Skating On Thin Ice

The Montreal Canadiens were 19-4-3 through the first 26 games three days earlier star goaltender Carey Price went down injured with what was supposed to be a “week or two” lower body injury.  Since then the Canadiens have gone 8-23-1, Price hasn’t come back, the team traded for All-Star Game MVP John Scott just days prior to his coming out party only to bury him in minor league affiliate St. John’s and now Coach Michel Therrien is openly flaming star defenseman P.K. Subban in the press.

Is there something going on with the bleu blanc et rouge?

From first glance it looks to me like the Canadiens are reeling with the loss of Price.  If the New York Rangers lost Henrik Lundqvist I believe they’d struggle just like the Canadiens.  You can throw in NHL quality backups and hope for the best, but there’s too much parity in the NHL these days that once you lose an elite goaltender that you rely on to push your team over the edge you might as well pack it in.  Especially if you don’t have goal scorers that teams like the Chicago Blackhawks do.

Let’s also keep in mind the fish bowl that this team plays in.  Ask Jocelyn Thibault.  Don’t know Jocelyn Thibault?  Thibault was part of the Patrick Roy trade between the Colorado Avalanche and the Canadiens that sent Roy and Mike Keane to the Avalance for Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko.  Thibault was a young 20 year old when he was thrust into the shadow of Saint Patrick on the Montreal Forum stage. He was put in net to try to replicate what a man 10 years his senior had done for this hockey loving community.

Oh, did I mention Thibault was also French Canadian?  Thibault grew up in Montreal and played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was called by Canadiens General Manager Rejean Houle “one of the most brilliant young goaltenders in the league?”

Gee.  Pressure?  A 20 year old kid going home to one of the most storied franchises of all time, most Stanley Cups in NHL history (22), one of the oldest North American professional sports franchises in history, over 50 people associated with the club were in the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s his hometown club, and now the General Manager of this club says that he is the key to this deal and one of the most brilliant young goaltenders in the league.  That’s not much presure

Then there’s the list of goaltenders that’s played at the club, let’s see: Patrick Roy, Tony Esposito, Ken Dryden, Gump Worsley, Jacques Plante, Roy Worters, Bill Durnan, George Hainsworth and Georges Vezina!  That’s just the Hall of Fame goaltenders.

But hell, Thibault came over to the Canadiens and through 40 games after being traded he posted a 23-13-3 record with a 2.83 Goals Allowed Average and a .913 Save Percentage.  For a 20 year old playing in the shadow of ghosts, that’s not too bad.

But it was never enough.  Even playing on crappy teams, Thibault always did his best but he got the blame.  Eventually getting traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998, Thibault would move on.  I can only imagine his growth as a goaltender was scared by his experiences in Montreal.  Unfortunately the ghosts were the same ones that Ken Dryden spoke of in his book “The Game.”  Dryden experienced the pain too.  The must win now mentality.  The mentality that if you don’t win you are going to get shipped out.  There’s no room for any sort of growth.

I hate to see something like that happen.  I think the Canadiens could do well bringing up John Scott and playing him to bring some excitement to the club.  Or even trading him to let him play somewhere in the NHL.  He deserves a shot somewhere.

But the way that they are treating P.K. Subban is the way they treated Thibault.  A solid club servant, who did what was asked of him, gave to the club and hell Subban is there for the community, but now he’s being questioned for his decisions on the ice?  This man gives everything that he has on the ice.

I have to wonder if the long line of Cups are getting in the way of what a franchise should truly be about.  It’s not always about winning.  It should be about people too.  It should be about understanding that you are going to have crap years.  But the players are giving what they have.  I’ve written about coaching changes before, but with Montreal losing an elite goaltender and now you want to criticize your star defenseman?  Someone should fire the coach.  Obviously he has some issues.  Sure he’s feeling the heat too.  But that’s unacceptable.

I feel bad for Subban and Scott and hope that neither of them has their careers ruined like Thibault did.  Here’s hoping.

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Revolving Doors

It’s a great day when Sunderland wins and it’s an even better day when Sunderland manages to beat one of the top four names in the Premier League (Man U, Man City, Arsenal or Chelsea).

This past weekend they managed to do both when they beat Man U 2-1 under new boss Sam Allardyce.  Allardyce had been in charge since October of 2015, registering only 16 points for the club before being able to magically swing these points to the Black Cats.   Allardyce took over for former head man Dick Advocaat who had been on a one year contract but changed his mind on the deal and left the club holding the bag.

