Monday, April 13, 2015

Lord Stanley's Hour

It's that time of year again, as 16 hopeful teams get ready to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs this Wednesday, April 15.  As I survey the frozen surface, here are some quick thoughts on the Canucks and where the hockey world finds itself as its players ready for the toughest and most challenging playoffs in sports:

-- Often times the wisdom of trades are difficult to judge as there are so many variables at play in producing a top-notch NHL player, up to and including incredibly hard-to-quantify matters like team spirit, management culture and even the quality of the local food.  Two years ago, however, we came as close as possible to an NHL controlled experiment when the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks traded, not players, but head coaches.  Coming off of a disappointing year, the Canucks fired head coach Alain Vignault and hired the recently-dismissed NY Rangers head coach John Tortorella, while both teams made only minor changes to their play.

Those of us who knew that lousy GM Mike Gillis, long since fired, had thrown a great coach under the bus to explain his own obvious failures knew how this experiment would turn out, but it's instructive to recall the strength of the numbers in making that point.

Vigneault -  NYR  2013-14     45-31-6      96 points   Finish: Lost in Stanley Cup Finals (LA)

Tortorella -  VAN  2013-14     36-35-11     83 points     Finish: Did Not Qualify (Fired)

-- How good a coach is Vigneault?  His teams have won three of the last five President's Trophies, awarded to the team that finishes the regular season ranked first in the NHL.

VAN2006–0782492671051st in NorthwestLost in second round (ANA)
VAN2007–0882393310885th in NorthwestMissed playoffs
VAN2008–09824527101001st in NorthwestLost in second round (CHI)
VAN2009–1082492851031st in NorthwestLost in second round (CHI)
VAN2010–1182541991171st in NHLLost in Stanley Cup Final (BOS)
VAN2011–1282512291111st in NHLLost in first round (LA)
VAN2012–13482615-7591st in NorthwestLost in first round (SJ) (Fired)
NYR2013–14824531-6962nd in MetropolitanLost in Stanley Cup Final (LA)
NYR2014–15825322-71131st in NHL

Good thing we showed him the door!

--  Speaking of which, I'm sure former Canucks goalie Luongo, and more importantly Mrs. Luongo, are very happy that no silly playoffs are going to spoil the start of golf season down in sunny Florida for the happy couple.  Here's to them finishing their career in that sublime state!

-- Canucks-Flames in the first round is a real toss-up.  I'm going to say Canuckleheads in seven, with two multiple period OT period games.

-- Maple Leafs.  Oh my God, how can Toronto's team be this bad?  What? Dave Nonis?  Oh.

-- The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik on hockey:

It seems to me there are two things that make hockey the greatest of all games. One is rooted in what it gives to the players and the other in what it gives to its fans. For the player—and for us as vicarious players—it offers the finest theatre in the world to display the power of spatial intelligence and situational awareness. “Spatial intelligence” is a term that the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner was the first to popularize. His point was that body is inseparable from mind, attitude from analysis, and that there are many kinds of smartness. There is the familiar IQ-test analytic intelligence, but there are also emotional intelligence, social intelligence and spatial intelligence: the ability to grasp a changing whole and anticipate its next stage. It’s the ability to make quick decisions, to size up all the relationships in a fast-changing array and understand them. A related notion is that of situational awareness: a heightened consciousness of your surroundings and both the intentions of the people around you and their anticipated actions.
Well, hockey, obviously, which is played at incredibly high speed, reveals and rewards situational and spatial intelligence at a degree of difficulty that no other sport possesses. So much so that the greatest of all hockey players, Wayne Gretzky, had, besides his other significant skill as a fine-edge skater, almost nothing else that he was specifically good at. That’s his gift—the gift of spatial and situational intelligence: knowing what’s going to happen in three seconds, anticipating the pattern approaching by seeing the pattern now, sussing out the goalie’s next decision and Jari Kurri’s or Luc Robitaille’s eventual trajectory in what would be a single glance if a glance were even taken. Gretzky is the extreme expression of the common skill the game demands.

Here we go, rev em up, lace em up and get ready: it's warrior time.


