The NHL in the first ‘half’ (we are beyond the halfway point but the All-Star Break is a reasonable spot to be considered halfway), we saw the league do some good things. One, they pulled their players from participating in the Olympics. Frankly, just preventing the players from being exhausted for the stretch run it would have made sense. Protecting them from possibly being more exposed than they already are to COVID is another. Two, COVID protocols have seemed to work. There have been times when teams have had to take time off because their ranks have been decimated by the virus, but that lay-off doesn’t really seem to affect good teams. And bad teams are, by definition, bad so who fucking cares.
Regarding good teams, let’s slip on some skates and glide around with my favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche. They played Trashville on December 16th and got their ass handed to them, losing 5-2. Due to COVID, they didn’t play again until January 2nd. Basically, they got a public-school Christmas Break. A long layoff ought to make a team pretty rusty, right? Umm, large no on that one. They won their return game, roasting the Ducks 4-2, then proceeded to go 14-1 for January, vaulting themselves into first place in the Western Conference. They’re 8 points above the Trashville Sabre Cats (Yes I know they are the Nashville Predators, but look at their dumb-ass logo) with two games in hand.
What does two games in hand mean? I’ll get to that. Tighten the laces on your skates and let’s continue.
The Avalanche are the cream of the Western Conference for certain, but other teams have been fairing pretty well and already seem to be solid locks to make the playoffs. Namely, Minnesota Mild, St. Louis Snooze, Vegas Golden Showers, and the aforementioned Sabre Cats. Positions 6-8 will be more of a battle down the stretch with the Los Angeles Queens, Anaheim Not-So-Mighty Quackers, Calgary Flame-Outs and a few others fighting to get in. Those who won’t makes it are the Arizona Wile E Coyotes (they really need him on the ice to liven up some dreadfully boring hockey), and the expansion team the Seattle Kraken who deserve to be called by their correct name because it’s pretty cool.
Another team in the Western Conference that won’t make it deserves special mention. I’ll get to them at the end of this article as they deserve special treatment.
As for the Eastern Conference, there are some excellent teams fighting for the top spot. You have 6 teams above 60 points in the East (Colorado is the only team in the West above 60). Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina – geographically places you don’t of when you say ‘hockey’ – are leading the conference with the New York Park Rangers and the Pittsburgh Flightless Birds right there with them. Fact is, there is such a large gap between the current team 8 – The Boston B-ruins (trash) and the Detroit Dead Wings this conference is all but done regarding who’s going to make the playoffs. Nine points is a lot to overcome for Detroit when they only have 35 games left and Boston has a whopping 4 games in hand.
OK – now it’s time to discuss ‘games in hand.’ It’s an advantage down the stretch if you’ve played fewer games and you’re ahead in the standings. For instance, Boston and Detroit. Boston has played 43 games, Detroit 47. So, even if Detroit went on a hot streak and won their next 5 games to pass the Boston, Boston still has the extra 4 games to play to gain points – AKA ‘games in hand’ – and will easily pass them back up. By the same token, Colorado is 8 points up and still has 2 games in hand versus Trashville.
Games-in-hand happens frequently in hockey. During a normal regular season without COVID there will be teams 3-4 games ahead of others on the schedule. Hockey’s a grueling sport with all the on-ice time stretching over the course of the season grinds you down. As such, larger breaks. Ergo, greater discrepancies between games played. With COVID, right now the New York Islanders will be playing game 40 after the all-star break, Anaheim Ducks game 50. That’s a large gap but no one scares about the Islanders anyway because they suck.
Hockey is a grind to the players for certain. Long season. What can grind a fan down to a fine powder where they no longer want to follow a team? A team that gets caught hiding a sexual abuse scandal, has it forcefully brought out in the open and therefore gets some well-earned firings of many of those involved, then watches as the owner of said team goes ostrich on the whole thing and now wants to bury it by saying it’s in the past and doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. Yep, I’m pointing right at you Chicago Blackhawks and your dolt of an owner Rocky Wirtz who couldn’t have answered a reporter’s question any worse than he did (with an assist from the idiot asshat NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman). You’re getting your ass kicked in the court of public opinion and will most likely get your ass kicked in a court of law as well. The court of law will no doubt use multi-syllable words to shame you. The court of public opinion, one which includes me as well as many others, just says fuck you and your fucking toxic culture.