Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
You're going to hear a lot of talk throughout the Stanley Cup Finals about how shocking all of this is.
The No. 6 Devils coming out of the East to take on the ultra-dominant-and-somehow-No. 8 Kings. The first matchup since the current playoff system began in which either a 6 or 8 is guaranteed to win the Cup. The only other 6 and 8 seeds to even make it are Calgary in 2004 and Edmonton in 2006 (though more than a few 7 seeds have made it through to the finals, the most recent being Philadelphia in 2010).
What intriguing underdog stories. Except not really.
(Coming Up: Simon Gagne cleared for Kings; imagining Lamoriello with the Rangers; why Shea Weber should win Norris; John Davidson and the Flames; Dominik Hasek's comeback; Zach Hamill traded for Chris Bourque; tampering by the Leafs?; Jamal Mayers and the Blackhawks; Stars move up for Alex Galchenyuk?; no Ryan O'Reilly talks yet; free Jets tickets controversy; Steve Yzerman's goalie chase; Adam Henrique's hero moment; and we're losing a great hockey joke in Cristobal Huet.)
This perception exists because the NHL seeding system is patently ridiculous, as has been discussed in the past. Yeah, LA crumpled teams Nos. 1-3, and New Jersey knocked off Nos. 3, 5 and 1 en route to these Cup Finals, but let's be realistic here.
The Devils were the ninth-best team in the league this season, one of 10 to break 100 points, and had the benefit of playing a genuinely bad Florida team in the first round while the East's other 100-point teams cannibalized each other to an extent. But that's not to say they weren't very, very good all season. They are, in fact, the best No. 6 seed in Eastern Conference history, and one of only three to crack the century mark (the others being these same Devils in 2004 and the Rangers in 2006, both of which had 100 even).
But if there's one underdog storyline for the Eastern Conference champions, it's not that Ilya Kovalchuk is now living up to his galactic potential, or that Bryce Salvador has suddenly become a world-beating two-way defenseman, or that the coach who got fired in Florida is now in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It's that everyone agreed that New Jersey had one weakness: In net.
Most figured Marty Brodeur was one-and-done, and probably only because of how bad Florida was. Understandably so, because he's now 40 years old and hasn't exactly looked like the vintage Marty Brodeur over the last few years. This postseason, though, he's certainly shown the flashes of what made him one of the greatest goaltenders of all time, even if he still has a couple senior moments here and there.
More egregious, though, will be the fawning over the Cinderella Kings, who have captivated an apathetic and clearly somewhat confused "nontraditional" market they've only been in for 45 years with their series of decisive knockout victories against heavily favored opponents.
Yeah, they edged into the playoffs for sure. If you count finishing five points ahead of the 10th-place team as "edging." They also finished just two points out of the division lead, which would have made them a No. 3. But they didn't, so maybe it's fair enough. But if you consider that this team took off like a shot the second they fired Terry Murray, maybe not.
Under Murray and his four-game stand-in, John Stevens, the Kings went 15-14-4, an 84ish-point pace. Under new coach Darryl Sutter, they went 25-13-11, a 102-point pace. Having 102 points would have won them the division with ease, and tied them for fourth in the West. They were even better after acquiring Jeff Carter, going 13-5-3, a small-sample-size pace for 113 points.
The point is that it's not as if either of these teams weren't phenomenal once they got going this season, and that any talk of them being underdogs is wholly overblown and patently ridiculous.
[Related: Kings must keep rest from becoming rust for Stanley Cup Final]
These aren't the 2006 Oilers, and they're not the 2003 Ducks, relying on gimmicks and hot goaltenders to get where they are in short-burst successes. These are teams that have been playing top-quality hockey since at least December, each with rosters positively littered with All-Stars past and present, and anyone who's been paying attention knows that.
The only way in which they're underdogs is because of where they ended the season in the standings, which don't make sense anyway.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Might Justin Schultz's continual refusal to sign with the team that drafted him be the result of tampering on the part of — you guessed it — the Toronto Maple Leafs? No one's sayin', they're just sayin'.
Boston Bruins: The Bruins traded the RFA rights to Zach Hamill for the UFA rights to Chris Bourque, who is of course Ray's son. The good news is there won't be much of a shadow for Bourque to live up to, since his chances of playing in the NHL next year are minimal at best. He's merely a very good NHL player who doesn't have the size or complete package to make it in the show, despite being a second-round pick that one time (though that was because of who his dad is). Hamill, meanwhile, was a No. 8 overall pick who never panned out.
Buffalo Sabres: Former Sabre Dominik Hasek is thinking about returning to the NHL at the tender age of 47. If Buffalo signs him, they'll finally have someone willing to defend Ryan Miller.
Calgary Flames: There was a rumor floating around that the Flames had approached John Davidson about a hockey ops job, or John Davidson approached the Flames, or something like that. Not true, says everyone involved.
