Sunday, October 12, 2014

Chris Pronger Has a Posse

It was a surprise to me to discover that the first-ever post here on Clear the Crease Mark II concerned Chris Pronger. It wasn't a surprise that that post revolved around Chris Pronger's words, as Pronger has long been one of the most quotable athletes anywhere. Having had the worst game of his remarkable playoff career, and having to discuss it with angle-hungry press release junkies (known to you and me as the sporting press), he declared himself "day to day with hurt feelings".

Not just a good line, this deflection revealed both the pro's ability to move past a setback without undue agonizing (ahem) and a lightness of touch that suggested a reasonable man's assessment of the overall importance of one man's performance in one team's playoff game. It was sure a fur piece from self-describing as A Warrior or A Soldier or such such shit, anyway.

Other words than his own come to mind re: Pronger—maybe none more perfect than Down Goes Brown's crack about a Pronger dick move:

Has been known to slack off and go up to two full years without single-handedly dragging a team to the Stanley Cup finals.
This is both funny and a more than fair, accurate, and comprehensive account of Pronger's career.

Pronger's career, 1993-4 through 2011-12, was entirely contained within that of Swedish wizard Nicklas Lidström, 1991-2 through 2011-12, and Pronger was generally overshadowed by the Red Wing: Lidström won some seven Norris trophies as the season's best defenseman, which didn't leave a lot left for Pronger's plate. Pronger did, however, manage one Norris, in 1999-2000, which he paired with the Hart, for the most valuable player overall. (That pairing had happened to exactly one other player, to a gentleman named Bobby Orr, who was probably the greatest hockey player of all time.) And, as Down Goes Brown noted above, Pronger's squads routinely went damn deep in the playoffs: in the five seasons between 2005-6 and 2009-10, he made the finals with three different teams, winning once, in 2006-7. (In the 2005-6 run to the finals, I learned more about defense than I had known to that point, simply by watching the way he'd position his 6-6 frame and long-ass stick: time after time, whoever was trying to get the puck into the offensive zone would see where he was and what he was doing and just retreat and regroup and wait for a better opportunity. Given that Pronger was playing 30+ minutes a night, the beleaguered puckcarrier generally had to wait quite a while for that more promising chance.)

So. Pronger has a Cup, some major hardware, massive team success, a metric heap of all-star game selectins—so far, we could more or less be talking about second-tier nonentities like Rob (nee Rod) Blake, who couldn't form a posse if he watched Ike Clanton's gang kidnap the mayor's daughter while robbing a bank and slapping the town priest with a Koran bound in babyskin. What gives Pronger his posse is that he's got style. Not just a good quote and a great player, Pronger was a nasty goon, a hatchet man who worked with brutality that was never compromised by but often garnished with a little flair. Among his eight suspensions were one for using his razor-sharp skate blade to stomp on Ryan Kesler's leg, two for kicking (with those skates again), one for a nasty elbow in the finals, and so on.

Chris Pronger introduced a lot of us to body horror by undergoing a wrist surgery that involved having some bone removed from his arm. How much? How about an inch of bone? He was "notorious for laying the lumber on teammates in practice" and was a locker-room presence that got sarcastically nicknamed "Captain Happy" by Jamie McLennan when things started to go pear-shaped with one team. He demanded a trade out of Edmonton after a single, highly successful, year, and he currently refuses to retire from the Flyers, enabling him to collect an unmolested guaranteed salary while the team avoids having to have that salary on the books, as he's "injured", not "retired": he could come back any day now. Except his name is not present on the employee list. And he's got a new job, working for the NHL Department of Player Safety. Presumably the theory is that the pot is uniquely qualified to judge and understand the blackness of the kettle. If nothing else, we should get some primo quotage out of the situation, and some good gap-toothed smirks, which should only increase the size of his posse.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Punk Song for Every Owner: Lou Lamoriello, My Dad's a Fucking Alcoholic

One of the worst things about life—or about consciousness, anyway—is the pervasive mystification in and of our thoughts. Because the human brain works largely by means of operations of metaphor and metonymy, we constantly mistake one thing for another. The famous example is of course Marx noting that "the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family"—to oversimplify, this means that religious authority works on the model of familial authority, and to oversimplify the oversimplification, the fundamental model for god is a father.

