Blake’s Takes: The Playoffs are Coming

I had a lot of opinions this week: Braden Holtby’s decision to skip the Capitals’ White House ceremony, the playoff format, and an award prediction.

1. Braden Holtby Declines White House Invite

[Photo Credit: Michael Miller]
In the age of athlete empowerment, the NHL has continued to drag behind the other three major leagues. Braden Holtby’s actions this week could set a huge precedent for other players going forward. On Friday, Holtby announced that he would be declining an invitation to visit the White House to celebrate the Capitals Stanley Cup victory. The decision has become commonplace among athletes during Trump’s administration due to many of the offensive and outlandish comments made by President Trump.

Holtby told the Washington Post “I’ve got to stay true to my values, and I’m going to respectfully decline the offer.”

Holtby will be following in the tradition of many high-profile NBA players. Before last year’s NBA finals, both LeBron James and Steph Curry said neither would attend the White House Ceremony if they were to win the finals. The Warriors won the series and stayed true to their word by not attending. Holtby’s teammate, Devante Smith-Pelly, was one of first NHL players to declare they wouldn’t attend. Brett Connolly, another member of the Capitals’ Cup-winning team, also said he would not attend.

I really love to see NHL players feel empowered and make decisions like declining the White House invite. Holtby is a huge name in the NHL. By declining the invite, that should open the door for other players to do so. The most important player to not attend is obviously Smith-Pelly, who is a black Canadian. Trump has made many derogatory comments towards people of color, and Smith-Pelly was the first member of the team to say he wouldn’t attend.

Alex Ovechkin has said he will be attending the ceremony.

2. Unloved Team: Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers are very loved by the media because of their golden boy, Connor McDavid. The Oilers are going to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. That is a damn shame considering they have two of the brightest stars in the NHL, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid continues to outdo himself on the ice. He has tied his career high with 108 points this season. He has scored 38 goals and tied his career high in assists with 70. It’s getting difficult to argue that he isn’t the best player on the planet. Draisaitl has taken a step forward this season, going from All-Star caliber forward to superstar. He has set new career highs in goals, assists, and points (43-52-95). Playing the wing alongside McDavid has definitely helped his numbers.

Outside of those two studs and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton doesn’t have anyone worth writing home about. Nugent-Hopkins has been a good second-line center this season. He hasn’t lived up to the expectations of being a former first-overall pick. This season, he has scored 25 goals and added 36 assists, good for 61 points. There is a huge drop-off in points after Nugent-Hopkins. Darnell Nurse is fourth in team scoring with 37 points and everyone else has 34 points or fewer. Depth and star-power are almost always what separate playoff teams from non-playoff teams. That is apparent in Edmonton.

Edmonton’s goaltending was below average all season; so bad that they had to pluck Mikko Koskinen out of the KHL and sign him to a three-year extension right away. While Koskinen has been serviceable, that’s not good enough to compete in the same division as the Sharks, Flames, and Knights.

If the Oilers want to compete next year, they NEED to upgrade their defensive corps and their goaltending. They need a stud somewhere other than forward on this roster or else they are in danger of wasting away the prime of their two top players. After dismissing Peter Chiarelli in January, hopefully, the new front office can figure out what to do from here.

3. First Award Prediction: Calder Memorial Trophy

[Photo Credit: NHL]
Now that we have reached the end of the season, the frontrunners for each of the NHL’s main awards have solidified themselves. I will pick who I think will win each award and I will cover one award each week. This week will be the Calder Memorial Trophy that is awarded to the league’s best first-year player.

I decided to start with the Calder Trophy because the winner is the most obvious, but I’ll get to that later. My three finalists are, in alphabetical order:

1. Rasmus Dahlin, Defenseman, Buffalo Sabres
2. Elias Pettersson, Forward, Vancouver Canucks
3. Brady Tkachuk, Forward, Ottawa Senators

Dahlin has been as advertised this season It’s unfair to just look at his stats because they don’t tell the entire story. He is an 18-year-old defenseman playing 20+ minutes per game in the NHL. That in itself doesn’t happen very often.  He is third in rookie scoring, with 8 goals, 32 assists, and 40 points. He is also second among rookies in power-play points. Dahlin has also been solid defensively and has really elevated the Sabres as a team.

