The Return of Hogging

by Michael Bérubé on April 14, 2009

Yes, hogging time is here again!  I never did finish <a href=>hockey blogging for the 2006-07 season</a>, and completely blew off blogging about the 2007-08 season, so let me start off in 2009 by predicting that the Anaheim <strike>Mighty</strike> Merely Ducks will overpower the Ottawa Senators in 2007 and that in 2008 the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins will finally deliver us from the bizarre string of Stanley Cup finals involving Obscure Canadian Cities* v. Sweltering Towns in the Southern US That Weren’t Aware They Had Hockey Teams (Calgary v. Tampa Bay, Edmonton v. Carolina, Ottawa v. Anaheim).  For obvious reasons, those Finals were ratings dynamite — or would have been, if they had been televised.  No, wait, they <i>were</i> televised!  Apparently you can watch National Hockey League games in the US by tuning to a channel called <a href=””>“Against,”</a> which is available on cable channel 488356 (if you get the special ultra supreme X-treme package) and which features, along with hockey, an unbeatable combination of bull riding, cage fighting, <a href=””>riding-mower racing, and competitive flogging</a>.  So that’s positive.

Just as in 2007, veteran Calgary Flames fan Scott Lemieux will offer his take on the playoffs over at <a href=””>Lawyers, Guns, and Money</a>, and I’ll do the honors here, where rumor has it that people have been clamoring for hockey blogging with a mighty clamor.  Though I’ll put most of this under the fold, so that the three or four clamorers and I won’t disturb all the rest of you.

This year, the consensus — and by “consensus” I mean “the opinion of the ten or eleven guys from the Nittany Hockey League with whom I had an end-of-season beer last week” — is that Detroit is the prohibitive favorite to repeat.  There’s a good reason for that, namely, that Detroit is very good.  Speed kills, and speed-plus-skills kills even deader.  Last year they outskated, outforechecked, outshot and utterly outclassed the Penguins, who managed to extend the series to six games by stubbornly refusing to realize just how out of their league they really were.  Indeed, since the Pens had gotten to the finals by crushing their three talented Eastern opponents, winning three series in only 14 games, it was kind of remarkable how out of their league they were when they ran up against Detroit; the lesson was not lost on winger Marian Hossa, who was picked up by Pittsburgh at the trading deadline last season but decided, after seeing Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, and Henrik Zetterberg blow the doors off the Penguins bus, that he’d rather switch than fight.  His reward for suiting up with the Red Wings this year?  A 40-goal season, good enough to lead the team in that department.

So it’s really unpossible for the defending-champ and second-seeded Red Wings to lose in the first round to the Columbus Blue Blazers, who have made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history (though you should be aware that the Blue Sport Coats didn’t exist a decade ago).  But then again, it was also unpossible for the top-seeded Red Wings to lose to the infant San Jose Sharks (playing in only their third year) in the first round in 1993-94; completely unthinkable for the second-seeded Red Wings (with 49 regular season victories) to lose to the lowly Los Angeles Kings in the first round in 2000-01; utterly unbelievable that the second-seeded Red Wings (48 wins) would be <i>swept by Anaheim in four</i> in the first round in 2002-03; and simply inconceivable that the top-seeded Red Wings, winners of a staggering 58 regular-season games, would lose to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round in 2005-06.

Or, as I said to my fellow NHLers last week, “I can’t imagine Detroit bowing out in the first round.  But I couldn’t imagine it the other four times it happened in the past 15 years, either.”

OK, well, the reason I’m opening by discussing the unlikeliest playoff possibility of them all is that yesterday, I logged onto and made my Official and Deeply Considered Predictions: in the east, Bruins over Canadiens in six; Capitals over Rangers in seven; Devils over Hurricanes in six; Penguins over Flyers in seven.  In the west, Sharks over Ducks in six; Red Wings over Blue Jackets (for that is indeed their real name) in five; Canucks over Blues in six; Black Hawks over Flames in six.  When I submitted my picks, I realized to my horror not only that I had picked eight favorites (as if this would not be foolhardy enough on its own), but that I had picked eight favorites in so drearily conventional a fashion that <a href=”″>my selections aligned with the top one or two fan picks in seven of the eight series</a> (my only “outlier” was my hopeful suggestion that the Rangers will take the Caps to seven games).

