A Guide to the NHL Awards

Ah, it’s that time of year. Baseball is in swing, the NFL draft just went down and the playoffs are providing nightly excitement between the NBA and NHL. There are only two downsides to this time of year: one, it has to end; two, confusion arises.

Why does confusion arise? Because of the NHL award system. Their awards, named after legendary figures both on and off the ice, are handed out each year with confusing titles. Instead of the MVP Award as in most other sports, it’s the Hart Trophy.

To help you keep your awards straight and who’s in the running for them, here’s an explanatory guide through the NHL awards:

Name of Award (Year of Creation)

  • Description

o   Finalists for 2014 Award

Team Awards:

Prince of Wales Trophy (1925)

  • Awarded to the Eastern Conference playoff champion

o   Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadians, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers

Clarence S. Campbell Bowl (1968)

  • Awarded to the Western Conference playoff champion

o   Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings

Stanley Cup (1893)

  • Awarded to the NHL playoff champion

o   Combination of finalists from Campbell Bowl and Prince of Wales Trophy

Presidents’ Trophy (1986)

  • Awarded to the club finishing the regular season with the best overall record based on points

o   Boston Bruins (2013-14 Winner)

 

Individual Awards:

Hart Memorial Trophy (1924)

  • Most Valuable Player

o   Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

o   Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

o   Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (1925)

  • Player who exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability

o   Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

o   Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche

o   Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers

Vezina Trophy (1927)

  • Best Goalie

o   Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

o   Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

o   Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Calder Memorial Trophy (1937)

  • Rookie of the Year

o   Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

o   Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

o   Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning

Art Ross Trophy (1948)

  • League leader in total points

o   Sidney Crosby (2013-14 Winner)

James Norris Memorial Trophy (1954)

  • Best All-Around Defenseman

o   Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

o   Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

o   Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Conn Smythe Trophy (1965)

  • Most Valuable Player of the Playoffs

o   Undetermined until playoffs conclude

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (1968)

  • Perseverance, Sportsmanship, and Dedication to Hockey

o   Jaromir Jágr, New Jersey Devils

o   Manny Malhotra, Carolina Hurricanes

o   Dominic Moore, New York Rangers

Ted Lindsay Award (1971) – Previously referred to as Lester B. Pearson Award (1971-2009)

  • NHL’s Most Outstanding Player voted by Players Association

o   Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

o   Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

o   Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

o   This group looks familiar? They’re the same nominees for the Hart Trophy.

Jack Adams Award (1974)

  • Coach of the Year Award

o   Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche

o   Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings

o   Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

Frank J. Selke Trophy (1978)

  • Best defensive-minded Forward

o   Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

o   Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

o   Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

William M. Jennings Trophy (1982)

  • Goalkeeper having played a minimum of 25 games and with the fewest goals scored against
  • Can be multiple winners

o   Jonathan Quick (2013-14 Winner)

King Clancy Memorial Trophy (1988)

  • Leadership Award and Noteworthy Humanitarian Contribution

o   No finalists picked

NHL Foundation Player Award (1998)

  • Uses core values of hockey to enrich the lives of others

o   Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

o   Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

o   Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy (1999)

  • Top Goal Scorer

o   Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (2013-14 Winner)

Mark Messier Leadership Award (2007)

  • Exemplifies Leadership qualities on and off the ice

o   Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

o   Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

o   Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

NHL General Manager of the Year

  • Top National Hockey League General Manager

o   List unavailable – Voting unfinished

 

Now-Defunct Awards:

O’Brien (1910-1950)

  • Stanley Cup Runner-Up

NHL Plus-Minus Award (1983-2008)

  • Player with the highest plus-minus statistic

Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award (2000-2007)

  • Awarded to Goalie who played at least 25 games who has highest save percentage

Putting Hockey on Ice

Well, from yesterday until March the 10th, there’s no NHL hockey. The standings freeze, the players workout to avoid cooling off, and the NHL owners income drops faster than a thermometer in Canada winter.

And it couldn’t be better for the fans.

For hockey, that’s weird. Usually their fans are neglected the most in the big four, what with work stoppages aplenty and television deals that aren’t, well, encompassing.

