Friday, May 24, 2013

Wings, Avs both making noise

Both of my favorite teams, the Wings and the Avs, are making noise this week... from to very different locales of course. The Detroit Red Wings' 2-0 shutout of the Blackhawks last night puts them at a 3-1 advantage in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series against the top-seeded Hawks.

I had a good feeling for the Wings in their series against the second-seeded Ducks. Detroit had come into the playoffs on a hot streak. They had that cliche of "every game is a playoff game" down the stretch, and were assured of their 7th seed only on the final day of the season. I felt they matched up well against Anaheim, so I thought an upset was in order. Of course, they proved me right with a thrilling seven-game series victory. However, I had far less of a good feeling against Chicago, and really assumed things would come to a quick and decisive halt... the Wings' old rival beat them all four times during the regular season, and even though three were OT losses, I really didn't give Detroit much of a chance here.

Jimmy Howard as viewed by Jonathan Toews
(artist's conception)
Chicago is a team that lost seven games in regulation all year. They amassed 77 points in a little more than half a season... a pace which would have tied them for the most points ever scored in the standings. They are a juggernaut, such a powerful team that the best I was hoping for was a good, strong showing by the young Wings on which to build next year.

I'm happy to be wrong on this one: the Red Wings are doing more than giving a good showing, they're giving the Blackhawks fits in all three zones, and especially in net. Jimmy Howard seems to really be in their heads... as a longtime Red Wings fan, the biggest negative over the last twenty years or so has been the ability for a goalie to just shut down their typically high-powered offense in the playoffs. It's nice to see that happening for the Red Wings this time. A 3-1 series lead against a team as explosive as Chicago's is far from a guarantee, but it is certainly a great position for this quickly-gelling Detroit team to find itself.

The Colorado Avalanche have been making headlines of a different sort. A couple weeks back, they fired head coach Joe Sacco, and shortly thereafter released Pierre Lacroix from his duties as president, keeping him on as an "advisor," which I think is just the nice thing to do when you want to be rid of somebody but don't want to embarrass him by flat-out firing them. Taking his place as president and causing confusion for fans who insist he doesn't care about hockey was owner Josh Kroenke, and moving up into a more dominant decision-making position was hockey great and snow-removal not-so-great Joe Sakic. Sakic's first goal was to find a replacement for Sacco, and he found one yesterday, when he named Patrick Roy the Avalanche's new head coach.

Hey Patrick, somebody just stole your ice cream
sandwich! How does that make you feel?
I don't really like this move, for two reasons. The first reason is that as a hockey move, I think it is risky, and this is not a team in a good position to take risks at the head coaching position. Historically, star players have not made successful head coaches, and goalies have typically not made successful head coaches either... and so it follows that star goalies who've made successful head coaches are as rare as hen's teeth (Gerry Cheevers is the only Hall of Fame goalie to have even modest success as an NHL head coach). Also, while a great many successful NHL head coaches have had experience coaching junior hockey, very few successful head coaches have come straight from junior hockey to the NHL without at least a brief stop in the AHL or another professional league.

Again, these are merely historical trends, and none of it makes it a certainty that Roy will be unable to find success in the NHL coaching ranks. It can certainly happen, but in order to become a winning NHL head coach, Roy will have to buck not only one historical trend, he'll have to buck at least three. The deck is stacked against him, right off the bat... so hiring Roy as any team's head coach is a risk at this point.

When the Avs fired Bob 'Artley in 2002 and replaced him with assistant coach Tony Granato, they were a team that could afford to roll the dice on an inexperienced and unproven head coach. They were a team full of veterans who many thought had begun to "tune out" Hartley, and bringing in a new voice to motivate and hold them accountable was thought to be just what the doctor ordered. And what do you know, it worked... sorta. Granato's first stint behind the bench was largely a success, at least if you base it on win percentage:  Granato's 2002-2004 record represents highest win % of any Avalanche head coach. However, this Avs team is not that Avs team. This is not a team that simply needs a new voice in the locker room and a new guy to bring his own personality to the team... what we have today is a still-rebuilding team with a very young core, a team whose skills and habits are in obvious need of development. Many have said that Roy's experience in juniors will help him coach these young guys, and there is some truth to that, but the NHL game is as different from the junior game as NFL football is to high school football. The time to take a risk with a coach like Roy is when your team is already good and needs a kick in the pants to get better... counting on Roy to get this team from where they are to the next level is a big risk, and with a number of very experienced NHL head coaches looking for work, it's a risk the Avs did not need to take.

The other reason I don't like the move is that I just don't like Patrick Roy. There, I said it. As a goalie, he was great... one of the greatest of his era and of all time. But as a man, he's not somebody I'm even remotely interested in seeing succeed. His well-documented off-ice issues are not insignificant, and unfortunately they do cast a long shadow over his on-ice accomplishments. Fans seem to love the story about when he ripped a TV/VCR off the wall when a coach's strategy cost him a precious win (his team won, but Roy didn't seem to care about that). They relish trotting out this story as an example of his "competitive fire," his "passion for winning"... but in reality it's an example of a self-absorbed brat with serious anger issues.

Mission accomplished, dad!
Now, if that was the only time something like that happened, it could be looked back on today as a funny example of how the man's mind works, but unfortunately it was not the only time something like that happened. In retrospect, that TV incident was both a sign of things to come and a very troubling example of how the man's mind works. Police visited his home after a 911 hang-up and arrested him on a domestic violence charge, and the sad truth of domestic violence is that is not an outburst but a pattern—for every one time the police are called, there are typically dozens of times they were not. After retirement, another assault charge was filed on behalf of a QMJHL owner, and the straw that broke the camel's back for me was when, during a game Roy was coaching, he ordered his son to pummel another teen who clearly indicated he had no desire to fight the younger Roy. One instance of such violence can be forgiven as a mistake, but four documented instances is an issue, and a very serious one at that. Patrick Roy is not a guy with "passion" and "competitive fire." Patrick Roy is simply an asshole.

As a Wings fan, this situation with Roy allows me to come full circle and connect my feelings about him with my feelings about Todd Bertuzzi wearing a Red Wing jersey. Bertuzzi's victim may have suffered or lost more than Roy's victim(s), but I don't really see much difference in what these two men have actually done, and I certainly don't think it's fair to condemn one while exalting the other. The main difference is that the result of Bertuzzi's choices were played out on live TV and were recorded from five different camera angles, and so his apologists have very little to work with in face of the evidence; Roy's on the other hand occurred largely behind closed doors (or rather, doors that were closed before he tore them off their hinges), making it far easier for his many defenders to paint him as a guy just driven by his passions, thus fitting his abusive and violent nature into the "Saint Patrick the hero" narrative.

I personally think Bertuzzi has learned from his mistake and I don't have an issue with him continuing to play hockey, but that does not mean that he did to Steve Moore should be forgotten, and certainly must not be casually dismissed or celebrated as a product of his "desire to win." I feel the same way about Roy: I hope he's learned from his mistakes, that he's changed, and that he's got things going the right direction in his life... but nothing can or should erase these things he's done, because just like Bertuzzi, who he is today includes who he was.

With both Bertuzzi and Roy, I don't wish them ill, and I don't want them banned for life or see them to go to jail or anything like that. Ultimately, I will be pleased at their success because it will mean success for my team. But it's an embarrassment to have them associated with the teams I cheer for. I'd much prefer they were going about their business elsewhere, because even as a part of my favorite hockey teams I will not—I can not—cheer for either of them.

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