Saturday, March 24, 2012

Playoff Preferences

As I was getting this blog up and running, a fellow hockey fan on a message board I post on posited me the following question: Does the addition of Alexander Raduslov to the Nashville Predators change which team I'd want the Red Wings match up up against in the first round of the playoffs? 

The short answer: No

The only way I’d want the Red Wings bracket to change is if it would put us up against another geographically close team. While certainly St. Louis has been playing like a powerhouse the latter half of the season, Vancouver and Chicago are very dangerous teams, and San Jose always seems to give the Red Wings trouble, there is not a team in the league that I don’t believe the Red Wings can match up against and beat if they bring their game. As I commented in my NYR review, the Wings were without their best defenseman, their leading scorer, and their All-Star goaltender, and they kept one of the best teams in the East and in the NHL to one goal in regulation and took them to overtime. That’s not counting the other solid role filling players the Wings were also without.

There are things about every team that are challenging and must be considered. The Sedins, the Thorton Line, Shea Weber, cracking St. Louis’ goaltending, etc. And while Alexandria Rabbitsoft is another challenge to consider, I don’t see him carrying the Predators to victory. The biggest concern for me is travel. Players and teams can be matched with your players, your team strategy. What you can't match up against is travel time, jet lag, time zone changes and exhaustion.

I have a bachelor’s degree in history and I can tell you with great authority that it wasn’t just the winter cold or the scarcity of food that drove the Donner Party to cannibalism, it was Covered Wagon Lag. The following is an actual journal entry of George Donner. 
Look at this guy. No way he
passes a TSA inspection

“March 10, 1867: I’m so tired. So very tired. I keep waking up at the wrong time, and I’m unable to adjust for the changing of time. I specifically asked to be bumped to a first class wagon, but here I am stuck in a Coach. I swear to Christ almighty if the little bastard behind me kicks the back of my bench one more time, I’m going to kill him and eat him just to prove a point. Shouldn’t be bringing kids on a cross country wagon voyage anyway. Someone had better bring me my bag of peanuts now before I lose it”

Before I get into throwing numbers at you, I’d like to point out that this doesn’t just hold true for Detroit, but it also holds true for Nashville, Chicago, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Jose (and Anaheim, Columbus and Phoenix if they made the playoffs). So while I will approach this from the perspective of my home team, other Western Conference teams are in the same boat.

To travel to and from San Jose or Los Angeles, the Detroit Red Wings would traverse roughly 2000 miles. To put that vast distance into a perspective you can understand, that’s about the distance from Detroit to Los Angeles! Sorry, I’ll give you a minute to compose yourself after I blew your friggin’ mind. 

That’s a day and a half drive, not accounting for bathroom stops, eating, sleeping and killing a hooker in Vegas. Flight time is roughly 4 to 5 hours, depending on weather, air traffic conditions, and whether or not there are Samuel L. Jackson and/or snakes on your plane. And you have to make that trip after having engaging in one of the most intense, physical demanding and mentally draining activities one can engage in: commentary and interviews by Larry Murphy.

No, Murph, I don't care about $1 Hot Dog Night. Nobody
cares about that besides you...
Now granted, it’s not very likely that Ken Holland is going to go all Rachel Phelps on the Red Wings and force them to go from game to game in a shitty bus (+5 Internets for anyone who gets the reference without Googling it). But if the puck drops at 7:30, game ends between 9:30 and 10:00, post-game interviews, work outs, meetings, shower, autographs, getting to the plane, plane takes off, 5 hours through the air. Let’s say all that takes 7 hours. So you think it’s 5 am when you land, and maybe you slept a bit on the plane, or maybe you couldn’t sleep because Mike Babcock sleeps with his eyes open and you feel the icy grip of death around your neck. But guess what, only 2 am! While that sounds super, and it’s nice to get the extra sleep, your body and head are groggy and confused. Plus, you’re in Los Angeles.

So you play two hockey games there, and assuming the series is still going, you get to make the trip back. Right around the time your mind and body has adjusted to the time zone changes, you get to do it all over again. Only instead, you take off at midnight, and you think you’re going to land at 5am, but you don’t, you land at 8 am. Oh joy! And this is after you’ve played 4 hockey games in about a week and a half. And this is after 82 games of this kind of stuff from October to April. It’s no wonder why by the end of his career Chris Chelios looked like cross between a zombie and a mummy. And drunk.

Meanwhile, if we go to and from Nashville, we’re traveling about 550 miles, a nine hour drive or an hour and 15 minutes flight, and staying within our own time zone. That’s way easier to manage. I suppose you could make the argument that it’d be better to do the shit travel early in the playoffs when you’re still fresh, and leave the shorter trips for later on. And I will admit there’s some merit to that argument. And certainly I want to avoid getting knocked out in the 2nd round by the San Jose fuckin’ Sharks for the 3rd year in a row. But I think the real preference would be playing Nashville, then Chicago, then St. Louis and then whatever Eastern Conference team is closest to us and sucks the most.

Pictured: An obvious advantage.
And I didn't mention Toronto, because..
why would I?
Compare the Western Conference travel to the Eastern Conference travel and you’ll see why a re-organization is so badly needed. New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Washington are all close enough that their respective victory/loss riots could easily join together to form one big super riot. Montreal, Carolina and Ottawa are kind of far away, and Tampa is a bit of a trek, but all within the same time zone at least.

Does the addition of a dynamic, prima donna goal scorer in Nashville change the dynamic of the series? Absolutely; now the Red Wings have to take what they did against Ovechkin and do the complete opposite. But players are something a team can make adjustments for and react to. You can’t really react to or fight against jet lag and travel exhaustion. The only way I’d be concerned about one player joining a team right before playoff time is if it was Brett Lebda and he was joining the Detroit Red Wings. 


  1. rachel phelps reference regards the movie "major league" starring charlie "i'm a winner" sheen, tom berenger, bob euchre, corbin bernsen, wesley snipes, and a host of other characters. great movie too!

    1. Congratulations, Masked Stranger! You win 5 Internets! And yes, a classic movie. So much great stuff in it.