Thursday, August 25, 2011
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - 2011-12’s Top Five Man-Made Disasters
Not mentioned: the Towering Inferno, starring the entire New York Rangers roster.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we slapped on the horn-rimmed glasses, put our hair into a tight bun and left the panties at home while we lectured you on the history of Southern California sports. This week, running with the SoCal theme, we'll be discussing (pretty one-sided discussion, if you ask me) the upcoming NHL 2011-12 Season's Top Five Man-Made Disasters.
Note to people who get mad at stuff they read on the Internet about their crappy last-place teams: While it's great that modern technology allows you to text illegible insults at anyone you disagree with while you wait for your mom to pick you up from the Clippers game, I've got some news for you: Your team sucks, Obama was born in the United States, I am already aware that the Stars missed the playoffs the last three seasons, and gay marriage doesn't cause mild earthquakes.
With that said, here are the five teams that are either run by the most coldly-calculating evil geniuses in the world, or by your ho-tard cousin Jeb who misspelled "Aryan" on his prison tattoo and has been wearing adult diapers since he was ten.
Disaster #5: Buffalo Sabres - Lindy Ruff is a good coach, with more great years than poor ones. He has consistently shown the world that, given a fast, young, willing roster — and a world-class goalie — he can squeeze a surprising number of points out of the regular season and make a decent run in the playoffs. Ruff's teams are a pain to play against and a beauty to watch, five nearly-interchangeable guys all on the same page - a rarity in team sports.
That said, having a megabucks new owner most likely spells the end of Ruff's eons-long stay in Buffalo. They effectively traded a quick, high-scoring center in Tim Connolly for an unproven winger and a defenseman who doesn't play defense and whose stats were inflated to Stay-Puft Man proportions by playing with the Sedins. Had these been "depth" signings, they would have been perfectly fine — but Leino and Ehrhoff were made into titanic megabucks free agents splashes, and their inevitably disappointing careers will be filtered through the green-colored glass of their salaries for as long as they remain Sabres ... which, in Ehrhoff's case, will probably be about a season and a half.
As recent "winners" of the July 1st Championship have shown every single year since the lockout, it's dangerous enough making one megabucks free agent splash. Team chemistry fails, your carefully-crafted salary planning is thrown out the window, and that's one less spot for a young-and-hungry product of your farm system. Celebrating two megabucks free agents is like bragging to your friends that you went and bought two losing lottery tickets instead of one.
Disaster #4: Florida Panthers - Thanks to a cap floor and the legendary financial prowess of GM Dale Tallon, eight of the top ten highest-paid Panthers didn't play for Florida last season. This, despite no less a hockey authority than ESPN claiming that Florida has the most stacked farm system in the NHL.
Whether you believe ESPN or not, it's not necessarily a bad thing to fill out your roster to fit the cap floor for a year or two while bringing up your prospects and letting them take larger and larger roles on the ice as they develop. If that were the case, then sure — mark Tallon down in the "Lawful Evil Genius" category.
But most of these signings and trades will have Florida vastly overpaying for mediocrity until July 2015. Is that the date Tallon feels confident that his armada of blue-chip prospects will finally come to fruition? He's either very smart, or very dumb.
Regardless of what happens four years down the line, next year's Panthers team will be even harder to watch than last season's because they unceremoniously dumped the one guy that could have made things interesting: Tomas Vokoun. If simply making it to the cap floor was the biggest offseason issue facing the Panthers, why not give Vokoun a slight raise on what he was already making, seeing as how he was unquestionably the best player on the team and one of the top five goalies in the league?
Or, you could not make him an offer, let him go to an already-stacked divisional rival, and spend that seven million on a 35 year-old d-man and a guy who scored a career-high 29 points last season. Because that kind of production doesn't grow on trees.
Disaster #3: Colorado Avalanche - One way to rebuild is to trade your aging veterans for unproven prospects. Another way is to use your annual high draft picks to stock up the farm with high-end talent. And yet another way is to trade your proven high-end talent for other team's problems while watching your core players ease gradually into old age.
Colorado was quiet during the free agent fiesta — generally a positive sign for a young, rebuilding team — but most of their self-inflicted damage was done before the trade deadline when they sent Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and Craig Anderson packing in exchange for, ultimately, a year-and-a-half of Erik Johnson. Stewart was just under a point-a-game power forward who scored a boatload of goals (15) in limited action (26 games) with his new team (St. Louis). Shattenkirk put up 43 points as a rookie defenseman, outscoring the allegedly vastly-better Drew Doughty. And while Anderson's season with the Avs was a shell of what he was just a year before, he also went 11-5 with a .939 save percentage with his new team after the trade, the Ottawa Senators.