But once every four years, hockey fans get what’s most comparable to two Christmases with a Gold medal game and Stanley Cup finals. An Olympics, which showcases pure hockey with their wider rink and fighting ban, brings all United States fans together, regardless of NHL affiliation, as one. It’s a great experience to root for one team, one flag, and one country. If this Olympics is anything like the 2010 Vancouver Games, it will be one of the most exciting events of the year and will further the rivalry between our sister-country in the Great White North.

Hockey players love it too; carrying the flag of their native country is a big deal and provides the opportunity for the athletes a chance to express their nationalism. Even those who aren’t playing in the games enjoy the break that a strenuous 82-game season puts on them. They rest up and, if you’re in the playoff chase, prepare for a push or if you’re the Calgary Flames, book vacations for late April.

Fans of Olympic hockey and the NHL better enjoy it while they still can. Grumplestiltskins like Ed Snider, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, spoke plainly about the Olympics saying, “I mean, I hate ‘em.” Tell us how you really feel, Ed. He furthered his comments by calling them, “ridiculous” and damning the Olympics for “Screwing up everything.” (Maybe he’s upset his star Claude Giroux got passed over, AGAIN, for Team Canada, but you get the point.) Ed Snider isn’t the only owner disgruntled.

The sense around the league is that the owners will collectively apply pressure to league Commish Gary Bettman in order to ban NHL players participating in the South Korean winter Olympics four years from now. USA Today and Sports Illustrated have both expressed concern over the same sentiment as well as TSN analyst Darren Dreger. That would ensure a ho-hum normalcy of the NHL season, playing on as usual. It also means amateurs would play in the Olympics, decreasing the quality of the game broadcast. It would also force fans to pick sides, whether to watch a heated rivalry game or a possible Olympic medal match.

It’s a shame because NHL fans have had to endure so much, with the KHL poaching its talent, work stoppages, and a Commissioner who is annually booed so loud at the finals that it drowns out any other audio.

Since the NHL will put its Olympic talent on ice in four years, enjoy what’s on ice now – enjoy this Olympics as much as you can.

Neglect on Ice

Stuck between “Pitcher gets hit in the head by line drive” and “Spelling error in Omaha” sat a ticker entitled “Boston evens series at one” and that’s the only mention (besides the lead story, which was a paltry fraction of the hour show) of the Boston Bruins-Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals matchup.

The Stanley Cup becomes the most coveted piece of cannikin in June. But for some reason, the network whose motto reads “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” just doesn’t care about the greatest sport on ice.

ESPN’s coverage of hockey classifies as neglectful. The malnutrition of ESPN’s hockey diet comes to prominence on its flagship morning show, SportsCenter. Notwithstanding Barry Melrose, the local puck expert, hockey doesn’t just take the backseat to every other sport – it’s thrown in the trunk blindfolded and totally abandoned with quotidian repetition.

Sunday’s edition of SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays” presented no contradictory evidence. The night previous the Boston Bruins had overcome sloppy play and stagnant offense to garner a late, overtime-winning goal from Forward Daniel Paille. That’s how the intense, gritty Game 2 ended – similar to Game 1, which also went into overtime, but Bruins failed to capitalize and lost in triple-OT. But the Top 10 Plays – which hand out the top position with as much ease as Sean Avery delivering career-ending hits – didn’t acknowledge that the Boston-Chicago game even happened. Tuukka Rask’s incredible performance apparently warranted no merit from ESPN. Even Corey Crawford’s athletic glove save, in which his arm moved quicker than John Tortorella when he left New York, got no recognition.

The NHL was foregone to have correspondent Colleen Dominguez talk while a sparse graphic appeared over her. The graphic simply read: Tony Parker hopes to be 100% for Game 5. Really? I always thought athletes hoped to be ailing when big games were on the line. The story lasted one minute and a half.

The two Stanley Cup games, with determined and gallant fervor, failed to capture national headlines. Instead, ESPN and most other news outlets focused on the unceasing pendulum that is the NBA Finals. The favored Miami Heat are taking on the consummate professional winners in the San Antonio Spurs, who embody the name ‘Old Faithful’ even more than the geyser in Yellowstone with their repeated Finals appearances and their equally repeated wins (four titles in four tries).

 But 2013 has presented the Spurs with anything but faith. In four games, there have been three victories by 16 or more points. 16 points actually undersells how the games have been played out, it hasn’t even been that close. All of this including a 36-point pummeling of the Heat by the Spurs that was over even before halftime began. These anticlimactic Finals against the best teams from each conference haven’t been the grind-it-out, best-versus-best matchups that excite like the NHL.

