First Round Potpourri – April 18th, 2012



The season is over for the Flames, but there’s still plenty of interesting things going on. The first round has been replete with upsets, blow-outs, unprecedented violence and all the controversy that typically accompanies such things.

– Nothing makes experts look stupider – or creates more ridiculous narratives – than wacky outcomes in the post-season. The reactions and stuff filtering out of Pittsburgh in the wake of the Penguins going down 3-0 to the Flyers are just this side of insane. I’ve heard everything from "Crosby makes MA Fleury worse because he assumes Crosby can score at will" to Byslma has to be fired and the back-end needs to be completely rebuilt. This is based on a three game sample, mind you. A lousy three games, to be sure, but that’s what sub .800 goaltending will do for you. Also – the clamour to blame everyone but Fleury from some quarters is completely baffling. It shows how intractable reputations can become in the mind of fans (Fleury’s a clutch winner, remember).  

– Apparently, folks are allso calling for AV’s head out in Vancouver (the Canucks, remember, have won the Presidents Trophy in back-to-back seasons) and it’s rumored Todd McLellan could also be turfed if the Sharks fail to advance. I consider those three gents some of the best bench bosses in the game currently – meaning, the Flames may want to extend their coaching search a little longer in the hope one of those guys actually does get a pink slip.

– With the outburst of fighting and cheap shots so far, the terrible discipline monster has once again reared it’s ugly head. It’s an issue that seems simple on it’s face, but is complicated by so many intersecting interests and confounding incentives. 

Firstly, it’s entirely possible that there would also always be condemnation and gnashing of teeth in these matters, regardless of the decisions being made. Because the league is in part a sublimation of violence – a modern day gladiatorial games – and because players, coaches, fans and GMs will always be biased towards their own perspectives and interests, the league’s disciplinarian will necessarily be forced to juggle wholly disparate expectations when handing down suspensions and fines.

Meaning, strong, stiff sentences will almost always be loudly denounced by the perp’s fans and bosses as well as a subsection of the general fan base and commentariat who regard violence as an enduring and necessary part of the game (outside of the most egregious, stick swinging or skate stomping incidents, of course).

On the other hand, the victim’s fans, coaches, etc. are usually outraged when the sentence isn’t stiff enough.

On top of that basic dichotomy, you have the owners and the union more or less pushing for status quo (brief suspensions, preferential treatment for stars, etc.) because there’s dollars at stake. Dowbiggen notes here that some of the league’s sponsors are raising an eyebrow at the rampant violence in the playoffs so far, but that seems like hollow grandstanding to me. In the end, sponsors react to traffic numbers and eyeballs and there’s no question that violence sells. Viewership numbers are up 50% over last year at the same time and my twitter feed is filled nightly with media members and pundits saying something to the effect of "who says fighting and such hurts hockey? Just look how popular and fun all this stuff is."

So if you wonder why the NHL doesn’t seem to have much interest in eliminating certain actions from the game, it’s because it doesn’t. Sure, the league needs to perform certain perfunctory acts to tamp down controversy now and then and to make a show of caring about player safety, but in the end there’s a deep vein of violence that runs through the game, from the grassroots all the way up to the braintrust. It’s expected in players, it’s celebrated by (most) fans and it’s profitable for the big wallets.

– Finally, I’ve been carefully watching the best players on various teams during the first round thus far, and it strikes me how little most of them cleave to the conventional cliches about how best to play hockey. For instance, it’s rare to see guys like Datsyuk, Crosby or any other high-end forward endlessly pumping his legs around the ice, or crushing every body he meets along the boards.

Which isn’t to say that they don’t work hard or anything, just that their efforts and energies are far more restricted and controlled during their shifts than what one might picture of the archetypal charged-up, manic NHLer. Their value comes from predicting plays, their positioning, managing space and, of course, executing plays in difficult circumstances. 

Some Flames Notes

– Michael Ferland’s Brandon Wheat Kings are done for the year and he recently joined the Abbotsford Heat as a result. He may be in tough to make the roster, though – for the first time this season, the Heat have a full compliment of players at every position.

– Related: Max Reinhart made his pro debut for the Heat in their last game of the year. He scored two goals and was named the first star of the game. Good start, kid.

– Also related: The What Kings fell to the Edmonton Oil Kings, who are backed up by Flames prospect Laurent Brossoit. Edmonton has swept both rounds in the playoffs thus far, in part due to Brossoit’s .941 SV% in eight games. He has won 17 straight games going back into the regular season and was recently named CHL goaltender of the week.

I almost never get excited about goaltending prospects until they are tearing things up as a pro, but it’s been a pretty good season for the sixth rounder.

– Looks like Bob Boughner has little interest in leaving Windsor for the NHL at this point. You can likely scratch his name off the Flames potential coaches list.

  • Bikeit

    Coaching in the NHL: You can go from genius to scapegoat in a matter of weeks.Sometimes all they can do is stand behind the bench and watch the carnage unfold knowing that they did all they could do.

    Flames should wait for some coaches to become available after they are fired for first round failures.

    Been at the Blazers Winterhawks series and Baertschi may become available to the Heat soon after tonight. Though i am not sure if they can do that as it would negate him going back to Junior next year. He almost looks like he has lost interest in the dub and is ready to move onto his pro career. You see the skill there but he is exerting only 3/4 effort.

    • RexLibris

      I was wondering if you have any thoughts about Steve Yzerman’s proposal to allow 19 year olds to leave the CHL and go to the AHL.

      I’m a little divided on the issue as I think that many young players need the extra time (Drew Czerwonka, Martin Gernat, and Tyler Bunz are all examples of Oiler prospects who I think benefited from their extra junior season after being drafted) and giving the teams the option doesn’t necessarily mean that they will, in turn, make the correct decision for the interests of the player.

      The PA would obviously have something to gain from it in that they would have more players hitting free agency sooner, but I worry that the burnout rate might increase as some teams try to fasttrack their prospects into the professional game and then onto the NHL.

      For the elite it would be ideal, and that’s where the idea of the 1st round picks being exempt has come into play obviously, but I thought I’d get your input on the idea.

      • SmellOfVictory

        I can’t see it having a particularly negative effect on anything. If a team really wants to rush a player they’ll throw him into the NHL right away, so I don’t think the potential availability of the AHL would screw up the development of that many kids.

  • RexLibris

    Kent, thought fans here might be interested in following the Portland/Kamloops games tonight. Kamloops has come back from near-elimination the last two games and game seven goes tonight.

    Brossoit has been playing well, nothing extraordinary, but he is making saves he should when he has to. At this stage that is about as good as anyone should expect from a goalie and certainly would seem to indicate that he may be a good professional goalie. At what level remains to be seen.

    Didn’t Mitch Wahl get off to a great start in his first few AHL games?

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about how Ferland and Reinhart do next year in the AHL. I wonder if Ward, assuming he is still there, might try to temper their introduction a bit and have them play behind some AHL veterans in order to bring them along slowly.

    I would hope that the Flames don’t end up in a position where they have to call-up either of these players next season. I don’t think that would help their development in the long-run.

  • Bikeit

    Go Blazers Go. Has been fun hockey to see live as portland scores the pretty goals, but the blazers get pucks to the net from the point and crash the net. Refreshing hockey to watch after having to watch the flames all year.