Everything Else

Be better than the call. 

It’s a hockey cliche, but unlike most of them it has real application. You’ve heard it around these parts from time to time, but it’s thrown around anywhere that has actual winning tradition and real substance. In any playoff run, something will go against you. A bad call, an injury, a post hit instead of an open net, a bouncing puck that becomes a delay-of-game penalty. These tests are all around in the spring. You have to rise above.

But people and teams that have been handed everything don’t want to be told they have to be better. Isn’t that America today in a nutshell? The Knights never had to work for anything. Due to the generosity/stupidity of the league and fellow GMs they were given this roster. Due to playing in a division with three or four of the most incomprehensibly-run organizations, they were given the division last season. Due the exhaustion of the Jets, they were given the conference. When a question was finally asked of them by Washington, they were done before you could blink while wondering when it was time to hit their catchphrase.

And those that are installed at the top of instead of climbing there will always run for the stronghold of unfair bias, or injustice, or things not working as they’ve only known them meaning the universe is out of whack.

What the Vegas Pissbabies (really not all that far from “Golden Knights” if you think about it) will come to realize is that nothing was taken from them. Nothing was stolen. They dropped it on their toes and broke four of them. They didn’t have to be there.

Let’s rewind. They led the series 3-1 against a team that was pretty much throwing a sloth who only listens to The Cure in net. They were playing a team that has only known playoff disappointment and angst. The Sharks are basically always looking for a reason to chuck it. They’re not buttressed by the memories and confidence of past glories. There aren’t any. The Knights themselves have just about the same markers of success recently.

Except that what they forgot is that Marc-Andre Fleury is always capable of becoming Martin Jones himself. Probably didn’t remember that when they handed him a new contract that starts when he’s 35. Oh well…not like they made that mistake aga….what’s that you say?

So there was Fleury treating Tomas Hertl’s shorthanded, desperation heave like a rabies shot of yore, and suddenly they’re in a Game 7.

But that’s cool. Martin Jones became Martin Jones again. They got a beneficial call when Cody Eakin, who is apparently 3′ 8″, tipped in a shot with his stick above his shoulder. Perhaps he might have realized he got away with one with his stick high and be more careful from there on out. Maybe next time, Ginger Ninja?

Martin Jones arrived again to let Max Pacioretty’s suggestion of a shot through his legs. That was it. Jones was Jones again. The Sharks were down three, staring yet another playoff loss and the ending of yet another forlorn chase for glory in the eye. Deep down, there was an assurance and comfort within them to settling into what they’ve always known. The Knights had only known success. It was all there.

Here’s a strange note I found buried within the NHL rulebook. You might not know this, but it says you don’t have to let in four goals on a major power play. I know. I really wouldn’t have thought so, but here we are. And suddenly Fleury looked across the ice and screamed, “No one out-playoff-barfs me! I was the Osiris of this shit seven years ago!”

And then he wasn’t anywhere close to any of San Jose’s offerings in the next four minutes. He was a cigar store Indian. Construction sign-men would have put up more of a fight. He came so far out on Labanc’s goal it looked like he wanted to reenact the front cover of “Wish You Were Here.” ( You can probably guess which one was on fire). Never hustle a hustler.

Enter Gerrard Gallant with an excellent Dusty Baker impression. Frozen. No timeout. No, “Let’s settle this down and figure it out.” Not even a call for a pointless review to get the heat out of a building that was starting to sound like an Anthrax concert. Just glares and bitching. This wasn’t in the script. This isn’t the plan.

And even with all that, the Sharks couldn’t escape their true nature completely. Of course they couldn’t, it’s too ingrained. So the Knights had yet another reprieve, tying the game with 47 seconds and getting an overtime against an exhausted outfit using about eight forwards and four defensemen.

