Monday, January 17, 2011

too dumb to play with themselves

0. Ten Seconds to Hell

I don't spend a ton of time on ESPN. I like hockey, and I dislike strained attempts at meme generation, which leaves me pretty solidly outside the target demographic of the Disney conglomerate.

That said, they've got the resources to cover whatever they want, however they want, and I do have to admit that I'm still pretty enthusiastic about listening to Barry Melrose. So I do still check in now and again. And this last time I did so, I found two things that drove me absolutely up the goddamned wall.

1. The Gargoyle Conspiracy

The first thing was a brief meditation that went a little something like

  1. People have begun to ask whether San Jose would consider a coaching change.
  2. I spoke with Sharks GM Doug Wilson on Saturday and he said no way, that Todd McLellan and his staff were not the issue.
  3. The players have underperformed and the team has had key injuries, the latest being to Ryane Clowe.1
  4. McLellan is one of the best coaches in the NHL and I can't imagine how a change there would do any good.
  5. This is about the core of this team waking up and playing up to its potential.

Now, I'm just a fan. I'm not an analyst, nor a duly appointed Industry Professional--increasingly weighted in & by the part of our culture that judges business (but oddly not politics)--but...well...if players are underperforming (3) and asleep (5) and not playing to their potential (5), how is that not an indictment of the coaching staff?

To come from another angle, what exactly do coaches do, if not bring players to peak or near-peak performance, wake them up, and facilitate their ultimate reaching-of-potential-reaching?

LeBrun's no dummy, and I think he's actually probably basically right: the Sharks' problems are with players with no guts whatsoever spattering the roster--wait. I hate that fucking guy, pontificating that way. Jock asshole with nothing to offer but date rape and AIDS jokes. Let me rephrase. The Sharks' problems come mainly from slightly substandard team speed, major holes defensively, and a coaching staff that repeatedly trots out the goalie who's playing like shit instead of riding the hot hand--rather than with coaching.

Well. The goalie thing has to do with coaching. And the team is a classic bully squad, playing nervous whenever they're not ahead, and not all that good at holding on when they are ahead. Both of these would seem to lie within the purview of coaching. But mainly & really the Sharks need a Dman to munch minutes in all the zones, like even end-stage Rob (nee Rod) Blake could (21 MPG last 2 seasons), and a half-decent replacement for faceoff machine and stalwart hard-to-play-against-guy Manny Malhotra; they don't need a coaching change, a priest or a shrink.

But LeBrun's not saying any of that shit. Neither is he using his access or insight to say things worth saying. He's standing at the podium, reading a GM's incoherent, prima facie absurd press release and throwing the weight of America's Biggest Media Concern behind what can only be willful self-delusion, a crass attempt at spin, or just plain, old-fashioned ignorant incompetence on the part of some Important Decision Makers.

I know I'm not supposed to get angry when that happens in the sporting press. But fuck. When what's at stake isn't that important, why can't we have some Actual Standards?

2. The Dirty Duck

The second bit that made me angry enough to bite a goddamned hammer, shattering my teeth on tool steel spalled and displaying patination from long focused use, was the insane--and common--phrase:

future Hall of Famer Rob Blake
I've seen this pop up all over the place, and it drives me from zero to baffled+hostile faster than anything in this man's world other than internet comment sections.

Let me establish from the beginning that I like, respect, and esteem Rob Blake. He was a massive contributor to my beloved Avs, stout, as I spouted above, in all three zones, a Dman with big hits in his end, a solid and reliable first pass out, and a beast of a slapshot on the power play and whenever else he got one notch too much room.

But since when is one--one--major award (the Norris) and one--one--championship (in two cracks at it) enough to get a guy in the Hall? One Olympic gold medal probably isn't supposed to count, nor are his 1994 & 1997 World Championships golds, though being a member of the Triple Crown Club might make some hay. Six seasons as a captain, with more probably his portion if he hadn't had four seasons with the Avs, where nobody was gonna fill that slot except Joe Sakic, count for something. Six All-Star games--one first and three seconds--certainly they don't not matter.

So his Hall of Fame case depends nigh-entirely on his numbers. And it's not clear that his numbers are there.

His 240 goals is outstanding for a Dman, particularly one who played most of his career in the trap-heavy dead puck era, but his 537 assists (and 777 points [1270 games]) don't seem to me to rate.

.612 PPG is very good for a Dman, but his playoff rate is only exactly half a point per game (26-47-73 in 146). And even that is padded heavily by 19 points in 23 games in 01; outside that season, he posted a more pedestrian .46 PPG.

And culturally, he never really bestrode the narrow earth. Even as a giant Avs fanboy, I couldn't tell you he should have his number retired. Basically the man was who you got when you couldn't score Scott Stevens (196-712-908 in 1635 [.555 PPG], 26-92-118 in 233 [!] playoff games, 13 ASG, [3 2nds, 2 1sts], Conn Smythe, involved in the 3 cups the Devils will ever, ever win and +393 on his career) and Blake not only didn't have the numbers Stevens did, he didn't have the cultural cachet Stevens had. Which is to say, when Blake left his feet or got his elbows well up to deliver a hit, he actually sometimes got called for a penalty.

Does Blake have a case for the Hall? Sure. He stands decently enough in relation to the cats who're already there.2 Of course, he was a minus-four on his career. I personally think his numbers are both inadequate and artifactual--he played a long time, and had 20-season longevity earlier skaters couldn't've dreamed of--but I'm willing to entertain the arguments.

So why is nobody actually arguing? Exactly when did Rob Blake get a free pass to the HoF? Nobody--nobody--ever watched him play and said "that's the game of a Hall of Fame player". Sticking around a long time is great; sticking around a long time doesn't make you great. ESPN pisses me off.

-Collision, taking a bad penalty b/c he got stuck on the ice too long

1This is actually a factual error. The most recent important injury was to Logan "Fake-Ass Rookie" Couture, yet another example of ESPN's thoroughgoing refusal to employ any editorial staff of any kind whatsoever.
2If all you do is look at the offensive numbers, I grant, Blake looks like a half-decent candidate: 3rd all time Dman in PPG, 11th all-time in goals,
18th in points. If all you do is look at those numbers, Blake smells a lot like a HoF-caliber player; but looking at the names above him, he's not better than a single one, and some of those guys--above him and below--don't feel Hall-worthy.

No comments: