1. What to make of the Cervenka signing?
It came out last week that the Calgary Flames had signed former KHL all-star Roman Cervenka, who’s a 26-year-old center, to a one-year deal with $3.775 million deal.
I wasn’t happy with it — I know, right: me? — but basically what it is, at the end of the day, is the signing of a much younger, slightly more expensive Olli Jokinen. Which isn’t a bad thing in theory. But in actual practice, who knows?
Sorry, but it’s hard to get excited about an older player who’s never, never played more than a few games on a North American-sized ice sheet, if he ever has at all (even the 2005 World Juniors, in which he played for his native Czech Republic, was played on a pair of 200-by-85 rinks in North Dakota). His biggest claim to fame, of course, is centering Jaromir Jagr for Avangard Omsk two seasons ago, and surprise surprise, he had a great season. He picked up 31-30-61 in just 51 games, but saw that total drop to a mere 23-16-39 in 54 this season with his Hall of Fame wing playing in Philadelphia instead of Siberia.
Am I dismissing this signing as ludicrous? No. It’s a low-risk, potentially middling reward deal that costs the team nothing but money — of course, they say that about every so-so college free agent signing too. But am I optimistic that he actually slots in as a top-6 forward at the NHL level? Also no.
Let’s not forget, the last 26-year-old European free agent the Flames signed and assured us all would be serviceable in his role was that terrible goalie whose name I already forget (Henrik Karlsson, the internet now informs me). He was not serviceable in his role. But he also wasn’t a waste of money. Or at least, that much money.
So I’m ready to believe Cervenka can be an okay NHL player. I’m just not counting on it.
2. Losing earlier than you expected?
Lately, it seems a popular thing to do: You get bounced from the playoffs earlier than you might have liked, you talk very publicly about the possibility of firing your coach. This is a practice that has been around a while, but in the last year or two in particular, it seems to be growing more common.
For the last few weeks, people have speculated wildly, and many thought for sure the Canucks were going to can Alain Vigneault after a first-round bounce-out (though perhaps that’s just what happens when you have two No. 1 goalies and don’t have a clear idea of which one to play at any point ever, least of all in the playoffs), and the same was said of Joel Quenneville in Chicago. In fact, as I type this, the world is waiting with bated breath for his conference call with team officials to take place so they can clarify why they just fired an assistant coach.
And of course, Todd McLellan is now being linked with the coaching jobs in Calgary, Edmonton (if/when Tom Renney gets fired), Montreal, Vancouver (if/when Vigneault gets fired, which he won’t), and so forth. Basically, name a Canadian team that has no coach or even one on slightly uneven ground, and he might come to them and save the day or something I guess.
But what this fundamentally ignores is another tenet of hockey that goes back a million years: Any team can win any series. Sure, the best teams usually win the series more often than not, but it doesn’t always happen that way, and in series as short as seven games, one bad bounce in two or three games is the difference between advancing and golfing. So sometimes, even the world’s best coaches with the world’s best teams don’t actually win all the playoff games they’re supposed to. It’s not really a reason to fire your coach.
3. The Kings’ reach
Who would have predicted a Darryl Sutter-led Kings team would look so convincing in these Western Conference playoffs?
Oh I don’t know, how about anyone who watched him coach the Flames to being a really good hockey team? I wrote about it when he first got hired for Puck Daddy, but anyone who confused Sutter’s abysmal general-managing of the Flames with his ability to kick an entire team in the ass and make it play mean, defensive hockey behind the bench was and is a fool.
Despite their performances early in the season, where they either lost 2-1 or won 1-0 thanks to the Herculean efforts of Jonathan Quick, this was always a fairly elite team — witness their roster of skaters like Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, etc., even before they brought in Jeff Carter — and then put a your-friend’s-kind-of-mean-dad coach like Sutter behind it. If the Kings are one thing, they’re a team that has to be good both on the cycle and in their own zone, because they sure don’t get the puck up and down the ice in a hurry, and therefore cannot score or defend on the counter.
Darryl Sutter is really, really good at coaching hockey teams built like that.
The matchup with Phoenix is intriguing but it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Kings either flatten them or squeak out a seven-game winner. I do, however, have an awful hard time seeing the Coyotes stop them.
4. Something happened this week
You may or may not have read it the other day, but Jarome Iginla’s grandmother died. Sad news.
But it made me realize something: There’s no way this guy gets traded.
If they’re running stories in the local newspaper about the grandmother of a player on a team, and people are legitimately sad about it, that’s a pretty good indication that the player is beloved to the point where he simply cannot be moved unless the team’s management wants to be met outside both their home and office by sizable torches-and-pitchforks type crowds.
No matter how much it helps the team, the casual fanbase simply will not accept it.
5. How about that Heat power play?
Was reading a little bit about the Abbotsford Heat and their performance in the AHL playoffs.
And well hey what do you know, it looks like the power play is humming along at just 14.1 percent, and is 0 for 16 in its current series with Toronto, headed into last night’s Game 4.
Like father, like son, I guess.