How 'bout these 2016 playoffs so far, eh? Upsets, almost-upsets, Pierre McGuire making esoteric geographic references, and a first round that birthed another NHL Certified™ Crosby/Ovechkin Showdown. Not bad at all, really.
But amid all the action, we fans of the Best Team in the Central Division want to take a moment and reflect on what has come to pass recently. I am speaking, of course, of the late demise of the Minnesota Wild (*sheepishly raises hand* "Oh, did we do that?") and the...sigh...Chicago Blackhawks.
These Central brethren, these fellows of the least fallow division in hockey, must not be allowed to depart for the summer without a fitting tribute. So please, fellow Stars fans, don your blackest veils and finest footwear and join me in bidding a Fond Farewell to our friends from up north.
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We cannot but start with the Outdoor Game in the State of Hockey, for there is no fitter occasion upon which to shout Great Job, Minnesota! You not only proved your claim of Hockey Statehood by selling, like, most of the tickets to said game, but you also wisely declined to face your eventual destroyers from Dallas in favor of giving the Blackhawks their 52nd outdoor game. It was a wild success! Not literally, of course--it actually really sucked--but I guess making people not want to watch it makes it a Wild Success in the truest sense, doesn't it?
Due credit to Minnesota, though. You did well to at least choose a team so beset with malaise at yet another outdoor experience that they hardly bothered to show up for the game at all. You beat the Blackhawks 6-1, Minnesota; and as we would see, it was very indicative of where your franchise is at these days, which is to say capable of occasionally beating teams with even more dismal long-term outlooks than yours.
Speaking of the Blackhawks, we can't let them slip quietly into the summer without recognizing their accomplishments, too. Not only did Stan Bowman pretty much win GM of the Year in everyone's mind by watching his cobbled-together roster fend off the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central; the Hawks' GM also managed (little GM wordplay there) to acquire Christian Ehrhoff from the Los Angeles Kings right before the trade deadline. That is called preparing for the playoffs! Ehrhoff piled up points (both of them!) along with an "at least you didn't actively shoot at your own net" negative-12.0 CorsiRel. And all that just in time to get benched for the entire postseason. But hey, in Chicago's defense, it's not like they had any better options on defense anyway, right? I mean, who could they possibly
Oh. Well, sure, you had Stephen Johns, but who knows if he would even have been able to handle bottom-pairing minutes in the playof-
Johns led the Stars with 21 hits in their first-round series against Minnesota. He was a plus-19 in shot attempts for/against and a plus-6 in scoring chances for/against at even strength in the six games against the Wild, according to war-on-ice.com.
Fine, fine. Well, okay, but at least you traded him for Trevor Daley. That's not so bad! Daley actually did quite well for you in the playoffs, it looks like. He had three points and positive CorsiRel numbers, so I guess that trade worked out pretty w-
...Wait, why is Rob Scuderi up there? And why is he wearing...oh. Oh no. Did you trade Daley for Rob Scuderi? Why...why would you do that?
Oh, right. You're paying Bryan Bickell $4 million next year to cater team dinners down at Rockford, so you couldn't afford Daley's $3.3 million salary for 2016-17--which is why Stan Bowman cleverly opted to retain $1.125 million of Scuderi's salary after subsequently shipping him to LA for Ehrhoff. (Though, I must say, if this was a sinister plot to submarine Drew Doughty by giving him Scuderi as a Legitimate Defense Partner, then that's some next-level catfishing. Well done.)
Okay, just to make sure I have this straight: You (if you are Stan Bowman) "had" to dump Sharp because you signed him and basically every other hockey-playing biped to an expensive deal through 2017 (or much longer, in some cases), and you had to give away one of your top defensive prospects in said dump due to the terms of Sharp's deal (that, again, you signed him to). Then you took the return from that deal and turned it into Jiri Sekac (who was subsequently waived to Arizona) and $1.125 million of retained salary for Rob Scuderi (and Ehrhoff, who might as well never have arrived in Chicago).
Some will say that you could have just waived Sharp outright last summer, and it would have given you more cap space in than you have now, and you also would still have Stephen Johns. But the people who would say that are stupid, championship-less losers, because they don't know that playing a 32-year-old Ducan Keith 31 minutes a night to cover up your utter dearth of defensive depth is the better option. Maybe those nerds should watch the game!
