I was gawking at Tom Benjamin’s page the other day, reading back over some old entries, when I noticed this comment from David Johnson (who runs Hockey Analysis):
I think the 2004 Tampa team was one of the luckiest teams ever and far luckier than Carolina this year. They played in the easiest division, never had a single serious injury (regular season or playoffs), and had an extremely easy playoff schedule playing the 8th seed (Islanders) in round 1, the 7th seed (Canadians) in round 2 and a beat up injury riddled 3rd seed (Flyers) in the 3rd round only to meet a 6th seed in the finals.
The only “real” difference between Tampa 2004 and Carolina 2006 is the injury bug. And the single dumbest part of that comment, IMO? The “easiest division” crack. Sorry Dave, but it can more convincingly be argued that the Central is the easiest division–just ask the Red Wings, who fatten their standings point totals on the Blue Jackets, Blues, and Blackhawks every season.
The title of this post is Tampa’s record vs. the Southeast Division in the 03-04 season. 13 wins, 8 losses, 3 ties. Ten of those 13 wins came against two teams: Washington, and Carolina. And they didn’t even perform the best against that division–they performed the best against the Atlantic Division, with a record of 16-4-0-0. They lost thrice to the Isles and once to the Rangers, and ran the table with the Pens, Flyers, and Devils. Perhaps the Atlantic Division was really the “easiest division”, since the Lightning had such a cakewalk.
Just out of curiosity, during Ragnarok I decided to re-seed the playoff teams by only accounting their games vs. teams not in their own division–and this is what I came up with:
Ottawa: 79 pts (1st) (record v. own division: 9-10-4-1)
Tampa: 77 pts (2nd) (record v. own division: 13-8-3-0)
Toronto: 75 pts (3rd) (record v. own division: 13-9-2-0)
Boston: 73 pts (4th on tiebreaker with MTL) (record v. own division: 13-6-2-3)
Montreal: 73 (5th on tiebreaker with BOS) (record v. own division: 9-13-1-1)
New Jersey: 70 pts (6th on three-way tiebreaker with PHI and NYI) (record v. own division: 14-7-2-1)
Philadelphia: 70 pts (7th on three-way tiebreaker with NJD and NYI) (record v. own division: 13-6-5-0)
NYIslanders: 70 pts (8th on three-way tiebreaker with PHI and NJD) (record v. own division: 8-11-3-2)
Detroit: 77 pts (1st) (record v. own division: 15-7-1-1)
Vancouver: 74 (2nd) (record v. own division: 10-7-6-1)
Dallas: 72 pts. (3rd) (record v. own division: 9-8-6-1)
San Jose: 71 pts (4th on tiebreaker with COL) (record v. own division: 15-6-3-0)
Colorado: 71 pts (5th on tiebreaker with SJS) (record v. own division: 12-7-4-1)
Edmonton: 70 (6th) (record v. own division: 7-12-3-2) (Ouch, Oiler fans)
Calgary: 66 (7th) (record v. own division: 11-7-4-2)
Nashville: 65 (8th) (record v. own division: 11-9-2-2)
St. Louis: 64 (miss playoffs) (record v. own division: 12-9-2-1)
What does this show? Division games are important, but winning against teams not in your division is just as important (the Lightning were a dismal 9-7-2 vs. the Northeast Division, including being swept by Ottawa–that’s what hurts them in this model, in my opinion). And really? There wasn’t a whole lot of difference between Tampa ’04 and Carolina ’06, save for a lack of injuries for Tampa in ’04 and the fact that the Devils were the third seed in the East in ’06. Buffalo was just as decimated by injury this season as Philadelphia was two years ago, and the Oilers were an eight seed this year.
Does that mean that the Hurricanes were “just lucky” as Tampa supposedly was during their Cup season, or that the Hurricanes did a better job of following the informal Special Forces motto “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome”?
Really, every team is lucky when you think about it. If Tomas Kaberle didn’t cough up the puck to Jaro, Diet Cola of Evil during Game 6 of the 2002 ECF, he may not have passed it to Marty Gelinas for the game-winner. If Patrick Roy hadn’t decided to be his usual showboating justice-dodging self and pull his Statue of Liberty act during Game 6 of the 2002 WCF, the Red Wings may not have wound up winning that game and humiliating the Avs in a Game 7 at the Nexus of Evil. If Steve Smith hadn’t own-goaled in Game 7 of the 1986 Campbell Conference Final or Claude Lemieux hadn’t scored in OT of Game 7 in the 1986 Wales Conference Semifinal, then the epic matchup we saw a little over a month ago may have first taken place 20 years ago. If Scott Norwood hadn’t sent that kick wide right, the Bills would have a Super Bowl ring now. If Maurice Richard hadn’t been suspended for something he probably shouldn’t have been suspended for, maybe the Canadiens wouldn’t have been so fired up to win 5 Cups in a row starting the year after his suspension ended. Who knows? Who can say?
And by the way, if you ignored all the division games this season, the ‘Canes would have been first in the East by a good four points or so and the Oilers would have been third seed in the West. Interpret that as you will.
Opening Night, 2001. Hurricanes v. Rangers at home. The score was 3-1 ‘Canes at that point, when Josef Vasicek and Vladimir Malakhov got into it behind the Hurricanes’ net and traded a couple punches. Now, I don’t know why, but when they showed Joe’s angry grill in the jumbotron (after the linesmen broke it up) I swear I saw a pair of horns poking out from under his helmet. This reminded me for some reason of a dear friend of mine from the UK who was always jokingly referred to by mutual acquaintances of ours as “Bob, Lord of Evil”. Now Bob was on the tall side, but no athlete was he (anymore), having been about 20ish years retired from being on Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism unit. But every time I thought of that fight, I thought of dear ol’ Bob (Lord of Evil).
So, Smilin’ Joe Vasicek became Joe, Lord of Evil.
Today Joe, Lord of Evil got traded to Nashville for Scott Walker. Some of the fans on the scout.com boards are bitching about the trade–mostly because of who we got. Clearly, those people haven’t bothered watching the Predators if they think Walks is no good. Walks is a competitor who’ll leave it all on the ice and who can score from time to time (and he can chuck knuckles when he has to, which should please all the mouthbreathing retards that just want to see fights).
In other Hurricanes-related news, the Sightless Eye Clan got a blast from the past when they signed Shane Willis to a one-year deal. Now, in my opinion Shane didn’t exactly get a fair shake from Chairman Mo when he was here. Shane was an offense-oriented guy in a system that was not exactly offense-friendly, and the Great Helmsman didn’t really like him much because of that–the fans, however, loved him (in his first game back as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Shane got a rousing ovation when he scored on the ‘Canes–he was that popular here).
A clean (though envelope-pushing) center-ice hit from Scott Stevens (good riddance) during the 2001 playoffs and a flagrant elbow from Bryan Marchment in November of 2001 set Shane back several paces, and after he was traded away he spent the last few years toiling in the minors and in Europe. This signing is probably Shane’s last best hope for an NHL career–and I think he might fare better this time, playing in a system for which he’s far better suited.