A special treat today in The Sandlot—Hockey cartoonist and frequent sarcastic comment contributor “Tuck” offers his take on the Stanley Cup Finals, which started tonight.
Q: Edmonton Oilers vs. Carolina Hurricane--why should the casual or curious hockey fan tune into this matchup (assuming they are one of the 27 households who get the OLN cable channel)? What is most intriguing about this matchup?
A: Well, first off, can someone please explain to me who, exactly, is supposed to be the "casual" hockey fan? Doesn't this marginalize hockey fans (proper)? Doesn't this stink like rhetorical strategy on the part of ESPN/ABC to extort a more favorable TV deal from the league? You never hear anyone talk about the "casual NBA fan," or the "casual pro rasslin' fan"...but I digress...
Given the STL-centric nature of your space, I'd say there's LOTS for you (and your readers) to find intriguing:
1) First off, we have the "Count the Ex-Blues": On the left, we have Rolofson, MacTavish, and Prongs; on the right, we have Head-i-case, Rod the Bod, Stillman, and Doug Weight. And that's just off the top of my head. The more industrious fan will want to research this further, and likely turn it into a drinking game of some sort.
2) Related to the "Count the Ex-Blues," there's "Who Do You Hate More"? Finding someone to cheer for in this series is going to be a serious test of the STL hockey fan's resiliance. My memory isn't so addled as to not remember Head-i-case's conduct, both as a Blue, and then immediately in the wake of the "Trade-him-make-the-Janney-For-Nedved-debacle-go-away" Fiasco (as a Vancouver Canuck). Then there's Cory "You Don't Wanna Pay Me What I Want? Fine, I'm Going To Tampa and Winning a Cup!" Stillman. And all of us have heard the "Hi, I'm God, but you can call me Chris Pronger" stories. So you (eventually) have to go positive, and cheer FOR Doug Weight (not to mention, he's likely coming back home to the Note next season). I figure if JoeJoe Murphy has HIS name on the cup (and just who exactly are they turning away then??), then Weight can have his there. Not to mention the thought of Weight knocking out his former team to get there (in Edmonton) is just too much. And yes, ALL this is in spite of the sign I saw on TV in Carolina last night, "Redneck Hockey."
3) Another fun game: Spot Kristi Yamaguchi. (She's apparently married to Head-i-case.)
Q: Break down the goalie matchup--we have Carolina rookie Cam Ward going against Edmonton veteran Dwayne Roloson--who has the edge, and why?
A: Gotta tell ya, I think this series has less to do with the goalie matchup than it does with how effective the Carolina forecheck is, versus how effective the Oilers D will be.
On the other hand, the Canes could just employ the same tactics they used against my adopted Sabres...if you can't beat 'em, injure 60% of their D. (But I'm not bitter or anything. Well, not much.)
Q: How much will Edmonton's long layoff affect their performance in the first couple of games, especially since they will be on the road? Does this give Carolina a big advantage?
A: Apparently they've been in New York practicing for the last week...you know, that time difference between Alberta and the NEUS is SO FREAKIN INHOSPITABLE...so who knows. Personally, I think they're just there so that Michael Peca can show off all his favorite places from when he played for the Islanders for 20 minutes...
Q: How much will the coaching matchup—Peter Laviolette for Carolina vs. Craig MacTavish (still without a helmet) for Edmonton--affect the outcome of the series?
A: Well, no one will ever confuse either of these guys for Sun Tzu. But I think a pretty nice sub-plot is the news that (again, reportedly) Laviolette has been offered the GM/Coach dual role by the New York Islanders (them AGAIN??)...all while trying to steer his team to the Cup. Yikes.
Q: Which team will raise the Cup this year and why?
A: The short answer is Carolina, b/c God won't allow the #8 seed to skate away with the hardware. On the other hand, there's the issue of that "Redneck Hockey" sign (but again, it's not like Atlanta or Nashville are in the Finals. And the league already awarded the cup to Dallas in 99, so it's about time a Southern franchise, you know, actually WON it). (Did someone say "bitter"? Again, not me.) But the bottom line is that I just think Carolina is the deeper team (and, no, not b/c Barry Melrose and/or his mullet says so).
Q: As a transplant to the Buffalo, NY region, were you disappointed with the Sabres falling short, or did they overachieve this year? What did you like and dislike about their team?
A: First off, let me just point out that it's less than 24 hours since my other guys were eliminated, but I'm not bitter. Well, not a lot. Now, onto the disappointment: A little disappointed, I thought they had a really good chance to win it all this year, but you'll recall (from personal correspondence) that I had the Sabres as a Final Four team at the beginning of the season (with Ottawa as the other from the East, so there you go). This flew in the face of ALL the alleged experts (like Ted Whatisisname from USA Today online, for example, who must have dug out all his predictions from 2003 and just re-submitted them). Anyone who was surprised by Buffalo this season (and then continually went out of their way to reiterate that "'no one' saw them coming" throughout the season) just wasn't paying attention to the Rochester Americans (AHL) in 2004-2005, and certainly couldn't have been checking out hockeybuzz.com earlier in the season. This team was custom-built from the beginning of the lockout for this kind of CBA, and anything less than the Conference finals would have been a shortfall. And I will maintain til my last breath, that if 60% (that's right, all but FOUR) of their defense hadn't been injured, the Sabres coulda/shoulda/woulda been starting on Monday (instead of Bret Freakin Head-i-case)...
Q: As a fellow Blues fan, here's what really sticks in my craw about these finals: Carolina features ex-Blues Rod Brind'amour, Doug Weight, Cory Stillman and Bret Hedican; Edmonton is led by the consensus best player in the NHL Chris Pronger (who the Blues traded for what, a six-pack of Moosehead Beer?). What is it about the Blues that they can't keep quality players, and what would be an appropriate punishment for Mark Sauer and Larry Pleau-must-geau?
A: You forgot Rolofson and MacTavish. You owe me a round (or something). I don't know that we should get too upset about Stillman or Hedican -- it wasn't like they set the world on fire when they were here. I look at those guys like Andy Van Slyke -- they were NEVER going to excel with the home team, but you can see how a change of scenery would do/did them good.
I tend to blame Weight and Pronger on Bill Laurie. Which is why I'll never spend another dollar at Wal Mart. Ever.
And Rod The Bod? Jeez, it's been such a long time...it's kinda like seeing your ex-girlfriend from highschool starring in a Cinemax softcore Friday night special, isn't it? Yeah, everyone can see she might've been hot at one time (tho the years haven't been exactly kind), and, yeah, everyone knows she "got away from you," and yeah, she's "famous," but...you know, it's Cinemax (or Raleigh-Durham, in this case).
As for Pleaumustgeau and Sauer...that's simple. They have to sit and watch DVR of every minute of every game from the 2005-2006 season...(so you can see: Sadistic, yes, bitter, no.)
Q: What do you think about new Blues owner Dave Checketts, and what is your outlook for the Note next season?
A: Haven't seen anything from Checketts yet, so it's wait and see. But if the spies are telling the truth, we're gonna like what he has in store (John Davidson, anyone? HE knows something about goalie!) (insert your favorite Chris Osgood joke here)....