Teams progress af­ter lengthy play­off run

Cup fi­nal­ists show no lin­ger­ing ef­fects from ex­tra con­tests

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - HOCKEY - By Ben Gotz Con­tact Ben Gotz at bgotz@ re­viewjour­nal.com. Fol­low @ BenSGotz on Twit­ter.

It’s hard not to see Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals cap­tain Alex Ovechkin drink­ing beer from the Stan­ley Cup while sus­pended up­side down, which he did in June, and come away with one thought: Yeah, that’s go­ing to lead to a han­gover.

Hock­ey­wise, though, that’s not nec­es­sar­ily the case. While reach­ing the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal re­quires NHL teams to play an ex­tra month of games and fall be­hind in the off­sea­son, that hasn’t car­ried over to slow starts the fol­low­ing sea­sons.

Maybe three months is still enough time for teams to rest up be­tween the Fi­nal and train­ing camp even if you throw in a few keg (or Cup) stands. But Golden Knights gen­eral man­ager Ge­orge McPhee also said the longer you play, the bet­ter you get.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing to watch some of the guys that we have that were here all last year, how much they’ve im­proved over last year,” said McPhee, whose team lost to the Cap­i­tals in five games in the Fi­nal. “They got more op­por­tu­ni­ties to play, so they im­proved as play­ers last year, but then (in the play­offs) to go through four rounds, a cou­ple of months of el­e­vated play, sort of elite-level hockey, re­ally makes you a bet­ter player. You’re just play­ing at a higher level.”

There’s data to back up McPhee’s as­ser­tion be­cause teams that make the Fi­nal typ­i­cally play well the fol­low­ing year. In the past five sea­sons, one team that par­tic­i­pated in the Fi­nal had a los­ing record af­ter 20 games the fol­low­ing sea­son. It was also the only team that missed the play­offs the next sea­son.

More than half the teams also in­creased their reg­u­lar-sea­son point to­tal year-over-year, if you don’t in­clude the lock­out-short­ened 201213 sea­son. So rather than be­ing a

hin­drance, play­ing un­til June seems to serve as an ad­van­tage in the NHL.

That still doesn’t mean the Knights are ex­pect­ing to waltz back into the

play­offs.

“It’s a long sea­son. There’s go­ing to be ups and downs, right?” goal­tender Marc-An­dre Fleury said. “There’s go­ing to be bumps in the road. It’s not go­ing to go per­fect, and I think we need to stay even-keeled.”

Wil­son’s woes

Cap­i­tals for­ward Tom Wil­son, well known around the NHL for his phys­i­cal play, couldn’t help but be a dis­trac­tion be­fore his team’s opener.

Hours be­fore the Cap­i­tals raised their Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­onship ban­ner, Wil­son was sus­pended for 20 games for an il­le­gal check to the head dur­ing the pre­sea­son. It’s his fourth sus­pen­sion in the past 13 months, though the NHL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion filed an ap­peal on his be­half Fri­day.

If he loses the ap­peal, he will miss the same amount of games Knights de­fense­man Nate Schmidt will for one vi­o­la­tion of the league’s sub­stance abuse pro­gram.

$eat­tle ex­pan­sion

The NHL moved for­ward with plans to ex­pand to Seat­tle on Tues­day, and com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman ex­pects the league’s board of gover­nors to vote on ap­prov­ing a po­ten­tial 32nd fran­chise when they meet Dec. 3 and 4.

If the Seat­tle bid gets enough votes, the fran­chise must pay $650 mil­lion to join the NHL, which is $150 mil­lion more than the ex­pan­sion fee Knights owner Bill Fo­ley paid.

“We did it well enough that they could charge more money for it,” McPhee said. “God bless them.”

If Seat­tle is ap­proved, the NHL will hold an­other ex­pan­sion draft, but the Knights won’t par­tic­i­pate, Bettman said.

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