Capitals chose logic over emotion with Spencer Carbery hire

Spencer Carbery most recently served as an assistant for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As the NHL’s regular season ended, the coaching carousel opened up. Just like in every other recent instance in every sport, trendy names pop up. Some latch on, some don’t. In college football, it was Brent Venables for a while. In the NFL, Eric Bieniemy will be that guy until he’s a head coach. And in the NHL this season, it was Spencer Carbery. And he ended up with a team that was one of the league’s trendiest for more than a decade before this season’s slip out of the playoffs, the Washington Capitals. The nation’s capital is welcomed back immediately to non-Alex Ovechkin relevancy.

Caps had a rough go this season

The Capitals were banged up for all of 2022-23, with the six players remaining from the team’s 2018 Stanley Cup victory suiting up together four times. Out of 82, 4.8 percent. Awful. You get the idea. To have an organization’s identity be dimmed for that much of a season jumps the shark, and Washington was still in playoff contention until the final two weeks of the season. That shouldn’t be celebrated, but it should be understood that it’s not exactly a rebuild at Capital One Arena. The team needs to get faster, younger, and grittier. Not that ugly Flyers mascot, but more willing to do the grunt work that doesn’t appear on the stat sheet that the team thrived at five years ago. Younger and faster includes behind the bench, with Carbery being 17 years the junior of his predecessor Peter Laviolette.

Not the name I expected, but that’s OK

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Jeff Halpern needed to be the team’s next head coach, a prediction mixed with hope that didn’t come to fruition. And as a D.C.-area native, I’m completely alright with being wrong with my crystal ball. Namely, because Carbery was a name I rejected from the jump. Why would the NHL’s most-valued name to be the next to lead an organization that has the pick of the litter come to Washington, with playoff teams that just let go of their coach, like the Rangers? Even with Carbery’s history with both of Washington’s minor league affiliates — as the head coach of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, and as a player and assistant coach for the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays — returning home isn’t exactly easy or the right move. Wayne Gretzky should never coach the Oilers. Josh Heupel is making a great legacy at Tennessee.

Carbery’s knowledge of the organization is the best maraschino cherry on top ever. He’s familiar with the ins and outs of the American Hockey League level, which will be key in developing the next generation of Capitals. Of the six Washington players at the core of the team who won the Stanley Cup, the youngest is Tom Wilson, who turned 29 in March. The most notable duo of those six have a combined age of 72 — Ovechkin and Backstrom. Two future Hall of Famers that it’ll be critical for Carbery to get the most of. Ovechkin’s relationship with Carbery, in particular, will be key, as his chase of Gretzky’s goal-scoring record will be the team’s biggest storyline, minus a deep playoff run, until Washington’s captain retires. Ovie is 72 goals behind Gretzky (894 to 822), and every puck that crosses the goal line matters more than anyone else in the league.

This is the simple, can’t-miss hire Washington needed and didn’t mess up, going logic over emotion with the hire. As nice as it would’ve been to have Halpern lead the team, and Carbery could throw a bunch of money at him to make him an assistant coach, one of the two has been a head coach before. And it’s not Halpern. Washington hasn’t won a playoff series since its five-game Stanley Cup victory over Vegas in 2018. Now, that streak looks closer to ending with Carbery’s hire. And the rest of the league’s franchises with a vacancy at the helm will have to settle for their second choice. 

What are the Florida Panthers, really?

The Florida Panthers are in the Stanley Cup finals

The NHL will be more than happy to hook their star to an NBA narrative, so while all the fans north of the border bitch about a Stanley Cup Final between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights, the offices probably aren’t upset about getting linked through dual South Florida 8-seeds playing for a championship. The more shots of Jimmy Butler wearing a Matthew Tkachuk jersey, the better.

The easy-to-reach storyline, so naturally the one that most hockey observers will be grabbing, is that the Panthers making a coaching change after a Presidents’ Trophy campaign last year was a genius move that remade the team into a playoff-ready, defensive, grind-it-out swamp monster. But is that really the case? Well no, and we’ll get to why.

First, it’s probably best to once again underline that the NHL standings are warped and aren’t the full truth, thanks to their dumbass overtime and shootout rules. These are coin flips, gimmicks, and don’t tell us much other than who got a 3-on-1 rush at the right time for no reason other than funsies. Basically, when we separate out the playoff teams in April, all the league has really done is created a group of 16 that doesn’t differ all that much from each other. Thanks, salary cap.

