FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, April 10th, 2017
2017 NBC SPORTS NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL – TRANSCRIPT
April 10, 2017
Mike “Doc” Emrick
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Thanks, everybody, and welcome to our 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs conference call. In just a moment we’ll be joined by NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood, play-by-play voice, Mike “Doc” Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire, and Jeremy Roenick. This is the sixth straight year that NBC Sports Group will once again televise all games nationally. Although this is the first time that we’ll offer side-by-side coverage in the local markets for first-round games on cable, with the exception of the Boston and Pittsburgh markets. It’s a very exciting development for us and for the fans.
Quick reminder that there will be a transcript of this call available in a few hours on NBCSportsGroupPressBox.com. And let’s begin now with some opening remarks followed by the Q & A, but first we’ll hear from NBC Sports executive producer, Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Thanks for joining us. We’re really looking forward to the start of these playoffs. We think it’s a really unique postseason setting up, particularly getting two of the young stars with Connor McDavid, who led the league in points, and Auston Matthews getting their first crack at the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s going to be fun to see how they perform on the big stage which adds a whole new dynamic to the game of hockey when you have to play with the kind of pressure that goes on in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Fun first-round matchups, great players showing up and giving their all for the next two-plus months. We can’t wait to get going. There’s no one better than Doc Emrick to call those games. I think people look forward to the playoffs as much for Doc’s calls and insights and energy as they do for the games themselves, because he makes everything he calls better. With that, go ahead, Doctor.
DOC EMRICK: Thank you, Sam. It’s exciting again to be doing this, and whether our game in Pittsburgh on opening night winds up going one or two overtimes or whether it ends in regulation, I’m going to be right across the street and watch Connor McDavid in that initial game that he has for Edmonton on Wednesday. It’s fun as a fan to get to see all of these games and have a chance to watch them all. I’ll get to see a fun, rugged, fast series between Columbus and Pittsburgh opening Wednesday, and I want to see whether there is going to be a three-day transformation in any team.
Columbus was not terribly strong down the stretch, but you look at some other teams that haven’t really had their best game going as they come into the playoffs. But I remember a team in 1995 that only won two of its last seven going into the playoffs and they stumbled down to the fifth seed. Yet when the playoffs started, something happened over the three days, and they only lost four out of 20 playoff games and they won the Stanley Cup, and that was New Jersey. I’m wondering if we’re going to have a story like that or whether we’ll have a story in goal like we did a year ago.
At this time last year, Matt Murray had only played 13 NHL regular season games. By the middle of June, he had won 15 Stanley Cup playoff games at the championship. That’s what makes this such a thrilling time and it’s so wonderful. We don’t know what’s around the corner, but I’ll be so glad for the 12th year to be with Pierre, and the 11th year with this guy, and maybe get some horse racing tips too, from Eddie Olczyk.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Okay, Doc, always great to be with our team, and no better time of year, that’s for sure considering how long the regular season goes. Not knowing the final match-ups, really, until Anaheim did what they needed to do last night against their archrivals, and what a great job. I might add that what the Ducks did honoring the great Bob Miller, who is riding off into the sunset after his amazing Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Kings. I thought it was a great gesture by their archrivals, the Ducks, to acknowledge Bob Miller who was in attendance yesterday.
So in saying that, lots of unknowns. Some great matchups going on, and this is no better time of year for us, and this is where we really tighten up the skates a little bit more and look forward to these players and these teams and the greatest fans in all of sports watching the journey for the Stanley Cup. So in saying that, I will pass it over to the man Inside the Glass, Pierre McGuire.
PIERRE MCGUIRE: Thanks, Eddie, I appreciate it. It’s an amazing time of year as Doc and Eddie and Sam have spoken of. But I think the one thing going into these playoffs is there are already story lines built in that maybe we haven’t seen in terms of the animosity level, the skill level, the excitement level. You think about Montreal and New York, and the Chris Kreider, Carey Price situation from 2014, how does that manifest itself in this series?
You think about Ottawa and Boston. Ottawa beat Boston three out of four times in regulation, and also beat them once in overtime. You think about Toronto and Washington, and Sam talked about the youthful enthusiasm, it’s not just Auston Matthews, it’s Mitch Marner, it’s William Nylander, and what is going on happen?