  1. Thanks for the hockey post Jourdan. I was spitting mad when they fired Vigneault, he was a great coach and a very sharp, witty man. I did something I would have bet my life on not doing before last year's playoffs...I rooted for the Rangers (which, as you know, is damn near heresy for a Canuck fan). But I wanted so much for Vigneault to win the Cup in his first season after the Canucks fired him.

    Anyway the new guy seems to be doing okay and the team is definitely playing better for him than they did for Torts.

    Luongo who???

    I have a bad feeling about cow town, I think they may be hungrier than us, I hope you are right in your prediction.

    BTW, Nonis and 19 of his sorry assed colleagues were fired today. Bwahahaha.

  2. I think you were not alone, Fay, in hoping Vigneault's Rangers won the cup. I know I was as well, and I am from Los Angeles. (Never did like the Kings, for purely personal reasons).

    I should have given praise to Desjardins in this post. As you point out, he, and new GM Benning, have been a breath of fresh air in an institution that is saddled with an ownership that both wants to be closely involved and makes horrible decisions (that both Luongo and Tortorella were hired and then insisted on seems to me to be a case of ethnic loyalty blinding judgment).

    As Lack is now showing, a goalie need be simply NHL quality good to be sufficient, as journeyman and rookie goaltender after goaltender proved all during Luongo's reign. There is no such thing as a "star" goalie, no matter how much attention is paid to them. The comparison of goalies to pitchers, including the ridiculous new habit of assigning goalies wins and losses, is yet another sign that most simply don't understand that simple fact. Pitchers have direct control over the conduct of a baseball game in a way that goalies don't come near.

    The problem is the confusion between the down side, a bad goalie. A bad goalie can cause a loss. This is true. But a good goalie cannot *cause* a win. People have trouble with that as they simply assume the obserse of something to always be true. The only thing a good NHL team needs is a solid, NHL-quality goalie.

    Great news on Nonis' firing, and with three years left on his contract! May he never come close to Van City again.

    I agree that cow town looks hungrier. But, then again, I was in the tiny minority that thought the team should be completely blown up this year in favor of total rebuilding. I still don't think a team reliant on the Sedins and a bunch of other guys can make it through the playoffs. No offense to them, they are great players, but I'd like to see what Desjardins can do with more of his junior players and a real youth movement.

    Still, I'll be hoping and rooting. And if they lose to Calgary, it'll be Go Flames.

  3. Jourdan ... thanks for the "journeyman" comment vis a vis Gretzky. His universal skills, none perfect, were his great features. Reminds me of my youth when Gordie Howe and Jean Béliveau were my heroes. Thanks to my Dad who took me to all games played on Thursday and the occasional game on Saturday night in Montreal. Maybe I will once again join the hockey aficionados...if I can afford a ticket or two.

    1. Oh my God, to have seen games in Montreal in those days. You are very fortunate Aridog! My grandfather used to speak of those days. "You could smoke at the games!" he would say, with childish glee.

    2. Yes, I was very lucky kid with a father who wanted to share his favorite sport with his son. I didn't realize it then, but anyone who went to games in the old Montreal Forum were living history. In those days games were only played on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He took Mom to the weekend games back in the days when everyone dressed up to attend.

      I had a kid's hockey sticked signed by almost all the main players for the Detroit Red Wings, and some Montreal players, in those old days, from Lumley, Sawchuck, Howe, Lindsey, Del Vecchio, Béliveau, Richard, et al...and sadly I have no idea now where that souvenir went today. Back then the Wings & the opponents would cross the main aisle-way, on thick carpet, at Olympia Stadium, between the rink and the dressing rooms between periods and they'd pause to sign a kid's stick if they lined up for it, as they always did. The game seem much more "personal" back then. Howe and Lindsey (they were next door neighbors to each other) didn't live far from my father in later years and he knew Lindsey fairly well. By then I was off to a boon-docks boarding school to try and keep me from becoming the little thug I was in my early teen never got to know Lindsey the "civilian."

    3. That is too bad about that stick. These things happen, or at least they seem to be common. I had a baseball that was signed at Dodger Stadium by the great infield of idea where it is now.