That sucks.  And it tells me something about myself I’d rather not have learned.  So I’ve decided to complicate things.

Here’s the overall picture, for those of you who didn’t follow the season.  This slate of sixteen playoff teams breaks down as follows: some of these teams played very well all season long, but have Nagging Questions about their playoff durability.  And some of these teams were bafflingly mediocre in the first half of the season, but caught fire in the second half and are now riding a wave of adrenaline that might well carry them into the second or third round.  There really is no way to know which teams from group A will cough up a hairball or fail to answer their Nagging Questions, and which teams from group B will find that a wave of adrenaline is no match for, you know, individual talent and team discipline.

To wit: in group A, the Boston Bruins appear to be the real thing.  They got off to an eh start, but then scorched through November and December, going 23-2-1 and setting the pace for the East.  Speed and skill on offense, solid D led by the seemingly eight-foot-four Zdeno Chara, and terrific goaltending: clearly this was an unstoppable team, worthy of meeting Detroit in the finals.  Then things got weird: from Feb 7 to Mar 19 the Bruins went 6-9-4, and people began to remember that the team hasn’t gotten past the first round since 1999 (or past the second since 1992).  To make matters worse, they’re facing the Canadiens in round one, a team to which they have lost, I dunno, maybe 37 consecutive times, both as severe underdog (last year) and as overwhelming favorite (2002, 1971).

Likewise, the Devils, Capitals, and Flyers seem to be stocked and healthy, but New Jersey has looked abysmal at inopportune moments (even after Brodeur’s return), the Capitals are still not sure they’re not a one-man team, and the Flyers are wondering how the hell they lost home-ice advantage to the Penguins, who were an eleventh-place team only two months ago.  Indeed, on Feb 16 the Pens were an eleventh-place team at 27-25-6, having just lost in a shootout to the Islanders, which is a little like losing to the Gwinnett Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League’s southern division.  Two days earlier, they’d fired coach Michel Therrien after an embarrassing 6-2 loss to twelfth- or thirteenth-place Toronto.  Since then, the Penguins are a terrifying 18-3-3, and riding a wave of adrenaline, etc.  Some say they were revived by the firing of Therrien, some say by the return of Sergei Gonchar, who runs their power play.  Either way, they’ll probably be too much for the Flyers.

As went the Pens, so went the Canes: 21-20-5 as of three months ago, 24-10-2 since.  Do the Rangers fall into this category?  Not really: they were always in playoff contention, and haven’t gotten as hot as Carolina or Pittsburgh in recent months.  All we know about the Rangers is that (a) their fortunes seem to depend, rather odiously, on the play of the psychotic yet strangely effective Sean Avery, since nobody else on the team is capable of motivating any of his mates to play like they mean it, and (b) they are capable of playing very well for entire games at a stretch, sometimes as often as twice in the same week.

As for the Canadiens, I’m not convinced they belong in the playoffs at all.  But then again, their powerful C-H insignia has a proven record of sapping the vitality from the Bruins’ large and small muscle groups, so here too, the unpossible may be possible.

In the West, group A consists of the Red Wings, whose Nagging Questions I have already addressed, and the Sharks, who seem to be solid this year but who have established a clear playoff pattern of collapsing completely and unfathomably right around game four of the second round.  The counterparts to the Bruins are the surprising Black Hawks: while it’s great to see professional hockey being played in Chicago again after fifteen years, no one knows if the spunky 20-year-olds who lead this team (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews — old guy Kris Versteeg is already 22, and grandpa Havlat is 27) are old enough to grow serious playoff beards.

Group B consists of Anaheim, St. Louis, and the Vancouver Canucks; the Canucks, most mysterious of these three, were stuck in a Penguins-like rut for quite some time.  How long?  Well, in January they played twelve games and won two.  Since then they’re a scary 23-7-2, and since they have the planet’s best goaltender in Roberto Luongo, they’ll probably manage to stanch the adrenaline of those St. Louis Blues, who actually weren’t even “bafflingly mediocre” in the first half.  They were abysmal, just as everyone expected them to be.  They were who we thought they were!  And they were dead last in the Western conference.  On Feb 12 they were 22-25-7 and nowhere near the playoffs; since then they’ve gone 19-6-3.  Alas, the Blues have been so good lately that they <i>just couldn’t stop winning</i> and found themselves with the sixth seed; if they’d had the sense to lose their final game to the sinking Avalanche they would have drawn the eighth seed, giving them a matchup against the Shaky Sharks and a chance for karmic payback for the 2000 season in which the eighth-seeded Sharks bounced them from the postseason in the first round.  As it is, they now have to play a team that’s just as hot as they are.