Let that sink in. 11-5, with a .939 save pct ... with the Ottawa Senators.
Had these three been 35 year old vets playing out the last remaining years of a bloated contract, that would have been one thing. But these guys are all under 25 (except for Anderson, who'll be eligible for his AARP card in a mere 25 seasons). Erik Johnson might be awesome, but... you gotta believe the rest of the league's GMs are salivating over Whichever Young Stud Colorado Will Pull the Trigger On Too Early This Season.
Disaster #2: Philadelphia Flyers - In 2002, the Texas Rangers provided a cautionary tale when they went all-out in pursuit of Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park. Park had fairly decent numbers overall... unless you broke down his home vs. away record. In his games at pitcher-friendly Dodgers stadium, Park was unhittable. Away from there, he was absolutely awful. Throw in his never-to-be-broken record — as the first, and quite possibly the last, pitcher ever to surrender two grand slams in the same inning to the same hitter — and there were more red flags here than at a Chinese May Day parade. Yet the Rangers plowed ahead, gave him one of the biggest contracts for a pitcher in MLB history at the time, and reaped their just reward in shame, scorn and ridicule.
Fast forward to 2011, with the Flyers, who basically had the President's Trophy locked up until the final month or so of the season, then crapped the bed against the eventual Stanley Cup winning champs. Obviously, only a minor tweak or two is necessary, right? Wrong. The Flyers ripped out the middle of their lineup — unquestionably their greatest strength as a team, and frankly, the envy of all but 3-4 teams in the NHL — and replaced it with, er, nothing.
Then they went out and spent a vast chunk of money they didn't really have on Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz is a good goalie, of course ... when he's playing under Dave Tippett. When he played for the Anaheim Ducks, he was such a tremendous impact player that they let him walk on waivers for nothing. Like some other Dave Tippett netminders I could name, Bryzgalov's regular season numbers are astounding... and then, against real competition in the playoffs, Ilya gets lit up even worse than a Flye — oops, forget I said that. Flyers fans will, when they realize they sold the farm for a guy who put up a sterling .879 save percentage and a 4.34 GAA in four playoff games last season. But at least he's playing behind an injury-prone 37 year-old suspension machine this time, so things should be looking up come playoff time ... right?
Unless, of course, the plan was just to have an impressive regular season before crapping the bed early in the playoffs. In which case ... Great Job, Flyers!
Disaster #1: Anaheim Ducks - It's tempting to put a team like the Islanders or Oilers here, but even their own season ticket telemarketers start their sales pitch with an apology and a little crying. No, the single most disappointing trainwreck of a team in 2011-12 will be this amazing group of world-beaters.
While successful hockey teams like the Red Wings and Bruins know that a team is only as strong as its weakest link — and invest accordingly — the Ducks are the Berserking Barbarian character of the NHL, an all-or-nothing-and-usually-nothing scorched-earth gorilla-in-a-nursery flaming-chainsaw of a team that makes pond hockey look like one of Ken Hitchcock's offseason dump-and-chase drills. Last season, the way this team was built, everything went right: Hiller kept the team alive long enough for it to matter, then Corey Perry nearly doubled his career high in goals scored on an insane, Gretzky-like run that he will no doubt repeat all the time forever for the rest of his career. Also, Teemu Selanne, at 41, posted a metric f**kton of goals on the second line and the powerplay, while rookie d-man Cam Fowler put up the exact same number of points as Drew Doughty, and as we all know, Doughty is a Golden God.
Heading into this season, however, Selanne is another year older and experiencing groin problems in the offseason; Hiller's return from vertigo is a huge question mark; Perry's meteoric rise will more than likely be accompanied by a similarly meteoric fall; and rookie d-men generally have disappointing sophomore seasons, although Fowler is of course completely immune to that and shut up shut up.
In addition, to any team interested the Nashville Predators provided an excellent blueprint in the playoffs on how to soundly beat the Ducks: apparently you just skate into their zone and shoot the puck at the net. The Ducks' amazing defense simply had no answer for that. Most likely because they were trapped up-ice after an ill-advised rush, trying to pad their point totals instead of, you know, defending.
Will any of that affect the 2011-12 season? In the history of professional hockey, has their ever been a team that played out of its mind for a whole regular season only to get exposed in the playoffs, and then fall to earth the following year?
Of course not! Better start reserving those parking spots on the Stanley Cup Championship parade, Ducks fans!