In my distraught nature of wanting to see the highlights from Game 1 to find out the victor (I had Finals of my own at school the next day and after the first overtime, at midnight, I had to call it a day) I was forced to resort to a YouTube video from a drunken Boston man recording off of his low-definition television with his iPhone to see Bruins goals.

So what’s the deal (or the absence of a TV deal) between ESPN and hockey?

Hockey, which has been previously exiled from National TV more shamefully than Napolean from France, took a big step forward this year. The signing of a 10-year pact between NBC and the NHL brought an end of terror in which hockey was broadcast on Versus, a channel which many people didn’t own, and the Outdoor Life Network, which fewer people knew existed. The OLN resembled a precursor to Versus. Djfhsdkafh…as I gather my jaw from my keyboard, I’m just astonished that such a network, only available through DirecTV during its infancy, could hold the rights to a major sport such as hockey.

In an interview ESPN Senior Vice-President Vince Doria talked about how there has never been a better in-house sport. He said during his time at the Boston Globe, he attended far more Bruins games than Celtics. But ESPN has expressed multiple times that they don’t believe hockey brings a telegenic appeal to the room and that on-ice scrambles and intensity don’t translate to the viewer.

Hockey and television also don’t cooperate because it holds a geographical hold, a sort of civic clamp on only certain regions. The sectionalism in hockey is not an isolated occurrence. In the lowest TV-rated series ever, the Los Angeles Kings played the New Jersey Devils to the tune of 2.98 million viewers per game. However, in Los Angeles the series received a 25, which means one in every four males ages 18-49 watching TV was rooting for the Kings. They were eventually rewarded as the Kings took to Cup home, but that shows an alarming trend for hockey. If the two host cities contribute the majority of the viewers, then no other fans are watching. Which in turn means it is regional and partnering with the NHL for every other game they have besides the Finals rewards you with nothing. It also means that the popularity of hockey is still down.

So the chicken and the egg contradiction comes into play here: is hockey not popular enough to be on ESPN? Or is it that ESPN’s refusal to show hockey hamstrings its progress?

And while the argument can be made that a rights holder to a program increases its popularity, take a look some strange sports they’ve had on. Bowling, the Scrabble Championship and Cup Stacking have all presided over air-time on ESPN, mostly on ESPN2, but still there. With the exception of the sweet PBA commercial with Busta Rhymes audio, those three sports make ESPN 8 “The Ocho” from “Dodgeball” look like a good way to couch-surf and waste the afternoon.

That’s the power of other sports. In the NFL, especially with the prevalence of Fantasy Football, nearly every game attracts the maximum amount of viewers because there are so few. In baseball, the likes of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera with their all-around prowess on the diamond warrant a viewing on occasion. The NBA can be explained with the allegory of “The Decision.” LeBron James infamous “TV Special” in which LeBron picked which team he would play for drew 9.95 million viewers. That’s more than ANY Stanley Cup Final game since the Blackhawks played the Canadiens in 1973.

So while everyone – myself included – are tired of SportsCenter covering Tim Tebow, Jets Camp, and the Miami Heat, as a TV company they stand to make money, and they can’t seem to do that with hockey.

Understandably, they won’t enter an agreement for TV rights with the NHL, but would it kill them to put some highlights on for more than thirty seconds? 

Playoffs: A Comparison Between the NBA and NHL

This time of year marks a wonderful one for sports fans. Baseball’s getting into its swing, football minicamp begins, but most importantly: the NBA and NHL playoffs are on. Every single night there’s sports action – I don’t think I need to express how great that is.

While Game 2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Boston Bruins game was being played out on Pennsylvanian ice, my eyes became affixed to TNT where the less-than-dynamite Game 7 between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. If TNT knows drama, it certainly forgot it that night as Miami set the pace and blew by Indiana by 23 points.

Not to say that the Bruins game provided a double-overtime tense watching atmosphere like Game 3 as they chased Tomas Vokoun from the net in the first period, pouring four goals past the sieve.

I chose basketball over hockey, but why?