When you look at last Tuesday with Toronto playing Washington in Toronto on a Tuesday night, and the physical dimension that Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals brought to that regular season game, how are they going to play against those kids in the playoffs?
So the story lines from every single series are so immense. Doc talked about Pittsburgh and Columbus. How do you think Brandon Dubinsky and Sidney Crosby are going to mail it in? Is it going to be hard-edge, or is there going to be matches or is this just going to be straight skill? What’s the match-up game? How much does home ice matter? This playoff is set up with so many story lines, it’s just going to be an amazing spectacle to watch.
When Jeremy Roenick played, he used to tee it high and let it fly. Now you can only do it in golf, Jeremy. Go get it.
JEREMY ROENICK: Thanks, Pierre. I appreciate it. Again, as excited as every other one of my counterparts on the phone, and obviously Mike Milbury and Keith Jones, this is the best time of the year for fans, for the players.
I think playoff hockey is the best sport, sporting event on the planet. We see the best hockey. We see the best of the grind. We see the best of the champions that rise to the top to win the Stanley Cup. Nobody actually knows how hard it is to win a Stanley Cup if you haven’t actually gone through it, which is why I love this time of year to see who is going to be the guys and the team that endures the punishment of two months of hockey playing every other day.
I played for 20 years, and only had one opportunity in the Stanley Cup Final, and that shows you how hard it is to win the most glorified trophy in all of sports is the Stanley Cup. You look at some of these matchups, and I totally agree with Pierre – that Rangers-Montreal series is going to be amazing. Two of the Original Six teams, there’s just something really special about that kind of matchup.
Whether Washington can come over the hump after everybody’s expected them to win a Stanley Cup, Alex Ovechkin doing so much in his career, having that elusive Stanley Cup at his fingertips. And I think Washington has played so much differently coming into this year than they did last year. They came in playing hard, playing together, playing gritty. Winning big hockey games, and winning meaningless hockey games.
The game they had against Columbus last week where Ovechkin hit Werenski, next thing you know, everybody fighting for each other and against each other.
So, Washington is my early favorite because of that different mentality. But on the West side, it’s one that I’m going to be interested to watch is Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville. I think everybody expects Chicago to come out of the West. But I don’t think they could have a tougher match-up in the first round than Nashville. They’re playing really good hockey. And if Pekka Rinne could regain his sharpness and ability to keep that puck out of the net, if Chicago can get past that first round of Nashville, which is probably the worst match-up they could have thought of, look out for them.
So, all excited, can’t wait to get in the studio and watch some awesome hockey. I’ll turn it back over to you and get some questions.
Pierre and Eddie, just your thoughts on what the Eastern Conference looks like. Obviously the Capitals with the Presidents’ Trophy are the favorites. But how do you think the Eastern Conference stacks up, and who do you expect to come out of there?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I think that this is the time for the Washington Capitals. They get a team in Toronto in round one who, obviously is a tad ahead of where I thought they would be. They’re in the playoffs. Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Montreal, the Rangers, Boston, Ottawa, Toronto.
For me, you look at the first series in Washington and Toronto, then you go Pittsburgh, Columbus, and then you go to that Pittsburgh-Columbus series – to me, that is going to be one of those where it’s going to go a long while, and if it’s six games then it’s going to feel like eight-and-a-half or nine games. If you happen to get one of those marathon games that Doc has been a part of in his Hall of Fame career, then all of a sudden, that six or seven-game series feels like ten or 11.
That was the downfall last year with the St. Louis Blues where they had the chance to eliminate their archrival in Chicago early and they couldn’t do it. They went the distance. Then they go up against Dallas, and they had a chance to eliminate them early and they weren’t able to do it, and that ended up taking its toll.
For me, if you look at the Pittsburgh Columbus series, if Washington could have their way with the Leafs fairly quickly, that six or seven-game series might feel like ten or 11 and end up taking its toll.
