Bill Daly isn’t convinced every hit on Sidney Crosby this year has been clean.
With the most frantically entertaining part of the league schedule about to kick off, all eyes in the hockey world will be fixated on the state of Pennsylvania, where the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are both frothing at the mouth in anticipation for their first-round match up.
Some people — including Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube and a couple media members — have recently used their tongues to criticize Crosby, calling the game’s poster boy a diving whiner. Daly believes the flak Crosby has absorbed is, in many cases, unjustified.
“I think some of the criticisms have been clearly unfair and some to the point of being inappropriate,” Daly said. “You find that from time to time, I think it’s a little bit of gamesmanship, a little competition. I think our players expect it to a certain extent, but you never want unfair criticism.”
The pointed words can partially be attributed to the fact the tone in the Keystone State is ultra-tense, thanks in large part to an Apr. 1 game that saw Flyers centre Brayden Schenn and Crosby getting after each other, not to mention a major dust-up sparked by Penguins fourth-liner Joe Vitale flattening Philly star Danny Briere, which also prompted the respective coaching staffs to engage in a sharp question and answer session with each other that included a lot of finger-wagging.
The antics turned up the heat on what is already a huge rivalry and fueled hopes the Penguins and Flyers are about to embark on a seven-game series that will feature more than its share of old-time hockey.
The NHL assigns a supervisor to every series and that league official sits down with both GMs before Game 1 to go over the major talking points. Daly denied the league is paying extra-close attention to the brewing battle in Pennsylvania, but he did expect series supervisor Kris King to clearly cover all the pertinent topics with Pens GM Ray Shero and Philly boss Paul Holmgren before the action kicks off.
“I’m sure, given Philly and Pittsburgh’s history, some of the issues that have come up during the season will be emphasized,” he said.
One issue that’s already cropped up is the fact Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are meeting at all before the second round. The Pens finished the year with the second-most points (108) in the Eastern Conference, with Philly just behind in third place with 103. However, because of the NHL seeding system that rewards division winners, the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins were both slotted ahead of the Penguins and Flyers, despite having fewer points.
Both Pittsburgh and Philly can lay claim to legit Stanley Cup hopes, but one will make a first-round exit because they’re meeting as the fourth and fifth seeds. That re-opened the debate in some circles that the league should simply rank its playoff teams based on the total number of points in each conference. Daly acknowledged changes have been discussed, but are unlikely to occur.
“The managers have talked about that from time to time, I don’t view a groundswell of support for changing it,” he said.