Stanley Cup 2010: Observations and Vituperations

While it contained too many moments that made an ex-goalie wince, the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals was a fascinating series. Not sure if I'd place it in my all-time top 10, but it certainly ranks somewhere in the upper half of the 47 final series I've now witnessed. Very exciting, wide open hockey with extreme ebbs and flows. I've got more than enough observations to fill a post, but let's start rambling and see where we go.

* * *

Stanley Cup winners in overtime evoke images of Bill Barilko or Bobby Orr soaring to new heights, but Patrick Kane's weird goal joins a surprisingly long list of bizarre and/or controversial goals that decided the Stanley Cup in extra time. Many will remember Brett Hull's "no goal" in Buffalo - I swear it took them longer to find the puck last night than it did to review Hull's suspect marker - and people of my vintage will recall Henri Richard's highly-dubious winner when he slid into the net with the puck in 1966 (all Game Six). Topping them all is Doug Harvey's blunder in 1954, when he attempted to knock down Tony Leswick's high shot and wound up batting the disc into his own net to decide Game Seven.

Oh, and NHL? Fix your bloody nets. That was more than a little embarrassing, especially in front of the biggest American TV audience in 36 years.

Oh look, a goal cam. [AP Photo/Matt Slocum] via Picapp.com

The guy on the ice with the second best view of the game-winning goal was none other than Nick Boynton, a guy that Scott, SumOil and I agreed four months ago would be a good re-entry waiver pick-up by the Oilers at the low low price of $750 K. Instead of being a top 4 guy here, he wound up as a depth defender for a contender, and got his chance when Jordan Hendry faltered in the Finals. From the waiver wire to Stanley Cup Champion -- even Michael Leighton can only dream of that.

Speaking of Leighton -- shown here in a still from his new instructional video, How Not To Play Goal -- he was another guy that drew discussion here on C&B, given that he was passing through waivers just as Nik Khabibulin's season was being shut down in mid-December. The Oilers didn't actually pass on him as they did Boynton, since  the Flyers were actually behind us in the standings at the time, ten weeks into the season. Yes, those Flyers. Those Oilers.  

Weird that two guys who were claimed on waivers were anywhere near the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone on the ice when the affair was decided.  

And it has to be said, even though it pains me as an ex-goalie who loves a good underdog story: from a goaltending p.o.v. the winner was absolutely atrocious. How a shot almost from the goal line can slide along the ice and go right through the goalie without even being touched is a mystery. Leighton had a very tough Finals, especially Games One, Five, and Six, as the solid form that had carried him against Boston and Montreal abandoned him completely. The four-time waiver-wire pickup suddenly looked like a replacement-level goalie   Part of the confusion about the Cup winner was simply the obvious fact that nobody could score from there, could they?

* * *

Good news for Oilers' fans: in the past 12 months, #1 overall draft choices have made the hero play at the denouement of two Stanley Cups and one Olympic Games. Marc-Andre Fleury (#1, 2003) made the last second stop last June, then Sidney Crosby (#1, 2005) and Patrick Kane (#1, 2007) provided the overtime heroics that ended the 2010 Olympic Games and Stanley Cup, respectively. Can #1, 2010 be far behind? :P

* * *

Good thing the Finals ended when they did, as a red-hot Daniel Briere was poised to break one of Wayne Gretzky's records. Involved in all three goals Wednesday night, Briere's 12 points fell just one shy of the Great One's 3-10-13 in his last series as an Oiler, the 4½ game sweep of Boston in 1988. Briere's closing rush took him to the top of the playoff scoring parade with 23 GP, 12-18-30, +9. His dominance in the Finals on top of an already-excellent playoffs surely earned him serious consideration as a Conn Smythe candidate, even in defeat.

