Long-term security can be a great thing or an agent of underachievement depending upon the sort of person (or entity) who receives it.
For some, crossing off the "Physiological" and "Safety" concerns more or less permanently from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs means you can get more work done and live a more satisfying life thanks to fewer distractions. (Maslow's triangle isn't to be confused with Ron Swanson's Pyramid of Greatness, which is admirably focused on proteins.)
One can see various examples of players who either flourish with that peace of mind or go about as business as usual despite being "set for life." There's a reason why it's basically a no-brainer (beyond the inherent health risks) to hand a driven star like Sidney Crosby a mammoth deal; his main goal in life is to be the best, not maximize his earnings.
For every person who continues his or her trajectory without that monetary carrot dangling, there are those who slip badly without the fear of highest failure hovering in their minds.
When it comes to making legitimate, high-impact changes, the NHL is like a tenured professor who has been rolling out the same exact lectures for a decade.
However you feel about Shawn Thornton’s 15-game suspension, the unfortunate thing is that the conversation is largely limited to the duration of the punishment; at this point, we’re kidding ourselves if we believe that the league is going to implement the bold changes needed to limit this problem … not with two huge, long-term TV contracts keeping the fire warm.
(It says a lot that the questionable hits kept piling up as usual this weekend, with the Pittsburgh Penguins continuing to be in the middle of things thanks to Deryk Engelland’s hit on Justin Abdelkader. Honestly, I wonder if Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma’s even-keeled assessments of Thornton can be explained by the fact that they knew their team was far from innocent …)
Instead, we’ll need to settle for incremental changes. The league simply doesn’t have its fannie to the flame and won’t for the foreseeable future. It makes sense that the NHL’s most progressive era - whether you like the shootout and other changes or not - came after a lockout that threatened more than a few high-level jobs.
It’s almost as if the widely ridiculed trapezoid is a symbol of the NHL’s indifference toward even the most obvious of changes.
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THE NIMBLE VS. THE IDLE
If you want to look at some examples of how flexibility has benefited some success stories while rigidity leaves others prone to slumps, then these past 10-or-so weeks provide some interesting examples.
It’s easy - and justifiable - to feel bad for the Detroit Red Wings right now. They’ve played quality hockey, yet find themselves in yet another slump. Adding injuries to insults, Abdelkader and Johan Franzen joined the wounded ranks of Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard, Darren Helm, Stephen Weiss and Danny DeKeyser this weekend.
While that situation prompts sympathy, the Red Wings have quietly devolved from a team whose front office seemed at least a decade ahead of its time to one that is getting burned for being stuck in its ways.
The most jarring example is probably found in their most recent offseason.
The Red Wings let Damien Brunner (27 years old) and Valtteri Filppula (29) walk so they could sign Daniel Alfredsson (41) and Stephen Weiss (30, coming of an injury-ravaged 2012-13 season). Detroit is paying Alfredsson $3.5 million this season and Weiss $4.9 million per year through 2017-18, so it's not like the Red Wings received resounding discounts for nabbing veterans with a lot of mileage* instead of keeping guys more or less in their prime years.
There are other troubling signs, too - was there a single team other than the Red Wings that was willing to give Mikael Samuelsson another NHL gig, let alone $3 million per year in the summer of 2012? - but that swap is the most succinct example.
However you feel about guys like Filppula (and, to be fair, Weiss could eventually regain his two-way form), the Red Wings can partially blame their situation on luck but also point to the dangers of seeking comfort over innovation.**
At least the Red Wings aren’t alone.
-- Did anyone really think the New York Islanders were following a smart path by sticking with Evgeni Nabokov (and not even adding a competitive backup) instead of branching out? Nabokov was a workhorse for the Isles last season, but he wasn’t anything but average; the Isles largely succeeded by outscoring their problems. I know GM Garth Snow is limited by financial constraints, but backups aren’t typically much more expensive than league-minimum duds, anyway.
-- Speaking of which, the Nashville Predators have actually survived Pekka Rinne’s absence better than expected - Marek Mazanec and Carter Hutton are far from this franchise’s biggest problems - but this isn’t exactly a stunning situation. The Predators continue to operate their way despite mounting evidence that the same tricks are bringing in diminishing returns.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have teams who benefit from taking risks. The easiest examples come from front offices who are proactive when it comes to goaltending, which is the greatest lesson to take from this edition of the Dose.
-- The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have assembled stout rosters, making it easier for previously unknown goalies to thrive. Lazier franchises wouldn’t do what Chicago routinely does, as the Blackhawks invested in Antti Raanta while their situation was better than most around the league. The Kings might be a little lucky, but they survived losing a first-round goalie thanks to a strong system and a shrewd trade (all things considered) for Ben Scrivens.
Some franchises expect success just to continue, but the smart ones stay hungry and alert.
-- Randy Carlyle’s current team (the Toronto Maple Leafs) and former one (the Anaheim Ducks) stand as examples, too.
While I’m not a huge proponent of the way Carlyle runs his team or some of the GM Dave Nonis’ biggest moves (*cough* David Clarkson *cough cough*), the franchise made the polarizing decision to bolster already-good goaltending. They could have lived with good goaltending in James Reimer and Scrivens, but instead, they gave themselves two virtual No. 1’s in Reimer and Jonathan Bernier. Goaltending (and some would say, lucky shooting) is a huge reason why Toronto has a chance to make the playoffs, warts and all.
The Ducks seemingly struck gold with Viktor Fasth in 2012-13, yet instead of resting on their laurels, they signed this year’s version of Fasth in Frederik Andersen. They’ve allowed some big name goalies to walk in their recent history (Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ilya Bryzgalov, probably Jonas Hiller soon) yet they’ve enjoyed strong netminding more often than not.
Why? Because they’re doing what you - and every NHL franchise - should be doing: always keeping their eyes open for alternate plans and greener goaltending pastures.
It’s fitting that the Red Wings would probably be in a far more perilous situation if they hadn’t made a fairly bold move in locking up Jonas Gustavsson after his value was deflated by playing for the then-horrendous Maple Leafs. If only Detroit would be so brave with their skaters …
Long story short, my opinion is that the NHL has become a league where the deepest teams are usually the most successful. Use that blueprint for your own team: keep your best core players together while constantly trying to improve the supporting cast.
After all, a few dirty hits could elevate character actors to the marquee level. (Especially since the league only punishes such actions instead of taking real measures to prevent them from happening …)
INJURIES (full list) AND SUSPENSIONS
Evgeni Malkin is day-to-day with a scary-looking lower-body injury. The situation could be worse than that depending on what the Penguins learn over the next day or so. Pittsburgh is also without Kris Letang (upper body) on a day-to-day basis, as it seems he almost played Saturday. Both are obviously situations to monitor … David Clarkson is eligible to return from a suspension on Tuesday. He's missed 12 games from suspensions this season ... Brooks Laich is on the LTIR, so he won't be eligible to return until Dec. 22 ... Anthony Peluso received a three-game suspension for an ugly hit. In other bad Jets news, Matt Halischuk appears to have a broken arm ... There was some nifty footage of Steve Stamkos doing a little on-ice work this weekend, so that's good ... Jonathan Huberdeau missed Sunday's game with a foot injury ... Nick Foligno is day-to-day with an upper-body ailment.
* - Weiss is only a year older than Filppula, yet he has a lot of mileage on him. The former Panther has 680 games under his belt versus 516 for Filppula.
** - I’m still stunned that neither Mikhail Grabovski nor Alexander Semin were courted. It’s easy to picture both wearing the Winged Wheel, isn’t it?