As a Canadian, I should, at this point, be able to write a thorough, thoughtful analysis of the upcoming NHL final series between the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings to go along with my pick as to the eventual Stanley Cup champion.
Well, I can't.
I haven't watched hockey with any regularity for the past 25 years (ever since I spent 19 months as a sports reporter in a small northern-Ontario town which involved me watching as many as four hockey games every day throughout the long winter season) and I certainly have no interest in increasing my participation as a fan.
From what I can see, NHL hockey has degenerated into an on-ice brawl with more slashing than skating, more punches than passes. In my humble opinion, the neutral-zone trap and the dump-and-chase approach to offense have killed the beauty of what was once the fastest sport on ice. Today, curling often seems to offer more speed and excitement.
That being said, I have caught the odd period here and there during this year's version of the interminable NHL post-season tournament, enough to have a few thoughts as these two underdogs head into the Finals:
1. The roar of the crowd: I don't know what the CBC and various NBC outlets have done with their microphones but the blast of the crowds at these playoff games has been incredible and the networks are doing a great job of bringing it into our homes. I think hockey crowds are the loudest sports fans in the world, besting even the biggest, most vocal March Madness crowds for pure volume. And NHL arenas seemed perfectly designed to capture and multiply that roar. Home theatre surround sound never sounded so good, especially on a goal or even a near miss.
2. The mastery of Martin Brodeur: The guy's 40, for crying out loud. He's been doing it for more than two decades and has his share of Stanley Cup rings already. But there he is, between the pipes for New Jersey, keeping them in games, giving them confidence. He may no longer be able to win games all by himself but he's rock solid still and the Devils can play their game in front of him, knowing they can rely on him when it really counts.
3. Parity and the playoffs: What is this? An eight seed verses a six seed in the finals? That's crazy. Like no other league, the NHL seems to be able to create playoff monsters that barely squeaked into the playoffs. It's almost a curse in the league to win your division or, heaven forbid, the number one overall position in the regular season: spend all your energy pursuing inseason goals and you'll have nothing left for playoff glory. You'd think the seven-game-series format would help the league avoid these kinds of upsets, since talent should eventually overcome a hot streak in a long series, but it doesn't seem to happen in the NHL.
4. The Los Angeles Kings. Who? Huh? The Lakers and Clippers are gone but the once woeful Kings are still standing, representing the City of Angels with a brand of hockey that seems to be surprising everyone.
So who do I like? I wish I could pick Brodeur and his Devils. I'd like nothing better than to see him win one last ring and then maybe, just maybe, retire while on top of the world.
But I don't see the slogging, offensively-challenged New Jersey club beating the streaking Kings. For NJ to win, Brodeur will have to steal one if not two games of the series and I just don't see it happening.
My pick: Los Angeles in six.