 on Feb. 27) fare against the Panthers (13-4-3)? Maybe Florida’s record is glittering because they play an extraordinary number of games against weak teams, such as Detroit and Nashville. 

On the other hand, the Leafs overload on Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary and have padded their win totals as a result.

Where do the Boston Bruins stack up in the overall scheme of things? The Bruins were 11-5-2 on Feb. 27 and in a near dead heat with Washington and three other teams. 

The weaker teams in that group — the Rangers, New Jersey and Buffalo — have been instrumental in the leaders’ gaudy record.

How would West-leading Vegas (11-4-1) fare if the Golden Knights faced a road trip taking them to, for example, Toronto, Boston, Philly, Tampa and Florida? We’ll never know.

Things will get interesting in late May or early June when each division determines its own champion and the four survivors get together to fight over the Stanley Cup. 

It will take us that long to discover where the true power lies. 

Meanwhile, keep those red lights flashing in NHL rinks across Canada. It’s been fun.

Slap shots

• Jack Finarelli, at sportscurmudgeon.com, on Urban Meyer being hired as coach of Jacksonville Jaguars: “In his seven years at Ohio State, Meyer’s teams lost a total of nine games. If his first year with the Jags results in the Jags losing fewer than nine games, he might be the Coach of the Year in the NFL.”

• RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “An ESPN talking head called one of Rob Gronkowski’s nightclub partying videos, ‘Just a man living the American dream.’ Which in Gronk’s case appears to be life, liberty and the pursuit of happy hour.”

• Chris Calarco, commenting on a Facebook page for Buffalo fans, after the Sabres got shut out at home for their fourth straight loss: “I bought a cardboard cutout to honour my aunt who passed away. Can I come pick it up so she doesn’t have to watch this any more?”

• Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “The NBA issued warnings to the Lakers’ LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma for violating the anti-flopping rule in a game against Memphis. Hey, if the league is really all that worried about flops … disband the Timberwolves!”

• Patti Dawn Swansson, aka the River City Renegade, on whether melting ice that caused the Vegas-Colorado outdoor game at Lake Tahoe to be delayed eight hours cost the NHL some money: “(If it did)  they can just take it out of the slush fund.”

• Swansson again, on Mike Babcock returning to his roots by agreeing to be head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies: “How fitting that an old-school coach would return to his old school.”

• Good idea from Bob Molinaro of pilot online.com (Hampton, Va.): “Any NBA player who complains that a colleague was snubbed in the All-Star selection process must name the player he’d remove from the team.”

• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “There has never been any money in underestimating Tiger Woods. If anyone can come back from this, it is him. Having said that, if Tiger Woods ever drives a car himself again, his manager should go to jail.”

• Headline at Fark.com: “Patrick Mahomes welcomes first child, Sterling Skye Mahomes, expected to play against Tom Brady in about 20 years.”
•  Janice Hough of leftcoastsportsbabe.com, on the sun wreaking havoc on the NHL outdoor games at Lake Tahoe: “So add to 2021 insanity … a major professional sporting event postponed because the weather was too good?”

Care to comment? Email brucepenton2003@yahoo.ca.

 

by Bruce Penton

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