It’s kind of fitting that the series came down to Pete DeBoer thinking, “Well, I should probably stop using my cemented-footed, rock-headed pylon (benching Brendon Dillon) and my only hope is that Gerard Gallant keeps using his.” And over the boards came Brayden McNabb! You can’t run from your nature forever. I mean, you can get close when you do things at the pace of McNabb, who can tell his grandkids one day that he got scorched by something called Barclay Goodrow and his grandkids can start planning just how fast they’ll change their last name and filling out grandpappy’s DNR. Maybe down the road when they pull the plug on Ol. Brayden his grandchildren will yell, “Look at me, I’m Barclay!”

That seems like an awful lot to hinge on one call, especially as a good portion comes before that call. But I know time warps in Vegas. No clocks and all.

The Knights wanted to be known as something more than an expansion team. And now they will be. So what are you so upset about anyway? Finally you’re something more than a pregame light show. Except that show is going to really suck when The Knight is just complaining to a ref for 10 minutes.

Sometimes the gods shine on you simply because they know you’ve been asked too much. Somehow, in less than two years, traveling Knights fans have become some of the more obnoxious in the league. Who knew that Vegas had so many transplants? Is that why it’s the 43rd biggest TV market? Because everyone moved away? All of them trying to cash in on their memories of watching their hockey team back home in Vegas…what a cherished time that was…

But now any utterance from a traveling Vegas fan (“traveling” in this case is probably going to have to mean the same as “bandwagon”) can be met with holding up three fingers, or merely mimicking a cross-check, or donning a Fleury jersey and standing perfectly still for five minutes. All will be an authoritative “PIPE DOWN, RUB-A-DUB!” And that will last for years.

And it will last for years because it only took George “Piston Honda” McPhee two seasons to completely bork his cap situation. Sure, perhaps McPhee will be saved by his fellow GMs going from undervaluing all the players he plucked from them to overvaluing them and sprinting to acquire them to save him some cash. They have $2 million in space for next year with William Karlsson to sign. They stepped backwards this year, and giving Mark “Ugly Patrick Sharp” Stone the 10th highest cap-hit in the league probably doesn’t arrest that on its own. Handing out three of your biggest contracts to players over 33 always works a charm as well. Hope you enjoyed Max Pacioretty’s 22 goals, because you’d probably better get used to it.

The Knights will ice a roster that won’t have a 30-goal scorer 60-plus point player at this point, aside from Stone who collected most of those elsewhere. Ask the Predators what trying to be The Borg gets you, especially when you run up against a team with genuine star power. This is Vegas, aren’t you a city built on star power? Oh right, it’s faded star power that does a residency there. Suddenly that Paul Stastny contract makes a ton of sense. He’ll be part of Britney’s or Gwen’s show very soon.

I guess we owe the Knights a thank you. They provided us with a period of hockey we’ll never forget. And they probably won’t stop complaining about it for years. Which will only be a reminder for how glorious it was. It’s a true legacy.

 

 

Everything Else

In the end, what everyone hated or loved about the Vegas Golden Knights is that they were a mirror. When you watched them, you saw everything that this league is, good and bad.

On the bad side, the Knights exhibited for all that basically, no one knows shit and that it can be totally random. While those in the media were so quick to dub George “Tiger Punch” McPhee a genius–this being the same guy who hired Dale Hunter and Adam Oates in Washington, thus ruining a good three to four years of Alex Ovechkin’s prime–all he did was take advantage of a system that wouldn’t allow GMs to keep all the talent they’d drafted. And that system was in place because too many teams were too dumb to acquire a lot of talent. Sure, he was able to grift a couple GMs who had gone to cottage to huff white-out a bit early (hi Dale! Hi Bob! Say, why did all these guys used to work for the Hawks?), but it wasn’t he who conjured a .928 season out of Marc-Andre Fleury or a 25 SH% out of Wild Bill Karlsson (and we here eagerly await Karlsson’s 22-goal season next year with only 648 articles entitled “What’s Wrong With William Karlsson,” which of course no one will say the answer is “He’s William Karlsson, for fuck’s sake).