As NHL fans saw in the first round, games can flip as easily as a light switch. Three goals in ten and a half minutes to tie Game 7 against the Maple Leafs exhibited hockey’s ability to be unpredictable. However, as soon as the Heat won the second quarter by a 33-16 margin and momentum favored South Beach, you could feel the Pacers defeated nature – it was palpable.

So I don’t understand myself on why I continue to watch the NBA over the NHL.

Could it be marketing? Advertisements on TV like Kevin Durant helping that Asian mother clean her gutter, or Dwyane Wade and Durant going back and forth in their dreams are much better than Nicklas Bäckstrom’s 15 shots in 15 seconds or his “splinter” – which is a hockey stick running through his arm.

While the ad may not be that good, its accuracy is indisputable.
It may not be a hockey stick through the arm, but hockey players have sustained serious injures and – in accordance with their reputation – played on. Teeth are optional, like in Game 3 of the Montreal Canadiens versus Ottawa Senators when Ottawa’s rookie Center, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, put one into the back of the net for the go ahead goal. Simultaneously, he received a vicious slap from Montreal Defensemen P.K. Subban with his stick. After scoring, Pageau celebrated by retrieving his tooth off of the ice and bringing it to the bench.

That’s not even the most amazing story. In Game 3 of the Pittsburgh-Boston series – an eventual double-OT Bruins win – fourth line (or Merlot Line as they call it) was facing a tough penalty kill. Then Center Gregory Campbell broke his leg. Not his foot, not his ankle, his right fibula. He stayed on the ice. For one minute. On one leg. He killed the penalty, avoided the 5-on-3 and played the most heroic hockey Boston needed.

That sentiment of playing through injury and winning an Oscar for acting as if you were fine and nothing pained you is the exact antonym for flopping. It’s anti-flopping. It’s the opposite of whatever Dwyane Wade did in the 2nd Quarter of Game 6 when, holding the ball and beginning to teeter off balance and out of bounds, he pretended that Pacers’ Lance Stephenson, standing nearby, pushed him and lunged out of bounds. With wonderful slow-mo replay, every viewer in America saw Wade’s acting as Stephenson wasn’t even touched.

An effect of that tough, gritty play, the NHL contains tough interior defense. The defensive effort and pressure exacerbates the excitement of one-man breakaways, the showdown between goaltender and player heightens. It also magnifies goals because on any given evening, a goalie may turn in an unreal performance and shut-out a team, such as Tuukka Rask did twice in Boston’s Eastern Conference Finals when he kept an elite Penguins offense off the board.

Appreciation for defense is not hard to come by as it’s the basis of any sport and the ancient cliché that defense wins championships.
With the Indiana Pacers elimination last week, the NBA’s second-best defense fell to the Associations best offense. It’s not too hard to imagine why when you see any box score. For example, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers fell 103-102, but it was 103-102!

There’s no defense there! You can’t even say there was defense because Chris “Birdman” Andersen made 18 shots in a row, and 41 of 51 this postseason. Eighteen. Chris “Out of a job until he signed a series of 10-day contracts earlier this season” Andersen. That nickname probably won’t catch on, but his streak shooting certainly has. He did even make five jumpers in that number of converted field goals.

Another point in favor of the NHL is the urgency. Since the average shift in a hockey game approximates at about 45 seconds to one minute, skaters push themselves and go hard. This leads to fresh legs, battles and increased effort. The intensity amplifies when all hockey players know a re-direct in front of an errant skate or stick, or a bad hop on choppy ice could lead to a goal. And goals are precious, more than even Smegal realized.

The tension does not dissipate for players on the ice, fans in the seats or even fans at home as they know the importance of each shift. Also, unlike basketball with breaks in action, there are limited TV timeouts. Since line shifts are common, there’s no timeout or dead-ball needed for lineup shifts whereas that’s the norm in basketball. The absence of TV timeouts also allows drama to build on its own in hockey.

After the drama rises and falls – TV timeout free of course – there’s possibly the greatest tradition in all of sports. As a commensurately graceful gesture, after each and every playoff series, the two teams form no longer opposing lines and skate by, offering congratulations.

In a consummation of sportsmanship, the two teams who had just fought arduously for multiple games exhibit enough class to acknowledge the other side. It’s perfect in theory and execution; it also casts shame on basketball, who doesn’t participate in any handshake of any sort. As an aside, however, it makes baseball’s post-game handshake tradition look atrocious. After victories, each MLB club goes through and high-fives each other. Congratulating yourself just makes you look bad. It’s like actually patting your own back after accomplishing something.

