Finally, we get to call it a season.
But call it what?
An aberration, in that there was no 2012 to it and the “-13” NHL season did not end until after the summer solstice?
An insult, in that both players and owners fought for four months over the fans’ wallets and never once had the decency to ask what the fans thought about it?
A revelation, in that no matter how outraged fans became over this second jilting in seven years, they flocked back to the altar in record numbers?
It lasted only 48 regular-season games and four rounds of the playoffs. It began with some of the worst hockey imaginable and ended with perhaps the best Stanley Cup final since, well, the days of the Original Six – befitting, as the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins went the distance, with the Blackhawks just the tiniest bit better.
There were highlights and lowlights:
Polls and surveys: The experts blew the Alberta and B.C. election calls, so why not hockey, as well. Fans would not come back, the NHL brand was as low as BP following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the NHL would pay. … Right. Teams ended up playing to 97.5-per-cent capacity, average attendance was up 2.6 per cent, the NBC television audience soared by 15 per cent. At a meeting this month, league executives were told revenues are projected to rise by $1-billion (all currency U.S.) over the next three seasons.
Overkill: They had to cancel the Winter Classic scheduled between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium. It’s back on, but so are five others. It was the novelty that attracted fans.
Two solitudes: In the East, the Canadiens, Senators and Maple Leafs all surprised and even delighted. In the West, there was mostly disappointment as the Jets, Flames and Oilers missed the playoffs and the Canucks disappointed most of all.
The Iggy shuffle: All season long they talked about moving Flames captain Jarome Iginla. Social media and television reports had him in a Boston uniform right up until he reached for a Pittsburgh jersey. Iginla was considered a major factor as far as getting to the Stanley Cup was concerned, and he was. He offered little to the Penguins, who crashed, while the Bruins’ fallback plan, Jaromir Jagr, came to play a pivotal role in Boston’s run.
Hockey’s new four-letter word: There was supposed to be such progress made on concussions. There would be protocol, a mandatory quiet room – all tossed to the wind as mere use of the word “concussion” became a stigma no player or coach wished to mention. As for the quiet room, it’s silent because it’s empty.
Progress: Not all is lost, however. The “staged fight,” hockey’s bad tattoo, is surely about to get erased. The highest-rated fisticuffs on hockeyfights.com is an 8.7 rating given a March 27 bout between Patrick Bordeleau of the Avalanche and Brian McGrattan of the Flames. Ranked somewhere lower was a March 6 scrap between the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Frazer McLaren and the Ottawa Senators’ David Dziurzynski. But seeing the rookie Dziurzynski collapse unconscious from that single punch should be all the argument required to put an end to these sick gladiator spectacles.
The jaw: Thirty months ago, Sidney Crosby was having a year for the ages when concussion put an end to his season and much of the next. This season, he was back on top when a teammate’s shot deflected into his mouth, busting his jaw and losing him yet another scoring race. No one questions that Crosby is the world’s best player. The question they fear to ask is how fragile, or unlucky, is he.
The new face: Obviously, Crosby is the face of the game, and Alexander Ovechkin pushed his gap-toothed mug back into the picture with an outstanding final 20 games or so. But change is coming fast. An excellent argument for league MVP would be John Tavares of the New York Islanders.
Coaching: The only thing coaches haven’t figured out how to hypercontrol is their own careers. However, the usual annual coaching changes will likely, next year, produce a story line that will be the coaching equivalent of the great Crosby-Ovechkin debate: Fired Canucks coach Alain Vigneault moves to the Rangers while fired Rangers coach John Tortorella, the world’s most impolite human, will be unveiled in Vancouver on Tuesday. When they meet, perhaps the broadcasters could just run voice play-by-play over dedicated cameras on each bench.
Shorter seasons? It should be a crime to play hockey in June. But there is another way to look at the 48-game partial season. There were no “dog days” of January and no stretch drive for the simple reason that the entire season seemed a stretch drive, with points mattering more than ever. If the Original Six was the heyday, it’s worth noting seasons then were 50 games (1942-43 to 1945-46), then 60 games (1946-47 to 1948-49), and finally 70 games (1949-50 to 1966-67). Go back to 70 games, start in September, and return spring to Canadians.
The true beauty of summer: Not having to worry about where Roberto Luongo will end up.