Your feelings about god being an imaginary all-powerful daddy in the sky likely have a lot to do with your feelings about your own personal daddy. Without getting hung up on on bummer vibes or details of biography, I think it's worth acknowledging at least the utility in making sense of a deity who, insofar as he's responsible for life as experienced, is obviously arbitrary, unpredictable, blinkered, hostile, and occasionally abusive. However, to note that religious power is a blurry metaphor for some stomping drunk asshole's because-I-said-so-isms is not to claim that all power should be held to work this way. These caveats arise because political power is all too often misconstrued as located in a unitary (daddy/god-like) figure. Another mystification. (Where political power is in fact located and where it should be located I leave as an exercise for the reader.)

These considerations lead us ineluctably to Lou Lamoriello, the president and general manager of, the unitary image of power over, the New Jersey Devils, for what feels like and is decades. Nearly three of them. Not the owner, not (usually) the coach, Lamoriello is the figure atop the mountain, hurling the odd thunderbolt at a lesser being, issuing pronunciamentoes dutifully handed down unchallenged by fawning priest weenie types, and crafting idiotic rules for people to follow.

(Lou Lamoriello inspecting the waiver wire.)

Interestingly, Lamoriello has maintained his position and his power across multiple regimes of Devils ownership. Viewed from another angle, he has more or less spuriously continued to manifest and exercise power while the actual sources of power have come and gone.

As Marx points out, all these weird mysteries have a solution: pay attention to what is actually happening; do things better. (You may prefer the rendering of one or another translator:

Thus for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.
Or, in the formulation I prefer:
Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be criticized in theory and revolutionized in practice.

One of these days, somebody will pay enough attention to Lou Lamoriello and his (?) New Jersey Devils to notice a long history of malfeasance, of power exercised in the service of goals small, mean, and selfish: a nepotist, Lamoriello's two sons work for him (just as Jesus, Mars, and Hephaestus all went into the family business); a chisler, he has alienated many players who wanted fair market value for their labor (Ken Daneyko, Pat Verbeek, Kirk Muller, Bill Guerin) and bullied others into accepting lowball offers because they are in the (holy?) "family" (Patrick Elias, Martin Brodeur); a cheat, he signed Ilya Kovalchuk to an illegal contract, and a couple disappointing years later, he benefited enormously first from Kovalchuk's convenient decision to "retire"* and subsequently from the league's inexplicable decision to reduce their penalties for that illegal contact to what legal analysts are unanimous in describing as: "fuckall". A tyrannical dickhead of a martinet, Lamoriello insists his players comport to his dress sense (suits) and facial hair preferences (none), even as YHWH frowns and shakes his head at your bacon cheeseburger and shrimp cocktail.

If the mystification be removed, Lou Lamoriello and god both suck. God's a simple construct attempting to explain the capricious universe and mask the cruelty of humanity and the institutions it has created. Lamoriello is a snivelling tyrant who lucked into a world-historically good goalie/system at the only time in history they would have been successful. With luck, one day both god and Lamoriello will be but dusty memories with no active influence on my life. On that day, I might actually be able to like—or at least love—that Devils franchise, which, like me, started in Kansas City, then had a couple shitty years in Denver before hieing out to the relative bliss of a coast. After all, we can free ourselves of what we only imagine is power; but we never can escape our history.

—Collision, interested in devils, if not Devils

*N.B.: Ilya Kovalchuk is currently playing professional hockey in Russia. His "retirement" from the NHL served simply to allow him to live and work where he wanted to. Completely coincidentally, it did a major solid for the Devils franchise, who desperately needed out from under the vast stacks of cash they still owed him.**

**That metaphor doesn't work, dude; if they wanted out from under the vast stacks of cash they owed him, they should have paid him the money, because then the stacks would be gone.***

***Fuck off.