After all these points, I find myself writing this on Sunday night while the Spurs from San Antonio play the Miami Heat.

So to put it bluntly: I don’t know why I watch the NBA over the NHL. It’s unexplainable, but I do it anyway.

But when the Boston Bruins finally take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday (the first between two Original Six teams since 1980), I absolutely will be watching.

Defensemen on the Defensive

The Bruins were doomed.

Even after their stunning upset of Toronto in Game 7 of the first round and having the higher seed, the forecast called for a lot of wind. Most experts expected the Bruins to get blown out of the Eastern Conference Semis by the New York Rangers. Even homers like Michael Salk and Michael Holly on WEEI proclaimed, “After the Maple Leafs series, I won’t make any predictions…but if I were to, I don’t like how it looks.”

Boston’s line of defense presented the largest area of concern. Wade Redden, a 13-year veteran with over 450 career points, landed on the disabled list with a typical NHL injury: “undisclosed.” Dennis Seidenberg, a veteran of nine years, couldn’t play as a result of a leg injury. And the biggest loss came to the injured Andrew Ference, a very valuable Bruin who averaged over twenty-minutes.

All three defensemen, all three important, and all three out.

The Bruins were seemingly trotting out lambs named Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner when they employed three rookies as their top five defensemen. Highly touted first-round pick Dougie Hamilton played on the first-line with skyscraper-on-skates Zdeno Chara. Late-season call-up from the AHL Matt Bartkowski paired defensively with Johnny “Rocket” Boychuk. Torey Krug, a Providence promotion, sided with Adam McQuaid. Between Hamilton, Krug, and Bartkowski, none possessed a full-years worth of real NHL experience – their inexperience exacerbated by the lockout shortened season.

What fans expected resembled a Bad News Bears-esque bumbling and stumbling into one another while Rangers snipers treated the game like a penalty shot: clear ice with only the goalie to beat.

What fans received resembled nothing short of a miracle. They saw something historic. Not historically bad, like they expected, but Torey Krug becoming the first player (not just defensemen, but player) to score four goals in their first five playoff games.

A defenseman scoring presents a new weapon into an already-potent arsenal. During the regular season, which consisted of 48 games, blue-liners scored 23 of 127 (18%) of Bruins’ goals. The budding Bruins blue-liners surprised everyone by scoring seven out of the Bruins’ sixteen goals (44%) in the second round of the playoffs. They iced the hot Rangers offense and opened up the door that Vezina trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist had closed.

Someone should send a fruit basket to Providence.

The Bruins defensemen, once considered a liability, ended up to be the reason the Bruins emerged victorious – including scoring two of the three Bruins goals in the momentum-grabbing, overtime, Game One win.

So everything was going wrong, but then three unproven, unanticipated players appear and make the difference. Everything’s going great and it seems the Bruins have a better ending than a Lifetime movie.

But there’s a problem. (There’s always a problem.) What decision would Coach Claude Julien make when Ference and the Injury Company returned, as the all may do in their next series? The next series faces off the offensive juggernaut Penguins of Pittsburgh against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Claude Julien, who two weeks ago had his house for sale and was leaving Boston after another playoff collapse, got the miracle from his team in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs and therefore got the opportunity to hang around.

Now, he needs to reward the players who helped him get here. He needs to win, now, for Boston. He needs to keep Hamilton, Krug and Bartkowski in the defensive rotational for the Bruins.

The Bruins can ride the hot streak – no, more like exploding supernova – of Torey Krug, former Michigan State captain, Providence Bruin until April, and now leading goal-scorer for the Eastern Conference Finalist Boston Bruins. Unreal represents a major understatement of his play thus far. The Bruins know, maybe better than anyone else, that a team can pack its saddle on to the most popular mule and ride it to victory as they did with Goalie Tim Thomas in 2011 en route to the Stanley Cup. Thomas shut down opponents and made diving, acrobatic saves with his large frame that endeared him to Bruins fans everywhere. Boston rode Thomas’s play in the crease all the way to the cup – why not pitch in with Torey Krug and the Rookies and see how high the hit soars?

