Coaches, hits and mutiny within the union
We are all for the praise being heaped on Andy Murray's shoulders. What Murray has done with the sad-sack St. Louis Blues since his arrival is nothing short of miraculous, compiling a 21-11-6 record prior to Thursday's clash with Dallas.
But it was less than a year ago that Murray's Los Angeles Kings were going off the rails and Murray was being given the bum's rush by then-GM Dave Taylor. Too demanding, too strident, too hard, media observers smugly wrote.
Certainly, Murray seemed to have lost his ability to motivate a Kings team that was never long on talent, but rarely short on work ethic. Now, he has the attention of a rebuilding Blues team that figures to be in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race next season, well ahead of schedule for a team that was dead-last in the NHL a year ago.
Murray began his coaching tenure in Los Angeles in 1999, so perhaps his time had come. But look around the NHL, and you see that a rush to judge coaches is often incredibly short-sighted.
Claude Julien, Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault were the three previous head coaches for the Montreal Canadiens prior to the hiring of Guy Carbonneau. The three coaches, currently behind the benches of the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks, respectively, were a combined 113-62-21 heading into play Tuesday. All three are comfortably ensconced in playoff positions.
Carbonneau? His team is in flames, having gone from challenging for the Northeast Division lead earlier in the season to a diminishing chance of making the playoffs at all. No one is suggesting Carbonneau should be canned (although he does appear to have aged exponentially in the last few weeks), but it reinforces the vagaries of the coaching profession.
As one head coach pointed out of the three former Habs coaches: Did they suddenly get stupid? No. Andy Murray didn't get stupid in Los Angeles; tired maybe, but not stupid.
And Julien, Therrien and Vigneault are all proving their coaching acumen in other NHL cities. It would be a delicious bit of irony if one (or two) of those ex-Habs coaches found their way to the Stanley Cup finals, while Carbonneau and the Habs cool their blades this April.
Maybe a bit of a cautionary tale for other organizations.
Anyone? No. Didn't think so.
That the NHL's czar of discipline, Colin Campbell, figured three games was enough for such a dangerous blow to the head speaks volumes about the league's inertia when it comes to acting proactively to curtail such dangerous play. And the criticism the league has received over the suspension is justified. The league has to set the tone, the standard, for what's going to be accepted.
But where does this kind of behavior come from? Earlier this month, we saw Ottawa's Chris Neil, a player moderately more skilled than Janssen but clearly with a similar brainwave pattern, launch a dangerous blow to the noggin of Buffalo co-captain Chris Drury. The hit precipitated two games of brawling action. But seemingly lost in all of this is the onus that should be on players to police themselves.
Players know they can't two-hand a guy in the head because they know they'll incur a lengthy suspension (maybe), and they know it's inherently wrong. People talk about the "code" in hockey, especially tough guys. Well, players like Janssen and Neil prove that "tough" just as often means "cowardly" -- there is no other term for the hits on Kaberle and Drury.
When was the last time a tough, skilled player took a run at another player's head? It rarely happens because being tough and skilled implies a level of hockey smarts marginal players like Janssen and Neil don't possess. Neil had 16 goals a year ago and fancies himself as a two-way player, but the Drury hit revealed he has a lot of growing up to do.
Sadly, it's usually the players of Janssen's ilk, fleas on the rump of the game, that are under the misguided impression that delivering some powerful blow, usually illegal, justifies their existence, an existence that generally amounts to three or four minutes a night of ice time.
The league should have dealt with Janssen with the same savagery Janssen delivered his hit on Kaberle, who is sidelined and might not return this season. Not that anyone, least of all the Devils, would miss Janssen, but that's the message that should be sent.
As a final word on Janssen, Kaberle told reporters in Toronto this week that Janssen had not contacted him after the hit. Nice touch. Enough said.
E.J. & Barry say Pens must stay in Pittsburgh.
|"300" A BIG ZERO|
Another curious choice by the NHL's marketing brain trust to attach part of its pre-Stanley Cup playoff campaign to the violent new film "300."
Trailers from the film have been spliced together with clips from last season's NHL playoffs to provide a disjointed and more than a little off-putting impression. We understand the notion of reaching out to different audiences and putting the NHL logo in different places. But this is a film that, according to critics, pays homage to violence and gore and little more.
"The battle sequences are filled with grotesque spectacle: They start off entertainingly ferocious, then grow numbing with stylized spraying blood and severed heads," wrote critic Claudia Puig of USA Today.
"Action addicts in general and carnivorous fanboys in particular will chow down on this bloody feast," added Variety's Todd McCarthy.
Yum. Hasn't the NHL been talking about how it needs to market and promote its own players, its own identity? How is this achieved by throwing its logo -- and worse, its greatest symbol, the Stanley Cup -- into something that looks like it was put together in about an hour in the back of a dingy apartment?
Give us Joe Thornton buttering toast please.
|MUTINY FOR THE UNION?|
Although the NHL Players' Association has been rife with in-fighting and bickering since the end of the lockout, we have been consistent in our dealing with the issue -- we have ignored it. Why? Because no one outside of those directly involved cares whether the players get along or like executive director Ted Saskin. For the most part, the squabbles have little effect on the game or its fans.
But this week, reports out of Toronto revealed local police were investigating whether any laws were broken after it was alleged top NHLPA officials requested and/or sanctioned tampering with players' e-mails. The idea that Saskin and his people were looking into what players were saying in their internal e-mails has left players shocked and concerned. As it should be.
A conference call is scheduled for Sunday when, without Saskin aboard, players will determine what course of action to follow and whether they should ask Saskin to resign. There is already an independent investigation under way into how Saskin ascended to the union's top spot after the lockout.
If the e-mail charges are true, he'll have to go. And that's where it gets interesting for the league and fans. Presumably a replacement for Saskin would be less conciliatory with the league and that could upset what, until now, has been both a peaceful and profitable arrangement for both players and owners in the wake of the lockout. Stay tuned. -- S.B.
Barry Melrose wonders what the NHL has learned since the Bertuzzi-Moore incident.
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