Carolina Hurricanes: It's time to consider whether the Hurricanes are actually good at drafting. Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk? Both are great, and both were drafted in 2010. But from 2005 through 2008, the team drafted just three players who have played 100 or more games at the NHL level.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks re-signed Jamal Mayers the other day, which creates more questions about the future makeup of the team than answers. They now have 15 guys looking to fill 12 forward spots.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs are having talks with a number of free agents, both restricted and un-. However, not included among those in contract negotiations is Ryan O'Reilly, perhaps the best of the bunch.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Vinny Prospal is coaching a kids' summer hockey team for two weeks and being really demanding about it. "The one guy I get all of this from would be John Tortorella," Prospal said. No word on the number of F-bombs dropped in post-game pressers.
Dallas Stars: The Stars aren't picking in a lottery spot but might they try to move into one to scoop up Alex Galchenyuk? The linked blog thinks a package like Richard Bachman and Brenden Morrow gets it done, but keep dreamin' on that one.
Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Wings executives will soon meet to discuss free agency options to improve the team and one suspects that big white board in the middle of the room will just have a picture of Ryan Suter on it, circled 400 times.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers plan to go "outside the box" for their next coach, which means we're just weeks away from the formal announcement: How do you like the sound of "player-coach Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?"
Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau's season is finally over, his Saint John Sea Dogs having been eliminated from the Memorial Cup. Next season, he'll almost certainly be on the Panthers roster full-time. Remember, he had eight points in the preseason last year.
Los Angeles Kings: Simon Gagne cleared for game action just in time for the Stanley Cup Finals. What a coincidence.
Minnesota Wild: Where does the Wild's rebuild go from here? After they signed Mikael Granlund on Thursday, they now have six kids around 20 years old who will be turning pro this season. "I've been doing this 19 years, I've never had six 20-year-old forwards turning pro in the same year," Chuck Fletcher said. They might also make a run at either Zach Parise or Ryan Suter.
Montreal Canadiens: A pair of assistants in Tampa are probably going to get a crack at winning the Habs' vacant head coaching job. And even if they don't make the cut, they might get assistant jobs in Montreal anyway. Both are, it will shock you to learn, from Quebec.
Nashville Predators: Here's why Shea Weber should win the Norris. Hint: It's because he was better than Chara, based on stuff like math.
New Jersey Devils: Lou Lamoriello is a great architect of a great team. But in typical New York media fashion, Mike Lupica has to wonder aloud, "[Y]ou wonder what happens over the last two decades, certainly the time since the Rangers won their last Stanley Cup, if Lamoriello had been working at the Garden instead of Jersey." What does that even mean?
New York Islanders: Isles prospect Scott Mayfield had a pretty good rookie season at Denver, where he put up 12 points from the blue line. Perhaps more importantly, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound 20-year-old led the team in penalty minutes, so he seems pretty mean, which will serve him well at the pro level.
New York Rangers: John Tortorella acknowledges that it will be tough for the Rangers to keep this group together. Notable free agents on the Ranger roster include Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust, Mike Del Zotto, and that's it. Not as hard as you might expect then?
Ottawa Senators: The Senators' newly-signed prospect Darren Kramer has an idea beyond to keep him paid even if his hockey career never pans out: A double-twist-off peanut butter jar for people who have big hands. No one ever went broke pandering to the freakishly large hand market.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers won the Richards and Carter trades but still wasted a bunch of money on a product-of-his-system-just-ask-Mike-Smith goalie and came no closer to a Stanley Cup, so did they really win? Jury's still out.
Phoenix Coyotes: Speaking of Mike Smith, he wants goaltending coach Sean Burke to come back. So much so that he might let it influence his decisions when his contract is up next summer. Free advice to Mike Smith: Stay in Phoenix until people think your phenomenal performances were the result of your talent, not your coach. Then you cash in like Bryz did.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens recently signed 2012 sixth-round draft pick and Barrie Colts defenseman Reid McNeil, who's big but not necessarily likely to put up similarly-sized numbers.
San Jose Sharks: Important Patrick Marleau update -- He looks like a young Alex Trebek.
St. Louis Blues: The CEO of the St. Louis Blues is now the former CEO of the St. Louis Blues, as he resigned from his post on Friday as the team continues its front office makeover under new ownership.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steve Yzerman is leaning toward finding a good younger goalie and not necessarily a good old one. Of course, compared with Dwayne Roloson, Roberto Luongo is one of the youngest people in the world.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Despite moving to the hated Habs, outgoing assistant GM Rick Dudley says the Leafs are "so close" to being good. And yet so far.
Vancouver Canucks: Hey that thing Alain Vigneault said about how Roberto Luongo wanted to get traded? Tooooootally didn't mean it like that. C'mon now. Who would think such a thing?
Washington Capitals: Tomas Vokoun is probably done in Washington but wants to stay in the NHL. Gotta think he gets another one-year, cut-rate deal after that season, right?
Winnipeg Jets: The whole "free Jets ticket" controversy continues to rage, even as Manitoba's energy minister doesn't feel bad — or indeed, that there's a conflict of interest — about getting his seats gratis from a gas company.
Gold Star Award
Adam Henrique brought some pretty decent heat for a rookie this weekend, eh?
Minus of the Weekend
I realized yesterday that Cristobal Huet's deal with the Blackhawks expires on July 1, meaning we're out another joke.
Play of the Weekend
I wish I had more weddings to go to this summer just so I could bring the passing on this Devils power play goal.