No, when you watched the Knights it became clear just how random the sport is. Find a goalie or two that spasm a .925+ SV% for no reason other than the gods enjoy a good chuckle now and then and a couple guys to shoot the lights out and you’re halfway there. Throw in some spice of being in a division where every goddamn team is built to be “tough to play against” (i.e. dumb and slow) and just skate by them and then anything can happen. A few bounces, a few one-goal wins, and suddenly you’re the most magical team this side of…. well, any MLS expansion team.

And if you can garnish it all with the fact that apparently no NHL player had ever heard of Las Vegas before, and every opponent showed up to your arena looking like Mia Wallace after she got into Vincent’s coat pocket and well, the sky’s the goddamn limit, isn’t it?

Watch the Knights long enough, and unless you were a fan of a certain few teams, you could see just how stupid your team was run. The Knights ran over the Kings, who are on their fourth consecutive season of trying to ice a rec rugby team, and then they could tell everyone they play rugby within the first three minutes of any conversation because that’s apparently what rugby players do in this country (and if you ever meet a rugby playing vegan, run for the hills, friendo). They got to show the Sharks just how old they are, as Pete DeBoer replaced their only young d-man with whatever wasn’t falling off of Paul Martin, and whatever was.

Then came the Jets, who actually rolled them for a fair amount but Fleury snorted an infinity stone or something and everyone chalked it up to “magic.” Of course, a series later and everything looked exactly as it did against the Jets except Fleury was doing a reasonable impression of muppet running an Iron Man (i.e. being Marc-Andre Fleury circa 2010-2016) and suddenly they’re getting their magical, Cinderella ass paddled (insert your Cinderella pansexual fanfic here).

And yes, even the architect of all this, Gerard Gallant, had his brain drip out his ear in the final round. Anyone who’s surprised by this must’ve never watched him play for the Red Wings, where during his 11-year career he actually touched the puck 12 times. But hey, this is the NHL, if you’ve got a leathered up face, were a grinder once upon a time, and have some sort of weird nickname, the press will slather you in their saliva. So there’s Jack Adams winner-elect putting out Ryan Reaves, not once but twice, as the extra-attacker when down a goal. Why? Because he had managed to rhino-hump his way into two goals into two games. I’m sure James Neal didn’t consider Marty McSorley-ing his coach at all during this stretch. He scratched David Perron, who granted really does suck but did manage to put up 66 points this year in a series where no one but the top line could do anything other than stare at the lights. And this is the best coach during the season. #EndHockey.

All of it led the hockey world declaring Vegas as the best new hockey market, and you’re not really a hockey town until Pierre McGuire declares “I haven’t heard a building this loud all spring…” and then NBC edits out the part where he concludes that sentence with, “…except for Mississauga last week when they were playing Sudbury!” Give the ash-white Canadian media three days anywhere where it’s warm and has running water, because wherever they’re from assuredly doesn’t, and suddenly you’re Hockey Mecca.

While the pregame antics were cute, much like every other Vegas act it’s going to feel camp real soon. Especially when this team has 92 points next year at best and Fleury’s SV% is .907. Sure, Vegas is going to be a free agent destination given it’s lack of state income tax and the climate. How’s that working out for the Panthers? Your glorious pre-game Knight stabbing some dude waving a flag (how tough!) is going to look a little different when it’s in front of 9,000 Flames fans and that’s it.

So thank you, Knights, for showing everyone what we all knew about the league and hockey all along. It doesn’t make sense, there is no system to it, and just about anything can happen. And it’s going to happen to you soon, like trading Karlsson for a 2nd round pick at best in two years.

Everything Else

And now we’re on the brink, though everyone already writing the tributes to the Capitals might want to check their history when leading a series 3-1. Even this grouping, for the most part, was around when they blew one of these to the Rangers three years ago in one off those Caps-Rags series we’ve all tried to burn from our collective memories. So yeah, if you love history and gremlins and such, you know this one isn’t over.