So, then.  Instead of going with the Safe Picks I enumerated above, in which I weigh teams’ strengths and weaknesses and try to come up with a rational sense of playoff likelihoods, I’m going to make a bunch of Crazy-Ass Picks by weighing a woman and a duck and admitting that I’m rooting for all four of my teams — the Rangers, of course, with whom I grew up, and also the Blues and Penguins, whom I’ve adopted, and the Canadiens, to whom I owe some kind of tribal loyalty.  Without further ado, Crazy-Ass Picks:

<b>East</b>:  Canadiens over Bruins in seven heartbreaking games.  Rangers over Capitals in six headscratching games because I want it that way, even though Washington needs some hockey love.  Hurricanes over Devils in six stormy games.  And the Penguins still beat the Flyers in seven. <b>West</b>: Sharks over Ducks in six, because the collapse isn’t scheduled until round two.  Morning Jackets over Red Wings in seven headexploding games because someone has to say so.  Blues over Canucks in six because I want it that way, even though Vancouver is a very nice city.  And the Black Hawks still beat the Flames in six because the Flames don’t have any defensemen, and they’ll need defensemen to stop those spunky twenty-year-olds.

OK, <i>now</i> this should be fun.


*  You understand that for most Americans, all Canadian cities are obscure.  Medicine Hat, Toronto, Rimouski — we have no idea where these places are.



Confused in Toronto 04.14.09 at 8:20 pm

What is this “playoffs” of which you speak?


Michael Bérubé 04.14.09 at 9:06 pm

I have directed your question to Mats Sundin, who apparently is forming an exploratory committee to investigate the matter further.


shannon 04.14.09 at 9:21 pm

you know, againsttv is where pro cycling fans live, too, dodging the fly-fishing and large-game gunfights (wait, the large game don’t get guns? that’s hardly fair.) and cage fighting to watch little men in lycra with foreign substances in their blood and fake urethra implants race on children’s toys. just sayin’…


Colin Danby 04.14.09 at 9:24 pm

More competitive flogging blogging, please.


Scott Lemieux 04.14.09 at 9:29 pm

Alas, being in the States will make it harder for me to see how the CBC will devote 90% of their playoff commentary to the Leafs this year…


Michael Bérubé 04.14.09 at 10:49 pm

wait, the large game don’t get guns? that’s hardly fair.

Good point! Now we need another cable sports channel. X-treme large game gunfighting! And Scott @ 5: don’t worry, there’s always the draft to talk about!

More competitive flogging blogging, please.

I think the post above this one fits the bill nicely.


MarkUp 04.14.09 at 10:52 pm

Is Tiger playing?

shannon, you need a new tv provider if you’re also not getting pro poker [and reruns] and 20 year old fitness how to’s.


e julius drivingstorm 04.14.09 at 11:22 pm

I scanned this post twice to see Obama’s picks but missed it. Who wins?


Michael Bérubé 04.14.09 at 11:41 pm

You are aware that Detroit plays without a goaltender, right?

Most people are unaware of this important fact, because the puck is so rarely in Detroit’s end of the ice that you can’t see this unless you’re actually at the game. But quite seriously, Mason, Mason, or Luongo (though this sounds like an eccentric law firm) may just be good enough to get Columbus, St. Louis, and/or Vancouver past the Red Wings at one point or another. Rumor has it that Calgary’s goaltender is quite agile, too.


Henry 04.14.09 at 11:42 pm

Apologies – I think I have just deleted someone’s comment by accident (or rather, my cat has, by sitting on my computer keyboard) – unfortunately the new version of WordPress doesn’t allow you either to rollback or to confirm deletes.


Delicious Pundit 04.15.09 at 1:46 am

It was mine.

