Thursday, January 20, 2011

Three Things That Happen When You're Good

The Canucks have been good for awhile now, and I think I speak for everyone when I say this is relatively novel territory. It's not usually like this. I'm not used to caring very little how the other Northwest teams fared on a night-to-night basis, or clicking "League" instead of "Division" when I look at the standings. I'm not used to so many amusing quotes coming from such a happy dressing room. I'm definitely not used to hearing fans act reasonable about losses because they know the team is better than one bad game. It's strange.

But, as an amateur sociologist, it's also an opportunity for anecdotal observation. Here are three things I've observed, as a fan of a good team:

Your Prospects Look Pretty Impressive

So far, this season, we've seen some remarkable performances from Cory Schneider, as well as impressive debuts from Sergei Shirokov and Chris Tanev. We've seen first-ever NHL goals from Shirokov, Alex Bolduc, and Mario Bliznak. But, before you start praising the Canucks for the depth of their prospect pool, realize that it's a lot easier to look good when you're playing for a good team. This is no disrespect to these kids, who have shown NHL ability, but they couldn't have asked for a better situation.

The motivation to succeed is greater. They're surrounded by winning, and like the teams that test their ability to play against the best, these prospects, too, can test their ability to play with the best.

Expectations are lower as well. Unlike poor Nazem "Luke Skywalker" Kadri, for instance, who looks like a failure because he wasn't ready to save a team for whom he was the only hope, the Canucks' kids have merely been asked to play to their abilities. Rather than losing confidence because they can't meet impossible expectations, they can gain confidence because management believed they could fit on a talented team. It's one thing to make a bad team--someone had to. It's quite another to make a good, deep team that had other options.

People Rush to Take the Credit

Just like when time traveling, if there's a way, be sure to take the credit.

There are a litany of nuances to being an NHL General Manager but, if you take a step back and look at the big picture, it all boils down to one thing: building a winner. However you do it is fine. Winning covers all manner of sins. That said, if you're presently not building a winner, the only way to cover this sin is to cloak it in past accomplishments and point to past winners you've built.

Problem is, this goes the other way, too. General Managers presiding over losers don't want to take the hit to their reputation, so they blame everything on the past regime. This has put Brian Burke, for example, in a bind. He can't point to the cup-winning Anaheim Ducks, an organization still blaming him for the lack of depth that has them mired in mediocrity. So, instead, he glosses over that and points to the Vancouver Canucks, who are currently winning.

Everyone rushes to take credit for a winning team. It's easy to do in the NHL's slot machine culture among GMs. Nobody gets to hold a position long enough to see it through to the big win, so, inevitably, someone will win with a team primarily constructed of other people's acquisitions. Consider that Dave Nonis, Brian Burke, Mike Gillis, Mike Keenan, and Mike Milbury can all take credit, in some manner, for Roberto Luongo. It hardly means a thing. The reality is that it's an insular, incestuous league, with over 30 general managers who probably played some part, however small, in the construction of the team that wins the cup. But only one GM gets the cup ring, and the rest are just posturing.

Opponents Try Harder

In case you missed the Canucks' shutout loss in Madison Square Garden, let me remind you of what transpired: the Rangers played out of their minds. They battened down the hatches, threw their bodies in front of every shot, finished checks, and battled all night to keep the Canucks to the outside. Then, when they won, they celebrated as though they'd just won the Battle for Middle Earth.

Now, I don't know much about the New York Rangers, but I feel I can safely assume that, when the Associated Press calls your performance "All Heart", it's an indication you don't always play like that.

People can tell you teams treat every team like any team, but we all know that's rubbish. Against the best, you don't play your game; you try to outplay their game. The Rangers were jacked up to face the Canucks, and they went all out to test themselves against the best team in the NHL. This is what happens when you play the best. You put everything you've got into stepping up your game in order to see if you can.

When you're good, every team treats you like a final exam. It can be exhausting. This is why great teams don't stay great for long, and why Detroit's generation-long dominance is so downright impressive. Year after year, the Red Wings have the hardest schedule in the NHL by virtue of simply being the Red Wings.

This is what the Canucks have had to deal with since they vaulted to the top of the NHL standings. Consistently meeting and dealing with the sudden level-up of every opponent is what separates great teams from elite teams. Now that the Canucks are on top, everybody wants to bring them back to earth, and it can be exhausting fighting off the downers. But elite teams are capable.

It remains to be seen if the Canucks are as well.


  1. A bit of a tangent here, but I think the implications of point 1 are the reason that Detroit has been a force for so long. People like to highlight their drafting, but I'd be willing to bet that if there was a way to measure it, their prospect development would be found to be a more important factor than drafting.

    If it was as simple as Detroit seeing diamonds in the rough where everyone else missed them, I don't think they would risk waiting so long to draft the Datsyuks and Zetterbergs on the off-chance that someone else knew of their great talent, or found out because of an Alex Edler-type scout-shadowing scenario. Rather, I think the low draft position of late-round surprises is proof of their surprise factor even to the team that drafted them. So I think bringing prospects into an already-winning environment and taking pressure off them is what perpetuates the long-running juggernaut that Detroit has famously become.

