1. Does a 7 seed in Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Finals show weakness in the NHL, or the salary cap is working? What about the Eastern Conference playoffs as a whole?
A 7 seed in the Cup Finals shows partially that it takes a lot of luck, yet a lot of skill, to win the Cup. You need to get hot at the right times. Philadelphia was lucky in that they were a mere shootout goal by Ollie Jokinen from possibly not even being in the playoffs. But how can we call them lucky? They've had one of the biggest goaltending carousels in recent history; no goalie started more than 30 games for them. There is a basic formula including a hot goalie, strong secondary scoring (in addition to big numbers by the stars), which is often created by winning battles and working harder, and at least 4 solid defensemen, but each year this formula is often overlooked to look square at how one-particular-team did it. We've seen teams try to get tougher after Anaheim (Toronto, Philadelphia), more possessive after Detroit (San Jose, Washington, Chicago), more high-end talent after Pittsburgh (Boston?, Edmonton?, NY Islanders?). Have any of those teams repeated? No. The Flyers have 5 expensive forwards, and 2 expensive defensemen, but have found cheap goaltending to work for them, which seems to have been this year's theme; but as stated, there are differing circumstances every year. Big teams in the East choked, either by getting outworked or going cold, which may have paved the path for the odd pairing in the battle for the Prince of Wales Trophy.
2.Who is the X factor for both teams in the series?
The "X-Factor" is a misnomer, say I. Basically, the teams need to squeeze the last bits out of my formula from above. Stars scoring, secondary players adding, defensemen being factors, and strong goaltending. It's a team game for a reason. But if I must individualize things, I'll argue that keeping Byfuglien to score timely goals (4 GWG, 8 overall) would keep pressure off of stars currently producing (Toews, Kane, Keith) and those not scoring (Hossa, Campbell). Meanwhile, I'm going to give the tag to Chris Pronger of the Flyers, because he anchors a relatively younger group of defensemen trying to protect a goaltender with a scattered past. The man plays over 30 minutes a game, and Michael Leighton said it best himself that Pronger's 4-minute penalty in the 3rd in Game 5 against Montreal was a blessing in disguise, as it merely rested him for the stretch run.
3.Do you join a growing amount of Red Wings fans who greatly dislike the Blackhawks?
It comes down to the cities themselves. Unfortunately, I don't. I don't like Chicago fans (despite loving their city), but I despise Philadelphia fans (a cool city too), even though their serenade of the Habs with "Ole, Ole, Ole" was hilarious. But Bobby Clarke and Eric Lindros have rubbed me the wrong way more than Ed Belfour and Jeremy Roenick have. I'd love to see Hossa go down a 3rd time, but Philadelphia hadn't won anything for years until the Phillies, and I think the SportsGods did so for a reason. Chicago has had losers too, but the Bulls weren't exactly the Cubs. Philadelphia doesn't need any more success, even though a cup in Chicago would put the biggest pressure on my Toronto Maple Leafs. Honestly, I hate a number of players on both teams, for a myriad of reasons. But if nothing else, for as great as It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia is, Da Superfans was a better and funnier sketch on SNL. Oh, and ya gotta support a toothless and fellow Spartan, Duncan Keith.
4. I would have personally made a “Jason Garrett” offer to Steve Yzerman to keep him in Hockeytown.
What would have you done, and what do you think Yzerman will do in Tampa Bay?
I would have let him go, much as he did. I think Yzerman put in his time, and was ready to move on. Not to say that I don't think Yzerman added something to the front office, but the "Jason Garrett" of Detroit is Devellano, with a nod to Nill. Yzerman trained in one of the best situations possible, and he needs to see for himself if he can handle the task. Win or lose, he will always be a Red Wing and welcome in the organization. I think he'll help Stamkos grow into an Yzerman-type (more than the other supposed next-ones, like Matt Duchene and Jonathan Toews...Yzerman would never do a stupid sideburns playoff beard) and hope that Hedman turns into a Swedish Pronger. Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are two great forwards, but I wonder if one of them with the #6 overall pick this year could turn into Taylor Hall/Tyler Seguin and something else. I wish him the best, and hope that if he wants it, he'll consider a return to Detroit, possibly to succeed Holland.
5.Who will win the Cup this year and why?
Both teams have impressive offensive pieces (Toews/Kane/Hossa/Sharp, Richards/Briere/Carter/Gagne), some depth scoring (Byfuglien/Versteeg, Giroux/Leino), and hot goalies (Niemi, Leighton). Both teams play in two of the toughest road arenas. Both teams have beaten at least two choker teams (Vancouver/San Jose, New Jersey/Boston) Philadelphia has won 8 of its last 9 games and has been defensively sound. However, Chicago is the team to beat. They look as smooth as Mike Babcock's hair, and have been on a mission for 49 years, focused 3 years ago, and intensely moving with the signing of good luck charm Marian Hossa. I think the third time is the charm for him, and they do it in 5 games, hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup in the United Center.