Comparing last year’s Panthers to this year’s team

So when comparing the Panthers this year to last, yes, they finished with 30 points less overall. But they only had two fewer regulation wins this year. Last season, they won 16 games beyond the 60 minutes, far and away the most in the league. Yes, they had the most points, but they had the sixth-most regulation wins. On the flip side, their goal difference was massively better last season (+94 to +17), which can’t be ignored.

Digging in metrically, the narrative falls apart even more. The idea that the Panthers were too open last year as a sweet cheese, good-time boy review doing a dance interpretation of the O.K. Corral and are now a lockdown unit doesn’t hold up under any numbers. Last year, the Panthers gave up 2.46 expected goals against per 60 minutes at even strength. This year it’s 2.69. In the playoffs, they’re giving up 2.80 xGA, after last year’s 2.74. If you want to really get into the weeds, last year’s second-round pulverizing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning was seen as proof that the Panthers were just too easy to play against, whereas their shutdown of the Bruins and Leafs was evidence that they “get” playoff hockey now. In those four games against the Bolts, they gave up 2.60 xGA. Against the Bruins this spring? 2.59. Against the Leafs? 2.58. Could it be the difference is Sergei Bobrovksy’s .935? Or maybe not having Andre Vasilevskiy throw a .981 at them? Couldn’t be, could it?

Throw in Matthew Takchuk shooting 18 percent for six weeks and you probably have the formula. Certainly swapping out last year’s leading scorer for Tkachuk took a fair amount of balls, though in a vacuum pretty much everyone would have told you Tkachuk is a better player than Jonathan Huberdeau. It just worked out so well.

The Panthers are just an example of hockey sequencing. They put up the same numbers for two seasons, but get fewer results than they did last year simply because the goals are in a different order than they were, with fewer of them coming after 60 minutes to skew the overall results. That won’t stop everyone throwing bouquets at Maurice should they get the four wins against Vegas in the next two weeks, and Maurice should get enough credit, I guess, for at least not getting in the way too much to prevent the Panthers from doing pretty much what they did last season. Maybe they do it in a different way, but it ends up the same. If this team was talented enough to be on top of the standings last year, then it’s certainly talented enough to be in the Final now.

What does it mean for the Stanley Cup Final?

What does that mean for the Final? The Panthers had 19 fewer points in the regular season than the Knights, but two more regulation wins in a far tougher division and conference. Both teams have depth, but the Panthers have the sharp ends that the Knights don’t have, with Tkachuk and Bobrovsky both playing the way they are. And maybe Maurice will figure out, which Dallas’s Pete Deboer didn’t, to try and break out of the defensive zone in another way other than up the boards. Certainly, with Brandon Montour, Aaron Ekblad, Gustav Forsling they can do more than that.

And should they, it’ll be called a miracle and an incredible run of a team that needed the Pittsburgh Penguins to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks at home in the last week of the season even to get into the playoffs. When really all it is is last year’s team getting to roll the dice again, because that’s what hockey is.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.

Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars haven’t thrown in the towel yet, unlike their NBA counterparts

The Stars are at least putting up a fight

We could be breaking out the brooms for all four NHL and NBA conference finals. The Denver Nuggets finished off the LeBron-LeLakers and the Miami Heat will eventually put the Celtics out of their misery on the hardcourt side of things.

Neither series of the conference final NBA bubble rematches has been close. That’s in huge contrast to the final four on ice. All four Stanley Cup semifinals of sorts have gone to a fourth period. It’s been even, with Vegas and Florida finding the back of the net twice a piece and two wins away from the finals. For large portions of each series, the teams down 0-2, Dallas and Carolina, have had the better of play and can feel hard-done that they didn’t take either of the first pair of contests against their current foe. While all hope should be lost for the Celtics, the Hurricanes and Stars shouldn’t be counted on for a tee time in a week or so just yet.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been the difference maker for Florida

In the case of Florida-Carolina, the difference maker is Sergei Bobrovsky. Without the Panthers’ goaltender standing on his head, both games in Raleigh are won by the home team. Carolina has the better roster on paper. There’s a physical defense, tenacious offense, and a solid goaltender in Antti Raanta. All of it has been negated by Bobrovsky. Matthew Tkachuk might’ve scored both game-winners of the Eastern Conference Finals thus far, but he’s been mostly quiet in regulation since the end of the series win over Boston. Outside of the Game 1 marathon between Carolina and Florida, a total of four minutes, 36 seconds of overtime has been played in NHL conference finals, with Tkachuk’s Game 2 winner taking the longest — 1:51 into Saturday’s overtime. The sudden-death nature of the NHL’s overtime has allowed the balance to tip ever so slightly in the Golden Knights and Panthers’ directions, while on the ice, it’s nearly even between all teams. In The Association, nothing has been close to even.

It’ll never happen, but the figurative towel being thrown in for Los Angeles or Boston basically already happened in both series in the Game 2 fourth-quarter effort for the Nuggets and whatever Game 3 was for Boston. In a Western Conference where lower seeds were filled with the longer-tenured stars, the ol’ No. 1 seed will walk to the NBA Finals. The best team since the Play-In Tournament in the East has been the Heat, despite barely making it into the postseason. Any tag as the No. 8 seed categorically misrepresents how Miami has played over the last month. Both Joe Mazzulla and Darvin Ham gave motivational press conference quotes about their teams having enough fight to win four in a row. Who actually believed that claptrap? What from those seven losses between the Lakers or Celtics actually inspires any kind of faith in consecutive victories?

Contrast that fight with how Dallas and Carolina have displayed. In Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, the Stars had the crowd in Vegas essentially silent for 50 minutes. And Game 1 was the same for Carolina, with that fan base engaged for seven full periods. Winning four of five at this stage of the postseason is tough, but not impossible. Only four teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 hole, making Monday’s game in Sunrise critical for the Hurricanes and Tuesday’s contest a must-win on home ice for the Stars. At least Carolina and Dallas have a chance to advance, unlike the Lakers and Celtics.

Jonathan Marchessault’s natural hat trick cements Golden Knights as Stanley Cup favorites

Jonathan Marchessault (left) scores his second goal of the second period against the Edmonton Oilers in Game Six of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Edmonton Oilers’ potential to turn back the clock officially stopped on Sunday night. Despite having two of the top five players in the league, a deep playoff run wasn’t in the cards, again. Three straight uninterrupted goals came in the second period off the stick of Jonathan Marchessault in the Golden Knights’ series-ending victory over the Oilers, sending Edmonton home before the Western Conference Finals. The final score was 5-2 in Canada, a 3-goal difference, with Marchessault scoring the game-tier, game-winner, and the final non-empty-net goal of the series.

What’s a natural hat trick?

The natural hat trick is a rare feat, no doubt, as only 8 percent of NHL games feature one player scoring three goals. And only a handful of those are scored without another player for either team finding the back of the net. And with the competitiveness of the playoffs, it’s even more rare, with the most recent before Sunday coming last season, when Evander Kane pulled it off against Calgary. Before that, it was Sidney Crosby against Philadelphia in 2018. The last one in any NHL game belonged to the Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov in March.

I made the prediction a dozen days ago that the victor between Vegas and Edmonton would lift the Stanley Cup. And I feel even more confident in that selection now that the series is over. Florida isn’t winning it. Carolina will likely be the league’s runner-up. And whoever comes out of Game 7 between Dallas and Seattle doesn’t have the depth to keep up with the Golden Knights. Vegas has only been playing in the NHL since 2017 and have made the playoffs five of six seasons in the franchise’s history. This is also the Golden Knight’s fourth time being one of the final four teams standing since its inception. Vegas rode the NHL’s bizarre expansion rules to take a solid player from every other NHL team to bolster their original campaign, the team’s only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. And that trip was in its first season, where the Golden Knights got blitzed by the Capitals in five.

Golden Knights’ route to the Cup

Last year was Vegas’ only season ending in 82 games. That disappointment gave way to a re-tool of the roster and coaching staff. The Golden Knights couldn’t rely on the expansion draft’s momentum to win any longer, rules that were changed for the Kraken, which makes Seattle’s postseason run this year more impressive in their sophomore campaign. The new blood is so evenly spread that Edmonton and Winnipeg played glorified games of pick your poison. And there was too much arsenic in their Tim Horton’s. Marchessault’s natural hat trick was just the finishing touch. His first two goals were tap-ins on back-to-back shifts. Before the second period ended, a 4-on-3 wrist shot from the left faceoff circle beat Oilers’ goaltender Stuart Skinner clean.

Vegas still has the aura of the new kids on the block for the NHL and yet will face the actual neophytes or a team that’s been to a Stanley Cup Final more recently than it is in the Western Conference Finals. And I’m not looking past the Kraken or Stars, but what has either team shown in the postseason thus far that can hang with what the Golden Knights have displayed? The answer is simple: nothing. And for the first time since the maiden voyage, Vegas should head back to the Stanley Cup Finals, which will make all the difference. 

Which sport has a clear-cut GOAT?

Jockey Ron Turcotte walks Secretariat towards the winner’s circle after they captured the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes before a crowd of 70,000 fans at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., June 9, 1973.

It’s a conversation that’ll lead to a fight over drinks and is a common one among sports fans. Who is the greatest of all time in their given sport? But which sport has the easiest GOAT to figure out isn’t discussed nearly as much. As far as I’m concerned, there are two options: Hockey and horse racing. Wayne Gretzky vs. Secretariat in a grudge match between The Great One and the streak-breaker. My choice is the athlete with four legs. Secretariat was more dominant in horse racing than Gretzky on ice.

We’re not separating genders here as three-year-old stallions and fillies are both eligible to compete in horse racing’s Triple Crown. Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps are two of Maryland’s greatest exports and against their own gender, GOAT status is easily achieved. Put them head-to-head and it’s a tough call and therefore not as clear who is the overall monarch of the pool. As far as contemporaries go for Secretariat on the race track, there’s one: Man o’ War, who did finish with a better winning percentage and ran in one more race than Secretariat. Man o’ War’s 20-1 record, compared to Secretariat’s 16-3-1, looks impressive, but there’s just one problem: Man o’ War didn’t win the Triple Crown. Without horse racing’s most important race of every year on the resume, it’s void. And in a sport as niche as horse racing, those transcendent moments need to pop off the page to be the GOAT. Secretariat’s performance at the 1973 Belmont Stakes is as superhuman as any in sport and tops any individual game or season effort for Gretzky.

Gretzky has more contemporaries in hockey as well. Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Alex Ovechkin, Dominik Hasek, and Bobby Orr all could have arguments to the throne. Yes, Gretzky would be the pick of any smart hockey fan, as Secretariat is a no-brainer for horse racing. We’d need to nitpick at Gretzky’s impressive resume to debate GOATs in other sports and when truly putting the magnifying glass on The Great One, holes exist. He’s a nine-time NHL MVP, including a streak of eight in a row from 1980-87. We’ll never see that again. And his production will forever go unmatched due to the style of play of today’s NHL. Gretzky wouldn’t dominate at the same level in today’s NHL. It’d look a lot like Connor McDavid, which is nothing to scoff at. But who is making the case for McDavid as the best hockey player we’ve ever seen this early in their career like people were for Gretzky? A reborn Secretariat looks exactly the same as the horse who still holds the fastest times in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. It’s seen as a major accomplishment when any other horse gets close to Secretariat’s times.

Secretariat vs. Gretzky

Who’s the greater GOAT? Gretzky or Secretariat | Agree to Disagree
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Who’s the greater GOAT? Gretzky or Secretariat | Agree to Disagree

No one becomes a GOAT without help from teammates and Gretzky’s comrades prop him up more than Secretariat. I know we’re talking about a team sport against an individual discipline. So let me focus on jockey Ron Turcotte for a moment compared to Luc Robitaille, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, and more. Turcotte was an accomplished jockey before Secretariat. He was aboard the winner of each Triple Crown race once before the 1973 Triple Crown, including two in 1972. And after Secretariat, he never won a Triple Crown race again. Gretzky is a four-time Stanley Cup champion, but didn’t win one after 1988. His final 11 seasons led to zero championships. Where’s that hole for Secretariat? Every big moment, the GOAT of horse racing stepped up. Gretzky couldn’t win a Stanley Cup outside of Edmonton and Secretariat won the three most important horse races of every year at three different lengths in three different states. One GOAT was able to adjust to the circumstances around him and one wasn’t despite any personal production. And that’s the deciding factor. 

Jeff Halpern needs to be the Washington Capitals’ next head coach

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper (r.) talks to assistant coach Jeff Halpern (l.) during the second period of a game against the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 1, 2022.

