Tonight at 8 p.m. EST is the big World Junior Hockey Championship final in Saskatoon (and by "big" I mean all of Canada stands still and a handful of American hockey fans tune in, too), while Switzerland has a chance at an underdog medal in the bronze game at 4 p.m. EST. Both games are on the NHL Network in the U.S.; lots of NHL.com coverage here.
A few WJC confessions and a look at the highly competitive tanking/draft lottery standings after the jump...
I actually don't usually care about this tournament, partly because it all feels so ridiculously stacked like the original NBA Olympic Dream Team. (It's like watching the old Soviet Union hockey teams, or the English World Cup team: You only watch to root against the favorite (well, except England hasn't been a favorite since Churchill), because you want to see them cry when they lose. Except with the USSR, a loss made them cry because they'd be shot when the got home, and with Team Canada a loss makes them cry because a whole country that worshiped these teenagers two days prior suddenly calls them failures, which really hurts for the next five months until they become NHL millionaires.)
The other reason I don't like this tournament is that it takes place during the holidays, which are already crazy. (If you get married and you both still have remotely functional relationships with your families, you're signing up for a lifetime of negotiation over how this time of year is spent; if you happen to live within driving distance of both of those families, the daily negotiation becomes a UN summit -- "I'm hungover" usually only gets you out of one in-law event per season before intervention is sought. In this context, it's difficult to explain to Uncle Al-in-law why I need to see an Islanders game on Dec. 26, much less why I need to watch a bunch of teenagers play in a stacked tournament. Just know: Spring romance lasts a nice little while; in-laws last a lifetime. Be careful out there.)
That's a long way of saying I'll probably pay attention tonight. But not to see Canadian kids cry (though that'd be nice) or see American kids say, "Hey, we tried, but that's a good team we lost to." I'm watching because, even though Canada's top defenseman (and a guy I really hoped to see in Bridgeport this spring) is out after a Swiss guy I've never heard of checked him from behind, two other Islanders blueline prospects should play a role tonight. So good luck to Calvin De Haan and Matt Donovan tonight. Please don't get hurt. I say that from the most selfish part of my heart.
Speaking of Islanders prospects, Kiril Petrov was reportedly Russia's captain last night, assuming a role that had been stripped from Nikita "I'm not Josh Bailey" Filatov. Holy Russian hockey, Batman.
But I want more prospects: Below, a look at the Tank Standings at the half-way point in the season. Because you know you want to look.
Tanks Aren't Deployed Yet, but Purchase Orders Have Been Placed
I know a full-on Tank for Taylor Hall job would please a few commenters here (and untold number of lurkers; yes, that's a shot at you lurkers). But if you want to get nuanced about it, I don't think there are many of us who would complain about seeing a Taylor Hall or a Cam Fowler [or insert your favorite teenager here] in an Islanders uniform next year. The difference is what level of humiliation we're prepared to deal with to get there.
For example, last year's plague of injuries made last place more palatable. The team's
goaltending on-ice performance was bad, yes, but if my team is going to rely on Thomas Pock for half a season, then yes, I accept the #1 overall pick with grateful, wide-open arms. Frankly, I deserve it.
This year, everybody wants an entertaining show -- even the tankers, I can tell, don't you try to lie to me -- but many of us wouldn't mind if during the final month of the season, perhaps during a personal vacation when we aren't exposed to the details, we wouldn't mind if non-catastrophic events would conspire to maybe have the Islanders lose several tie-breakers and end up several spots below where they were most of the season, and maybe that spot guaranteed a top-five pick in the draft.
If Gilbert Godfrey* were describing it, he might say: "Now suppose I were to just momentarily take Mark Streit and have the league suspend him five games for something ridiculous and unfair that would only get Dion Phaneuf a small fine? And perhaps, what if we said that John Tavares got a non-threatening form of mono or something that maybe took him away for a week or two? And maybe our goalies don't get injured, but pass around a March flu bug -- nothing to ugly, but just enough to make a difference in a tight race? What do you say? What's a little accidental tanking among friends? It never hurt anyone."
* I actually hate that guy. Not sure why I used him, other than I can hear it working in his voice.
So the joy for tankers this year is that the race is wide open. The Islanders today stand both under NHL quasi-.500 and just one spot (and three points) behind a playoff spot. They are one of 10 teams within six points of 29th place. (Carolina, an additional seven points behind, is taking this thing to a whole nother level.) Anything can happen, and injuries and such will likely affect separation. The Islanders may benefit (or suffer, from a tanking perspective) from having only one team leader go to the Olympics and probably not stick around for the whole tournament.
Anyway, here's how things look today. While the important thing is points, percentage of points won and 5-on-5 goals for/goals against ratio is a nice quick look at how teams are doing after an uneven number of games:
|Team||GP||Pts.||Record||Pts. %||5/5 GF/GA|
Philly not only looks best in this group, but their 5-on-5 goal differential -- as it has all season -- looks like they're more likely to pull away. Edmonton, amusingly, is going back to the drawing board this week practice. (Pity that won't fix their goaltending.) St. Louis is talented and just fired their coach, which might turn things around. Columbus is talented but has yet to fire their coach, who might not be able to turn them around. The rest are usual suspects; if Atlanta doesn't sort out the Kovalchuk situation, they may join this group.
But this should be the contender group for the next little while here. I'm not advocating an outright tank watch, because that's not how I'd best enjoy the second half of the season. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to take a peek every now and then.