But for me, Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus, the Rangers, Montreal – those are the teams that I look at, with the points and the way everything kind of played out, that’s the way that I could see it breaking down the longer these playoffs go. But to me, I think it’s Washington’s year. If they’re not able to do it this year, and I think they have seven or eight unrestricted free agents on their team, how drastic or how big will the transformation be for their team moving forward. So I think it’s Washington, and see how everything else plays out.
PIERRE MCGUIRE: In these series, in particular the East, there are little things that are probably going to swing it one way or the other. And the case in point will be Ottawa and Boston. The special teams will be Ottawa Senators. They’re 23rd on the power play and penalty kill, both of them. If you look at Boston, number one in the league during the regular season on the penalty kill, and in the Top 10 on the power play.
So if Ottawa plays an undisciplined game, and that is really their trademark, playing a disciplined game, but if Boston can get them to play an undisciplined game, then special teams are going to matter in that one. The youth factor versus the experience factor in the Toronto-Washington thing will be huge. As Eddie says, Washington has the experience and it should be their year. The youth of Toronto, sometimes it will help you, sometimes it’s going to really hurt you. It will be interesting to watch that play out.
The Pittsburgh-Columbus series – I think last change is going to matter, especially when you look at Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 are in Pittsburgh. So it’s going to be harder for John Tortorella to get matchups. But the other part of it – Mike Sullivan’s familiarity with John Tortorella. They coached together in Tampa. They coached together with the U.S. World Team in 2008 and Halifax in the World Championship in North America. They coached with the Rangers, they coached in Vancouver, they coached in the World Cup. So they’re very familiar with one another. That’s going to help Mike, I think in terms of shielding Crosby from some of the matchups.
You look at Montreal and the Rangers. I think it’s going to come down to – can the Rangers center ice position dominate the Montreal Canadiens center ice position? That’s going to be the big question.
They’re playing Phillip Danault, and Eddie knows this better than anybody. Phillip Danault was probably a third or four point center in Chicago, in Montreal he’s the number one center. So if the Rangers can dominate the center ice play in that match-up, that’s huge, huge for them.
So every one of the series the East has one little characteristic that could really change it pretty quick.
Sam, wanted to ask you a quick question about side-by-side coverage of the first round. How does that change how you guys approach it from a production standpoint and what sort of impact do you think that will have on ratings with local networks as well? Thanks.
SAM FLOOD: We think it’s a great opportunity for fans to know there is one stop for hockey during the postseason and come to the networks of NBC, between CNBC and USA. Production philosophy stays the same. We’ve got the best talent team in the sport. Anytime you can listen to Doc, Eddie and Pierre call a game, I think it’s any fan’s best way to enjoy and feel the passion.
But the fans can still watch their local telecast, if they want. If they’re a hardcore Capitals fan, stay on the local telecast. If you’re out of town or living in Washington, you get to watch the national broadcast. It’s the perfect world. It satisfies the local fan, but gives the national brand an opportunity to play into every market. So that will work out great.
And it’s good that the league was able to work out this new plan, and I think it’s a win for the fans, so it will be a lot less confusing where the games are and when these local blackouts hit, which at times made people a little bit unaware of where to go. Now you know where to go. We like that. Simplicity is a good thing.
One quick follow-up as well, you’ve got the five Canadian teams this year that have exciting story lines, exciting players, especially the young guys. McDavid, Matthews, et cetera, for a lot of the U.S. viewers, they might be seeing these teams for the first time or haven’t seen them as sporadically as much as they may have seen the Hawks and Rangers, et cetera. Any learning curve you think they need to do there? Guys want to spend a little more time explaining just how great a season McDavid has and how great a player he is and that sort of thing?
SAM FLOOD: I think it’s a great opportunity to expose these two young stars. And beyond that, Ottawa, depending on its health has the best end-to-end defensemen in all of hockey. Montreal to me is like the Green Bay Packers football. It’s a brand that people know and they see that jersey, and they know it’s a very special history-filled franchise. So I think that’s a fun thing for the American fans to have.
Last year everyone was saying there are no Canadian teams. Was that great for the U.S.? No, it’s not. What’s great for the U.S. is great hockey and great stars. It doesn’t matter where they play; it matters that we get to showcase them and we put a number of games on this year with Auston Matthews. We’ve put two on with Connor McDavid. So we’re out to build these stars and change the way you watch hockey. So I’ll hand it off of that.