I don’t blame Advocaat for changing his mind, I know that he took a lot of the job to heart, the man cried when he saved the team from relegation. I’m sure his agreement to come back in the summer of 2015 saved the team from another disaster.  I can’t imagine the scramble they would have been in trying to procure someone at that stage to manage; trying to pick up the pieces and try to recruit players at the same time.  He was able to help secure some new blood into the side and give the squad some hope that going forward there would be less drama in the coming season.

I didn’t take the resignation of Dick Advocaat lightly, he was the second man to take the club to safety from the clutches of relegation however I know that at times coaching changes have to happen.  Anymore I’m afraid that Sunderland are going to have to change their name to the “Revolving Doors.”

Coaching changes occur at what seems like a frequent pace in Sunderland,  Steve Bruce left the club on November 30, 2011 and we’ve seen four managers since him, not to mention twice having caretakers in charge in the span. The door revolved from Steve Bruce to Martin O’Neill to Paolo “managing with a hand grenade” Di Canio to “the Gus Bus” Poyet on up to Sam Allardyce.

On the same day that Sunderland beat Man U, the Minnesota Wild of the NHL fired their manager Mike Yeo who had been in charge since the 2011-2012 season.  Yeo had lead the team to three consecutive playoff appearances during that span however the team spiraled out of control this year losing 13 of the last 14 games that he was in charge.  Throughout those years when Minnesota had issues they never fired him, they made a change in players and it seemed to “work” or the team would come together at the right time.

The 2013-2014 campaign was a test of management’s faith in Yeo, as the rumors swirled many times that he would be let go but the team came together as the season wore on to make a playoff push.  In the 2014-2015 season they brought in goalie Devan Dubnyk prior to the trade deadline to try to fix a record of 18-19-5 and finished 46-28-8.  Yeo however could never find a way throughout those three playoff appearances to get past the Chicago Blackhawks, getting knocked out every year by them(2013 in the 1st round, 2014 in the 2nd, 2015 in the 2nd).  Superman always had his kryptonite, Yeo had the Blackhawks.

Both hockey and soccer are alike in that not only do you need consistency at the top with management and coaching but you need the players all throughout your squad to play at their best.  You need depth and quality throughout the team from the top lines to the fourth line in hockey and from the starting 11 to your bench in soccer.

Sunderland has seen it’s fair share of highs and lows over this span of coaching changes and you can’t say it’s all been on one side or the other: players or coaches.  What you can say is that when it comes to quality and consistency the play hasn’t always been there.  The defense might have an “out of it’s mind” game with the goaltending providing stellar saves, the midfielders and attackers can’t provide enough to threaten the other side or vice versa.  Plus there hasn’t always been enough sitting on the bench to provide firepower if an injury occurred or if the game was getting away from the team.  Players get out of form and the team has been forced to play them because there hasn’t been someone to step in and take over that was of similar quality.  In many ways that has been the result of poor signings, injuries and players not living up to their abilities.  However that happens with every team, it just seems that some luck would have been nice somewhere along the lines.

With Yeo’s Wild, they had issues scoring in the playoffs once they got there.  In 2015 against the Blackhawks, who would go on to win the Cup, they scored 7 goals through 4 games – that’s not going to win you many playoff series in the NHL unless you have Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur in net (or maybe Jocelyn Thibault – hey no one really knows).    In 2014, they scored 13 goals through 6 games which was a bit more respectable, but they were facing the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.  In 2013, they scored 7 goals through 5 games against the Blackhawks who go on to win the Cup.  Obviously if you can’t capitalize on your chances and if you don’t have all four lines rolling in the playoffs you aren’t going to last long which is what we see with the Wild.

I brought up NHL.com’s team stats section on 2/16/16 prior to the Wild’s game against Calgary to fully explore Minnesota’s problem and it seems pretty evident.  Goals for per game: 2.50 vs. Goals allowed per game 2.50.  The Wild currently have a record of 24-22-10 for a .5178 win percentage and that comes after they won 5-2 in their new coach, John Torchetti’s first game in charge.  If you can’t score more than you let in you aren’t going to win, plain and simple.  The power play currently ranks 23rd and the penalty kill ranks 25th; out of 30 teams it shows that the depth simply isn’t there.  You can only change systems and tactics so much but when your top scorer has 38 points through 56 games and doesn’t crack the top 50 scorers on NHL.com you know that your team needs scoring help.

It’s not a judgement of the scouting of the Wild or the organization so much as it is to say that maybe Yeo wasn’t the one who should have been let go.  It’s possible that this team has been full of smoke and mirrors for some time and now it is all shining through.  The players the team is leaning on are either too young to carry the team or are not capable and unfortunately clubs let the coach take the fall in this situation rather than admit their defeat.  It happens all the time and it will continue to happen as long as there are professional sports leagues.

Meanwhile in Sunderland someone is trying to figure out exactly where the revolving door should be put outside the stadium.