Thursday, February 19, 2009
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - CSI: Coach Killer
This week, our hockey scribe gets deep and dirty in the filthy realm of NHL coaching back alleys.
Hola, hockey fans! Here's hoping the four-game Dallas Stars Suckfest has not got you down: hey, even the Sharks and Wings can't keep their winning streaks alive indefinitely, and frankl--wait, what's that? You're saying I'm not including the Bruins in that mix? Excellent point, sir, and there's an even excellenter reasoning behind that: you see, the Bruins suck. Every single time I watch them on Versus, they blow fat chunk, but like the Invisible Boy in Mystery Men, somehow they keep winning games when I'm not looking. I tuned in to the Titanic Clash of Sharks-Bruins a few weeks ago when the Bruins led 2-1 heading into the third (and, mind you, had not blown a lead in the third period all season (which is your first Warning Sign of In-Game Apocalypse. All sports are rigged, so when they flash a stat like that up, you know that specific thing is about to happen)). I mentioned to my pregnant wife that everytime I watch the Bruins, they give up about 4-6 goals per period, and to sit back and watch the love unfold.
Four pathetically easy goals later, the Bruins went from the Class of the East to the Beantown Embahhhrassment. Provided the Stars get that far, who do I have to kill to get Boston into the Stanley Cup Finals? Boston: My Eyeballs = Your Doom. (Also works on the New England Patriots in recent Superbowls. I don't watch the NBA Finals, but am willing to take bribes from, well, pretty much anybody to actually sit down and suffer through a Celtics Finals. For Lakers fans: cashier's checks only, please.)
At any rate, last week we learned, we laughed, we loved, and we thoroughly dissed on the alleged 'sport' of baseball while it's self-inflicted open wounds still fester in the steroid sun. This week, I was planning on writing my annual NHL Theme Songs column (New York Rangers: Metallica's 'One'); but once again, recent developments in the World of Hockey have forced my pen elsewhere. I'm talking, of course, about the poppin'-fresh firing of Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Michel Therrien.
It takes chutzpah to fire a coach just 8 months after he took your team to their first Cup Finals appearance in nearly two decades, but ...you can never underestimate the Penguins. I mean sure, they've lost hundreds of man-games due to injury, overpaid their top three players to the detriment of the rest of the team, and let quality players leave via free agency and trade in the offseason.
More significantly, Therrien just became the first of many Pittsburgh head coaches to get fired for 'not getting enough' out of the NHL's #1 Coach-Killer, Sidney Crosby.
Hockey fans, time to synchronize our watches: as long as Crosby's still got a career in this league, Pittsburgh will experience this: coach gets hired, turns team around, wins Jack Adams award, goes deep in playoffs before faltering, has crappy next season and is fired. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Coach-killers are generally NBA phenomenons, with a smattering in the NFL, and result from a supremely-talented but dangerously-overhyped athlete that can never seem to get his team 'over the hump.' Hockey's got its fair share of these players --Vinny Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, some fourth-line winger on the Canadiens roster-- and it should be no surprise to see Crosby and Malkin join those august ranks. But is it fair to the head coach, a.k.a. Blamey McScapegoat?
Hey, as a lifelong Packers fan, it used to infuriate me when Brett Favre would launch a pass at a receiver, only to see a perfectly catchable ball bounce off his hands and into the waiting arms of a Lions defender. "That shouldn't be an interception!! That was F-cktard Freeman's fault!!"... but in my older, wiser years, I now recognize that if Favre is going to get the credit for some of his moronic passes into triple coverage that result in highlight-reel touchdowns, he needs a fair share of the blame, too. And the same goes for head coaches: if you're going to barely squeak by in the pathetic Eastern Conference by overplaying your two massive studs in obvious situations --and acquire some deep playoff run-cred in the process-- then you need to shoulder the blame when everyone catches on to that predictable gameplan, you can't motivate the rest of your underperforming roster and get your pink slip texted to you after a string of listless losses (whtz up mt, hey tbone u b fird 8tr fg).
Poor Michel is not the only sacrificial virgin with his neck on the altar: about a half-dozen teams are callously considering canning their crappy coaches, while some others, like Detroit and San Jose, need to seriously give the matter some thought (please?). Which makes Dallas' coaching situation seem like a stream of bat's piss: Dave Tippett has shown like a shaft of gold while all else was dark this season, despite roughly 92% of the Stars' fan base calling for his head earlier this season.
The job Dave "FIRE" Tippett has done with the Stars has been nothing short of remarkable: losing two of his top three players to season-ending injuries, seeing the third guy suck harder than Shaq's plunger and dealing with one of the biggest locker room cancers since Mario Lem--what? Too soon?
As John Maxwell will tell you, "everything rises and falls on leadership." And without his captain and assistant captain to lead the way, this season's remarkable turnaround has rested squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. Oh, and Steve Ott, who seems to be the Stars' MVP at this point, and who probably will be a great head coach in this league some two decades from now.
That is, until he inherits the next Baby Hockey Jesus and is thrown under the bus by his GM. More on that about 1000 columns from now.
So until next time, if you see Dave Tippett on the street, shake his hand and give him a friggin' compliment. He deserves it, and is going to need it without Brad Richards (there goes our powerplay). The man has endured half a decade of calls for his head from the fanbase, and has done nothing other than cobble together the best regular-season record in the NHL in that time, a trip to the Conference Finals last season and renewed national respect for the franchise (for better or worse). Buy him an ice cream and tell him to grow back his mustache.
That's it for this week's look at CSI: Coach Killers. Tune in next week for the pomp and pizazz of my 100th Thursday Morning Cupcheck! Celebrities, glitz, drugs and dead Latvian hookers will be flowing through the streets of my parents' garage: you won't want to miss it!