    The Quinn-and-later Canucks have had some trouble staying good for more than 3-4 years at a time because they, like most teams, eventually fall victim to the economic cycles of the NHL, wherein teams are rewarded for tanking and good teams don't get great new prospects unless they trade Tom Kurvers or Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs. So however Detroit has done it, turning lower-profile prospects into really good players is kind of the only way good teams can stay good in the NHL. Of course we are nowhere near saying that the Canucks are doing this yet -- but if they can find out a way to develop this perpetual motion machine, it would be one hell of a boon to the franchise's fortunes.

  2. As the particular anonymous who mentioned my placated disappointment after watching an especially celebratory Rangers team act as though they'd just taken Goliath to the boards, I must say this post says it so much more eloquently and correctly.

    But I sometimes feel I'm in an Inception-esque world, and am not allowed to complain when the Canucks kind of just scrape by with a point. How do Red Wings fans deal with disappointment about a few mediocre games? I'm not used to walking with a swagger regarding my team. I wonder if there's Hot Team therapy somewhere...

  3. @J21 Totally. Nothing propagates winning like winning.

    @Anonymous All credit. I forgot to mention that and you brought it back to my attention. I've been brewing this post in my mind-cauldon ever since.

  4. Not at all, HM; it's all you, turning a mere suggestion into a well-thought out post.

    Curious, is Dan Vanman of that G&M comments page 'Skeeter'? It's a brilliant retort to that asinine article.

  5. I don't think so. I've never, in my life, heard Skeeter use the exclamation/exhalation "Good Lord."

    But it is a good retort.

  6. Yeah, that's definitely not me. It is a solid dismantling of the work of Brian Burke, who I currently consider to be the most overrated GM in the league.

  7. Perhaps you should watch a couple more Rangers games, because if you did, you'd know that the Rangers throw themselves in front of every shot, EVERY GAME. They lead the league in hits and blocked shots, and the team plays balls to the wall, "All heart" every day of the week.

  8. good read but there's one flaw.

    "But only one GM gets the cup ring, and the rest are just posturing."

    Dale Tallon was given a Stanley Cup ring for building the Hawks, but the GM at the time was Stan Bowman who also got a Stanley Cup ring.

    My math is rudimentary but if my memory serves correct I believe 1+1=2

    2 Cup rings where given for GM last year.

    I know I'm kinda nit-picking but it shows that previous GMs are accounted for in today's NHL.

    but i still hate Burke

  9. Danielson

    "Yeah, that's definitely not me. It is a solid dismantling of the work of Brian Burke, who I currently consider to be the most overrated GM in the league."

    "whom" is the objective case you want. the pronoun is the direct object of the verb "consider."


  10. This Madwag character is getting on my last nerve. He's produced some things I like, but I do not support his grammar nazism.

  11. Hello Anonymous 1:39 PM

    Nice to see a Rangers fan in these parts. I'd just like to point out that the Rangers stat counter is a notorious homer. The Rangers lead the league in hits pretty much every season for this reason.

    The Rangers have played 24 games at home and 24 on the road. They have a whopping 795 hits at home and 592 on the road. That's a massive disparity.

    That said, I'll give you the blocked shots, as they have pretty much equivalent numbers at home and on the road. They're second in the NHL, though, to Atlanta. Clearly, however, they do show a willingness to block shots which would indicate a certain amount of "heart." It could still be significant that the resounding response to how the Rangers played was "all heart" and other superlatives.

    Still, bragging about about blocked shots is a little misleading, as it means that the Rangers give up a lot of shot attempts. This means, of course, that their opponents frequently have the bulk of possession. Blocked shots are a bit of an odd stat in that respect, as every blocked shot indicates that the opposing team had the puck and was able to direct a puck towards the goal.

  12. could someone post a link to the G&M Vanman comments that represent a "solid dismantling of the work of Brian Burke"

    I took a quick look and could not find them...


  13. You, anonymous 3:51, are clearly not clicking on all those great, well-researched links in the posts... ;p

    The link is attached to this sentence: "So, instead, he glosses over that and points to the Vancouver Canucks, who are currently winning."

    or, go to:

  14. Observe!

  15. My link is better because it goes to the actual comments section! Validate my parking!


    I think I'm starting to lose it. I need a nap.

  16. Yes, yes, Skeeter-san, your link is superior. You worked harder for it. FTW. Can I get a point, though? I'll feel more canucky, then.

  17. I'm feeling magnanimous: have two points.

  18. "You, anonymous 3:51, are clearly not clicking on all those great, well-researched links in the posts... ;p"

    Guilty as charged! I tend to save them up for the weekend when I have more time and privacy - opening random links at work is dicey, but that's another story.

    Excellent comments by DV BTW.


    Anonymous 3:51

  19. Another, related point to No. 3: When Roberto Luongo is your starting goaltender, other goalies often try their darndest.

  20. Point 3 appeared to be in effect last night -- the Sharks looked desperate to me, like they were down 1-3 in a playoff series, playing for their lives. Despite the low score, it was exciting hockey -- and agreed that this effect will make it tougher on the Canucks in the second half.


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