(Black Press file image)

Bottoms up for NHL playoff teams

Dave Thompson Sports ‘n’ Things

Unless my eyes deceive me and the San Jose Sharks are not just scratching out wins while being outplayed every game, there is still a very good chance that the bottom place teams from playoff qualification will be playing in the Stanley Cup finals.

There is the reality that three of the top four teams in each conference are out of the playoffs already, or soon will be with the Eastern fourth place Islanders facing near certain death at the hands of the Hurricanes.

In no other big time pro sport is the search for, “parity,” (the inability of franchises to create and keep great, or even very good, teams) been more successful.

Every other league has some kind of spending limitations on its franchises, but the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers keep their near domination in baseball, the New England Patriots keep dominating the National Football League and in world soccer the same clubs finish at the top and win the big titles pretty much every single season – every single decade, even.

Superstars have a bigger impact, and skew the competitive results, more in the NBA, but there, too, teams are capable of using the draft to rise in the standings. The sagas of Michael Jordan and Lebron James just make it a bit harder to see in basketball.

NHL games are demonstrably less exciting, and are of lower playing quality, than they used to be – but, underdog stories can also be captivating, and they abound. It will be interesting, though, to see how the viewer numbers pan out if this trend continues. The Blue Jays just might outdraw a Columbus/Colorado final series.

Whatever people think of Garry Bettman – and any perusal of North American media will show that, except perhaps for the ownership groups, that isn’t much – his plan for the NHL is working just as he envisioned it would.

Whatever your views on player safety, Bettman is doing a pretty good job of that in public, as well. Credit where credit is due, and he will not likely be leaving his post any time soon. Might as well get used to him.

It isn’t as if Clarence Campbell or any of his successors could be said to have been beloved as NHL commissioners, after all.

• There seems to be something amiss in the Birchbank Retirees group. An old friend (hi, Stan) won both the low gross and low net at the well-attended recent season opening tournament.

Bluntly, that should not happen. Handicaps and handicap manipulation by players is a system explicitely designed for the game of golf to prevent that from happening.

Either that old friend, always a talented athlete, is an expert sandbagger as well as a pretty good player, or the rest of the retirees suck at the sandbagging thing. That, simply, is no fun, and it can get expensive during the day to day flogging.

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