<
>

Ramblings: Kessel's curious reaction, Pens' early upgrade, Bruins' big dilemma

1/6/2015

Accountability, maturity lacking for Leafs

Everyone knows that the day a coach gets fired is an emotional time. It was more than a little revelatory, though, to watch Toronto Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel react defensively to a question about his role in the firing of head coach Randy Carlyle, who was dismissed by the team on Tuesday. Former Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, who was replaced by Carlyle, suggested in a radio interview Tuesday there was a problem with the team’s core group of players (including Kessel), which in part prompted that line of questioning to be directed at Kessel.

Instead of accepting some level of blame or acknowledging the need to be better on the ice, Kessel reacted angrily to questions about whether he was difficult to coach.

“You think it’s my fault? Is that what you’re saying? Is that what you’re saying?” he asked a reporter. Um, no, but it’s fair to ask a team’s top players what has gone on that led to a coach being fired.

Can you imagine Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron or Anze Kopitar reacting that way? No. Their answers would reflect culpability, not churlishness. It’s called leadership. It’s called accountability. If, as many believe, the Leafs' problems go deep into the makeup of the roster, you need look no further than Kessel’s reaction to reinforce the idea that Toronto is a team that lacks accountability and the maturity needed to be an elite team. That, sadly, is the easy part. The hard part is how you change it. Over to you, Brendan Shanahan and Dave Nonis.

Impact of the Pens' upgrade

Kudos to Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford for making a preemptive strike in obtaining (or should we say flat-out stealing) David Perron from the Edmonton Oilers for a first-round pick and Rob Klinkhammer. The move is reminiscent of Rutherford’s strategy back in 2006, when he added Doug Weight to the Carolina Hurricanes' roster. At the time, Weight was one of the top centers on the trade market, and Rutherford added him to a surprising Carolina roster at the end of January before the annual trade market went into high gear. Weight did get hurt, forcing Rutherford to also add Mark Recchi closer to the trade deadline, but the Weight addition was key to the Canes' Cup aspirations.

Likewise, the addition of Perron takes some of the pressure off in Pittsburgh -- where the team has been swallowed by injury and illness -- and allows Perron more time to adjust to new surroundings compared with players added in early March. As was the case with Weight in 2006, the early move puts more pressure on teams like the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and New York Rangers to make moves, while also taking a noteworthy forward asset off the market in the early going.

What will the Bruins do?

Interesting times are coming up for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, whose team continues to underachieve. And while it’s commonplace -- and maybe even common sense -- to suggest it’s only a matter of time before the B's get their act together and rejoin the fray in the Atlantic Division, the fact of the matter is that something definitely seems amiss. The players told local reporters this week they lacked passion and need to be better, and it will be up to Chiarelli to decide what, if anything, to do about it. For a man who added key pieces in the months leading up to the Bruins’ seminal Stanley Cup win in 2011, this might be an even bigger challenge. Right now the Bruins are not a playoff club. They are a point out of the second wild-card spot as of Tuesday morning and have won just four times in their last 12 outings.

So, do you trade Milan Lucic? Do you try and move another big piece? If you make such a move, what do you add to fill the void(s) created? But can Chiarelli afford to move Lucic and then find out the team desperately needs him come playoff time? No. When the Bruins were at their best while winning that Stanley Cup in 2011 and losing in the finals to Chicago in 2013, Lucic was a force who made life miserable for playoff opponents. But to do nothing or to merely tinker, playing around the edges of the lineup hoping the Bruins move beyond their current inertia, is also a strategy that could backfire if the team continues to muck about. As for the fallout if the team does somehow finish outside the top eight? When the subject was broached with new team CEO Charlie Jacobs, he said it would be “unacceptable” and an “utter failure” to miss the playoffs. In other words, heads will roll if that happens.

Players and union not on same page

There seems to be more than a little disconnect between some National Hockey League players and their union and the collective bargaining agreement vis-à-vis the value of the CBA-mandated three-day holiday break. The NHLPA fought during the lockout that ended two years ago for an extra day off for players to spend with their families, while the NHL was actually talking about having Christmas Day games like the NBA. However, that third day off (Dec. 26, in addition to the 24th and 25th) meant that teams scheduled to play on Dec. 27 had to travel day the day of the game.

Now, you would think the schedule-makers would ensure that only teams geographically close would be on tap on the 27th, but this year the Philadelphia Flyers were one time zone away in Nashville and the Chicago Blackhawks had to travel into Denver. Not ideal. According to Flyers GM Ron Hextall, his players came to him and told him they’d rather fly the day before as usual, so the team willingly defied the terms of the CBA and was fined for it. Same but different for the Anaheim Ducks, some of whom held an informal workout on Dec. 26, which the league also investigated but did not impose sanctions (at least public sanctions). Seems that if the union is going to negotiate elements of a CBA that seemingly benefit the players and the league agrees to those terms, the least the membership can do is abide by them.

So what about that Flyers fine?

Speaking of which league sanctions, the NHL was quick to release details of a $100,000 fine imposed on the Los Angeles Kings earlier this season when suspended defenseman Slava Voynov was caught working out on the ice with his teammates in violation of the terms of his suspension. Transparency. What a concept. The league also reveals fines against players accused of diving (James Neal of the Nashville Predators was the first to feel such public shame). So why, then, would the NHL throw a blanket of secrecy over the amount of the fine levied against the Flyers for the CBA transgression? If you want teams to abide by the rules, let everyone know what the penalty is. Unless you’re embarrassed by it.

Celebrating a 'Miracle'

How cool is this going to be? On Feb. 21 at the Herb Brooks Ice Arena in Lake Placid, New York, members of the 1980 Miracle On Ice team will gather at the place where they made history. They'll help celebrate the 35th anniversary of what many believe to be the greatest single sporting event in U.S. history, the Americans’ victory over the mighty Russians in the semifinals of the 1980 Olympic tournament. Most of the surviving members of the team that would go on to claim gold with a win over Finland will be on hand. Fans will get a chance to see the men who made history, see parts of the game, watch clips from the movie "Miracle," peruse memorabilia from the tournament and other related bits and bobs.

The event, which coincides with Hockey Weekend Across America, is part of a series of events marking the 35th anniversary of the Miracle On Ice, and most of the players are expected to be in Lake Placid. If ever there was a reminder of the fleeting nature of these kinds of moments it came last September when Bob Suter, father to Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter and a member of that Miracle on Ice team, passed away. He was the first of the Miracle on Ice group to pass, and it was a sobering reminder to take advantage of these opportunities before it’s too late.

WJC attendance an ominous sign?

Good for fans in Montreal and, to a lesser extent, in Toronto for staying away from the World Junior Championship in droves after Hockey Canada set ticket prices sky-high. The question is whether it was the price point alone that scared off ticket buyers, or more that Toronto and Montreal are NHL cities and not necessarily hockey cities. It’s an interesting dynamic for the NHL and NHLPA to consider as they prepare to revive the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in the fall of 2016. World Cup organizers certainly believe that having so many NHL players in that tournament will be key to its success, and key to selling tickets that figure to be priced on the high side as well.