Playoff Picture Finally Set

The 2016-17 NHL regular season has officially ended, which means we are finally in playoffs. After an interesting regular season, there are some new faces in the playoff picture this year, and some new match ups. The first round will go as follows.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues

Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks

Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers

Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins

Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

The teams in bold are obviously the teams that I think will move onto the next round. Of course the Pittsburgh Penguins are a team that no matter what, I have to root for, but teams like the Capitals and Blackhawks should breeze through the first round.

The long shot for me will be the Edmonton-San Jose series and the Montreal-New York series. With Edmonton being so young, the question is whether they can handle the pressure. Riding high on the Art Ross Trophy Winner Connor McDavid, I think their speed and incredible talent will put them over San Jose. In the finals last year the Sharks proved they are a hard hitting and tough team, they were ultimately beat by Pittsburgh speed and finesse, which I think will happen with Edmonton.

With so many new faces in the mix this year, it is hard to know how teams will stand up to one another. We will have to wait for the first games to see just how these teams step up to the plate.

Bryan Bickell

Although the Carolina Hurricanes are not in the playoffs this year, they win the prize for the most emotional and heartfelt moment this season. After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis earlier in the season, Bryan Bickell finally made his return to the lineup to compete in the last four games in the season. In a highly emotional interview, fans of the league and of the team were brought to tears as Bickell struggled to get through the interview. After a charity run attended by his teammates, Bickell made the announcement that he would be hanging up his skates to focus on his treatment and his family. In a moment that could only happen in hockey, Bickell’s last NHL moment was scoring a shootout goal to help the Canes win their final game of the season. Our hats are off to you Mr. Bickell on a great career and an even greater impact on the game. Hopefully we can all be #Bickellbrave like you.

With the regular season ending, we are seeing the last of some iconic places and faces in the league. We are saying goodbye to one of the best hockey arenas in the country, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. We may be saying goodbye to the legendary coach Lindy Ruff after he and the Dallas Stars have parted ways after a lack luster season. And we are saying goodbye to great players who are saying goodbye to the game like; Patrik Elias, Barret Jackman and of course Bryan Bickell. I predict that after playoffs, even more players will be ending their careers.

All we can do now is enjoy the spectacle that is playoff hockey and hope that our teams goes far (Pittsburgh better repeat) and that we don’t lose to much to the expansion draft that is looming.

Kyle Okposo Hospitalized

It has been a scary week for the NHL family and fandom. After the frightening incident that took place during the Flyers and Devils where Flyers goalie Michael Neuvirth collapsed on the ice, the league is dealing with another frightening health emergency. It has been announced that Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo has been hospitalized for an undiagnosed illness.

Although not much information has been shared with the public, we do know that Okposo is in a neurological ICU for said illness. Coach Dan Bylsma was quoted saying that Kyle is “very sick and ill.” Of course information is being withheld with respect for his family, but the lack of information and facts is a bit alarming as a fan. With how the NHL works, a players injury will usually be announced to fans, especially if it is serious or long term. The fact that we really don’t know anything besides that he is in an Intensive Care Unit leaves the severity of the illness or injury unknown. It has been reported that Okposo has been showing signs of improvement after five days in the hospital.

As someone who has neurological issues in my family, I can do nothing but pray for Kyle and his family. I know how hard it is to watch someone you love laying in a hospital bed for a brain ailment that is relatively unknown. Being from Long Island, the place that Kyle has spent majority of his NHL career, I have been able to know the character of Okposo. He is someone loved by his team and the community he plays for. This was proven by his former teammates coming out to wish him well during this difficult time.

I wish Okposo nothing but health and recovery. Hopefully he can make a full recovery and not only join his team but join his family. The NHL is with you Kyle Okposo.

NHL Officially Not Competing in Olympics

After weeks and months of speculation and debates, Gary Bettman has officially announced that the NHL will not be taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics. The controversial announcement comes after plenty of debate regarding the safety of NHL players as well as the money aspect of having to take off from two weeks of NHL games.

The NHL owners may be happy but the players are less than thrilled. Players like Alex Ovechkin and Gabriel Landeskog have expressed their plans to go and compete in the Olympics regardless of the owner’s stands.

Other players have talked to media outlets about their thoughts on how this decision effects the sport and their countries.

Some have even pointed out the link to the “Miracle on Ice.” For teams like the United States and Canada, rosters are almost fully made up of NHL stars, taking these stars out of the equation does what to the landscape of the team? We will most likely be sending college and amateur kids to compete for the honor of our country, that would be fine if it was a competition for young kids. But it isn’t. Our young players will be playing against professionals from other nations, including Russia who will most likely have a team consisted of mostly KHL players. How can we compete?

Hopefully for the sake of the sport and the fans, the NHL think this matter out some more and come to a different decision.

News From Around the League

Besides notifications of what teams are going to the Playoffs, it has been a rather slow NHL news week. With there not being a specific big story that I could write a whole blog post about, I decided to do things a bit differently and just talk about some of the headlines in hockey this week.

NHL Going to China

As I spoke about last week, the NHL is attempting to grow the game by traveling around the world to play their games. Already announced was the two games next season to be played by the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators in Stockholm, Sweden. The latest announcement from the league is that they are heading to China. The games, which will be preseason games, will be played between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks in Beijing and Shanghai on September 21 and 23. This latest announcement is made in the hopes of growing the grassroots hockey programs in the country of China. With the 2022 Winter Olympics taking place in Beijing, the urgency and desire for the NHL to create a “long lasting” relationship with the country is strange considering the NHL’s current stance on not allowing their players to compete in the Olympic games. It will be interesting to see how the relationship will change when the league announces their final verdict on the Olympics subject later this season.