And hey, there's no guarantee that anyone would have picked up Sharp on waivers even though he was your most tradeable asset. After all, who wants a measly 55-point player on a two-year deal at $5.9 million when there are 58-point players on 8-year deals making double that? Yes, getting rid of a prospect and taking on some extra salary for next year because golly, there was no way of knowing that Scuderi and Ehrhoff aren't good at hockey anymore, was clearly the better option. It's just too bad those weren't the only two inanimate objects to hurt Chicago at the end of their season.
Sure, Chicago looks perched on the precipice of another decade of despair with a boatload of horrendous long-term deals on the books, but Cup Rings are forever, right? Or maybe that's the diamonds in those rings. Well, whatever, everyone knows it's impossible to win Cups without signing players until they're 42 after each championship, right? *Dean Lombardi nods* Yep, that's what I thought.
Come to that, let's give kudos to the Hawks for setting the standard, because goodness knows Minnesota has followed it to great advantage. Not only have the Green Dogs Wearing Sombreros made sure to overburden and lock up their own top players until long after their inevitable third back surgeries; they've also put their own spin on things by signing a journeyman goalie for a Kari Lehtonen deal after a few games of radically unsustainable success. Dallas is hardly one to talk about goalie contracts, of course, but you have to wonder if there isn't a bit of a pattern to the whole "grab something shiny the instant it appears and lock it down for longer than any sane person would want it" approach. Or maybe that's just me.
Anyway, that's how Minnesota, with a rookie coach (no, not the first rookie coach; no, not that one either--we fired him; we mean the newest one) and some deep scoring talent (in the sense that an empty well is still deep), looked out over a season that was set to be a success. And what a success it was! The Wild bounced back from a dismal first half of the season with all the coiled elasticity of an overripe banana. They essentially managed just to be slightly less terrible down the stretch than all the teams that were tanking (knowingly or otherwise) thanks to deadline pickup
Fred Smith Jeff Davis Bill Billbertson David Jones. That meant Sweet Success, b'gosh, as they made the playoffs with what may or may not have been the lowest point total in like a dozen years, but who cares, nothing to see, move along, Let's Play Hockey! They don't ask how, just how many!
Oh, by the way, the answer to "how many" is "one," if the question is "how many division titles have you won in your franchise history?" And that was with a rip-roaring 98-point season in the harrowing Northwest Division of 2008, so you know it means something.
And hey, did you say something about a franchise? Well, ahem, we do hope you enjoyed "appropriating" the Stars franchise for your little faux reunion. So nice of you to trot out those quaint little threads for a little Stars get-together up there in a college stadium. It was truly meaningful to see longtime North Stars greats like Andrew Brunette, Richard Park and Brian Rolston suit up in your wintergreen monstrosities. And hey, even if you couldn't sell all your tickets for that big bash, at least the building was fuller than the old Met Center mere months after a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Progress!
Anyway, I digress. Three cheers for Chicago and Minnesota! Raise your glass to Chicago, their team's lawyers, Andrew Shaw's sensitivity training, Jonathan Toews's playoff goal-scoring, Devan Dubnyk's widdle finger owie that surely caused him to score the series-clinching goal for Dallas, Kurtis Gabriel's five minutes a night in the playoffs, Mike Yeo's practice temper tantrums, and--most of all--the art of managing the salary cap like a bankrupt Sizzler. These, and all other vestiges of these two dying dynasties, deserve praise. You were marginally better than a lot of teams that were trying to lose on purpose, and a few that weren't! Great job. Your professionalism and cool, veteran savvy got you through the season in good stead, and that's why the playoffs went so well for both of
Well, that's probably an anomaly. These are the three-time champs, after all, and one little meltdown has to be allowed for. It's not like Veteran Champs get easily rattled in ways that cost their team on a regular basi-
Okay, well, it's too bad Keith had to go all Lumberjack Mack on Coyle there, but it's not like the Blackhawks would really miss Keith for one measly playoff game. What, are you going to say that they were forced to play a worse defenseman more than usual in Keith's absence, and that such a defenseman would end up scoring on himself in overtime? And that they would end up losing in seven games? Don't be ridicu
Well, however it happened, both teams' seasons sadly had to end in the first round, and that means no additions to the swaths of banners that adorn, er, one of their homes. Minnesota will have to be content with only costing two coaches their jobs after this season, and the Blackhawks will have to be satisfied with the fact that buying a Brent Seabrook sweater is the absolute safest bet for any fan looking to invest in a player's jersey. Ain't no way in Second City that contract gets moved before the next decade, by which time Chicago will be back to tanking, claiming to be poor, and recalling the glory days--in other words, back to being the Western Conference version of the Flyers.