The voters flipped a coin among several deserving candidates on Chicago - Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith foremost among them in my mind, although in a recent comments section Derek made mention of Dave Bolland perhaps warranting consideration. Somehow the PHWA came up with the golden boy, Jonathan Toews, a wonderful player who seemingly does little wrong, but Toews had a mighty pedestrian SCF. Just 0-3-3, -5 in the 6 games. I've seen every playoffs since the Smythe was first awarded in 1965, and I can't think of a previous winner who had such a poor final series.

Who cares who wins the Smythe? The Blackhawks do, that's who. Toews had a Smythe bonus of $1.3 MM built into his (expiring) contract, and the CBA stipulates that with the Hawks hard against the cap this year, that amount will be counted against next year's cap. With huge raises kicking in for Toews himself as well as Keith and Kane, the Hawks were already in serious shit w.r.t. the cap in 2010-11; the latest kick in the 'nads will likely cost them the services of a(nother) good, young player.

My sympathies have lain with the Blackhawks for some time now, including throughout their playoff runs of the past two seasons, but that just ended. They've got their Cup, now they're another foe and a vulnerable one at that. Potentially useful players with expiring RFA contracts include Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Andrew Ladd, Colin Fraser, Ben Eager and Adam Burish. Any one of those guys would look mighty fine in Oilers' silks. The latter two would require a significant overpay; if they remain inexpensive they might as well remain in Chicago, cuz cheap reliable players are exactly what the Hawks need. But the others are undeniably seven-figure guys, and the Blackhawks will be hard-pressed to match a decent offer. I love Derek's idea of a double offer sheet on Hjalmarsson and Ladd.

* * *

Whoever wins the Stanley Cup, there are always a few feelgood stories. Here's my new favourite quote, from the undersung Hjalmarsson:  "My town in Sweden has 90 people. They watch tonight’s game at 2 in the morning, then go milk cows at 5. They are more tired than I am. Wait until I bring this Cup there. They will not be tired."

* * *

I've got less of an issue with Chris Pronger than many Oiler fans. I've had him in my keeper league hockey pool for the entirety of his splendid 17-year career, and he's helped quite a bit. Moreover he's won a couple of gold medals for Canada and was, for one exhilarating, excruciating season, the best Oiler of the past 20 years. Add it all up and my dial is all the way up to ambivalent on the Human Rake. Great, great player, as nasty as he is skilled. Big mouth, though.

Personal feelings aside, I think Pronger's performance in Game Five warrants consideration as the Worst Game Ever. Think about it this way: Pronger sat on the bench for ~half the game while Philly was outscoring Chicago 4-0. But in the other ~half hour that he was on the ice, Philly was overwhelmed 6-0. Add in the half-minute that he sat in the sin bin while Dustin Byfuglien of all people was scoring on the powerplay -- the game winner, natch. To add considerable insult to those injuries, Byfuglien posterized Pronger with what may well have been the hit of the series. Pronger had been the SCF's dominant figure through the first four games, but the nozzle of his balloon somehow got untied in Game Minus Five.

* * *

Has there ever been a more-pedigreed hockey name than Stanley Glenn Bowman? The youngest ever Stanley Cup-winning GM was named 37 years ago this month after the Stanley Cup -- itself a newcomer to the Bowman family at the time -- as well as Mr. Goalie, Glenn Hall, the last goaltender to win a Cup in the Windy City. His family name has established its own storied legacy, one with a fresh new chapter. 

Very cool to see Stan pass off the chalice to his old man last night. (CBC cut away without comment, but I sure noticed.) It was Scottie's twelfth Cup, with his fourth different organization which I think might be a first for anyone. (Please leave a comment if I've forgotten somebody.) One thing Bowman the Younger has accomplished that dad never did, is win it as a general manager. Scotty tried but failed to get Sam Pollock's old job in Montreal, then tried but failed to win as a GM in Buffalo, the only significant failure of his great career.

* * *

Enough rambling for one go, I still have some facts and figures but they'll have to wait for Part Two. Thanks for reading.

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