Monday, April 30, 2007

Nap Time and Conspiracy Theories; Round 2 of the NHL Playoffs

Has anyone else lost interest in the NHL playoffs? Newsflash… ratings are down. And the Devils and the Red Wings (Hockeytown) can’t even sell out home games anymore. And never mind that the NHL’s prime carrier of games is doing a better job with pre and post-game highlights and commentary.

That means very little when Versus only reaches 35% of viewing households in the United States.

As teams progress deeper in the playoffs, the focus understandably narrows to one thing… do anything to win. Physical contact takes a back seat, players turn their cheeks to draw penalties, and more and more players conveniently forget how to skate whenever a stick touches the smallest of fibers on their jersey.

The agitators are out in full force too. Sean Avery, the most hated player in the NHL as voted by his peers, has become non-existent in Round 2. The fact of the matter is, players are used to his antics… they simply aren’t as effective against Buffalo. And why retaliate against a player only dropped his gloves four times this year?

Couple that with my thought that every player has become a bit braver in the playoffs and you get this vibe that players have become numb to anything emotional. I mean, when exactly did Danius Zubrus become Cam Neely? And who exactly is doing anything about the fact that he is running around destroying every Rangers’ star with bonecrsuhing hits? No one. That’s the playoffs in the second round folks. Too much at stake to glove punch a player that is going to let you do it.

And with the current “turn the cheek” and “dive like Greg Louganis” mentality, it’s no wonder that minor penalties have skyrocketed in the playoffs as well. I hope the referees have been double-coating with deodorant; because it seems like they are raising their arm every two minutes to call yet another obstruction-like penalty.

Could it be, as Gary Bettman will tell you, that NHL players are simply adjusting to the new rules? I doubt it. I mean, it’s only been two years since some of these emotion killing rules have been implemented. Some players might be a bit slow though… who knows?

Or could it be the current playoff mentality… dive at all costs? Don’t protect your teammate no matter what!

Or maybe, quite possibly, it could be referees are controlling games to make them more exciting? Maybe to control who moves on? Ah... the conspiracy theories. You gotta love em.

And it’s not just me folks. Others have claimed that the NHL needs the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup because of the viewership that only New York can bring. I don’t doubt it. Although I prefer to think that referees make calls to increase the number of odd man opportunities, thus increasing the opportunities for goals. As I’ve said before, the NHL brass’ key to bringing back fans to the game is more scoring.

And as I’ve also said before, it’s the wrong mentality. That is why the second round of the 2007 NHL playoffs have been dreadfully boring. They are a far cry from the first round when the Rangers/Thrashers and Predators/Sharks series brought about some real hate-filled and very exciting games.

Hmm… that bring up yet another conspiracy theory. Boy this is fun. Maybe that is why the Devils and Red Wings don’t sell out. Maybe that is why watching the two teams that define playoff excellence (which of course means do anything that destroys image of a tough, exciting hockey team) is a recipe for a mid-afternoon nap.

Which, of course, leads to my final conspiracy theory. Will/have the referees been extra tight on the Anaheim Ducks? You know, the Ducks that led the league in fighting majors by some 20+? You know, the Ducks that are led by the refreshingly outspoken Brian Burke? After watching George Parros take two very questionable first period penalties last week, I have my thoughts.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to catch some NHL highlights. That is the only way I can get my dose of “action” without falling asleep in five minutes.

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