Playoff Seeding & NHL Analysts: Two Severe Flaws of the NHL

Sidney Crosby Penguins
Sidney Crosby is the biggest star in the NHL (Icon SMI)

While we were all getting over the arrogant commentary presented over Philadelphia airwaves by NBC hockey analyst, Mike Milbury, other coaches and analysts felt entitled to chime in and bash Sidney Crosbyand the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

After Brooks Orpik dished out a questionable and dirty knee-on-knee hit to Derek Stepan when the Penguins faced-off against the New York Rangers last Thursday, Ranger’s head coach John Tortorella felt the need to rip the Penguins organization, Crosby & Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s a cheap dirty hit. I wonder what would happen if we did it with their two whining stars over there. I wonder what would happen. So, I’m anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just no respect amongst players. None, it’s sickening.  It’s one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time and look what happens. It’s ridiculous. But they’ll whine about something else over there won’t they. Starting with their two (expletive) stars.”

Let’s keep in mind that Tortorella did coach Sean Avery. The Sean Avery who was standing in front of Martin Brodeur waving his stick in front of Brodeur’s face like a windshield wiper in the middle of play. Tortorella doesn’t have much room to talk about respect. He shows respect to no one at anytime.

The playoffs are right around the corner. With another opportunity to promote hockey and make the game more popular the media has been focused on the bashing of the Penguins’ organization and their superstars.

Just when we thought we could all move forward and anticipate the best two months of the year during the NHL playoffs, Mr. Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry, had to find a way to get national media attention. Mr. Cherry should be promoting the playoffs and not ripping the game’s best player which he has continuously done throughout Crosby’s career.

Crosby’s hit on Braden Schenn was Crosby finishing his check. Crosby didn’t knock Schenn’s helmet off or cross-check him in the back when he wasn’t looking. Incidents like Orpik’s hit and the Crosby and Schenn conflict are part of the game. Cheap shots, dirty hits and injuries happen in hockey.

Mr. Cherry should know this since he is always reminding us how tough and barbaric you have to be in hockey. He want’s Crosby to stop the cheap shots and play the game, but this current situation is only as relevant as Cherry and the rest of the media make it. Stop talking about it and talk about the game. Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, Craig Berube and John Tortorella are all looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. They are all more worried about boosting their own egos and getting in the national media spotlight rather than putting the game of hockey first.

Hockey is the best game in the world. The game in itself has more class and integrity than any other major sport. You don’t hear about NHL players doing drugs or getting into legal trouble like you do in other sports like basketball. The players in the NHL always put the game first over their own egos.

Unlike the NHL though, NBA analysts promote their superstars like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Kevin Durant. NBA analysts who criticize the stars in their game are in a minority. NBA analysts promote the elite athletes of their game to help it grow and attract viewers.

The NHL is less popular than the NFL, MLB & NBA in the United States. With tons of talent and unique personalities in the NHL, the league’s media should be promoting their superstars in anticipation of the playoffs to attract viewers and influence new fans to tune into the most exciting two months of the NHL season.

Instead, ambassadors like Don Cherry, analysts like Mike Milbury and coaches such as John Tortorella are giving the game’s most popular player a black eye. Sidney Crosby is the league’s most popular player whether you like him or not. Media representatives of the league should not be cutting down the face of the league. They should be discussing the playoff match-ups and promoting what the majority of current NHL fans want to see and look forward to watching.

Even if fans decide to tune into the playoffs, they may be watching a 1st round match-up that should be a potential Eastern Conference Finals battle due to the fact that the NHL has royally obliterated the playoff seeding.

The Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers were two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference recording over 100 points each. They will be facing off in the 4/5 match-up in the 1st round of the playoffs. One of the NHL’s most popular teams will be ousted from Stanley Cup contention after the very first round.

Either one of these teams would have been better off finishing 6th in the East so they could face the inferior Florida Panthers who won the Southeast Division. Rather than one of the elite teams like the Pens or Flyers getting an easy 1st round match-up, the New Jersey Devils, a team with less points, has an easier opponent by playing the Panthers in the opening round of the playoffs.

A proposition should be set in motion that if a team wins their division that team should make the playoffs, but shouldn’t finish higher than any team that has more points. The Penguins had 16 more points than the Panthers and they get rewarded a lower seed than the Panthers and get to play the 2nd highest scoring team in the league in the Flyers.

While the Flyers or the Penguins will be knocked out of the 1st round, the NHL is going to lose a number of interested parties who would have been watching the playoffs longer if the Pens and Flyers had met later down the road in the playoffs. They are two of the highest viewed teams in the NHL.

The Florida Panthers finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference with 97 points this season. (Anthony Martin Jr.)

Would you rather watch the Pens versus Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals or the Pens or Flyers playing the Panthers or Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals when the stakes are even higher?

This is a no-brainer and is no knock on the Panthers, but Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are better hockey markets and better national draws than the Miami hockey market.

A similar thing is going on in the Western Conference where the Phoenix Coyotes were awarded 3rd place with 97 points when the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings & Chicago Blackhawks  all finished the regular season with more points than the Coyotes.

The Nashville and Detroit match-up is another huge rivalry in the 1st round which should be taking place further down the road in the playoffs when there is more at stake.

Hockey has so much room to grow if the game would take the appropriate steps in the right direction. The hockey world has been demanding more of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to improve the league. To this point though, he has only kept the league afloat and barely relevant to the fairweather NHL hockey fan.

This is the best professional sports league in the world. There is no tougher championship to win in professional sports. With so much sacrifice about to take place, hockey analysts should be promoting the game’s stars and the playoffs to attract more fans and make the game more popular throughout the world.

More importantly, if Commissioner Bettman fixed the seeding of the playoffs, more fans would be attracted to the games and the incredible rivalries such as the Penguins and Flyers have to offer. The stories of these rivalries need to be played out at the right time, in the right setting and not in the 1st round of the playoffs. The right setting will attract a larger number of fans than a 1st round match-up. The NHL needs to fix its flaws if it wants to compete with the other three major sports leagues, and the NHL has a long road to travel until it reaches that point.