Cup Runneth Over
April 2, 2004
Although overshadowed by the NCAA basketball tournament (yawn) and baseball opening day (the last time the Mets may be in contention this year), this year's installment of the most exciting annual tournament in sports, hockey's Stanley Cup playoffs looks to be especially exciting.
Whatever the reason, this year's tournament should be especially competitive. In the East, as of today, only four points separate the #2 seed (Boston) from the #6 seed (NJ). Aside from the Islanders (who need to fend off a late challenge from Buffalo to even make the playoffs), any of the other seven Eastern teams has a legitimate shot of winning the Conference.
Even more intriguing are the first-round matchups that would result from the current standings:
Tampa Bay - Islanders
Boston - Montreal
Philadelphia - New Jersey
Ottawa - Toronto
Aside from Tampa and Long Island, these are all long-standing rivalries and should be outstanding series. (Of course, with the standings so volatile, the matchups could change daily between now and the end of the regular season on sunday.)
Out West, Edmonton, St. Louis and Nashville are in a tight race for the final two playoff seats. Edmonton will need some help to get in. Based on the standings as of today, the Western matchups would be:
Detroit - Nashville
San Jose - St. Louis
Vancouver - Calgary
Colorado - Dallas
Not are there not as many natural rivalries in the opening round as in the East, but this may be the first year in a while where the East may be the stronger conference than the West.
The state of the game is in much better state than the shape of the league. The NHL's current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire before next season. Owners are threatening to lock-out players unless the players' association (NHLPA) agrees to a salary cap. next season, a greater sense of urgency surrounds these playoffs. After the Stanley Cup finals conclude, there could be no more NHL hockey played in 2004.
After this season, the league's television contract with ABC Sports/ESPN will expire. Hockey on television draws a substantially lower audience than the NFL, NBA or MLB. As a result, the NHL may not be able to count on any network paying a premium to broadcast hockey. In fact, the NHL may not be able to count on any network wanting to broadcast hockey. However, If ABC/ESPN fails to renew it's contract with the NHL, I wouldn't be surprised if NBC ends up picking up the rights at a bargain price. After losing NFL football to CBS, Major League baseball to Fox, NBA basketball to ABC and Nascar to Fox, the once vibrant NBC Sports shows little more than some golf tournaments and Arena football.
And in Fantasy hockey news, despite a lackadaisical regular, the official AndrewRaff.com team is competing in the finals of the league playoff. Apparently, my strategy of completely ignoring my team for three months during the regular season is a winning strategy.
I may need another DVR just to record hockey playoff games...Posted by Andrew Raff at April 2, 2004 01:57 PM