Five years since the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory. Zero playoff series won since. Two head coaches, one internal promotion, and an experienced outsider since becoming champions didn’t pan out. And with one of the oldest cores in the NHL, combined with the rest of the league outpacing the Capitals with players Washington traded away to load up from previous postseason campaigns, the franchise is in a tricky spot as a complete overhaul isn’t possible. The biggest crossover storyline in hockey will be in the nation’s capital until Alex Ovechkin retires or passes Wayne Gretzky on the all-time goal-scoring list. The Great One’s at 894 and Ovie’s at 822. It took Caps’ captain 122 games to go from 750 goals to his current mark, or about 0.6 goals per game. Balancing the great chase and the team’s overall resurgence at once will need a master juggler.

If only there was a Potomac, Maryland native who spent seven seasons playing for the Capitals and has been an assistant coach for the NHL’s model franchise for the last five years out there. Of course, I’m being facetious, Jeff Halpern is the DMV insider that would keep the Capitals’ fan base engaged with his hire. Halpern was linked with the job, beyond fan fiction, when analyst Pierre LeBrun reported the Capitals planned to interview him as part of the process to hire their next head coach. He’s got the chops from behind the bench and if you want to pick on Halpern’s lack of head-coaching experience to why Ted Leonsis shouldn’t hire him, fine, but find me a candidate that would come to The District that isn’t a little flawed. The Capitals are a much bigger work in progress to become an elite franchise again than many who rock the red want to believe.

Halpern has already been a part of the organization

Halpern has also been Ovechkin’s teammate at two different points in his career, as the promising rookie right after the NHL lockout in 2004-05 and again in 2011-12 when Ovechkin was the best player in the league.

Halpern’s been through adversity with Ovechkin as the captain of the Capitals. He’s been in those locker rooms. Who’s better suited to help guide the aging superstar, who’ll be 38 the next time he plays in an NHL game, than someone who has already played beside him? Washington is Ovechkin’s team regardless of who is at the helm. Why take a path of resistance when someone who knows how to specifically coach the soon-to-be-greatest goal-scorer of all time is out there?

Washington will do their due diligence and interview a bunch of candidates. Whoever they bring in will be more of a chapter starter than the last three hires. Barry Trotz was brought in to capitalize on Ovechkin before he turned 35, which he did and then promptly left. Todd Reirden was in the right place at the right time and proved to not be ready to coach an NHL team and Peter Laviolette’s system didn’t work no matter how many injuries the Capitals had this season. And hiring someone who the franchise would have more patience with is key. Then how better than a sweetheart hire of Halpern?

Halpern was the first Capital to ever hail from the D.C. area and purely trying to honor the team’s history isn’t part of the reason he’s such a strong candidate. Washington has done that in the past with Adam Oates and Dale Hunter, and couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs. Times are different now with the unique set of circumstances surrounding the team. And the credentials of either of those men would make a ton of sense now. Who’s the most like them? Jeff Halpern. 

The Stanley Cup will be lifted by the Oilers-Golden Knights victor

The winner of this series will win it all

Among a final eight that feels like a changing of the guard in hockey more than most years, with old standbys proving their age by exiting the ice until the fall, the duo of the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Edmonton Oilers stand out like a sore thumb. Not necessarily because they don’t also represent the new guard of the NHL, but because a franchise that started six seasons ago is now an old head, combined with a team that hasn’t been consistently relevant in the NHL for three decades, just after Wayne Gretzky was traded away. And now, the Oilers star power, combined with an amazing start to the franchise in Sin City makes their Western Conference semifinal the can’t-miss series of the round. And I’ll take it a step further.

Winner takes all

Whoever emerges victorious from the best-of-7 series is winning the Stanley Cup. You can count out every team from the Eastern Conference, as great as they are, because New Jersey, Toronto, and Florida don’t have the deep-round experience. And Carolina, the only team that could be considered an old head from the East, will fall on its face eventually. In the other Western Conference semifinal are Dallas and Seattle, which both don’t have the depth to keep up with the rest of the remaining teams. So, the only logical choices left are the Golden Knights and Oilers. Let me tell you why.

Vegas, baby!

