I think it’s fair to say that, so far, this year sucks.
Even before the awful news of recent days, 2015 was already feeling like more of the same 2014-ness, but re-warmed in a microwave with a broken ‘defrost’ function. On top of that, after making a few too many mumps jokes at the NHL’s expense, I started the year by catching a nasty winter virus.
While in the throes of this seasonal plague, I awoke one morning to my phone making noise. I thought it was the alarm I’d set. Instead, it was a notification from the NHL app that Randy Carlyle had been fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs. I assumed this was merely a fever dream, laughing until I was wracked by a spasm of coughing.
In pain, I realized it was all real, and I cough-laughed some more. And then I got some water.
To recap: Randy Carlyle had a shaky grasp on his coaching position, but isn’t fired in the offseason by the Leafs’ new management (his assistants, though, are canned). In a new and tenuous setting, Carlyle guides the team through a half-season that is utterly inconsistent and streaky. Despite this, he’s got them (barely) hanging onto the final playoff spot.
Then, after a particularly awful game against Winnipeg with his boss in the house, Carlyle shrugs and says that you can only cook food with the ingredients you’re given. The next day, his boss fired him. Again, all I can do is laugh until the coughing starts up again.
Because it wasn’t humorous enough already, the takes started popping out of the pundits hot and not-so-fresh: Carlyle was fired — does this mean that Phil Kessel is a coach-killer?! He scores so many points, but doesn’t hustle on defense — a well-known lethal combination for coaches. Why, Alex Ovechkin has been a longtime murder of coaching careers, and this fits that M.O. precisely! Get away from him while you can, coaches! It’s murder!
Then again, nowhere may be safe from coach-killers. When Edmonton fired its coach, the rumor mill was churning with the idea that one player also needed to go, in order to combat a culture of not-hustling and such. He may not have been explicitly labeled a coach-killer, but the whisper campaign had Taylor Hall pegged as one. And when Ottawa fired its coach, guess what term was applied to Erik Karlson? You guessed it.
But Phil Kessel has taken on the role like few since Ovechkin. Even noted franchise-killer Mike Milbury chimed in to say so. Coincidentally, Ovechkin’s Capitals played Kessel’s Maple Leafs last night. I’m amazed any coaches made it out alive.
Even more surprising than Carlyle’s canning was the loss of a hockey website. For anyone who followed the NHL, CapGeek was damn near a digital bible. Why did every savvy Chicago fan know that the team was probably going to trade away a good, young defenseman before the season started? Because we saw the salary numbers on CapGeek. Understanding a team’s attempt to solve the salary-cap puzzle is a now-commonplace part of fandom and writing about the sport, because CapGeek put that information out there in easily-to-grasp format.
Last week, the site announced that is was permanently ceasing operations due to health issues faced by founder Matthew Wuest. CapGeek was one of the sites I most often referenced for these posts (the others being NHL.com and war-on-ice.com). What I write each week is second- and thirdhand commentary building upon the primary and secondary work of other hockey writers (and watching what games I can). This silly little column wouldn’t exist without the legwork of sites like CapGeek.
Like I said, this new year sucks so far. I could really use something uplifting, like a professional hockey coach throwing an awkward tantrum that will probably contribute to him “losing the locker room.”
Ask and ye shall receive. Courtesy of KSTP in Minneapolis comes just such a video. The TV station’s crew was at the rink covering a Wild practice when Mike Yeo flipped the
bleep out. I wonder if it’ll inspire the Wild for their game against Chicago tonight?
We now arrive at the section in each column that I devote to talking about the Chicago Blackhawks. I do so because this site is Chicago-centric, and because I’m a ‘Hawks fan. Funny how that works. Hah. I’m stalling here so that I don’t have to remember Chicago’s 0-2 loss to the Avalanche on Tuesday. I’d prefer not to remember the two goals Colorado scored in the first 77 seconds of the game. I’d also rather not remember Varlamov making 54 saves in the shutout. Remembering such things would require me to drink heavily, which I can’t do (on account of being sick).
Hell, just trying to suppress memories of that game lead me down a spiraling research hole into topics like “shot quality” and “shot location” and “luck.” It all seemed to blend together into the idea that in a small sample size — like a single game — which contains low-probability events (i.e., goals), luck is a very influential and very harsh mistress. It’s why a game-winning goal happens when a defenseman falls down, even though the opposing team put a record number of pucks on net AND OH MY GODS I NEED A DRINK.
Oh, right. Sick. So…
Hey, did you hear that Teuvo got called up last week? Not only that, but the young Finn is even getting ten minutes of ice time a night so far. He doesn’t look comfortable yet, but it’s good to see the team’s ice-time being a little more balance. Two games so far without wasting a lineup spot to by starting a guy who’ll be on ice for a few minutes early on, only to disappear the rest of the game.
The All-Star Game — brought to you by beautiful Latvia
The NHL announced the six players voted into this season’s All-Star Game. It’s not a surprise in the least, since you could track the vote counts the whole time. Five Blackhawks and the Sabre from Latvia. Not exactly news.
But it’s still really cool to see Zemgus Girgensons win the top spot of the fan vote, almost 80% of which came from fans in his native Latvia. It’s a feel-good story about a popularity vote for an exhibition game. And this year could already use more stories like it.