Addition by subtraction, as they say in press boxes.


Mr. Trend 04.15.09 at 2:32 am

I’m from OHIO, and for the longest time, I thought the Columbus team name was b/c of the Civil War. I was stunned when I learned that it was for an indigenous group so obscure, we didn’t even learn about them in OHIO HISTORY in middle school (and we learned about ALL kinds of mundane, useless crap about Ohio in that class).

“Columbus Blue Jackets”….maybe not the worst name in all professional sports, but definitely the most “huh?”

That said…..GO JACKETS! (especially given my contempt for the Red Wings)


Tim B 04.15.09 at 3:08 am

“You understand that for most Americans, all Canadian cities are obscure. Medicine Hat, Toronto, Rimouski—we have no idea where these places are.”

Americans have no idea where places like Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Anaheim are, either. Surely you’ve noticed.


Michael Bérubé 04.15.09 at 4:53 am

Americans have no idea where places like Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Anaheim are, either. Surely you’ve noticed.

Indeed, it might even be the case that Americans who live in Ohio have no idea why a team from Columbus might be called the “Blue” “Jackets.” It’s obscurity all the way down.


ignobility 04.15.09 at 4:57 am

Blue Jacket was a Shawnee Indian from about the same era as Tecumseh. That said, Go Red Wings!


MH 04.15.09 at 4:58 am

I was living in Columbus when we got the team. There was a movement, which I supported, to call it the Columbus Mad Cows.


Ken Houghton 04.15.09 at 6:18 am

It’s probably cruel to say, but I walked up to the box office in Columbus just before (maybe the morning of) Opening Day in 2001 and picked up two tickets–decent seats, at that–for the 2nd ever Home Opener.

It took a while to find someone to take the second ticket.


JP Stormcrow 04.15.09 at 9:12 am

MH: to call it the Columbus Mad Cows.

Would they have dared to go with the “Hockey Players Eat Their Dead” promotional opportunity?


MH 04.15.09 at 1:04 pm

No, but the promoters of the “Mad Cows” (basically the local free-weekly) wanted to have the fans be called ‘udder heads’ and inflate rubber gloves on their heads.


jazzbumpa 04.15.09 at 2:01 pm

Michael –
You have left unplowed entire fields of nagging red Wing questions. Like, how can both your goal tenders give up 4 goals in the same game, and perform this amazing non-feat on two consecutive Saturdays? One of these, BTW to the elusive Columbus Blue Bonnets. How can a serious contender by 47th in the league in the penalty kill? How can they have lost 4 games to Nashville? Did you know they even have a team in freaking Nashville? I keep forgetting until I see no-neck Barry Trotz behind the bench and say, “Oh God, no. Not these guys! Then I have to wait for Mickey Redmond to tell me, once again, who the hell they are. Then the Wings blow a 2 goal lead in the last half of the 3rd, and lose in a shoot out. Columbus in an X-tuple O/T 7th will disappoint the hell out of me, but I will be neither shocked nor surprised. The Wings finished the season like a team profoundly not ready for the playoffs.

From a displaced Ohioan in Detroit


Miracle Max 04.15.09 at 2:18 pm

I came to this blog for intellectual stimulation, and a hockey post broke out.


JP Stormcrow 04.15.09 at 2:23 pm

Since then, the Penguins are a terrifying 18-3-3,

Terrifying, awesome …. whatevs. Although they have had some “interesting” moments on defense of late (4 goals in 3rd period to Tampa Bay for instance).

Since picking the results of individual series is for the little people, I’ll stick to the my executive overview—which, in fact, is pretty similar to yours. In the East I rate it as Boston, Pittsburgh or Washington (possibly Carolina) and in the West, Detroit or San Jose (surely both will not fold). From my parochial Pittsburgh perspective, I think the East is theirs to be won assuming their defense tightens up like it did last year (barring some Eastern goalie turning into Martin Brodeur—Martin Brodeur himself for instance). But I cannot see Detroit or San Jose* not beating the Eastern winner (perhaps I am still in shock from last year’s series).

*My guess is San Jose would put aside all of their playoff troubles and be great in the Finals if they got there. Just like the mid ’80s Browns were in the Superbowl, and the early ’90s Pirates were in the World Series.


