Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

03/25/2015

When losing means winning

It seems goofy to point out that no one likes to lose. It’s obvious.

If you lose a game, a competition, a debate… Anything. When you feel defeat and you’ve been bettered by an opponent it irks you beyond belief. Even more so if you’re wired with a competitive streak that drives you to keep going until you succeed and then continue coming out on top.

That ability is what drives most professionals in their career. That wont to be the best at what you do and to stand at the top of the hypothetical mountain above everyone. Others may want to go about life peacefully and not deal with the rat race a competition can be, but a lot of people, especially professional athletes, feed off the desire to win.

Winning is the ultimate high and the euphoria that goes along with it is intoxicating. Winning is the dragon everyone chases and that’s what makes everything about the race to the bottom of the NHL standings so bizarre.

Whether it’s team executives, fans, or both, the goal for teams out of the playoffs is to secure the best shot at getting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. For teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, and Edmonton Oilers that means finishing dead last in the league guarantees your team of landing one of them. Both are generational talents and both will make whatever team they land on vastly improved next season and beyond.

To win this race it means losing. A lot.

For the Sabres and Coyotes, they’ve done that the most this season. Now they’re five points apart with Arizona sitting 29th and the race for 30th essentially hanging in the balance based on what happens when they face each other twice in five days.

What’s twisted about all this is that being the ultimate loser this season may reap the biggest reward, the thought of benefiting from defeat is abhorrent to the players and coaches. The Sabres and Coyotes both practiced in Buffalo on Wednesday and couldn’t be more crystal clear about how they felt.

“The guys in this room are proud guys,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. “We battle hard and we’re not content with where we are. No one is happy with it. But each day you’ve got to try to bring something better and improve in different areas.”

Gionta is in an awkward position because he’s won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils. He was captain of the Montreal Canadiens for five season before he signed with Buffalo in July. His counterpart in Arizona, Shane Doan, has spent his career with the Jets/Coyotes organization. Losing doesn’t sit any better with him.

“It’s difficult. Like I said, if you’re a player and you’re competitive you don’t like to lose,” Doan said. “When you lose, that makes things not near as enjoyable. But at the same time you’re getting to compete in the NHL which is, I think every, I mean it was my dream growing up and as long as you get to do it it’s going to be fun.

“By no means am I enjoying the losing at all. It’s awful, it’s disgusting, and you hate it, but at the same time you love the fact you get to play in the NHL. You love the NHL and you love the game of hockey and so you want to keep playing.”

It’s a grounded perspective from a guy who’s seen the ultimate in highs and lows with the Coyotes. From starting his career in Winnipeg with the original Jets and moving to Phoenix followed by three years of ownership-based drama to an appearance in the Western Conference Final in 2012, it’s been an unbelievable ride. But the losing and the desire by many for the team to lose is something he won’t accept.

“Nobody wants to be in the position that our two teams are in,” Doan said. “Not one player. Not one player. It’s… You’re embarrassed, you have to be. Nobody ever wants to be considered the worst and obviously both teams are being considered the two worst teams in the league. That’s not encouraging.”

Fans in Arizona have warmed up to the thought of landing McDavid or Eichel at the draft, but in Buffalo it’s something that’s seemingly been in the sights of management going back to 2013 when former GM, and current Coyotes assistant GM, Darcy Regier told Sabres fans, “there’s going to be some suffering” as the team began a rebuild.

That rebuild began in earnest when the Sabres traded captain Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild. Now there’s a new regime in charge with GM Tim Murray and coach Ted Nolan. With the fan base whipped into a fever pitch about landing McDavid or Eichel thanks to Regier’s fateful words and the constant discussion of what it would mean to Buffalo to land one of them, it’s fallen on Nolan to lead the Sabres through this.