Thanks everybody for doing this call. Sam, any new production elements, obviously, the side by side is interesting, but anything new on camera, graphics, VR, 360, augments reality? Anything like that, anything new you’re looking at in the early rounds or maybe even later on in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
SAM FLOOD: Well, as the tournament goes on, but it all comes down to telling the stories, and we’re not people who believe you have to spend a million dollars on toys that get in the way of the telecast. Ultimately the game is what sells itself. We want to be inside the fame that’s why we have the inside the glass position. We have the side by side, as we said a minute ago.
But ultimately our job is to capture the intensity and the passion of the playoffs and production toys sometimes aren’t the best way to do that. We’ve got plenty of cameras. We’re where we need to be. And for the Stanley Cup Final, we have a few tricks up our sleeves to add and enhance that telecast.
This is a game about passion and taste, and we know how to cover it, and we have the best voices in the game that understand when to talk and when to let the game speak for itself.
Jeremy, obviously what are your initial thoughts on the Sharks-Oilers series? And how effective do you think Joe Thornton and Logan Couture can be, assuming they play at some point in the series? How effective do you think they’ll be considering what they’re dealing with right now?
JEREMY ROENICK: I think the Sharks pretty much stumbled coming into the playoffs for good reason. It’s very, very difficult to lose two of your most important players, and especially down the middle. Joe Thornton is the playmaker. One of the best in the history of the game. And him and Joe Pavelski, Joe Pavelski’s production really relies on a Joe Thornton. The power play relies on Joe Thornton. Not having him 100% really diminishes the Sharks chances against a team like the Edmonton Oilers who are going to be absolutely flying on excitement, on their youth, their adrenaline, having a Connor McDavid leading the way. Having great players like Draisaitl and Eberle, they’re offensively so talented, and they have a goaltender in Cam Talbot that’s played extremely well this year. He has given them that security blanket in goal that they have not had.
Now can Cam Talbot be tired? He played more than any other goaltender in the National Hockey League this year. Is he going to be able to stay physically ready every single game? Would Brent Burns get back to his scoring touch which he kind of lost coming down the stretch? This is a tough situation, I think, for San Jose right now.
But they got to the Finals last year. They’ve learned how to win big games and win big series at critical times. Obviously, having played in San Jose, I know the fans are going to be into it and be all charged up for another return. This is a tough matchup for San Jose, especially going into Edmonton where they know that building is going to be as electric and loud as any building in the National Hockey League with the excitement of getting back to the playoffs after ten years.
So Logan Couture and Joe Thornton’s ability to play at the pace and the level they need to in the playoffs, I think it’s a big question. And it will have a lot to do with whether they can get over the Edmonton Oilers.
I’m just curious. I’m not sure there is a way to slow down Connor McDavid. But if you’re Pete DeBoer, what are you telling your team right now in ways to get in his way or slow down that line with Draisaitl and Maroon?
PIERRE MCGUIRE: It’s really important to own the puck. So it starts with face-off. You have to put a high priority on face-off play. You have to make sure there is no odd-man rushes when he’s on the ice. That’s one time you are your guys really have to pay attention to who is on the ice against you. You have to have a disciplined third man.
There are a lot of different ways you can do it. You can do it with a left-wing lock so you’re playing three across, and you can do it with one-four delay, so you have a forechecker and four guys back and they rotate attack points. It’s convoluted talking about it on our phone call. But there are a lot of ways you can do it with a star player like that.
I’ve done to star players as a coach, and I’ve seen it done to players that I’ve had the privilege of coaching. So there are a lot of things you can do. But puck possession matters a lot. Force them to have to forecheck rather than dominate with the speed that he plays with. His speed quotient with the puck on his stick is higher than anybody else’s in the league. I know Doc, Eddie and I talked on about it at the beginning of the year, and there was this great unknown about Connor. The one thing that was known about Connor, his speed and his ability to make plays at a high rate of speed, so you have to make sure you doesn’t have the puck.
