Chasing The Hockey Holy Grail

Lou Lamoriello stunned the Devils and most of the hockey world with the announcement that he is leaving New Jersey for the role of GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Devils’ fans will be furious because Lou was their GM until he stepped down from that role a few months ago, but this move makes sense. Building a cup winner in Toronto would be the perfect cap to his career.

Of all the tortured fan bases in sports, the Maple Leafs’ are probably the saddest. That’s because they have been sold a bill of goods that says they were once a great, great franchise, and now they are a joke. Both parts are somewhat true, but there are two vital factors to remember about the NHL where Toronto won 13 cups.

1- There were almost always only six teams in the league when they won.

2- Territorial rights were in existence for a lot of the time they dominated.

Let’s start with the six teams. Yes, Toronto is part of the “Original Six” but that term should really be re-coined “Remaining Six”. The NHL as we know it got started at the end of WW1 with four teams, two in Montreal, one in Toronto (not the Leafs), and one in Ottawa. The Leafs showed up a few years later, the Bruins in 1924, and the Rangers, Blackhawks, and Red Wings in 1926. They were joined at various times by teams in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Hamilton, St. Louis, and a second team in New York. By 1942, only the “Original Six” remained and that is where the term came from.

But the Canadian teams had a second advantage besides a small number of opponents- territorial rights. Each team had an exclusive right to players within a 50-mile radius of their home. So, Montreal scooped up lots of talent in Quebec, Toronto got a lot of talent in Ontario, and the Rangers got to go looking in Trenton for their next great player. (Is it any wonder they didn’t win a lot? Seriously, draw a 50-mile line around any other Original Six city and you can come up with some hockey hotbeds. Around New York the only ice you found back then was in the drinks.)

And since 1967, when territorial rights disappeared and expansion came to the NHL, Toronto hasn’t won a Cup. Maybe that’s bad luck, you could argue that, but maybe it is also simply a reflection of a franchise that got way too caught up with a history that wasn’t as glorious as they would like to pretend it was.

But don’t try telling that to the people in Toronto. As far as they are concerned, they are waiting for the restoration of their dynasty. Lou is probably the perfect person to undertake that challenge. I hope he succeeds, after I see the Rangers hoist another Stanley Cup.

TigerMania

I enjoy watching golf majors. I don’t watch week-to-week, but when a major is on I spend a big chunk of time watching it. So far this year we have had three majors, on three different networks, with one thing in common: a devotion to covering Tiger Woods that simply isn’t warranted.

It’s hard to believe, but it has now been seven years since Tiger won a major. In that span, 30 majors have been played and 21-different players have won them.Rory McIlroy has the most with four, with Bubba Watson, Jordan Speith, Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington each winning two. In that timespan, Tiger has finished second once, when he blew the 54-hole lead in he PGA and in the top-10 9 times, but only three times in the last five years. He has also missed three of the last four cuts in majors that he has played in.

I have no clue if Tiger Woods is finished as a serious threat. The beauty of golf is that age is less of a handicap than in other sports. But, the calendar shows he is turning 40 this year and since 1960 only 10% of majors winners were 40 or older. It happens, especially at the Open Championship, but it doesn’t happen a lot.

Tiger may win another major, he may not, but I just wish the networks showing golf would stop treating him like the guy who dominated the sport in the early part of this century. That guy is gone. When Tiger is six-over it isn’t interesting to watch him and I would rather see other golfers get covered. Jordan Speith is 21 and just came about a foot away from making a putt that could have won him a third-straight major. Rory McIlroy is 25 and has four majors already. There are plenty of great stories out there, the networks should put the spotlight on them and only cover Tiger if his game warrants it.

I Love A Parade!

Very glad to see NYC throw a parade for our Womens’ World Cup champs. It’s been way too long since the city threw a parade for a non-local sports team. In fact, the last parade for someone other than the Yankees or Giants was in 1998 when John Glenn and the Space Shuttle astronauts were honored.

We used to have a lot of parades in this city. The first parade up the Canyon of Heroes was in 1886 to honor the Statue of Liberty. Today’s parade was the 205th. But since the 1960’s, the parades have dwindled.

Here are a few pieces of parade trivia I enjoyed:

First sports parade in NYC? The 1924 US Olympic team.

The Yankees have had 9 parades, but the first wasn’t until April of 1961- (honoring the 1960 AL pennant team of all things)  The New York Baseball Giants had a parade in 1954 honoring their NL pennant BEFORE the start of the World Series. (And no parade for the World Series)

Sammy Sosa had a parade in 1998 for his home runs and relief efforts in the Dominican Republic.

The New York Football Giants didn’t get a parade until 2008.

The Knicks have never gotten one. (I wouldn’t bet against that streak ending anytime soon!)

Anyway, I hope we have more sports parades and non-sports parades in the very near future.

Three is a Magic Number

Good for the NHL for changing up the overtime rules. Next season, OT will consist of five minutes of 3-on-3 hockey instead of 4-on-4. This should, and the key word is should, reduce the number of shootouts each season. It’s a good start, but if the NHL really wants to do away with shootouts (and I agree they should) they should think about making each regular season win count as three points instead of two.

The current point system in the NHL makes no sense. If you get a win, no matter when, you get two points. If you get to overtime and lose, no matter when, you get one point. So, some games see two points awarded and some see three points awarded. It’s and awkward way to handle games. International hockey figured this out a long time ago. Award three points in every game. If a team wins a game outright, they get all three. If it goes to overtime, the winning team gets two and the losing team gets one.

That makes sense and it also incentivizes teams to play for outright wins in regulation time. Currently, teams play a bit of a shutdown game when they are tied in the final minutes. They are content to get to OT and see what happens, rather than keep pushing for an outright win. Adding an extra point to the mix should change that dynamic. Teams, especially teams trying to make the playoffs, will grind it out until the final of regulation.

