Monday, April 27, 2015

Finding Joy in Lost Days and Nights

By now, you and I have lost 12 nights or full days to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not that I am complaining, but things quickly become important the more you push them into the background.

Parents' birthdays, Easter, the opening weeks of baseball season? All gone. My team did not make the playoffs, so I have nothing but time on my hands to enjoy the games, and I have watched all but 3 of the 44 playoff games so far. I have been frustrated by none of them.

No late night walks with Jax the Lucky Dog to either wind down from a big Kings victory or soothe my frayed nerves after a crushing Kings loss. (Note, little Petunia Puck does not do walks late at night. She barely does hockey, and never a post-game walk.) No matter, the Kings did not win, did not get in. Done and done. I have dealt with it and accept the failing grade. Must do better next season.

So, having said that, I consider this spring to be the big wind down from the season, and I am loving every minute of it. (Having had a miserable close to the ninth grade, I spent that late spring of 1976 watching the Habs crush the Flyers to win the Cup. Then I slept late all that summer, got up in time to play a lot of road hockey, tennis, Wiffle ball and baseball; ride my bike all over the earth; read great books from the college library that the junior high librarians said were smut; chase -- with a small sample size of success -- the girls of my small town; eat a ton burgers and fries; wash it all down with jugs of root beer; and have a summer worthy of a champion. I looked at the bitter side of life, flipped it over and found the sweet consolation prize.) I would have liked to see the Kings in the playoffs, but lessons learned over time have taught me to take my punishment and move on. There are always good things waiting for me.

And the first consolation prize I received this spring was watching the Vancouver Canucks once again choke on their own inflated sense of self.

No collapse in hockey brings about more joy in the Lounge, and the flowing of great whine in British Columbia, than the turfing of the Canucks. No sooner do the Canucks lose than writers like Ed Willes of The Province in Vancouver set up a comfy pile of excuses to ease the landing after the usual premature jackknife dive to conclude the postseason.

Don't want to read too far down? Well, here is the little nugget of sugar for a bitter lose, right at the end of the first page of the report on the web:

We’re not going to unload on the officiating here because they weren’t the reason the Canucks lost. No, we’re going to save that for later in the playoffs.

But consider this:

The issue isn’t that there’s a conspiracy against the Canucks or any other team that feels they’ve been jobbed by the zebras. The issue is the calls are so inconsistent, so random, so disconnected that any hockey fan can reasonably look at the games and conclude their team got the shaft.

I'm not going to say we were jobbed, because we are all getting jobbed by the referees, but we got jobbed by them more/less/etc. Yawn.

The loser's flow of sad rat's tears begin. I love it. Love the playoffs. The old Smythe Division rules. Just not the Canucks.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My Two Cents on Hockey Standings

I've always admired the bartender who would bide his time until the right moment to enter the discussion at the bar and shut the whole thing down.

He would stand in the corner, either making the motions of rubbing a poorly rinsed glass or bent over the bar, pencil in hand, marking seemingly random things on the agate pages of the sports section. Then, after having heard enough, he would set the rag or pencil down on the bar and cooly render his verdict. When the man or woman who makes your drink makes a call, you listen and you accept it. Or you find another place to drink.

Enter Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog. (Hmm, that is about the time I move on from the afternoon drinking practice of a beer and a glass of water to an evening regimen of Jack and water. Maybe this is why I am fascinated with the blog. Could be. By the way, the best beer for an afternoon is No. 7 on this list. By the way, Minneapolis City Pages is always a fun read.)

Silver comes over from his corner and shuts down the conversation about urging the NHL to award 3 points for a regulation victory to solve what some see as a problem with standings point system.

But I have something more radical in mind. Here’s the idea: You keep playing hockey until someone wins. You know, like in the NBA and Major League Baseball and pretty much every other sport but soccer — and like the NHL itself during the playoffs.

I slam down my hand on the bar as an amen in support of Silver, wondering why we give points for anything other than a victory. Tradition? Tradition is the enemy of progress and hockey needs to move forward on this now. Silver offers what I consider to be a very good start.

Now I know some good people, and some Canadians, who would take issue with the idea of changing the very fabric of the game by removing a point for what they call "a well-played tie."

I don't like ties (get ready for the rimshot). I don't even wear them.

So please do not bring up the three-point plan in the Lounge. I would argue, instead, that we do away with overtime. If you don't win in regulation, then you both lose. Only victories count when it comes to figuring a winning percentage. Losses and ties go in the same box of unwanted stuff that you wish you didn't have and cannot get rid of until spring cleaning.

But that would shake the traditionalists to the core, so I offer a modified plan by allowing for overtime. But if you do not win there, you then still lose.

We must be strong about this because there are plenty of backsliders and points-panhandlers among those who coach or who have coached the game still out there. We will hear how the points system is wrong and then, on Sportsnet's "Hockey Central at Noon," Doug MacLean, a former coach and now a cranky if not well-meaning analyst on the show, will say, "with six minutes left in the game, you have to tighten up and play for the point and get to overtime." From there, as he said Wednesday afternoon, one can consider playing a more offensive-minded game to go for a second point. What is unsaid is that, you don't exactly have to go all-out for a goal in overtime, thanks to that point you banked after three periods.

Until that kind of thinking changes, no new point system will keep a coach from playing for a safe result when the game matters: in the first 60 minutes. Last night -- highlights above -- no shootouts or OT. Maybe somebody likes my ruling in the Lounge.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a pencil and an agate page to get back to in the corner of the bar.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fresh Paint for the Playoffs

The Lounge is back for the Stanley Cup playoffs. And just to be certain everything is working before the first patron comes in, we showed up a little early, cleaned under the stools, washed some glasses, checked the taps and even made sure the toilets worked.

We opened the windows to see what the place looks like in the light of day, and then we closed the blinds to preserve the mood. We like things dark in the Lounge. That's a tradition that will never change. Now sit down and get ready for hockey.

Here's a fresh pour for the working man. Thanks for coming in.