As the NHL playoffs roll on this spring one is left scratching one’s head over what we are seeing.
Three months ago, LA Kings general manager Dean Lombardi was being raked by most of the noted hockey experts around the continent for his inept management of this team and most were speculating that not only was his job in question, his firing was a virtual certainty if things continued the way they were going.
When he traded for Jeff Carter it was thought to be another in a long line of desperate moves designed to create offence but more importantly save said job which he was rapidly losing. His hiring of Darryl Sutter as coach was seen as a totally mystifying move by most everyone in the game because this fellow hadn’t coached in a while and his teams were never known for filling the net offensively, even when he had the success he did in ’04, in particular in Calgary, and San Jose and Chicago as well to a lesser degree. The last guy who was going to generate offence was Darryl, or at least so it was thought. And we speak here not just of media types, but lots of the alleged brighter minds within the game as well.
Now this very nice run in the playoffs comes along for these Kings. You could disparage it if you wished, noting that Vancouver and St. Louis were both teams on distinct downward trends entering the playoffs and that Phoenix may have already shot its bolt having reached its utmost level by virtue of being in the final. But let’s be clear, the Kings have been very thorough this post season. Defensively they’ve been as good or better than they’ve ever been and their offence led by Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar the most efficient of all playoff teams on balance.
So what does this run mean? Does it mean the Kings will be the team to beat in the Western Conference next season when it’s time to make predictions, if there is to be a season that is? Or is this just a run that will dissipate into thin air the way similar runs made by Calgary (under Sutter) and the Oilers as eighth place teams in the west in previous years of the dead puck era. We want to know here whether Lombardi is in fact a genius whose brilliance was just a longer time in coming forward or whether he’s still the same doofus he was three months ago but happens to have caught lightning in a bottle in the way that even the blind squirrel finds an acorn on occasion.
And really, can anyone answer that question? Doesn’t it seem that more and more the game of hockey is more like a game of chance than it is one of careful planning whereby an organization works through all the variables and builds a solid team which competes for the big prize every year.
Seriously, all the so-called ‘smart’ general managers like Ken Holland in Detroit with his much respected, consistent approach are on the sidelines. Those who had been decreed to be the head of the class-type modern thinking general managers with other training besides hockey like Boston’s Peter Chiarelli, Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero and Vancouver’s Mike Gillis are all on the sidelines watching the likes of Lombardi, a budget-challenged Don Maloney, Lou Lamoriello and a prehistoric cigar-chomping Glen Sather compete for the Cup. Maloney and Lamoriello have been steady managers, the latter for many, many years with three Cups to boot. But Lombardi and Sather might well have been lynched by their own fan base over the past two or three years were they ever to appear amongst said paying customers in the two largest television markets in the U.S.
Has the game reached a point now where a playoff series is just like two people sitting down and rolling dice, with the first guy to roll the highest number four times advancing to the next round of die rolls? If that isn’t really the case, it would certainly be nice for someone to explain what’s going on.