The Golden Knights didn’t have a player finish the regular season with more than 66 points. That’s typically a sign of an awful team with no stars and a dreadful offense. Combine that with winning the Pacific Division and being the only team to advance to the conference semifinals in less than six games and the concoction is a mystery. Yet with Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault, and Chandler Stephenson, Vegas is loaded and has been for much of its existence. Stephenson has been involved with Vegas since its opening season when he was on the Capitals, who defeated the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final to end the latter’s inaugural season. He’s the young, up-and-comer that made sense for Washington to get rid of in re-tooling for another run at the Cup. Stephenson has turned into the exact kind of player that makes the Capitals’ front office look dumb for not choosing someone else to throw overboard.

Excellence in Edmonton

Now onto the anthesis in the team with the most top-level star power in the NHL, the Oilers. Four players had more than 82 points on the team. The fifth-highest-point getters on Edmonton — Darnell Nurse, and Tyson Barrie — both had 43 points. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Zach Hyman will as a quartet decide the series one way or another. If the Golden Knights can’t stop them, have fun at the Bellagio. If Vegas can slow them down at all, there’s a chance for it to advance despite plenty of momentum behind how Edmonton looked to close out its first-round series against the Kings. Either way, the combination the Oilers or Golden Knights present to the other six will be too much. Congratulations to Las Vegas for winning its first Stanley Cup in franchise history or it’ll be a return to the mountaintop for one of the franchises that brought hockey to a greater audience. 

Completely blowing it in the first round is good for business, history says

It sucks, but it might not be so bad long-term?

The loyalists in the overpriced seats at Boston’s TD Garden for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference first-round should’ve-been shellacking between the hometown Bruins and barely made it into the postseason Florida Panthers went from agitated, to full-on bittah in booing the 135-point getters in the regular season. The record 65 regular-season wins, 135 points, and the 22-point margin to the second-best pre-playoffs team made a series against the Panthers look like a cakewalk on paper. And after Carter Verhaeghe’s overtime wrist shot beat replacement goaltender Jeremy Swayman clean over his left shoulder and under the crossbar, David Pastrňák, and his friends can start practicing his golf swing. And if history is any indicator, that’s a good thing for Boston.

No, I’m not drunk on Sam Adams or whatever was thrown into the Habah during the Revolutionary War. The only recent example that compares to this year’s Bruins’ squad was the 2018-19 Lightning. Tampa Bay had 128 points to end the regular season, 21 better than the next-best team. The Lightning finished the regular season and their overall campaign with 62 victories. That’s right, for those who actually were/are drunk on Sam Adams, cheers, and welcome to Deadspin! Also, Tampa Bay was swept in the first round by the lowly Blue Jackets. And most of those four games weren’t close. The next time Tampa lost a playoff series was just over 10 months ago. Two straight Stanley Cup victories and a runner-up finish to the Avalanche followed the extreme disappointment. And Boston was one lucky bounce a few times during the series from bouncing the Panthers from the postseason.

A look into Boston’s future

There’s no reason Boston can’t replicate Tampa’s model, even with the uncertainty as to whether Patrice Bergeron has played his final NHL game, and any questions in net. The Bruins loaded up ahead of the trade deadline and keeping the core of the team together should be easy. And whatever pieces move on, there aren’t many more attractive cities to play in for an NHL player. The postseason is a crapshoot as is. Going to a team nearly guaranteed to participate in the playoff festivities next season should allow Boston to bring in any player it wants. One of the players the Bruins need to keep is defender Dmitry Orlov, who was acquired at the trade deadline. Orlov’s slap shot late in the third period grazed the shoulder blade of Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and the post. Maybe a centimeter in a different direction and Boston takes a late-two-goal lead and it advances to face Toronto in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Boston’s first-round exit is shocking in a postseason that feels like a changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference when three of the four teams remaining on its side of the bracket could be Florida, Toronto, and New Jersey after Monday evening, just as everyone predicted. The Bruins not crapping their pants would keep things the same, a year after Tampa also exited the playoffs in the first round, and old-standards Washington, and Pittsburgh didn’t even advance to the postseason. As gut-wrenching as the Bruins’ loss on Sunday might be short-term, it’s proven to yield great results in the long run.

