ROAD ADVANTAGE, STRANGE DECISION AND TORRES.

The AHL switched the first round of their playoffs from a best-of-seven to a best-of-five this year, but in the process they forced some higher seeds to make a very difficult decision. The OKC Barons will start their series, v. the #8 seed Houston Aeros, on the road, despite finishing first in the western conference. The Barons are one of five teams who faced this dilemma.

This year the AHL reduced their regular season schedule from 80 games to 76, and they also extended their regular season by a week. They did this to cut down on three games-in-three-nights, and it was a wise decision. Playing three games in three nights is tough enough, but it is even harder when some teams had 4-8 hour bus trips between games.

Fewer games and an extra week to play 76 games was less taxing on the players, but the AHL didn’t want to be playing into the middle of June so they reduced the first round of the playoffs to five games. It makes sense, but there is one catch.

Five of the eight first round series matchups pit teams that are at least eight hours apart (driving), and in the case of Chicago and San Antonio they are 17 hours apart. They will travel by plane for this series. All five of the series are considered "flying" series, so these five series will be played under a 2-3 format. The higher-seeded team has the option of either playing the first two at home, and next three on the road, or they can start on the road for two and have the final three games at home.

Tough decision. 

In the Barons case, building availability played a small part as well, but the Barons ended up opting to start in Houston tomorrow and Friday, and then play at home Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday if necessary. However, when you look at what the other four teams in the same boat as OKC chose to do, I’m not sure building availability was much of a factor.

Norfolk was #1 in the east and they opted for two at home and three on the road. They’ve won 28 consecutive games (not a typo, 28 freaking games in a row), so I’m sure they are confident they will sweep at home, but if they don’t, they’d have to win two of three on the road to win the series.

The remaining three "higher seeded" teams have decided to start on the road.

The 2nd seed in the east,  St. Johns, will play the first two games in Syracuse and then finish the series at home.

The #3 and #4 seeds in the west, Chicago and Abbotsford, also elected to start on the road and finish with three home games.

The Barons and the other three teams still technically have "home ice advantage" because they have more home games scheduled, but it doesn’t seem quite as comfortable as starting and ending a series at home.

The three series that involve teams within close proximity of one another will use the traditional 2-2-1 format.

I asked OKC head coach Todd Nelson his thoughts on the first round. "We’ve been a very good road team all year, so we elected to start the series on the road. It is just another challenge for our team, but we’ve faced many this year and won, so I’m confident we can handle this."

OKC finished their season in San Antonio on Sunday, and instead of driving home and then back to Houston, they went straight to Houston.

It’s interesting to note that four of the five teams opted to start on the road and finish with three home games. We’ll see if they made the right decision. 

HOME SWEET HOME…DON’T THINK SO

Through the first 25 games of this year’s playoffs the road team is a dominating 17-8.

The Kings and Flyers are 2-0 on the road. Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, Boston, St. Louis and New York have won the last six games, and all of them came away from home.

Is home ice really that much of an advantage anymore?

It seems to be more of an advantage the deeper you go, but the first round favours the road teams.

Here is how the home team’s fared in last year’s playoffs.

First round: 23-29
2nd round: 10-11
3rd round: 9-3
Finals: 6-1

The Bruins won the Cup and they were 10-3 at home. Keep in mind, they lost they their first two home games to Montreal, before winning 10 of 11 in Boston.

In 2010, home ice became an advantage in the later rounds as well.

First round: 22-27
2nd round: 14-13
3rd round: 6-3
Finals: 5-1

The Cup winning Hawks went 2-1 in the first round, 1-2 in the 2nd, then 5-0 in the final two rounds. 

As the playoffs progress, the dominant teams start to take care of business at home. We shouldn’t be surprised that the road teams are having a lot of success in the opening round this spring because it’s been that way for a few years.

Last night Raffi Torres rocked Marian Hossa. It is hard to defend the hit, because he did leave his feet. It wasn’t a charge, because he was gliding for six feet before contact, but Torres clearly exploded up and into the hit at the end.

Torres has hit this way for years, and despite a few minor slaps on the wrist, the NHL has never punished him, so it is clear they didn’t think his hitting style was that offside. Torres has to be accountable for his actions, but the NHL has never handed him a really stiff suspension, so for me they are just as guilty. 

Torres has been suspended indefinitely and will have a hearing on Friday. Until then I’m sure we will see, hear and read a wide array of opinions on how many games he’ll get. I suspect it will be significant, and I’ll be fine with that, but it disgusts me reading opinions from people suggesting this is the worst hit they’ve ever seen. It wasn’t even the worst hit, cheap shot this year.

Torres hits hard and he has for years, but his hit last night wasn’t as bad as what Duncan Keith did to D. Sedin in my opinion. 

Keith elbowed Sedin in the head with the intent to seriously injure him. It was a blatant chicken-wing elbow, and we see that play way more than we see Torres’ hits. The problem is the NHL still allows guys to flail elbows at the opponents head.

Torres will pay for his crime, and I’m fine with that, but if the NHL doesn’t decide to ban the chicken-wing elbow then we will continue to see stupid plays and unfortunate injuries.