EDDIE OLCZYK: I think one thing San Jose did last year in the playoffs extremely well was when the identification point on a particular shift when you know that the most dangerous guy is on the ice is out there is that somebody’s got to pick him up early enough as Edmonton gains control of the puck. Meaning you identify where he is, and you make sure that whoever it might be is in that area denies him the puck. You want anybody that’s on the ice other than Connor McDavid carrying that puck from the most dangerous area of the ice, and that’s the speed zone between the two blue lines.
He’s going to get his chances because the guy is an incredible athlete, and he’s shown to be the MVP. Look, Todd McLellan to me is the “Coach of the Year” in the National Hockey League. Obviously, when you have the Most Valuable Player in the National Hockey League, it goes hand in hand. But he’s going to get his chances. So I think that for San Jose, if they can identify where he is on the ice and let somebody else be the guy carrying that puck.
Now, the one thing that he can do is he can cause separation as well as any player in the league. Whether he has the puck on his stick or not, he’s a lot — there are very few players in the league, and I know Doc and I have talked about this a lot, is that most guys, when they get the puck, slow down. But guys like Jeff Carter and Connor McDavid seem to accelerate when they have the puck on their stick. So it’s easier said than done.
This isn’t 15 or 20 years ago when Pierre was coaching and JR was playing where you could hook and hold and not allow a really fast guy to get into play. You have to make sure that if you’re the San Jose Sharks is that you have the opportunities to deny Connor McDavid where he will be, I think, the most dangerous is through that speed zone. Easier said than done, but I think that’s one thing San Jose did a nice job of last year all the way through the playoffs, and I think at times they did that against both Crosby and Malkin when Pittsburgh had control of the puck.
Pierre, you guys have talked about the Montreal-New York series. Is one of them, Lundqvist and after his decade of success the window might be close on his opportunities to win a Cup?
PIERRE MCGUIRE: I think that’s more than fair to say, and I think he probably is aware of that. You go back to when he played and played so well back in 2005 in the Swedish championships during the lockout year. Then he goes the next year to win a gold medal for Sweden in Torino, and since then he’s had an amazing run.
But you see that Father Time catches up to everybody. But that just shows you the timeframe that he’s been in it. He hasn’t had the best of seasons, but I do think he’s one of the most intense competitors you’ll find in the league. I’ve seen him have, and Eddie’s seen it, and Doc has seen it, we’ve seen him have huge bounceback games this year.
So I would expect he’s going to be one of the most intense competitors in the next series. A lot of it’s going to come down whether he’s better than Carey Price or Carey Price is better than him, and he loves that kind of situation. I think he thrives in those kind of situations.
EDDIE OLCZYK: I think the one thing with the Rangers that they’re obviously going to have to defend better than they’ve done maybe over the course of the season. One thing that they have going for them is that, yeah, they won a couple of games at MSG and I know they’ve struggled there for a period of time. But last time I checked, I think they had the best road record in the entire National Hockey League, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing that they’re starting in Montreal.
I think, to me, I think there’s a lot of pressure on the Canadians. I look at this series, and you’re right. You look at the goaltenders and Lundqvist has to be more consistent, and I think he has to be better. But I think that the Rangers with their comfort zone on the road – that to me is a real positive for the Rangers.
Whether it’s just stylistics or trying to be a little too cute at home and trying to be a little bit too fine, it seems that on the road and look at all the success that Alain Vigneault’s had in his time in Vancouver and in New York, I think that this matchup, them starting on the road, I think, is a good starting point for the Rangers.
But I think they have to help this guy out because, in my opinion, he’s been the face of this franchise for a long, long, long time. He’s had some bumps and bruises over the last couple years, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t step up and go toe to toe with Carey Price and who knows from there.
You’ve seen a lot of John Tortorella over the years, and I’m interested in how you think he’s changed or evolved as a coach since he won the Stanley Cup in Tampa.
DOC EMRICK: I think he’s had an evolutionary process that’s changed with the cities that he’s been in. I know he had kind of a raucous time there in the hallway in the Calgary series, and he had some events in New York, but you look at what he’s had to work with, one of the youngest teams in the league, and how he has been a stabilizing factor for them, and how, even down the stretch, his explanation on this is that these young players have not been in a position where they’ve been solidified in a playoff position.