It’s like the first rule of poker; don’t get up from the table when you’re on a hot hand. The corollary to that rule says to leave before the hand goes cold, but there’s no sign of the latter.

In conjunction with the above plan Julien should patiently work back the Injury Three. Julien’s dynamic stratagem should involve a steady, slow increase of playing time between the three as to give them time to acclimate to the pace and demanding physical aspect. The dichotomy between practice time and game play exhibits how different the two are and how every athlete, regardless of the sport, requires time to re-enter the routine and the groove of the game.

Take it from Amaré Stoudamire in the NBA this postseason, or Ben Roethlisberger during the 2008 NFL campaign, or better yet: Keith Primeau, the Philadelphia Flyers Captain whose career ended in 2005-06 after he returned too quickly from a concussion and received a recurring one.

It’s better to let athletes work their way back slowly (though not as slowly as Derrick Rose) than to rush them back and risk re-injury.

Granted, Julien did play Seidenberg 23 minutes in Game 5 (his first game back), but he didn’t contribute in the points category and only delivered two hits.

As the other ailing Bruins begin to return to action, Julien can’t rush them back, nor should he give them more ice time than Krug or Bartkowski or Hamilton. Whoever plays better deserves the ice time and whoever gets the ice time needs to produce.

Julien received a miracle with the end of the Toronto series; he can’t waste it just because other Defensemen used to play there.

It seems bad enough that the three defend Tuukka and the goal, but now they must defend their own jobs.

Let’s Go Streaking

I must give forewarning because the title may have been misleading – what I’m looking at is the Chicago Blackhawks and the Miami Heat winning-streaks – or, in Chi Town’s case – points streak. It’s not looking at the other activity of streaking…at least not in the Shire anyway…at least not until May…at least excluding the Penguin Plunge…

Things have gotten heated on social media as of late, especially on Twitter, when ESPN asked whose streak was more impressive. The question received well over 10,000 tweet responses; all from omniscient, second comings of the Schwab who felt that their answer was correct.

So, whose streak impresses more?

Is it the Chicago Blackhawks who garnered a point in 24 straight games in the NHL (before falling to the Avalanche 6-2 on Friday night) or does that right belong to the NBA’s Miami Heat who had their superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade explode, each scoring above 24 points per game and nearly 6 assists during their current, 17-game win streak?

Well, there is a very fundamental discrepancy between the two. Miami hasn’t lost in 17 consecutive games while Chicago has avoided defeat in regulation for those 24 contests. So, really, for Chicago it’s a point-streak, not a win-streak as the Blackhawks have fallen three times in overtime.

How the NHL works is such: that a win rewards the victorious team with two points, an overtime-loss (including shootouts) with one point and a regulation loss warrants zero points. Therefore, to lose in overtime can perversely observed as a win for the defeated team.

It must be taken into account, however, that there is a margin of parity in the NHL, whereas no one pretends that anything of the sort presents itself on the hardwood. To prove that point: the point-percentage (games in which teams gained at least one point divided by the total games) for the Blackhawks was .634 whereas the Heat’s opponent winning percentage during their winning series tallies a .481.Even that number is skewed because of a few teams with absurdly high winning percentages, but there are 9 teams under .500 the Heat have taken on and defeated.

Those numbers don’t tell the entire tale because, of those 9 teams, five were 15 games under the 50-50 line, which is extremely high and shows the Heat have inflated their record with wins such as those. Those numbers are comparable because the NBA does not allow ties and NHL teams Chicago faced can accumulate anywhere from at least 2, to 6 draws. To eliminate draws would reduce the percentage drastically, but it would still be close to the Heat’s opponents winning percentage (.477).

Upon further examination of the two teams schedules would reveal that 20 out of the 24 teams Chicago challenged, the organization had between 10 and 13 wins out of a 24-game schedule and 19 of 24 had above-.500 records. Those near .500 records show that on any given night, anyone can skate away with the W. That’s parity at its finest. The Heat played 7 out of 17 teams with records above .500 – therefore, analytics say that Chicago has navigated a more challenging course this season. Also, Chicago won its first 12 games even, though 10 of them were on the road and their season led-off against the defending-champion Los Angeles Kings. Oh, and the NHL started during a strike-shortened season where many players were out of shape and the teams were not cohesive. There cannot be anything tougher than that.