Goalie Collapse

In one of the more frightening situations in hockey, Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth collapsed in his net in a game against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. Untouched and standing in his crease waiting for a faceoff to be taken, Neuvirth just collapsed out of nowhere. With other situations like it, with Dallas’ Rich Peverley collapsing on the bench due to a heart situation after a shift, the urgency and concern was evident quickly. Medical teams and personnel luckily were prepared and helped the goalie off the ice on a stretcher quickly. He was rushed to the hospital for testing, which all have come back normal. Luckily Neurirth has been released and is said to be resting at home, but with more and more of these incidents happening in the league, it begs the question, should training camp testing go further in depth. With Peverley, he had a known preexisting heart condition that was diagnosed on his previous team, if he had been checked further in preseason and maybe even periodically during the season, would they have caught the issue before such extreme measures had to be taken to save his life?

Playoffs

With playoffs around the corner, I am really excited to see how they play out. With so many new faces in the picture, it should be really interesting to watch how different teams play against each other. Of course, i am rooting wholeheartedly for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I am excited to how young teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers fare against the veteran teams like the Blackhawks and Bruins.

Patrik Elias Set To Retire

After twenty seasons in the NHL, New Jersey Devil Patrik Elias has announced his plans to retire. After nearly an entire season spent on the sidelines due to a knee injury, Elias will take to warm-ups for the last time in his career at the Devil’s final home game of the season on April 8 against rival, the New York Islanders.

Spending his entire career with the Devils’ organization, Elias has been intertwined in their history forever. Winning two Stanley Cups with the team, as well as being the all time point, goal and assist leader in the teams history makes it so even if he is not playing, he will always be part of the team. To make sure he knows this and all the fans due as well, the Devils have already announced plans to retire his number, 26, with a ceremony some time next season.

As a team that has felt the blow of trades, retirements, and players going back to their home countries, Elias is just another one to add to the list. As one of the last players still remaining from the cup years, it will be sad to see the end of an era.

In an interview with the NHL.com, Elias explained why he decided enough was enough, even after beginning to train again. “The reason was I wasn’t sure if I would be able to physically and, second of all, I probably wouldn’t be able to play to the level I wanted to,” he said. “I enjoyed being out there, I enjoyed going through practice and doing the work itself, but kind of didn’t see myself anymore going to the morning skates and evening games and traveling and all that.”

As a player who is nearing 41 years old, it was only a matter of time before he decided to hang up the skates for good. With the several knee injuries over the past few seasons, it was really just a waiting game. Not every player can be like Jagr and play until they are 45, its kind of unheard of.

Elias has been the fabric, the heart and the soul of the New Jersey team for nearly two decades, and he will be sorely missed in the lineup. But, on the bright side, with Ray Shero as the GM, with the cleared up cap space, hopefully younger and skillful players will come to the team and make them great again.

US Women’s National Team Will Compete in Championship

After days and days of negotiations and boycotts, the Women’s National team has finally reached an agreement with USA Hockey. It was announced that the Women would be boycotting the upcoming championships, which are taking place on home soil, due to pay issues.

After banding together with the current team as well as women who are in the USA hockey system, the ladies decided they wanted to take a stand and demand they be paid livable wages as well as more funding into developmental programs, something that has been seriously lacking. After negotiations that weren’t up to the women’s standards, the stalemate continued until finally USA hockey caved and gave the women what they wanted.

Not only did the women receive higher pay wages, they were also given a spot on the board of the organization. With having a seat on the board, the women will have a say in the operations of their sport, something they have never had in the past. With this announcement, the hockey program will be represented on all sides. Developmental programs will improve immensely which will in turn improve the skill and talent involved with the sport.

Having a solid program will hopefully propel the women into a higher viewership bracket in order to grow the sport. This stand that the women took is revolutionary. Following up what the US Women’s Soccer team started, women in sports are finally gaining a voice and respect, something they have deserved for years. With how much talent is on the US team, I predict that the Championships that start this week will be highly viewed from all over the country. The hockey world finally came together and took a stand which bettered the sport in the long run.

NHL Unlikley To Compete in Olympics

As talked about in an earlier post, the NHL executives are leaning towards not allowing NHL players to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. With injuries being a point of concern in regards to NHL players competing in outside competition, it is no secret that owners want to protect their assets.

In more recent talks the issue of insurance regarding players has come into play. With players traveling and competing in the games, NHL teams and commissioners are forced to take out insurance on their players in case of injury or any other issues. With how many NHL players compete in the games, the cost of insurance adds up. As these concerns have arose, it seems like the NHL isn’t willing to sport the money, especially when they will have to put the season on hold for two weeks, which in turn means no money coming in.

Although I can understand the issue of money on the NHL’s part, it was brought to light that the IIHF have sported the money in previous Olympics and are probably willing to do so this time around.

The Olympics are games that show off the best athletic talents in each sport from all around the world. Not having NHL players compete in the games would be a massive misrepresentation of the sport as a whole. With teams like Canada, USA, and Sweden who rely on the NHL players to fill most of the roster spots, the team would be represented by teenagers and virtually unknown players.

Not only would this be a misrepresentation of the sport, I fear it would reduce viewership immensely. When you tune into an Olympic hockey game you are tuning in to watch NHL players compete for their country. It is fun to be able to see players who may be teammates in the NHL compete against each other on the grandest stage for two weeks. Although it is unusual to see highly physical games, the level of talent and stardom on the ice every game is extraordinary.

The NHL should suck it up and allow their players to do what they want. If they want to represent their countries they should be allowed to do so with no repercussions, if they don’t they will stay home. With the addition of bye weeks into the schedule as well as the all-star break, taking time off from the season really isn’t an issue. Allowing your players to compete grows the population of the sport, thus growing the fandom of the league.