On the eve of summer, winter finally ends. The skates are hung up, sneakers stashed away. Seasons that once routinely ended around Easter now drag on to the ides of June. But all good things come to an end. The winter games, having long overstayed their leave, are finally packing it in. Bring on the off-season.
For hockey, the show was spectacular with the passions of the struggle for the Stanley Cup seemingly rising in intensity game after game, round after round. Admiration – much of it from people who neither know nor care about this game – came from all corners. Can athletes give more of themselves for a cause, let alone an old silver Cup?
There were many moments in these playoffs when you had to wonder, and marvel. The conclusion, full of fury and desperation, was monumental. A fluke goal that handcuffed the Nashville Predators’ gallant goalie Pekka Rinne decided it. All that magnificent effort and a mere quirk is the margin of difference. It may seem unfair, but it was actually appropriate because that’s the way it was throughout these playoffs.
It seemed near-every competitor, including the Bruins, came within a lucky hop of the puck of moving on, lacking only a deferential nod from the Hockey Gods. Which takes nothing away from the Pittsburgh Penguins. They survived; the ultimate tribute.
As for the NBA’s competing frolic, it was overall a relative dud, with the Warriors salivating over the prospect of putting the Cavaliers out of their misery early on, which they did come Monday night, ending things at 4-1. It was so gracious of Golden State to spare Cleveland the humiliation of getting brutally swept, the sensitivities of that beleaguered town being ever an issue in sports, it seems.
We can be further thankful that Golden State got denied the unprecedented honor of sweeping the entire bloody playoffs. Had they won 16 straight, we’d never have heard the end of it. The conventional caveats about not assuming anything can be dispensed with here, although there’s always the chance the Warriors could get engulfed by their own swelling ego, maybe their only meaningful flaw. It’s a good team for the moment, but having won a couple of times they’ve been loudly comparing themselves with the Auerbach-Russell-Cousy-era Celtics. Please advise them that after they win about ten more they can check back with us.
Otherwise, these basketball playoffs were ugly. Apologists insist it doesn’t matter, but how can a league remain truly interesting when there’s so little competitive balance? It’s bad enough having about half the teams eliminated from playoff contention by Thanksgiving and a half dozen finishing with winning percentages that would be historically low in any other league; but to have the two-month post-season festival – your signature event – totally dominated by embarrassingly one-sided romps is quite another.
The NBA is devoid of suspense. What compels one to watch? Have there been more than a half dozen play-off games you could faintly term “interesting,” let alone “dramatic?” Haven’t been keeping score, I must confess. The NBA has a huge problem, even if it doesn’t intend to admit it.
Meanwhile, an off-season is about to arrive that that offers great promise as Danny Ainge’s master plan for the restoration of Celtics hegemony reaches critical mass. What will they do with that precious No. 1 pick, heisted from pathetic Brooklyn? Do they actually believe Lonzo Ball, son of the dreaded LaVall, is not the clear first pick? Or is it just that they’ll do anything to avoid having to deal with the eccentric super-dad.
Wouldn’t it be grand if Red Auerbach were still around to reveal how the Maestro Himself would deal with such an odd conundrum? Red going one on one with LaVal would have been a match-up for the ages. But no matter whom they draft, more needs be done to complete the task. What else? That is the question.
Significantly more than the Celtics, the Bruins have an off-season with a potentially make or break impact. This is the crossroads for the new, still unproven Sweeney-Neely & Company ruling consortium.
Another bad free agent blunder (like Matt Beleskey) or ill-advised trade (like for Jimmy Hayes) or miscalculated contract tendering (like that of David Backes) will negate too much of the good GM Sweeney has done re-building the farm system, so far in his third year of stewardship his proudest claim.
And while that’s hardly insignificant it’s not enough. Other moves integrating wise elders with the eager kids will be crucial if they’re to remain competitive – more than ever demanded nowadays – while a new generation of home-grown talent comes of age. BU drop-out Charlie McAvoy, whose playoff debut on defense was so impressive, looks a safe bet. So does Brandon Carlo. And they have high hopes for Anders Bjork, the smallish but reportedly swift sniper they’ve convinced to forego his education at Notre Dame.
You hear equally nice things about a dozen others. But who knows? Where prospects are concerned, I’m from Missouri. Meanwhile, how much do Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Mr. Backes, even Tuukka Rask, have left? For Sweeney, the urgent process begins momentarily with the expansion-draft stocking of the Las Vegas Knights, the latest hockey team planted in the desert by Czar Gary Bettman.
The Bruins have to lose somebody, and at a minimum it’s likely to be a defenseman; either the estimable grinder Adam McQuaid or one of the Miller boys, Colin or Kevan. It’s unavoidable but manageable.
Then what? Stay tuned!