Both teams play tenacious defense. The pair of goaltenders for the Blackhawks – Corey Crawford and Ray Emery – split playing time and yet both are in the top-four in save percentage and goals-against average. That includes Emery who started a perfect 10-0-0 for the season – a historic milestone for the tendy as Emery is the first ever to accomplish such a feat. A point for Miami is that they allowed less than 100 points in 12 of their 17 games and are averaging a mere 94.9 points per game. Their streak includes making another team from the Windy City – the Bulls – look dismal and stifled their offense as the Heat only gave up 67 points.

The unreal series of wins has been unusual in that there has not been a competitive, alpha-male spirit surrounding the coinciding streaks. In fact, there has been much love between the teams, including LeBron tweeting out that the Blackhawks were “awesome” and Bryan Bickell of the ‘Hawks reciprocating. Everyone has been tossing in their countenance as Mr. Hockey, Wayne Gretzky, offered to debate Mr. Basketball, Michael Jordan, on whose streak was more impressive. That would be more “awesome” than LeBron’s compliment, or even Barney Stinson, if it would happen.

The biggest knock against the Heat’s streak is that it’s hardly the best this season as opposed to the Blackhawks who are doing the best ever. The Los Angeles Clippers became domineers of the Staples Center by winning 17 in a row earlier this season.

It’s safe to conclude that the Blackhawks have the greater streak.

Just to be clear, though. How much do streaks really mean? Ask the 2007 Patriots who went on an 18-game tear but lost when it counted, or the 2002 Athletics who won 20 games in a row (a MLB record), or the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers who strung together a North American sports history record by going unbeaten in 35 straight contests. Other than winning a bunch of games in a row, those teams all have one thing in common: They all lost in the championship.

The season becomes nothing without a title, that’s something both the Blackhawks and the Heat should make sure to remember.

 

Fighting for Fighting

John Scott of the Buffalo Sabres pulled back from his pursuit of the puck on Thursday night and three things happened. First, Scott skated in the opposite direction of the puck and towards the others teams benched in a calm manner, which provoked the question if he was concussed (he was not), and if he was going to try and take a seat on the Toronto Maple Leafs bench. Second, Scott sought out Franzer McLaren, who had just come on to the ice as the Leafs were in the midst of changing their lines, and positioned himself between McLaren and the Leaf’s bench. Third, Scott shoved McLaren and the gauntlet was cast onto the ice.

The ensuing affray took 32 seconds as both men used their left arms, fully extended, to keep the distance but using their opposite arms to throw deft right-hooks at one another. That fight was Scott’s fourth of the year and the footage of the battle is telling. There were five bystanders of the fisticuffs in total; two were Leafs, and McLaren’s teammates, and the other three were referees. There is an obvious increase in amplitude from the crowd within the Air Canada Centre as well as commentator Barry Melrose remarking that Scott was, “…just trying to rile up his team.”

There is an aboriginal argument in the National Hockey League about fighting – on one side it is a masculine part of a game that allows disputes to be settled in a gentlemanly way akin to dueling was during the 19th century. The opposing faction claims that fighting denigrates the sport and that Olympic and Junior hockey made altercations such as Scott’s taboo for a purpose.

For some men, like John Scott, all they do is fight. Scott averages 3:52 on the ice per game, and over his career (163 games) he has spent 262 minutes in the Sin Bin. Kindly, men of the same breed as Scott are dubbed “enforcers” while harshly they are termed “goons” and these men may do a little of both. They are big men on skates who do little to nothing else than waylay players on other teams who harass their team’s star a little more than the coach may like. In fact, Matthew Barnaby, who recorded 300 points in a 14-year NHL career, called out Scott, tweeting, “He’s big, he’s tough, but he couldn’t make my bantam hockey team” which referenced Barnaby’s son’s team – which Barnaby coaches – for under-11 boys. Barnaby means that Scott, who wouldn’t fight in Junior leagues, is not a good enough skater, shooter, passer or defender to be valuable even at that level.

While it may not seem like it, there are regulations concerning fighting in the NHL. A player may not be suspended for one fight, but they receive 5-minute majors. Using a weapon (stick, skate, etc.) carries harsh consequences, and coaches can be severely reprimanded for allowing bench players to agglutinate into the brawl. Basically those rules ensure that if two men have a disagreement, they solve it themselves.