Pettersson has been the breakout star this season. He had a ton of hype entering the season and has exceeded all expectations. He leads all rookies in scoring, assists, points, powerplay, goals, powerplay points, and game-winning goals. Pettersson already looks to be a better player than teammates Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat. He has dazzled us all this season with his highlight-reel goals and smooth skating. I think he is going to be the next superstar Swede.

It was really a year to be a son of Keith Tkachuk. Brady’s older brother Matt had a breakout season for the Calgary Flames setting a new career high in points. Brady had himself a season that gives Senators fans one reason to have hope. Brady spent all season with the big club after being drafted in the first round out of Boston University last summer. He is fourth among rookies in goals and points. He proved that he definitely belongs in the NHL and has a big future ahead of him.

Predicted Winner: Elias Pettersson is the obvious choice for this year’s Calder Memorial Trophy. He dominated from start to finish and was consistently great offensively. Leading rookies in almost every major category doesn’t hurt his cause. Dahlin came on strong later in the season and might have won the award if he had a better first two months. I think Pettersson was clearly the best rookie in the NHL this season and is a deserving recipient of the award.

4. The Race in the Metro

With the new playoff format, where you finish in your division means a lot. A point or two could mean playing a fierce division rival versus playing a Wild Card team that barely made the playoffs. This is the case in the Metropolitan division. As of early Sunday, the Capitals are in first place in the Metro with 96 points. If the season ended today, they would play the Carolina Hurricanes in the first-round. The Hurricanes are a good team and have racked up 89 points this season. The Islanders and the Penguins are tied for second in the Metro with 93 points.

This is why I hate the current playoff structure. The first reason is that two teams that are so close in points, shouldn’t be playing each other in the first round. If the seeding was done the old way, the Islanders would be the five-seed and would play the Maple Leafs in the first round. The Penguins would be the six-seed and would play the Capitals. For obvious reasons, those are two first-round playoff matchups everyone would love! We wouldn’t be lucky enough to get matchups like that every year, but at least the seeding would even out.

The second reason is that it’s not fair for teams in stronger divisions. This year, the Atlantic division is clearly the strongest division in hockey. The Lighting, Bruins, and Maple Leafs are three of the top four teams in the conference. Under this playoff format, the Bruins would play Toronto in the first round. Under the old format, the Bruins and Maple Leafs would be the two and four seeds and would not play each other in the first round. That is a matchup that should be saved until the second round or the conference finals. It’s not fair to either team to have to play another team of equal caliber so early in the playoffs. It gives not-as-good teams an easier chance to make the second round and makes it harder on better teams. It also screws them out of another round of playoff revenue.

I’m keeping a close eye on the Metro division until the end of the season because a bad week for one team could lead to a much harder playoff opponent and a lot of lost money.

5. Chara Signs Extension

[Photo Credit: NHL]
For those wondering when Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara would retire, it won’t be until after next season. The 42-year-old signed a one-year extension with Boston for a guaranteed $2 million base salary and up to $1.75 in incentives. Chara continues to be the leader and dominant physical presence for a world-beater of a Boston team. I like this deal for Boston. It gives them another year to try and find a replacement for Chara for a low price. For Chara, it gives him at least one more season to try and win a second Stanley Cup ring with the B’s. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

One thought on “Blake’s Takes: The Playoffs are Coming”

  1. As much of a Crapitals hater as I am and enjoy nothing more than them being chastised, I feel compelled to comment. I don’t know why. It’s probably going to get me in trouble. Usually I try to keep politics out of sports because I feel the two have nothing to do with each other (despite what my children’s baseball coaches will allude to). Why? Because my comments generally incite riots because people have differing political opinions, especially in this current ideological cesspool of a world we live in today. So let me preface this by saying that this is purely