“Every once in a while you go through years like this,” Nolan said. “The only thing I can control, and what I talk to the players about every day, is what they can control was: They can play as hard as they want, they’ve got to practice, and they’ve got to work on some of the things. And as a coach, that’s what I do every day. I can only do what’s humanly possible to get the team ready and hopefully it’s enough and that’s all we do.”

Nolan has frustrated many fans by sticking with a hot goalie, be it Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth, or now Anders Lindback, as they’ve withstood a historic barrage of shot attempts and somehow helped the Sabres win 20 games this season. At the rate they’ve been outshot and outscored, it’s a wonder they’ve won that much. Yet still, some haven’t been happy that Nolan wants to put his best team on the ice.

“I can’t control what other people think and what other people do,” Nolan said. “The only thing I know is what I feel. And I’m not speaking for anybody else, I’m just speaking for myself. Who wants to finish last? I never went into anything in my entire life wanting to finish last. You go into it with the right intentions and it’s the integrity of the game. That’s the line for me. So you just do what you have to do and feel the way you feel and if someone wants to finish last, then good for them.”

Weirdly, and perhaps prophetically, enough Nolan’s been down this road before in the OHL.

“My first coaching experience in Sault Ste. Marie we finished last, I believe, two years in a row,” Nolan said. “And one of the years Eric Lindros was up for the prize of the first pick. He didn’t show up to Sault Ste. Marie so we didn’t end up having him, but I think here because there’s so much media hype and there’s so much attention put to the National Hockey League, there’s a little bit more talk about it.

“I’ve been through it before and, like I said, nothing’s changed as far as the approach which hockey teams go through. I never met a player that wants to lose.”

When losing means perhaps getting the next generational talent, it all depends on your point of view is when it comes to winning. For the players and coaches who might see their future altered because of the desire by some (many?) to lose, they’ve about had enough of the talk about the positive parts of finishing last.

“You don’t accept losing,” Gionta said. “You’re not content game in and game out coming up short. No matter how close it is or what you’re doing, you’ve got to find ways to get wins. That’s what this game is about. That’s our main focus game in and game out – trying to get a win. It’s not good enough to be close.”

12/28/2009

GMH On The Road: The Rust Belt Awaits

This week I go on one of the more awesome, and slightly random, hockey-themed road trips I’ve ever done.  This has become a bit of a thing for me, going back to April 2007 when I made it to Denver for the Frozen Four.  That trip was so incredible and life-fulfilling that it’s inspired me to do other trips both great and small.  Whether it meant going to last year’s Frozen Four in, now hockey-mad, Washington D.C., taking a short drive over the Berkshires to take in a Division III NCAA Tournament game or going to Montreal for the NHL Draft it didn’t matter – hockey was the reason and everything about each of those trips made it 100% worthwhile.

The great secret I’ve discovered is the road trip itself and when the college schedule was completed and it was announced that RPI would be heading to Detroit for the Great Lakes Invitational I circled the date and started to ask around to some of the other RPI-mad fans I know to see if this might be something we could do and sure enough… Everyone else was more than fair game and driving (yes, driving) from here around Albany to Detroit seemed to be the way to go about it.  More folks were contacted and more people were interested.  Hey, more the merrier, right?

For two days, this annual Michigan-centric tournament takes over Joe Louis Arena and University of Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech have a battle to see who can be the GLI champion and get a banner hung inside the Joe to state as much.  Every year a fourth team is invited and RPI got the call this time around.  North Dakota was there last year, so it’s not as if a patsy is invited to secure an easy win for someone, although some Michigan fans seem to find RPI to be the weakest team to be invited in a long time.  We’ll see how that goes as Michigan is having a bit of an off year.

Fun thing about getting this many heads together for a plan is other ideas pop up.  The NHL schedule was released and sure enough, the “traditional” New Year’s Eve game at Joe Louis Arena was back on, after being called off for preparation for the Winter Classic last year.  Detroit against Colorado is the game and so another call was made to secure tickets for the gang.  Three nights in a row our band of RPI fanatics (now tentatively bearing the moniker of Collar City Madmen) would be holed up at Joe Louis Arena for a total of at least three games, probably four or five depending on how ambitious we are to see the other games of the GLI.

