Post mortems for the teams that lost in the opening round of the NHL playoffs always differ from those of the 16 non-playoff teams.
These eight teams that fell by the wayside over the past week or so all qualified for the postseason. In five cases, they were a victory and sometimes even just a goal away from advancing to the second round themselves.
In a bottom-line industry, the fact that they didn’t get the job done was disappointing — and in some markets, even seemed shattering. Moreover, you heard that disappointment, time after time, in exit interviews and especially in Pittsburgh Penguins’ exit interviews, where the offseason business might be even more complicated than even Toronto (believe it or not).
Still, the people who run teams — the general managers and/or presidents of hockey operations — are paid to think big-picture thoughts, not jump to rushed, spur-of-the-moment conclusions. If you are an actual, not armchair, GM and your team just played a 50-50 series against a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and lost because you didn’t get one timely goal or save, it complicates the question of what to do next?
Or to put the matter another way, for any of the teams that simply weren’t good enough to make the playoffs, the needs are usually pretty evident, and the holes to fill gaping.
But what do you do with a team where a lot more went right than went wrong?
It’s tricky. Presumably, the one lesson that won’t be lost on the eight GMs who, this week, were deconstructing their seasons after exiting in the opening round, is how being overly obsessed by a single playoff loss can completely undo an organization that still has some rubber on the tires.
You only need to go back to 2017, when the regular-season Western Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks lost in the opening round to the Nashville Predators — to see the dire consequences of overreacting to a difficult two-week stretch.
After being a really good competitive regular-season team, running Artemi Panarin and Niklas Hjalmarsson out of town was a horrible miscalculation and started the Blackhawks down the path they’re currently on — stumbling and fumbling near the bottom of the divisional standings for years now, with no real turnaround in sight.
It’s easy in the aftermath of a difficult first-round loss to call for a full organizational revamp. It just feels so cleansing — so cathartic — to proclaim, “out with the old and in with the new.” It isn’t necessarily always an effective strategy and sometimes, can backfire in a meaningful way. It can feel good, for a day or two, a temporary high. Then it’s time for training camp to open and suddenly you look on the ice and it’s: ‘Oh oh, we don’t have our 40-goal scorer anymore, or our 80-point guy, or the heartbeat of our team is gone.’
Reality sets in soon afterward.
The lesson of the 2017 Blackhawks is, be careful what you wish for. Chicago may have won the press conference in the public eye for a day or two, the Blackhawks brass sitting there, sternly telling their fan base how unacceptable that playoff performance was — and warning that there’d be consequences.
They were right of course … there were consequences, just not the ones anticipated.