      It is true that sports is different in feel now, more slick, more big-business. Something important was lost. However, a few nights ago I was watching the Orioles on TV with my youngest son and I realized that the construction of Camden Yards had the effect of doing the unthinkable in American life: turning back the clock.

      After decades of "modern" uniforms and stadiums, an older, classic beauty was built, which spurred the construction of many new, traditional, baseball stadiums.

      Perhaps we'll see the same thing here in sports writ large. I know the newer ways have sundered me from the NFL and the NBA, and there are times when I have a hard time stomaching what passes for MLB these days.

      Don't even get me started on inter-league play, which is just *wrong*.

      I am amazingly reactionary about everything, except perhaps young women's work attire.

    4. Don't even get me started on inter-league play, which is just *wrong*.


    5. Not much of a MLB fan these days...could care less about inter-league play, etc., but one thing I could get my head around is if the AL adopted the NL rules and let baseball be really baseball. What the flip is this designated hitter thing? got a 10 man field playing now? Nonsense.

      Just curious...does the new very open air Comerica Park (Tigers) qualify as an old time field? Definitely not an old Briggs Field aka Tiger Stadium now long gone. Doesn't look much like Camden Yards, which I have been to a couple of times. AS I said, I'm kind of ignorant about things MLB.

  4. Maybe we will be lucky and the Sedin's won't do their usual origami act during the playoffs this year.

    1. Yeah, I know. I'm with Don Cherry on this one. Like IKEA furniture, Swedish stuff looks great ideally, but the reality tends to be a flat box that just sits there.

    2. Honestly, all a team has to do in the playoffs is just hammer the twins into submission. I guess we could get lucky and someone won't do that, but lucky through four series? Ideally, I would use the Sedins as a super-skilled second line, with a first line anchored by a Kesler type, and a fourth line willing to dish out the pain if the second line is abused. Otherwise, like you said, it's origami time. This is why when we lost Kesler I thought it advisible to move the Sedins for young talent, deal with a few years of not making the playoffs and then coming back with a team style that can play in the NHL playoffs and not just the regular season. Instead of gutting through those years for a pay off down the road, we've lived with decent years with idiocies like Torts and Luongo-as-Captain-as-mental-health-treatment.

    3. The problem is the Sedin's won't go unless they go together -- and I don't think anyone would take them together. It is almost as big a problem as paying Luongo more than the GDP of most third world countries: no one would take him for that. The Canucks had to buy him out.

    4. I think there are teams out there that would love to take them both on, for the reason I outlined above. It's a huge hit on the cap, no doubt, but to lock up one's second line with such proven scorers is worth it, I think. But, it would have had to have been done at the trade deadline, when people are deperate to improve their chances, I think.

      But you're right: we'll probably have them until they hang them up, which, again, would be fine if the management wasn't counting on them for nearly 100% of the effort.

  5. 2-1 Flames, ugh. I think we have lost 5 or 6 straight at home in the playoffs now!

  6. 4 - 1 Canucks. That's more like it...c'mon boys!

  7. It was an excellent win, but I think that huge fight has taken the Canucks off their game. Jeez, Harley (who was fined $50,000 by the NHL for his role in this today, btw) must just think at this point all he has to do is get the Canucks mad for all kinds of good things to roll his way; hell, he even goaded Torts into completely self-destructing, causing a lost season. The Canucks need to friggin' man-up here, for real.

  8. The reason I've not come fully on-board this season is that it appears to me that the Canucks management has failed to come to grips with the central issue presented: Can the Canucks play against a strategy that focuses on very, very hard fore-checking?

    We're seeing it again right now and I'm just aghast that many Van sportswriters and other Canucks commentators are acting like this is a new problem.

    From Willes' column today: "Sunday night, on the game's biggest stage, those qualities were nowhere to be found in the Canucks' game. The visuals from the Game-3 loss to the Calgary Flames — zero physical push back, panic in the face of the Flames' forecheck, little sustained offensive pressure and even less hunger around Jonas Hiller — were troubling enough...."

    Panic in the face of an agressive forecheck with zero physical push back. THIS IS THE PROBLEM and has been since the loss to the Bruins in the finals. I have no idea why or how people can write the same story year after year and not see the forest for the trees.