As the Caps were laying the wood to the Knights last night, there were far too many top-of-the-profession writers remarking on how the “magic” had run out for the Knights. They’re either willfully trying to push an angle that doesn’t exist, or they’re collectively stupid. Or both, I suppose.

If you watched the last round for the Knights Who Say Nee, even though it ended in five games it was hardly a dominating effort. The Jets ran the show for long stretch of that series, and yet kept running up against a very toothy wall in Marc-Andre Fleury. .950. There’s nothing else to say. There’s no planning or method to defeat a goalie who is throwing a .950 at you. If you can’t really conceive of that, just know with a goalie playing that well it takes 40 shots to find two goals, and even if your goalie is paying really well the other team can probably find two bounces off something for two of their own. At the very worst, Vegas was always gaining a shot at a coin-flip. This is the sport, really.

.845

That’s Fleury’s SV% in this series. And sure, it’s not like the Capitals are just a bunch of escaped wildebeests that got loose or something. Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, Carlson, with help from Eller and his ilk, there’s a lot of talent here even if they lost some from previous seasons. But .845 is .845, and you’re going to lose when that happens. The Knights are losing, plain and simple.

Mostly, if you go by the underlying info, the Knights and Caps have been pretty much even, with the Knights just shading it. Some of that is they’ve been chasing the game more than any other series, but the fact that they’re chasing the game is down to Fleury suddenly turning into Tigger as much as anything else. This is still a team that’s basically one line, whatever inflated narrative Eddie and Pierre want to make about Reaves and Nosek on the 4th line, and it’s not really built to come from behind.

Sure, the Caps are fast enough to try and attack the defense of the Knights, which is not gifted with the puck other than Schmidt (and Engelland is AWFUL and the Caps have finally showed that). But the Jets did too, they just didn’t have an answer for the final boss in the crease. He’s basically provided the Caps a cheat code.

-While it’s been easy to discuss how the Knights are made up of players nobody else wanted (which isn’t totally true, I’m sure the Pens would have loved to keep Fleury as a backup, except you don’t pay backups $6 million and Fleury wouldn’t want to be that anyway. James Neal, Schmidt, Theodore, one or two others are players that those teams would have loved to keep but thanks to the expansion and cap rules, they simply couldn’t), the Caps have their fair share of weird pickups.

Oshie was acquired for Troy Brouwer (a deal I actually liked for the Blues at the time, and now Troy Brouwer has turned into a Jalopy). Michal Kempny…well, let’s not do this again. Lars Eller was discarded by two teams who didn’t appreciate him for Jaro Halak and and two 2nd round picks. As strange as it sounds for a 1st round pick, Kuznetsov actually slipped farther than he should have because teams knew he wouldn’t come over from the KHL for a few seasons. Matt Niskanen was allowed to walk from Pittsburgh.

It’s not just the Knights who can profit off the idiocy of others.

-What the Knights also can do like every other team is act like a bunch of asshats when they’re getting their dicks handed to them on the scoreboard. There’s Ryan Reaves doing Reaves things because his team is fucked for the night, which proves exactly nothing.

While Gerard Gallant is going to walk with the Coach Of The Year award, and he should, keep in mind he couldn’t keep his team wrangled in last night when the contest was over and they ended up losing without any class (and don’t fool yourself, there is not such thing as “message sending.” It’s just childish, bad losing). He’s also the coach who in two straight games when his team needed a goal and his net empty put Reaves out as his extra skater because he somehow doofus’d his way into two goals in two games (one a penalty). Even the best at the moment are prone to moments of completely, blithering stupidity.

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: WGN, NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
Panther Like A Panther: Litter Box Cats

With the season coming around the final turn, the Hawks find themselves nearly completely clear of divisional and conference play with 10% of the schedule still remaining. Of the eight games left, only one is against a Central opponent, and since it’s Colorado it doesn’t even really count anyway. And the first five of that stretch are all against eastern conference opponents, beginning with a Florida trip starting tonight in Sunrise before swinging up to Tampa on Monday.