In the history of Columbus, we’ve never been in this position before. So having this kind of lull and this relaxation is normal. I’m looking forward to talking to John, because I haven’t had a chance to do a Columbus game this year. And I haven’t had a chance to have a conversation with John. So I guess this is one of those conversations that I’ll have an even better answer for you by the time we get to Wednesday’s game.
JEREMY ROENICK: John was my assistant coach in Phoenix for the Coyotes, and I know his personality and his love for the game, his passion for the game, and his commitment to winning. He also was the coach of Tampa when Tampa won the Stanley Cup and beat my Flyers out in the Conference Finals.
He’s a little bit different coach, I think now in the form of, yes, he’s still intense. Yes, he still wants the hardest working effort from every single person, everybody has their job and John Tortorella makes sure everybody plays to that job. I don’t think there’s been a coach in the game this year that’s got his team to play as close-knit, committee-like, foundation as John Tortorella.
This team has won and has gotten to the top of the league, and probably been the story of the year because they know their identity and play as well as anybody in the league. And John Tortorella has a lot to say about that. But he’s also let these players dictate how they’re going to be coached. He’s taken away morning skates to allow the guys the ability to prepare and put all their efforts out on the ice for a game. He’s allowed them to have a voice. And if those players don’t respond the way they’re supposed to, he lets them know about it, whether it’s putting them in the press box or making sure they know behind closed doors.
It’s not the public chastising that we’ve seen from John Tortorella; however, he still has that glare and that competitive edge as a coach. I think if you’re a player sitting in front of him, you feel it and you feel his presence. I think that’s why John Tortorella has been so successful in Columbus, this year.
PIERRE McGUIRE: I think one of the smartest things that John did this year was learn how to delegate. That shows the character of the person. He went out and hired a really strong voice in Brad Shaw who, for most of the year, had that Columbus power play in the Top 5 in the league. They finished the league 12th on the power play. But, John, who was a very good power play coach himself when he was in Buffalo under John Muckler 20-some-odd years ago as Eddie was talking about before, with some of us older coaches.
John Tortorella showed a lot in terms of his personal growth by hiring really strong voices. I mean Brad Shaw and Brad Larsen are two of the players that responded to Tortorella’s message. But he’s also allowed the players to hear other voices, and I think that kept the message fresh. And I think it’s one of the reasons why they’ve been able to maintain that identity that Jeremy was just talking about.
Jeremy and Eddie, do you guys see a little bit of a switching of the guard potentially taking place in the Pacific Division with the Sharks and the Oilers where the Oilers are certain to catch up with the California teams? You see the Kings aren’t making the playoffs, the Sharks are stumbling going in. Do you guys see at all the Sharks window might be closing a little bit here with Thornton and Marleau facing free agency?
EDDIE OLCZYK: If you look at how high of a level San Jose has been over the course of a very long time, and, unfortunately, they haven’t been able to take that next step. But I think what you saw Doug Wilson do here over the course of the long-time general manager of the Sharks, over the course of even last season to a certain extent, I think just trying to get a little bit quicker. But it’s hard when you have some of your elder statesmen there. Look, for jumbo and Patrick Marleau still putting up terrific points.
I mean, Marleau’s still a quick player. We know Joe Pavelski, I mean, I just still think the opportunity is still there. I do. It’s so hard to get it revved back up again, and we talked about the injuries with couture, and Thornton and JR had mentioned about burn slowing down a little bit at the end of the season. But there’s no doubt, it’s become a quicker man’s game, up-and-down the lineup, just not your top four and five forwards, or your top two or three defensemen. It has gotten quicker.
You talk about Edmonton. Calgary, I think, is a deceptively quick team. I think that’s where L.A. has had their issues here over the last couple of years of just not being able to play a really fast game for long stretches. And I think at times San Jose has seen that this year. Last year they played really quick. And I think it was more of the schematics and defensemen not dusting it off back there and getting it up to their forwards and letting them do their thing.
So changing of the guard, as I said earlier, my thoughts on Edmonton, and there is no doubt that the Pacific Division is certainly changing. It’s changing quickly because of how quick these teams are deciding on philosophy and how they want to play.
PIERRE McGUIRE: I totally agree with you, Eddie. I think the question of Thornton and Marleau, up there at 37, 38 years old, I remember what I was like at that age, and how the pace of play really took its toll on me at that age. Joe Thornton, not knowing what he’s looking forward to doing, and his next couple years whether he’s going to retire or try to extend his career here. And Patrick Marleau, even though he’s getting up there in age, still 27, 28 goals this year, still showing that he can play at the pace of play. But they are two really big key cogs in the San Jose success. They’re very tough guys to replace, if they are replaceable.
They still have Pavelski, but not knowing their future, or even whether Doug Wilson is going to keep Patrick Marleau at the end of the year, whether he’s going to look to let him go. These are all questions that are going to determine whether this team can still compete at the level that they have for the last ten years.
Anaheim, again, has shown that they can stay on top of their division, and I agree with Eddie. Calgary is a team that’s coming up in the ranks and coming up fast. Making the playoffs this year is very exciting for them. We’ve already talked about Edmonton and having the most skilled player in the National Hockey League. I do think the window for San Jose is closing and closing quickly. And how they’re going to try to maintain their level of dominance over the last ten years is going to be interesting.
Doc, you kind of touched on this earlier, but what do you think the impact of young players like Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews are having on hockey fans today? How far do you expect those teams to go? And how far do you think fans want them to go?
DOC EMRICK: Well, I think fans want to see them do their best. Over the last decade in particular we’ve had an evolution of the sport and rule changes that enables players like this to do their very best. The fact that we get to see them on a regular basis will mean an awful lot.
I have become noteworthy in how poorly I predicted the outcomes of series in recent years. So I don’t know how well their teams are going to do. But the fact that I go into arenas now and I see a majority of the fans that appear to me to be between 18 and 40. And it is a decided majority, and I see that reflected in what the teams choose to have for music. What the teams are doing on their big JumboTrons and message boards during the course of the game. Why wouldn’t they want to do this to really sell this game to the younger people?
These are exciting young players, and we are doing the very same thing. I think that we’ve been at the forefront of making sure that these players are known, not only by showing their games during the regular season, but also by showing profiles of these players and more of those are going to be coming up, and we’re going to be showing more of that during the course of these playoffs because each of the series is covered. These are exciting players.
Who would have thought that the top three scorers during much of the year for the Toronto Maple Leafs would have all been rookies? This is just a phenomenal year for this sport. We’ve talked about it, I know before, and it’s what’s prompted your question.
But for somebody who has taken us through raw number of years, seen the sport through different eras, this is an exciting time now because the sport can emphasize the speed that it has. Yet at this time of the year it’s when the actual reward is a ring that you can’t wear. You get a name on a trophy that you’re not allowed to keep. The actual pay that you get is miniscule compared to the regular season and nobody even mentioned it. But it’s when they play the hardest. It’s when they are given painkillers to compensate for the various things they do in a collision sport that they play four times a week.
I know that these are generic things that are said at this time of the year, but if you talk to people, even like someone who is a general manager of a National Basketball Association team that was out of work at one time and said, “Are you watching the NBA playoffs?” This is not to trash the NBA. But it’s a statement he made. “No, I’m watching the NHL.” “Why are you watching the NHL?” “It’s pretty engrossing every night,” and that’s because it’s a gladiatorial contest, and these young guys are going to learn it.
One last thing. I worked a number of years with a guy named Peter McNab. Peter is now a color commentator in Colorado. And he would always search out players after they played their first Stanley Cup playoff game. The next day at practice, he would search them out, and he would ask them, was it what you expected? And this sort of goes into the same context of what Mike Babcock said today that he would be telling his players going into the series with Washington, his young players, there’s not going to be any space. Then he said, I’ll tell them again, there’s not going to be any space. And I’ll tell them again, there’s not going to be any space.
What Peter sought out from these young players to find out, was the intensity pretty much what you thought it would be? And most of the answers he got back were, it was far more intense than I expected. So that’s what these guys that you brought up are going to experience in their first games.
That’s why I’m so excited to watch. Though, many of these first-time players, I’m going to be watching on television, we’ve got some fairly seasoned guys in this Columbus, Pittsburgh series, that I’ll be seeing live at the start.
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