PARTING SHOTS 

  • Had Hossa bounced up right away from that hit, I’m not sure people would be as upset, but the image of him being taken out on a stretcher makes the entire play much worse for people. I understand that, and respect that train of thought, but it also shows how fine of a line the game is played on.

    I think with the speed of the game it is hard to expect players to play that fast and never make wrong decisions. Torres hit Hossa less than a second after he moved the puck. That is incredibly quick, and when you consider how fast players skate, I truly wonder if it is possible to allow body contact and not expect some collisions to be late or egregious.
     

  • I feel the speed of the game has become the most dangerous part. The problem is the speed is what makes the game so exciting. If we slow it down, do we lose excitement?

    I don’t have the answer, but instead of wasting hours and hours re-hashing suspension talk, or if fighting should be in the game, I think we need to start researching if it is possible to have hockey played at such high speeds and be incident free.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    I liked to Torres hit at first, but it’s clear he left his feet. It wasn’t late at all. He was finishing his check.

    Same with that Brown hit on Sedin, Hughson and Simpson were saying the league should look at it. Like Sedin had the puck, passed it then half a second later got rocked. That’s worthy of a suspension now?

    And the media? What a bunch of babies, you expect a bunch of players flying at 30 km/h with so much intensity with the crowd and all the expectations to not make a stupid decision? Can’t have it both ways.

    And ALL the violence? there has been 1200 minutes of hockey and maybe 4 incidents?

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Count the steamboats on the Horton hit, it was perfectly legal. It’s unfortunate that Rome hit his head, but what happened to keeping your head up going across the blue? Horton was watching his pass like a doof, something that even minor hockey coaches tell kids not to do. Rome was suspended for the head contact, and that’s what should have happened, but the hit wasn’t late and it wouldn’t have been considered ‘blindside’ if Horton had glanced to his right to see what Rome was doing. Horton knew that Rome gets paid millions to do exactly what he did, so I find it hard to sympathize.

    Torres definitely left his feet on that hit, and it should have warranted at least a call at the time, but again: Hossa is watching the puck instead of having his head on a swivel. Both players put themselves in vulnerable positions, in my opinion.

  • To me the hit is a bit late, but one foot is still on the ice when he makes contact, and he’s not really jumping and hurdling himself at Hossa as much as he is exploding into his hit. Your feet, (or at least a foot) is always going to leave the ice on such a hit.

    That said, Raffi’s been here before so….

    There seems to be this hysteria now everytime somebody gets hit.

  • As far as the context of the hits in the flow of the games, Browns hit on Sedin was very similar, the victim had just dished the puck, both the victims lacked awareness of the incoming hits, both were vulnerable and both got ended.

    Torres however, used his legs to lunge upwards and thus buttoned Hossa in the head. I found it humorous that subsequent Torres shifts saw a first year PeeWee chicken getting rid of the puck as soon as it hit his stick.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I don’t buy that there is no time to react. I don’t buy it from my own playing experience. After the Chara hit, I had a chance to ask both a former high level junior, and a former pro player now coaching, about it.

    They also don’t buy that players don’t know what they are doing because of speed or can’t avoid the hits like that.

    Torres’ hit may not have been as egregious as the hit on Schenn, but to me it was a clear attempt to take a better player out, which it did. Torres could have let up on Hossa (because the puck was well gone and it’s the right thing to do) and still checked him if he felt he needed to. It still would have been late.

    It amazes me enough owners still support this kind of play. Just from a business perspective, the loss of entertainment value (losing the best players) and the loss of playoff revenue (as the Canucks and Hawks go out) doesn’t make sense.

    How can the Pens be doing what they are after the Crosby thing? The only answer seems to be that because the league allowed the ridiculousness of last’s year’s finals, the lemmings think it’s the way to win the Cup now and are charging for the cliff.

    Wake up Bettman.

  • If the league is serious about getting rid of this type of hit why not try this :

    When you suspend a player , the team doesn’t get to use the roster spot that said player leaves.

    Also if a player is hurt on the play the guy who did the deed’s suspension could include the amount of time player is hurt as well.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Move the boards back 2-3 feet, it’s time. Remove the instigator rule and leave the rest as is.

    Liked the Torres hit. They can sew Hossa’s head back on, can’t they?

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    It is a common misconception that you have to be striding to incur a charging penalty.
    Rule 42charging reads
    A player who skates or jumps into or charges an opponent in any manner.

    Torres would have violated both the jumping part and the charging part

    The rat should get his just deserts

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    Totally agree that the Torres hit wasn’t as bad as it’s being made out to be. Like you said, being taken off on a stretcher has people overreacting to this hit.

    Asham’s blatant crosscheck to Schenn’s throat/head was not a hockey play, and was done in retaliation and to cause injury. Torres hit was a fraction late and although he left his feet, it was still a hockey play. It was nowhere near as bad as Asham’s.

    Additionally, James Neal’s attempt at elbowing Giroux’s head, who had a previous concussion, is more deserving of a lengthy suspension then Torres. The attempt to injure Giroux, and knock him out of the series, was clear as day. But, because Giroux got up and Hossa left on a stretcher, the outcomes will be much different.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    I’m surprised at your stance. Almost the exact same time delay as the hit on Horton last year, targeted the head,left his feet and hurt the player. Big suspension coming.