Those cynical of boxing on the ice purport that it injures players, that it is a barbaric encampment in the sport and diminishes hockey’s integrity.

When it comes to injuring players, head of the NHL Players Association, Paul Kelly, says, “players need to keep a helmet on during the course of a fight, and perhaps require officials to step in if a helmet comes off during a fight.” Considering that helmets come off in a vast majority of the fights in the NHL – and that the NHL averages .53 fights per game – Kelly touches on a pertinent issue. My discrepancy with Kelly’s suggestion is that if a player is punching plastic and metal rivets rather than a person, are they not more susceptible to breaking their hand or wrist on a higher percentage of fights than players are already injured now? As of now nearly all fights end in a trip to the penalty box and not a trip to the trainer. In fact, in a study by HealthDay, in over 1200 games and 700 fights during the 2010-11 season, there were only 17 reported injuries – and five of them were knuckles. That’s 2.3% of fights are injurious.

In response to fighting’s barbarousness, it’s no more savage than an NFL safety coming across the middle and clocking an unsuspecting Wide Receiver on a crossing route, it’s no more crude than the sport boxing itself at which many esteemed patrons cheer as the combatants slug each other in the face repeatedly. And what about the UFC? UFC with all its submission holds and broken noses and blood is the fastest-growing sport in today’s America (by TV viewership and event attendance). In those sports, plays like that are accepted. Is fighting in the NHL barbarous or is it traditional? Such occurrences in sports like football, boxing and the UFC are considered “how the game is played” and that’s just how the NHL is too.

Where the ‘fighting diminishes hockey’s integrity is concerned’ I would say it is the exact converse. Gamesmanship is increased by the skirmishing. If two men have a problem with one another, or their playing styles, the pair set down their gloves and sticks and have a battle royal. That is far preferable to throwing a Matt Cooke-esque elbow or a player dealing with their frustrations in a similar fashion to Sean Avery. During fighting, both players are face to face and can see the fists coming; there is a certain pride in acknowledging your opponent and letting the tougher man claim victory. In a Cooke or Avery style of altercation (which would be prevalent if there was a ban on fighting) there is no warning, usually the victim is neither watching nor aware, and weapons don’t stop at fists. Skates, elbows, and sticks are far more dangerous than fists. Fighting allows players to relieve their frustrations, punch it out, and head to the penalty box to calm themselves for 5 minutes. If fighting was illegal, there would be a substantial increase in dirty play – which would certainly reduce ‘integrity of the game.’

I would even argue that fighting brings honor to the rink. It shows camaraderie – one teammate standing up for another and saying “I have your back.” Fighting is also a part of the unwritten code that NHL-ers adhere to, guidelines for the players and by the players – it’s them saying, “If one of your guys cheap shots our guys, there’ll be hell to pay.” They fight for respect and they fight for each other.

Hockey fighting is so engrained in today’s society that there is a website dedicated solely to it (hockeyfights.com) where fans can vote on the winner, watch highlights, and see statistics on a players fights throughout their career. Removing fighting would certainly incite anger in an NHL fan-base that already is full of discontent because of the many strikes in the past few years.

Also, is there any strategy to fighting? Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton tangled with Scott on Jan. 31st in their game and was – unusually – beaten. First, Thornton, who held no hard feelings, remarked that at least he lost to “a guy who was 6’8” rather than 5’8”.” Second, many callers into the Boston sports talk show ‘Dennis & Callahan’ on WEEI 93.7 were complaining that Bruins big Defenseman Zdeno Chara didn’t stick up for Thornton by ambuscading Scott. Callahan was astounded, saying that that’s exactly what the Sabres wanted, Scott – who plays three minutes a game – would take the beating for the team if it meant that Chara – one of the NHLs premiere Defenseman – would sit in the Sin Bin for five minutes as well. Scott for Chara is a swap that many would take and it would weaken the Bruins defense while the Sabres give up a man who barely plays.

For all the negativity surrounding fighting: the supposed injuries and the degradation of the sport, it appears that hockey has succeeded (and remained healthy) for years with it. While pundits continue to fight about fighting, the players will play by the code and hockey will continue on continuing on.

If fighting isn’t dangerous and it’s a part of hockey – the game we all already love – why remove it?