GoHawks! 04.15.09 at 3:01 pm

Verily, I pray that your predictions regarding the Red Wings come true. Then I’ll have faith that the Hawks can win the West. (Although it was surprisingly surprising to see the Hawks defeat Detroit 2 consecutive games to finish season 1).


jazzbumpa 04.15.09 at 3:39 pm

Max –
The fist fights come later, after a few brewskis.


MarkUp 04.15.09 at 3:54 pm

Is discussion about ice hockey uh, uh, ironic in the age of global warming?

Udder heads and rubber gloves. I see flashes of Derek in Philly.


Michael Bérubé 04.15.09 at 11:39 pm

Is discussion about ice hockey uh, uh, ironic in the age of global warming?

Not at all! When Florida is underwater and the polar bears are balancing on ice cubes, northern Canada will finally be warm enough for human habitation.


Derryl Murphy 04.16.09 at 1:20 am

Michael, since it’s threatening to snow up here tomorrow, I don’t know if it’ll ever be warm enough for human habitation. And Scott, I haven’t watched the CBC coverage tonight (being wrapped up with other things, like mourning my Toilers and wondering who will replace MacT), but you have to think that Mats being with the Canuckleheads will require at least one Toronto mention per evening. Especially with Burke knowing how to play the media like a screechy but worshipful violin.

Bruins in 5, Pens in 6, Devils in 5, Rangers in 6, Hawks in 6, ‘Nucks in 5, Sharks in 4, and Wings in 4.



Tom Hurka 04.16.09 at 2:06 am

The Toronto hockey fan’s annual line: the Leafs would have been a lock to win the Cup if only they’d made the playoffs.


Western Dave 04.16.09 at 3:13 am

Against also carries American open wheel auto racing (aka Indycars), which has not been getting the serious blogosphere treatment since Tom Spencer left HNN. Hint. Hint.


nice strategy 04.16.09 at 3:47 am

Put me down as another Columbus expat that wishes they had picked “Mad Cows.”

The Sharks will do as well as Nabakov and no better. One of these years that will add up to a Stanley Cup, but the last month makes it feel like this is not the year.


MarkUp 04.16.09 at 12:38 pm

”and the polar bears are balancing on ice cubes,…”

The ice cubes are in cocktails being sipped by Citizens of the North who found a way to get paid to be snowbirds in their younger days in hopes they won’t have to endure it as retirees. Referring to them as “polar bears” goes beyond cute to being downright complimentary.


Michael Bérubé 04.16.09 at 5:35 pm

jazzbumpa @ 20: Michael – You have left unplowed entire fields of nagging red Wing questions. Like, how can both your goal tenders give up 4 goals in the same game, and perform this amazing non-feat on two consecutive Saturdays? One of these, BTW to the elusive Columbus Blue Bonnets. How can a serious contender by 47th in the league in the penalty kill? How can they have lost 4 games to Nashville? Did you know they even have a team in freaking Nashville?

Indeed I have left many fields unplowed. I did not even mention the Penguins’ brilliant pickup of Kunitz at the deadline. But wow, I must have missed those 8-0 and 8-2 drubbings. I blame the media. Blue Bonnets! Damn, in my rush to come up with “Morning Jackets” I overlooked that one. Also Columbus Blue Danubes and Columbus Blue Bossas. And yes, I knew there was a team in Nashville because of their Very Scary Animal logo. But I did not realize a team could be 47th in the PK! That puts them right behind the Gwinnett Gladiators (and no, until I checked the ECHL website I did not know there was a team in Gwinnett).

Michael, since it’s threatening to snow up here tomorrow, I don’t know if it’ll ever be warm enough for human habitation.

Real Feel(R) in State College when I left: 30. Let’s get those glaciers a-melting, people! Lace up the logging boots and stomp hard! We want to leave a nice deep carbon footprint!

The Toronto hockey fan’s annual line: the Leafs would have been a lock to win the Cup if only they’d made the playoffs.

Yes. And now comes the point in the thread when I say “remember 1993, when they lost to Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings in the semis? In seven? With the prospect of meeting the Canadiens in the finals? Hahahahahahahahaha.” I’m nasty that way.

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