For myself, getting to see a Red Wings game at the Joe is the icing on the cake.  Look at it this way, about 25 years ago my hockey fandom was kicked into high gear thanks to the local team from RPI winning the National Championship against Providence College… At Joe Louis Arena.  It was that same local team that provided another local team, the Adirondack Red Wings, with a soon-to-be Hall of Fame player in Adam Oates (who was later unceremoniously traded by the Red Wings in one of the worst trades of all time) but helped make that connection to the NHL team I now follow.  Fast forward to now and here I’ll be in the same arena getting to see BOTH of these teams.

This is about as close to a religious experience as this lapsed Catholic will ever get.  I’ll be at the Joe where Oates, Puppa, Carter and Servinis helped lead RPI to their last National Championship and I’ll be getting my photo taken at Gordie Howe’s statue and finding ways to get as many pictures of Steve Yzerman’s banner as one person can get.

It’s my moment damn it, keep your remarks to yourself.

As Ron Popeil might say, “But wait, there’s more.”

This schedule for the trip means that New Year’s Eve will be spent hoping the Red Wings didn’t lose anymore players to injury and maybe pull out a victory and then finding a bar to hole up with the gang, usher in 2010 and then get right the hell to sleep because a road trip to Buffalo is in order for the day of January 1st.  Sure, most everyone will be going bonkers over the Winter Classic in Boston but we’ll be getting geared up for Thrashers v. Sabres at HSBC Arena in Buffalo because, really, you can’t have enough hockey.

Oddly enough, for the limited number of NHL games I get to see live this will be the second time I’ve seen Atlanta play in the last three or four years.  The last time I saw them was down at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers when the Thrashers won in overtime and Ilya Kovalchuk proved to me what a madman on the ice he can be.  Just an unreal, sick talent.  More fun than that, this helps make packing for a trip easy.

RPI jersey?  Check.  Red Wings jersey?  Check.  Old school Buffalo Sabres jersey?  Check.

Good to go!

I know it sounds insane to be fired up for a trip to two cities in the Rust Belt of the USA but here I am writing this up in the wee hours of the morning before hitting the road to get to Buffalo and stay the night there before trekking to Michigan.  What makes going to places like this in the dead of winter when the climate is at its bleakest and these cities are seemingly even less “fun” to visit?  It’s hockey, stupid.  Simple as that.  It’s cities like these where hockey lives and breathes the hardest even when things financially aren’t at their best.  The fans love their teams and when it comes to college hockey at Joe Louis Arena… Well, that’s a big deal there too because state bragging rights are more-or-less on the line and the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is vicious.  Even going as an “objective” hockey fan for an event like this I would be fired up so you can imagine what the adrenaline rate is now having horses in most of  the races involved here.

The NCAA has made it a point to have better “destination” cities for some of their bigger events (namely the Frozen Four) but it’s places like Detroit and Buffalo (and Minneapolis/St. Paul) where hockey encompasses the lives of the folks there.  Sure some folks can get up in arms over selecting Ford Field as a Frozen Four venue (rightfully so) but their line of thought was right.  For every Tampa Bay the NCAA picks out, they make sure to take care of St. Paul, Minnesota and the Denver too.

As for updates while I’m gone for the week… Don’t expect too much unless I witness something completely insane or I’m duly inspired and want to (potentially) drunkenly ramble when I return back to the hotel room.  If you’re wanting in on crazy stories from the road or photos as they happen, I strongly suggest following me on Twitter @HockeyJoeGM.

If you’re looking for the straight stuff about RPI hockey, you need to be reading Without A Peer and following along with Tom and Gary at their site and with them on Twitter as well @without_a_peer.  I’m sure there will be plenty of stuff to hear from us about while this newest chapter of hockey road trip madness unfolds.