That would be great for fans and great for the NHL. Let’s hope they make that change soon.

LeBron Versus The World

I get it, for some people they will never be able to look at LeBron James and get past “The Decision”. It was a colossal mistake, an historic blunder, but it is your mistake if stops you from appreciating how great this guy is. The level of hate directed at LeBron makes no sense and it is time to simply sit back and enjoy what we are seeing.

DId you know that LeBron is the only non-Celtic in history to appear in five-straight NBA Finals? That’s a pretty amazing stat, but let’s talk about Sunday’s game. Consider the Cavaliers’ roster. It was built around a “Big Three” of LeBron, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. Only LeBron is left standing at this point with the other two out for the season. This has forced Cleveland to adopt a somewhat unusual game plan. The ball gets inbounded to LeBron and he then figures it out. Last night wasn’t pretty, but he did it in a big way- 39 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists and only three turnovers in 50 minutes of court time (50 minutes!) And don’t forget how good LeBron’s defense is.

Yes, the haters are right that even an average game from Curry sends this series back to Cleveland with the Cavs down 0-2, but that shouldn’t diminish what LeBron is doing. This is one of the greatest basketball players in history as an actual underdog. He will most likely fail. Golden State has way more talent and they are smartly trying to beat up LeBron as much as possible. But even if LeBron fails, this is glorious to watch. One man trying to will hit team to a championship. It’s the kind of story sports fans usually flock to. They just need to get past the hate.

Wake Up!

Hey did you know the NBA Finals start tonight? You probably forgot because the NBA hasn’t had a game in over a week. Thanks to a sweep and a 4-1 result, the Conference Finals ended on last Wednesday and we have been waiting for basketball to reappear since then.

I don’t really understand the delay. Why couldn’t the Finals have started Sunday? Or Monday? Or even Tuesday? (Wednesday was taken by the Stanley Cup, so I get that) Tuesday would have been an optimal date as they could have played Game 1 then, Game 2 tonight and Game 3 Sunday. (TV networks avoid Saturday night like the plague) The NBA released some sketchy statement about the impossibility of travel and hotel rooms.

It’s too bad because this is a compelling matchup. The Warriors with their magnificent team and great shooter versus LeBron trying to win Cleveland a championship for the first time in fifty-plus years. In fact, this matchup guarantees that we will have a tenth club join the list of NBA teams that have won a title since 1979. I’m excited, let’s get to it, but why did it take so damn long?

Bring Me A Frozen Envelope!

It’s somewhat eerie, but the Knicks are back where they were in the spring of 1985. The 1984-85 Knicks had a dynamic scorer who went down to surgery in season and not much else to root for. Those Knicks had a bunch of role players forced into starting roles. But two things are different.

1- The 84-85 Knicks won 24 games, seven more than these Knicks did.

2- The 1985 NBA Draft had one big prize and a big drop off. This draft has at least two prizes and maybe three.

And that’s the key thing for the Knicks and their fans to remember tonight. The Knicks want to win the lottery obviously, but they will be absolutely fine picking second. Personally, I would rather have Towns than Okafor, but Okafor would be a heck of a consolation prize. Even if they picked third, Russell looks like he will be a very, very good NBA guard. The Knicks could live with him.

The problem is, the Knicks have about a 55% chance of picking in the top-3 and that means they have a 45% chance of picking 4th or 5th. (They can’t pick lower than 5th) That’s where what looks like a sure-thing pick turns into more of a guess. That’s where fans will be right to worry about who they pick.

So let’s hope the fix is on tonight like it obviously was thirty years ago.

Wow

A 4-1 lead with under 15 in the third period turned into an absolute nail-biter. I’m still not sure how the Rangers pulled that off, but they did and now they have reached Game 7, which is in their home building. Momentum should be on their side, but considering how thoroughly dominated they were in the final 12 minutes of tonight’s game, I would argue it isn’t.

Game 7’s are incredible, but after 13-straight (13-STRAIGHT) Rangers playoff games decided by one goal, my nerves may not be up to it. Luckily, I have until Wednesday to get my heart rate down again.

We’ve Been Here Before

I take a bit of solace in the fact that the Rangers appeared dead after going down 3-1 against Pittsburgh last year. They overcame that deficit with only one home game. They certainly appear dead again, but this time they have two home games to get to the next round. That should be an advantage.

But, they are simply not playing well. Rick Nash has disappeared, though to be fair most of his teammates have as well. The defense is making too many dumb plays and the offense isn’t doing enough to overcome them.

Yet tonight is Game 5 and I still like their chances. I think they come out and take control of the game. They probably have to hold on tightly in the later stages, but I think they get back to Washington.

That’s when the real challenge will happen.

Four Down Twelve To Go

Let’s take a minute and appreciate what the Rangers did last night. The Rangers have made the conference finals two times in the last three years, but it took them seven games in the first round both times. In fact, it took them seven games in the second round too. That won’t be the case if they advance this year to the conference finals as they have dispatched the Penguins in five.

That could be huge as they will get a chance to rest a bit now. Depending on what happens tonight in Washington, the Rangers may be off until Wednesday. That’s valuable time as it will allow Kevin Klein more time to heal and Matt Zuccarello more time as well. The NHL playoffs are a grind and rest is always a good thing.

And while we wait, I am going to root for the Islanders to beat Washington tonight and Monday. I know it may be sacrilege for a Rangers’ fan to root for the Islanders, but I want to see them face each other in the playoffs again. It happened eight times from 1975 to 1994, but hasn’t happened since then. It’s time to see it again.

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