Unfortunately, you can talk more about the soap opera in the Vancouver Canucks front office more than you can talk about the actual Vancouver Canucks games on the ice. There appears to be a variety of conflicting views between ownership, management and coaching, and those rumours about ownership trying to bypass Mike Gillis into hiring John Tortorella as coach doesn’t bode for the future for several reasons—the first of which being that you never want the owner making the on-ice decisions.
Dimitri, who is a Cowboys fan, surely can relate.
You don’t want to let the manager off the hook for anything, and ultimately would hope that Gillis has the authority to put his foot down and say “no, we aren’t doing xxxx”, whatever xxxx may entail. This isn’t a problem just in Vancouver. You often hear about how pressure from ownership forces managers into decisions they may not otherwise make. You don’t want to let Dave Nonis off the hook for signing David Clarkson, but “ownership was offering me a five-year extension to get it done” is a pretty good excuse, and if last summer’s bizarre UFA spree was all it took for Nonis to get into the good books of one of the most powerful sports executives in the world, well, I’d have signed David Clarkson too.
Fans are in a position we’ve never really been in before. There’s a point in Moneyball when Michael Lewis describes how a baseball blog reacted to the Chicago White Sox trading Ray Durham to Oakland for a minor leaguer in 2002, calling White Sox general manager Kenny Williams an “A’s fan”. Right now, fans are armed with tons of statistical information and have the ability to watch every single game from the junior ranks to the pro ranks, if you’re willing to shell out enough cash. You’re never going to get a fan who doesn’t in some way disagree with the moves an executive is making, no matter what information you’re going to use.
20 years ago, I’d say that fans had to trust management to make the right decisions, and you cheered on the players you had, and you really wanted your team to get the stars you saw come through town twice a season. Today, any average Joe can sit in his basement and give it enough thought to pick which players will produce more than the players the manager chose to go with, without regard for office politics.
In a way, a fan can conceivably construct better teams in his basement than an NHL general manager, which is probably why there’s so much anger when things go completely haywire. We’re at a point when casual fans are demanding the heads of Gilis and Tortorella, and not without basis either. It’s very easy to point to mistakes made by both men that were preventable, and a better course of action could have made the team better.
But you can’t account for the barriers that get in the way. Read enough business books and you’ll learn that the business world is lecherous and rewards luck rather than skill. In hockey, we get to see it when a player who has high shooting percentages and PDO in his free agency year cashes in more than the player who got unlucky in that regard, and the hockey world is not introspective when Clarke MacArthur or Mason Raymond out-produces Mike Ribeiro to a considerable extent the next season for a much cheaper salary. In the office as well as the ice, the focus is on the past and maintaining present relationships rather than the future success of the team.
You can listen to Gillis yesterday over and over and come to the conclusion that the Canucks on the ice are in better shape than the Canucks off the ice. We can agree that certain correctible things can put the Canucks back in a playoff spot: less reliance on Tom Sestito, a PDO correction to the mean, a better distribution of games between the two young, big, Swedish goalies on staff and just one young scoring winger. I don’t think the team is that far off, despite the group looking hella flawed right now, there’s a playoff team in here.
So, who knows. Based on what’s been said, I don’t think Mike Gillis is back and I don’t think John Tortorella is back, but I don’t think that those departures will correct whatever is wrong with the team. No matter who the next GM is, if he’s an old school ex-jock or a young, handsome and smart programming geek, it won’t matter if ownership still thinks they can interfere with the direction of the team.
Thank Pavel there are 29 other teams in the league we can watch.
WEEKEND WATCHABILITY INDEX
The Canucks are completely out of it, but hockey is still a fun sport to watch, and the watchability index ranks the games played between Friday and Sunday based on the quality of teams in the game, impact on playoff races, as well as the potential for wild, high-scoring contests.
Dallas vs. Tampa Bay – Saturday @ 4:00 p.m. Pacific
THE HOOK: It looks like the fight between Dallas and Phoenix for the final playoff spot is going to come right down to the wire. This being Canucks Army, where we’ve pretty well adopted Jamie Benn as our own and despise the Canucks big rivals Phoenix, obviously we’re pulling for the Stars here. The Bolts are just as fun to watch as ever, a little deeper than the Stars and are fighting for home ice in the first round against Montreal. Both teams have been high on my GameCentre priority list this season and are playing for something that matters.
Winnipeg vs. Toronto – Saturday @ 4:00 p.m. Pacific
THE HOOK: Toronto makes me simultaneously love and hate hockey. I despite the jock favouritism surrounding the organization, but the drama this season has just been off the charts, with huge win streaks and losing streaks marking several wins and losses for the analytics crowd at points throughout the season. The drama was amped up against Boston Thursday when Jonathan Bernier was hurt and the Leafs had to let James Reimer out of his cage. They’ll have to turn to Reimer against his hometown team and you get the sense every game from here on out could be curtains for Toronto. I think every team wants to be there to deliver the final blow.
Chicago vs. Columbus – Friday @ 4:00 p.m. Pacific
THE HOOK: This could be interesting. The Blue Jackets facing Chicago while on the second half of a back-to-back with their starter playing in the first half doesn’t look good on paper, until you consider that the Blackhawks are also a tired group, are without their two best players and have to play this game on the road. Both teams are pretty up-tempo and the playoff chase is just about when everybody in the hockey world jumps on Columbus’ bandwagon.
Just one thing… don’t call them #LUMBUS anymore. That was 2013, when the Jackets were underdogs, not good, and winning because of a hot goaltender. The Jackets have much better skaters this time around, can win without Vezina-calibre goaltending, and just might make it. They’re a team to be taken seriously if they can pull out that second Eastern Wild Card spot.
Pittsburgh vs. Colorado – Sunday @ 5:00 p.m. Pacific
THE HOOK: I was considering omitting this game from the list because neither team has much to play for from here on out and I think these two teams have the 29th and 30th ugliest regular sweaters in the National Hockey League. Also, Evgeni Malkin and Matt Duchene are out of each team’s respective lineup, and neither ROOT Pittsburgh or Altitude Sports are remotely watchable feeds. You know what? Skip this one altogether. There’s probably some good Sunday night TV, and that Islanders-Blue Jackets game will be in the third period as this one starts.
The Watchability Index unfortunately does not take into account injuries, nor broadcast quality. This will change for next year.
Detroit vs. Montreal – Saturday @ 4:00 p.m. Pacific
THE HOOK: This will be Pavel Datsyuk’s first game back from injury against a team that doesn’t play in Buffalo, and we couldn’t be more thrilled at the prospect of Detroit getting healthy at the right time. The injuries up front this season have made the Red Wings use some of their awesome young AHLers Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco and you have a tough time seeing either of them back in Grand Rapids while the Wings push to clinch that playoff berth.
Montreal, like Tampa Bay, is in that dogfight for second in the Atlantic, so if the Toronto-Winnipeg game isn’t your cup of tea, I daresay this game should be a little more interesting if you want to fire up the old CBC.ca machine and its glorious free streaming service.
Additionally, with Douglas Murray suspended for three games, the Canadiens may actually play well.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS
Calgary vs. Florida – Friday @ 4:30 p.m. PST
Buffalo vs. Philadelphia – Sunday @ 4:30 p.m. PST
Buffalo vs. Detroit – Friday @ 4:30 p.m. PST