    When athletes choose to express their beliefs and opinions and simply continue to go about their day, I have no issues. Why would I? In fact, if they want to use their fame and fortune to fight for a cause, I say go for it. I support them because if you can’t use your fame for good, then what is the point? But, when their time in front of the camera (that is usually reserved for thanking God, their moms, former coaches who helped get make them who they are and maybe even actually playing their proverbial sport) becomes a virtual bully pulpit for rants about how the system is wrong and oppressive, I’m out. Just because the media shoves a camera and microphone in their faces, looking for a sound byte, doesn’t mean they need to give them one. But when someone is passionate about something, how can they help themselves when the reporters are brow beating them into expressing themselves to the point of creating the proverbial mountain out of a mole hill. It’s muck raking at its finest all for the “hot take” or chance to break the exclusive that “so and so is angry about whatever”.

    If a player wants to skip a ceremony that has become a tradition of nationally celebrating a sports teams’ championship, so be it. Why is that news? Let that be on them. It is their choice. I know I’m not famous but no one reported about that time I refused to go to my wife’s cousins house for a birthday party because she just annoys me and I didn’t want to be forced to say something I would regret (unrelated: we didn’t agree politically either). Where were the microphones then? I wish these events would stop being used to make some sort of statement, whether a political one or a social one. But even when that does inevitably go awry, for the love of Morgan Freeman, don’t allow the media to spin it otherwise.

    Every President, Congress, or governing body has said, did, or implied something that has torqued certain people off and they will continue to do so until the end of time. Why? A) Political figures are human beings; B) Political figures are given enormous power with little accountability; C) The media LOVES a good story. This is why politics has become very dangerous (and ultimately why George Washington himself, warned Americans that political parties were inherently evil). People hold their opinions as cold, hard fact and ultimately forget that there could actually be three sides to every story. Emotions boil over and when they do, the media is right there, fanning the flames of the fire storm. The celebratory White House visit isn’t about any of that.

    This visit is a celebration of a teams accomplishments. It is about the hard work that the players put in all year to get to the apex of their craft. They are being acknowledged by the President of the United States and all of America that THEY are the best, regardless of political view point or social stance and regardless of who currently holds the position in the White House. It’s not Clinton; It’s not Bush; It’s not Obama; It’s not even Trump. It’s the President of the freakin’ United States! For 20-30 minutes, the President of the United States is acknowledging and celebrating a teams success. In the NHL case, it’s a celebration of winning the most difficult trophy in all of professional sports. This visit has nothing to do with politics or creating a platform promoting a sweeping mandate for social change.

    In my opinion, the Champions Visit To the White House is not the time for controversy. If someone wants to make it about politics or social injustice, fine. Don’t go, hold their ground, and do whatever they feel they need to do. But make sure they do the right thing and set the record straight with the muck rakers. This is solely their opinion and independent of anyone else. Their opinion is not about the team or the teams’ success. They should stress with the media that other players can have their own opinions. They should keep the focus on them and them alone. If their sound byte is littered with “It’s only my opinion,” what will the reporters have to stoke the fire?

    If 20%, 50%, or even 90% of the players want to go and be celebrated, it doesn’t make any of them racist, sexist, classist, anti-American, rightest, leftist, Socialist, Capitalist (although if they are in the NHLPA they are BAM!), or whatever other -ist people want to label them. We shouldn’t be disappointed in them or appalled at their perceived poor choices. The point was made here that team captain, Alex Ovechkin is going to attend (don’t even start on the Russian collusion crap). I say, so what? Most of the Penguins, including Crosby, attended last year. So what? When the Blackhawks won, Kris Versteeg, Antii Niemi, and Ben Eager DIDN’T go. So what? They aren’t cowards, spineless, trying to make a statement or supporting some kind of agenda. I stick to my opinion that this trip has NOTHING to do with politics, endorsing or even respecting the person holding the office. It has EVERYTHING to do with respecting the office itself, respecting that the leader of the free-world (whoever that may be at the time) wants to acknowledge their success, and it’s a great honor to be celebrated by America.

    (I almost deleted this a few times but I figured, you only live once. Commence the attack.)

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