Making bold sports proclamations isn’t just reserved to moments when athletes are channeling Muhammad Ali. Pundits, fans, writers and other types of observers often speak definitively about players being “chokers” or “big-money players,” sometimes about the same guys at different times.
I can’t help but giggle at this, even though I surely have been guilty of such crimes myself in the past (and probably several more times in the future).
Simply put, it’s easier to chastise someone from your comfortable, air-conditioned environment. It’s a lot like an audience member screaming at a horror movie actor for investigating a strange noise.
A RUFF IDEA
The other day, I caught the remnants of a debate about Lindy Ruff possibly becoming the next head coach of the New York Rangers on the heels of John Tortorella’s firing. One rather dominant debater said that it was “definitely” a bad idea.
How, pray tell, can anyone really know that?
For one thing, stats-leaning bloggers have been particularly adverse to attribute a ton of credit to head coaches in hockey. But having put that aside, how do we know Ruff really doesn’t have a way with players? The Buffalo Sabres paid big for a revamped roster when Terry Pegula became the new owner, but was Ruff really outfitted with a great team? Did he really run it into the ground or was that just the likely result anyway?
There are a ton of questions, so to say that Ruff is definitely not the right guy seems a little much.
Maybe it’s a matter of semantics, but it feels like it’s better to come out and admit when “knowing” something really comes down to a strong gut feeling. So, with that, let me say this: it’s my feeling that maybe we shouldn’t make fun of beat writers for seemingly celebrating Tortorella’s ouster.
With my belief that it’s difficult - maybe nebulous - to claim you really know how much a given coach deserves credit or blame for a team’s success, maybe media savviness really should matter.
I’m not saying that NHL coaches needs to be sages in suits, especially after games where they possibly feel betrayed by officiating. Still, Tortorella’s aversion to even doling out the needed rotation of clichés was amusing at times, but mainly in the way that Don Rickles’ squirm-inducing comedy entertains.
It’s easy to put up with sourpuss attitudes when you’re winning game after game, but when you’re making Brad Richards a healthy scratch and playing Roman Hamrlik in 2013? Not so much.
(Argh, I guess I’m guilty of the very criticisms I mock. Let’s act like I never critiqued such practices, OK?*)
CONN SMYTHE CONSIDERATIONS
While stats don’t always tell the full story of a player’s performance (example: my feeling is that Jaromir Jagr’s looked strong on the puck and dangerous despite his lack of goals), they at least represent a more objective reading than … however you might judge a given head coach.
In no particular order, here are a few guys who are in the running for the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy:
Jonathan Quick - This isn’t just an honorary mention for the defending Conn Smythe winner. Quick currently leads an absolutely outstanding pack of 2013 postseason goalies with a sparkling .948 save percentage. He also has three shutouts, if that’s your thing.
The other top goalies - Of course, Quick might not end up winning the Stanley Cup, and the margin between him and the other goalies in the top four isn’t significant. Tomas Vokoun is pulling something of a Cam Ward by stealing the No. 1 spot from Marc-Andre Fleury, and Dan Bylsma would be silly to make his leash too short with that .941 save percentage. Corey Crawford is making it tougher and tougher to call him a fluke with a .938 mark while Tuukka Rask is TOTALLY SLOUCHING at .928.
David Krejci - His 17 points leads all playoff scorers through two rounds. Not bad for a guy who also topped all producers in the entire 2011 playoffs. At the very least, Krejci deserves quite a bit more credit for how dangerous he can be. (He’s also a player who would benefit from Claude Julien’s nightmare: ** a wide-open series against the Penguins.)
Evgeni Malkin/Sidney Crosby - The Penguins’ two superstars are neck-and-neck in team scoring (along with Kris Letang). For all the accolades Crosby fairly earns, Malkin’s existence in his shadow would seem that much more ridiculous if he took another Conn Smythe from him.
Zdeno Chara - Deep down, if your life was on the line, wouldn’t Chara be the defenseman you’d tab to win a playoff game right now? Of the remaining blueliners, Chara’s 29:13 average TOI easily leads the pack and his offensive production (11 points in 12 games) has been unusually - and probably unsustainably - robust. He shares Letang's outstanding +7, which is a slightly more useful stat in the playoffs, I'd say. (Slightly.)
Right now, I’d lean toward Quick for what would be a record-breaking save percentage, but the next two rounds could do a number on his astounding stats.
ROTOWORLD PLAYOFF POOL UPDATE
You can soak in a deeper recap of the staff pool here, but let’s take a look at how things are going heading into the conference finals.
1. Ryan Dadoun - 705.80
2. Brian Rosenbaum - 684.20
3. Jimmy Hascup - 603.90
4. Steve Lampert - 519.60
5. Corey Abbott - 507.70
6. Michael Finewax - 484.70
7. Corey Griffin - 457.30
8. My awful team - 428.00
9. Marty York - 408.30
10. Kevin Brown - 402.60
Ryan's going to be tough for anyone to dislodge with 17 players still kicking, although Brian has a shot. Potential movers are Corey (Abbott) with 13 players left and Michael with 15.
It's sad that moving to eighth place is something of a triumphant for my band of ragamuffins, but that's the case. While Evgeni Malkin probably deserves the most credit, Justin Williams' outstanding Game 7 was probably the shining moment for my squad.
The Montreal Canadiens' first-round flop really burned my team, though. (That and my too-bold move to make value picks with the Minnesota Wild.)
* - I do feel more qualified to comment upon the work of general managers, but that’s just because I really OWN IT in video game franchise modes. And those are totally like real life, right? (Tries to force you to trade your disagreement for concurrence.)
** - This seems like a pretty safe coaching observation.