NHL Wild Accusations 12-28-15

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On the Christmas Eve edition of TSN Radio’s Leafs Lunch (Reader beware: I grew up in Ontario, Canada and I still listen to Canadian Sports Radio, so I might reference their shows quite a bit. Not for nothing, however; Leafs Lunch is the best two hours in sports radio. Period.) New York Islanders’ forward Ryan Strome discussed his plans for the holiday break, as the Islanders got to enjoy a nice 5-day break from game action. The most interesting thing that Strome said, to paraphrase, was that since the NHL season is so long, it is important for NHL players to completely get away from the game—don’t think about it, don’t train for it—otherwise players will burn themselves out.

I 100% agree, but this is a bit of a spicy meatball to put out there for most fans of any professional sport. When a pro athlete says they need a break from the game, some fans—especially fans who wished they played in the Pros—get a little ornery that someone who gets paid so well to play a game everyone loves could have the nerve to say it gets “tough” at times.

Now look, just because Strome said it’s nice to get a break doesn’t mean he isn’t in love with the game. In fact, from everything I’ve heard about Strome, this guy lives and breathes the game. But, for as much money as NHLers earn, and as much as they love the game and have fun doing it, it’s important for fans to remember that it is still their job, and jobs get stressful.

Right? I mean, you have a job. You might love your job. You might not love it as much as you would if you were playing in a professional sport, but you love it none-the-less. Does that mean you don’t get stressed ever? Does that mean you don’t have mornings where you wake up and say, boy, I could use a break?

The same thing goes for NHL players. The season gets stressful. Players get tired. Anything that you spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week focusing on is going to take a toll on your mind and body. There’s just no getting around it. As an NHLer, you have to find—and take advantage of—any break you can during the season.

Strome’s comments reminded me of Eliotte Friedman’s December 22nd edition of 30 Thoughts (side note: If you haven’t read my take on Friedman’s 30 thoughts, please take a gander here). In the article, Friedman noted an NHL coach’s theory on the Anaheim Ducks’ struggles this season.

They [the Ducks] knew they were going to be judged solely on playoff performance, and thought they were good enough to coast and get there

Now, if Strome’s comments could be viewed as a spicy meatball, then this thought by the Ducks, if true, is a meatball infused with ghost peppers. Fans do not like to hear or see the word coast anywhere near a description of their team’s efforts. To be fair to Anaheim, no one on the organization has admitted this, but they wouldn’t even if it were true; however, on face value, this is a pretty fair assessment of the Ducks.

Last week I wrote on the curious case of Sidney Crosby’s season, but even more curious has been last season’s Western Conference’s runner up out in Anaheim. The Ducks were a team that A LOT of people predicted to win their division and the Western Conference, and even the Stanley Cup, but as of December 28, 2015 the Ducks sit last place in their conference.

Last place?! Are you kidding me? How are the Ducks last place?

The coasting theory does make a lot of sense. We see this in other sports all the time. The Cleveland Cavaliers (nee Miami Heat) with LeBron James try to reserve the King’s energy for the playoffs. Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs have been resting their best players for years to keep them fresh for the playoffs. The biggest difference between the Spurs, and any LeBron James team, and the Ducks is that the Spurs and Cavs are still good teams, even with their stars taking a break.

When the Spurs rest Tim Duncan, the rest of the players pick up the slack. When LeBron James takes a night off…well, the Cavs lose, but then James plays the next 3 games and the Cavs win. It’s not exactly coasting. On the ice in Anaheim, if they thought they could utilize this strategy and hold their position at the top of their Conference, they did not take into account that $#!+ happens.

Yes, $#!+ happens and you always have to account for it. The $#!+ happening to the Ducks? Their best players are having tough years. Real tough. Corey Perry, the 2010-2011 Hart Memorial and Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophies winner, had 602 points in 722 NHL games going into this season, a .83 point per game pace. This season, he’s at .68 points per game with just 23 points in 34 games. Ryan Getzlaf had 678 points in 710 games going into 2015-2016, .95 points per game, but only 22 points in 30 games this season, .73 ppg. No team can get by with their best players underachieving like that, let alone a team trying to coast.  If the Ducks thought they were going to cruise into the postseason, there’s no way they thought it could be done with their top dogs playing like puppies.

Why are Perry and Getzlaf underachieving so much? Well here is my wild accusation.

As much as the coasting theory makes sense, knowing everything I know about Getzlaf I have a real tough time believing that he would mail it in. This dude is a salty individual, man. He doesn’t take dinner lightly, let alone his profession. So what happened? Well, just as I suspect Sidney Crosby had a distaste for his (now former) coach, I think the Ducks are a little fed up with Bruce Boudreau. The funny thing about it all, I think it’s because Getzlaf and the Ducks are more serious than their coach.

Now, that is not in anyway, by any means, to suggest that Boudreau doesn’t take the NHL seriously. He does and he’s a fantastic coach. I just don’t think his personality meshes with the culture of the Anaheim Ducks.

Fabulous swearing ability aside, I believe Bruce Boudreau to be a happy-go-lucky type of guy. The kind of coach that will say, “shake it off,” nine times before he finally has to lose it on the tenth. The issue with this kind of tactic is that, if your team isn’t happy-go-lucky along with the coach, by the time the coach actually gets mad, the team has already tuned him out. Getzlaf, who is the Captain of the Ducks and has set the culture of the team, is pissed off before he wakes up; he can’t wait for the tenth time.

After an unceremonious exit from the Western Conference Finals and a slow start to the season, maybe Getzlaf and the Ducks have gotten sick of the shake-it-offs; are mad at the “loss for answers” excuse, and have tuned out ole Brucey. Problem is, even if Boudreau were to have a good ole fashioned swearing fit, I’m not sure the Ducks will respond. In the NHL, if you get into a rut, it’s real hard to dig your way out of it, especially if there’s a disconnect between the team’s coach and its stars.

What do you think?