07/26/2007

Oh Those Wacky Oilers

Filed under: Anaheim Ducks,Buffalo Sabres,Edmonton Oilers — Joe Yerdon @ 11:42 PM

They’re at it again. Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe nearly set the city of Buffalo on fire when he attempted to sign Sabres restricted free agent Thomas Vanek to a seven year $50 million dollar contract. The Sabres warned Lowe (and any other GM who would dare) repeatedly that they would match any offer made to Vanek, especially after losing they’re top two guys in Drury and Briere via the unrestricted route.

Kevin Lowe attempted to call Darcy Regier’s bluff except that Regier wasn’t bluffing at all and a preturbed Sabres front office called a press conference almost immediately after Edmonton had signed Vanek to the massively insane offer sheet to say that they were indeed retaining their (hopeful) soon-to-be superstar winger.

Kevin Lowe, not satisfied with doing nothing on the unrestricted free agent market has again gone diving in head first into the restricted pool, this time signing Anaheim Ducks winger Dustin Penner to a five year $21.25 million dollar offer sheet. Again, the Oilers are obliterating the salary market in order to get some action going and maybe score a player – but right now, it seems more likely that Kevin Lowe is just being an agitator and gunning for guys that teams would rather not lose and upping the ante to put the uncomfortable bite on these franchises finances for the years to come.

It had been theorized to me that this was what Lowe was doing with the Vanek signing – blow up the salary market on one guy to really put the screws to teams they’ll be competing with later on in the unrestricted market. It’s an interesting theory, but imagine if the Sabres had not bothered to match Vanek’s offer and if they were also foolishly saddled with this latest Penner deal. You’d have a combined 12 years and $70+ million dollars tied up in TWO players.

Now, I know that Edmonton may be getting sold to a Canadian billionaire not named Jim Balsillie away from their current gang of 34 owners and that he’s promised to spend up to the heights of the salary cap to bring a winner back to the Canadian Rockies hinterlands of Alberta. That said, even I’d think that a shrewd businessman like Daryl Katz wouldn’t go quite this hog wild, especially for a guy like Dustin Penner, who is mainly making his bank based on the success of the Ducks last season and his relative youth (He’s currently 24 years-old and his stats for 2006-07 are: 82 games; 29 goals 16 assists for 45 points with 58 PIM and -2 ).

Is $4+ million dollars the going rate for a third line winger these days? Jeez, financial hard times have really struck the NHL once again. I haven’t seen this foolish of a deal since the Bruins negotiated against themselves for the right to pay Martin Lapointe $5 million a year and take him away from the Red Wings, the same “fiscally irresponsible” Detroit Red Wings whose final offer to Lapointe that off-season was for $3.5 million per year.

If Edmonton were really out to screw with the other teams in the NHL, and mind you testing Brian Burke’s nerve I am all for, but why not take a shot at a guy that would both fit into the Edmonton system instantly and thrive all the while really putting the screws to a stingy, joyless miser? Of course, I’m talking about the Oilers making a run at restricted free agent Zach Parise from the Devils.

Parise is clearly a budding young offensive star who will unfortunately be stifled if he’s made to stay in New Jersey under the iron fist of hockey’s Third Reich led by Heir Lamoriello. What good is it to have an up and coming young guy like Parise in a nothing place like New Jersey, where the fans could give a crap else and the team’s management has been actively been hating their own fanbase and market for the last 15 years? It serves no purpose and Kevin Lowe would be doing the league a favor by trying to sign Parise to an obnoxious offer sheet that Lou Lamoriello would be tested to the “n”th degree as to whether or not to match.

Then again, Lamoriello would call in one of his favors from Asleep At The Wheel Bettman and find a way to circumvent the rules and regulations once again. Jim Fahey and Alexander Korolyuk agree at least.

Powered by WordPress