With all apologies to Phoenix Coyotes fans, you really should be happy that the Los Angeles Kings are in the Stanley Cup Finals awaiting the winner of the East Finals between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.
And if you cheer for the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins or any other team that may not like that team from the Garden State, you should still be rooting for them to defeat the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. (Well, unless you're a Rangers fan.)
Why would I ask such a thing of Flyers fans whose team was disposed of by the hated Devils? Or Coyotes fans who have "Wanted" posters all over town with Dustin Brown's horrific-looking playoff beard featured prominently?
Frankly, the Devils and Kings are the two teams remaining in these Stanley Cup Playoffs that play an incredibly exciting, pulse-pounding and exhilarating brand of pressure hockey. Yeah, it's weird to say that about the New Jersey Devils who, in many ways, were the sole cause of the rule changes to stimulate more offense with their stifling and often insomniac-curing brand of hockey back in the mid-90s.
But if you've watched any of the playoffs, you'll know that the Kings and Devils have had success thanks to systems that rely on an intense forecheck. They pressure the opposing defensemen, who are typically a weak point when it comes to puck handling, and it boils down to this: Get on their D fast. Get on them quickly, look for turnovers and pinch guys like Drew Doughty and Marek Zidlicky to keep the puck 200 feet away from your own goalie.
It's beautiful to watch when it's in full effect, and we could see a Stanley Cup Finals this year featuring two teams who execute this kind of hockey with precision. We can't root for the Rangers and their ridiculously boring, creativity-killing brand of hockey. Not if we want exciting hockey with the consistent threat of offense.
If we've learned anything about the NHL over the years, it's that the league is a copycat league. Succeed and you'll have followers. Lots of followers.
The Broad Street Bullies won with excessive physical play. The '70s turned into the slapshot era. The '80s became the Edmonton Oilers era of freewheeling hockey, and most of the league followed suit, albeit without a whole lot of Oiler-level talent to follow. The mid-'90s and later brought about the Jacques Lemaire trap era. And it even goes down to an individual level as well. Patrick Roy ushered in the butterfly goalie era that is still in effect to this day.
Heaven help us if the Rangers win it all and NHL teams start adopting their system.
The Kings system, which built upon an already solid defensive foundation instilled by previous coach Terry Murray, has steamrolled through the playoffs by defeating teams that thrive on strangling opposing offense -- teams like the Jennings Trophy winning St. Louis Blues and the stack-everyone-in-the-goal-system that the Coyotes play.
The Rangers play similar to Phoenix and St. Louis. They do everything short of forming a human pyramid in front of all-world (and largest shoulder pads this side of Garth Snow) goalie Henrik Lundqvist in order to stop the opposition from generating chances.
Granted, the Rangers will play an aggressive forecheck if they can get the puck in deep and work it, but thanks to Martin Brodeur's most underrated skill, his puck-handling, the Rangers look more like the trap-era Devils. They've been falling back into that defensive shell, doing all they can to try and create turnovers in the neutral zone. Failing that, they stack five guys hip-by-hip in front of Lundqvist.
An interesting part of all of this was and is the Washington Capitals. They followed a similar defensive system and they came within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals because of that style. But head coach Dale Hunter, who implemented that system, went back to juniors, and now the Caps are searching for their next coach. It's a big decision when it comes to the style the team will play moving forward.
I have to imagine several factors play into what Caps general manager George McPhee is thinking, and he'll have to take into account what winds up working in these 2012 playoffs. McPhee has the personnel to implement a style similar to the Devils and Kings. He could hire a coach that implements the pressure forecheck with the five-guy swarm. But if the Rangers' system comes out on top, I wouldn't doubt seeing a coach come in who is a carbon copy of Dale Hunter and John Tortorella.
Tortorella's essentially asking someone with the skills of a Marian Gaborik to put all those skills aside and concentrate on blocking shots and playing defense instead. The same was asked of Alex Ovechkin by Hunter. It's akin to asking Leonardo DaVinci to use a paint brush to fix porta-potties.
One part of the puzzle is already done in 2012. The Kings have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with offensively talented guys like Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown charging in deep, hammering bodies and setting up scoring chances. If you want to be assured that we don't see the "five-player stack" in the Finals and beyond, put your hatred for Dustin Brown and David Clarkson aside and recognize that the Kings and Devils could change hockey for the better.
Besides your own team winning the Cup, shouldn't that be what we all want?