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Trending Topics: Competing from a place of weakness is a nice goal, but not a realistic one

By Ryan Lambert

Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

Professional sports are, at their heart, not really about athletic competition, but rather making money.

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Clubs have an incentive to put together winning teams not just because it's cool to get a big trophy at the end of the year, but because people don't show up to see losing teams. Conversely, they do show up to see winners, and the more winning you do in the postseason, the more money you make.

But all too often these days, teams seem content to be middling clubs that hope to win a low playoff spot and earn just a handful of home games, at best, before bowing to the vastly superior sides put together to actually win a Stanley Cup. I think the number that people spout for what a single home playoff date is worth to a team is something like $1 million, and so for some teams, making the extra two or three million for a one-round bounce-out is worth the price of admission, particularly if they're not exactly a cap team.

Of course, that's also a really cynical and ultimately self-defeating way to handle your business as a National Hockey League team — Exhibit A: The Calgary Flames, who decided they were Going For It this season and instead missed the playoffs for the third straight year despite hugging the cap ceiling — so it's often disappointing when teams resort to that. But it's a fairly common practice nonetheless.

Which is why it's so nice to see Geoff Molson on Thursday in the Canadiens' press conference say that for a team like that, simply getting into the playoffs, which they obviously won't do this year, and getting slaughtered by someone is not a good endgame. They want to build a team that doesn't want to make the playoffs, but can do some damage in them. In the past, Brian Burke has said much the same thing about his ultimate goals for the Maple Leafs.

That's presumably why both teams were quiet at the deadline this year: Instead of wasting important assets to take on expiring contracts for guys who simply aren't worth the investment, they decided to stand pat. And though both squads ultimately, and fairly predictably, failed to qualify for the postseason, they at least took the right path. What good is making the playoffs if a Boston or New York or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia is going to humiliate you in short order?

If you're, say, Colorado — which doesn't draw particularly well (they're 23rd in the league this season), has a pretty young roster, is nowhere the cap, and can't have had real designs on winning anything this season — getting into the playoffs and getting drilled would be great from a monetary standpoint and maybe, you could argue, from the standpoint of getting kids experience in the postseason. Phoenix, though it has an older roster, must look at a one-and-done playoff appearance in much the same way.

Again, all teams in the NHL are inherently businesses, and all businesses have bottom lines that have to be met. For teams struggling to break even, a single playoff appearance can really help to make a team financially successful.

But at the same time, the Canadiens and Leafs have nearly unique abilities to say something like that. Since the lockout, they've sold every seat to every game, and probably did so long before that too. They, essentially, print their own money just by existing. It likely wouldn't matter much for their gate receipts if they went 82-0 or 0-82 next season. Every seat would have a butt in it from preseason to postseason, and therefore, the pronouncements that simply making the playoffs isn't acceptable ring, unfortunately, somewhat hollow.

Because they have the luxury of making money in ways that even some of the most popular teams in the league cannot, and also because they're terrible, the Habs and Maple Leafs are simply not the best advocates for not settling for a mere playoff appearance. Mainly because a mere playoff appearance would be a huge step forward for either franchise. Plus, let's be generous and say that either franchise could force a Game 6 against whichever team was lucky enough to face them. That's $3 million extra in the team's pockets. Or, more accurately, that's chump change. They give that to Mike Komisarek and Scott Gomez like it's nothing. Because to them it is. In that way, at least, having kind of problems the Leafs and Habs do is both good and bad.

It would be really great to see teams do their best to be as competitive as possible every year, but that's not a reality that many bad teams get to live in. Ideally, every team sells out all 41 home dates every season. That would be great.

But unless you're winning a lot or an institution in your city, sometimes sneaking into the playoffs is the best you can hope for.

Why you don't have to worry about the Red Wings in the playoffs

Whoever draws the Red Wings in the playoffs this season will have not be playing the juggernaut team that has so dominated the Western Conference this last decade and a half or whatever it's been. They will instead be playing a mediocre team that just happens to be incredible in its own building.

It's impossible to argue that the Red Wings' 30-5-2 home record is anything short of incredible. Only one other team in the league, St. Louis, has a better go of things at home. But if you take the Red Wings out of the Joe, they become a decidedly subaverage team that's easily dispatched.

They didn't win on the road at all in the month of March. They played seven road games and took a whopping two points from those 14. In fact, since a Feb. 2 road win in Vancouver —in the shootout — Detroit has gone just 1-7-4. This run was punctuated by Wednesday's shocking road loss to Columbus, which boasted Allen York between the pipes. The same Allen York who has more appearances in the ECHL this season than any other league (and a whopping .892 save percentage in that league). And they lost 4-2.

That's not the way a team that has 97 points should be losing anywhere, let alone away to the worst team in the league by far. But it's become all too typical for the Red Wings, who have scored just 95 goals in 40 road games, and allowed a 23rd-in-the-league 117. At 16-21-3, this is, in fact, their worst season of road hockey since 1998-99, when they went 16-20-5 away from the Joe. They haven't lost 21 or more on the road since 1990-91, and, fortunately for them, have just one road date left this season, at St. Louis next Wednesday.

Now, it's still up in the air as to whether the Wings will have home ice in the first round of playoffs. Nashville is just a point behind them, both having played 77 games, with more non-shootout wins. But even if they keep the four seed, does a team like Nashville really worry about its ability to beat Detroit in seven knowing how easy it is to beat them on the road?

And let's say Detroit does somehow advance. While any team can get hot, do you see them advancing out of the conference semifinals for the first time in three years with that kind of road record?

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on dining etiquette: "There should be some type of punishment for couples that sit on the same side of the table in a restaurant."

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.



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