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.