It’s never enough for Rob Manfred and his greedy pig bosses

This man hates baseball

You’d think after negotiating a CBA, before which Rob Manfred got to live out his lifelong dream of canceling baseball games, where the owners got a new level of luxury tax penalties, didn’t really have to pay younger players all that much more than the pennies they already were, and certainly didn’t suffer any major changes that would cost the owners more money or restrict their franchise values, they and their stooge might just sit and grin and watch the money roll right in.

Silly rabbit.

At the Sports Business Journal’s World Congress of Sports, where he was fielding questions from Dan Beckerman and Peter Guber — so just rename this fucking thing A Stupefying Collection of Assholes — Manfred answered one of the questions posed to him by saying that having no limits on contract lengths was transferring money to older players and not leaving any for younger players, who make up the majority of today’s stars. Because teams only have a certain amount they can spend, once a highly paid player goes off the boil he’s immovable, and hence those who might deserve a bigger paycheck can’t get it from teams that are carrying these anchors (hasn’t stopped the Padres, who are still paying Eric Hosmer, mind).

Let’s be clear: The only obstacle keeping young players from getting paid more is the people Manfred works for, and that’s the owners. The San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels have had no problem handing out long-term deals and finding more money for other players too. Same goes for the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners and a couple of others to boot. We know there’s more than enough money there for everyone, they just horde it simply because they can.

This is a management tactic as old as the goddamn hills, trying to pit one section of the labor force against another to keep them from uniting against management. Make it seem like those who have earned their long-term deals are the villains, and suddenly maybe the younger players might be receptive to listening to a cap on players they perceive aren’t them.

When is it enough for these dickbags? They get to run a multi-billion dollar industry, the value of their franchises has multiplied four or five times and will only continue to roll over as much, they’ve got essentially a salary cap in place, they’re four years from this CBA ending and they’re already got their hatchet man setting targets for a way they can grab a little more.

And if they want to, when 2027 rolls around, they could lock the players out long enough to get it. Only a shit-for-brains like Manfred would take the good buzz baseball has these days thanks to the rule changes, quicker pace of play and game times, and the shine from the WBC highlighting some of the game’s best players in a new way and toss it into the nearest pig pen he could find.

I’d say I hope someone’s lawn mower goes rogue one day and runs him over from the knee down, but these jackasses would just find another.

Great start, Leafs

Well, that couldn’t have gone much worse for the Leafs.

In a pivotal series that will decide the future of an entire organization and shape a lot of careers, the Toronto Maple Leafs got fustigated by the Tampa Bay Lightning to the tune of a 7-3 scoreline that wasn’t that close. Even when they had managed to pull within 3-2, they immediately tossed up their lunch and then completely melted down when Michael Bunting decided he could do one better than Draymond Green in the chucklehead department. Hopefully he’ll receive a suspension as well for that cheap shot at the worst possible time. But everything is at the worst possible time for the Leafs.

There’s still a very long way to go, and the Leafs will know from last year an emphatic Game 1 win guarantees nothing. But they may already, or should be, asking themselves if a team can really be serious about a Stanley Cup when it is starting Luke Schenn, the husk of Mark Giordano, Justin Holl, Jake McCabe, and TJ Brodie on defense with a straight face. They were slow and ponderous and beat all over the ice to loose pucks, because they have the collective mobility of syrup.

The Leafs’ forwards can get them out of a lot of jams, and it’s looking like they’ll have to.

Blue Shirts win

Elsewhere, the New Jersey Devils learned there’s a difference between playing fast and being in a rush. New Jersey is faster than the N.Y. Rangers, and they tried to manifest that against the Rangers by trying to force turnovers above their blue line or on the forecheck But they were in such a hurry they were manic with the puck for the first period, left some gaps when they turned it over, and they didn’t get the big saves that Igor Shesterkin gave the Rangers. Once they settled down at the end of the first and through the second period they were far the better team, but by then it was too late. Give Shesterkin a lead he can sit on and it becomes quite the mountain. Lesson learned.

Max Muncy crushes one

Meant to get to this yesterday. I know Max Muncy crushes this ball, Dodger Stadium ops, but there are a few people in the bleachers who might be interested in catching it, and turning the lights off ups the odds of them getting some seams imprinted on their dome by like 700 percent:

I know L.A. loves its dark bars, but try not to turn your ballpark into one when there’s a baseball hurtling at your patrons. First rule of business school.

To follow Sam’s addled thoughts in real-time, follow him on Twitter @Felsgate.