Life, economics, politics, psychology, sociology, racism and other isms, law, history, journalism/media…all through the lens of sport.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Los Angeles Kings just one more example of what's wrong with the NHL

When the Edmonton Oilers set the record for playoff efficiency, they had a roster full of Hall of Famers (including two of the highest career scorers of all time) and had been the best team in the league for years, with several Stanley Cups to prove it.
When the Chicago Bulls blazed through the season to a 72-10 record, they had a roster of Hall of Famers (including arguably both the greatest player and coach of all time) and had been the best team in the league for years with several NBA championships to prove it.
These Los Angeles Kings averaged an anemic 2.3 goals per game through this season (2nd last, one of only two teams that couldn't manage to reach 200 goals in an 82 game season), and could only muster sneaking into the playoffs in the last spot. 

This is not a team that should be flirting with history. Yet here they are doing exactly that.

When I was a kid, good teams were good, and bad teams were bad. A season was an opportunity to watch the good teams demonstrate how the game is supposed to be played, night in and night out, at home and on the road. A season was an opportunity for the bad teams to see what wasn’t working for them and what they needed to do to get better. Detroit Red Wings were a bad team, when I was a kid. They learned through years of losing, what it took to win, built the franchise and became a standard for how winning is done. Fans were able to ride with the team through the adversity and feel the excitement as it became clear they were on the right track.
Back in December, the Kings had lost 3-0 to the Bruins, their 5th straight loss. When does a championship team ever lose five straight games in its championship season? Gretzky or MJ never lost five straight games in a championship year, and I don’t have to search the internet to confirm it (I’ll be positively amazed if it can be found that they did). 

Anyway, the Kings had just fired their coach and their scoring average of 2.24 goals per game was dead last in the NHL. 
Just a few nights before, they lost to Dallas 2-1. The game notes include this gem:
It was the second game in a row that Los Angeles has lost at home to a goalie making his first NHL start. On Thursday night, Minnesota’s Matt Hackett stopped 42 shots in a 4-2 victory.
Losing consecutive home games to goalies making his first NHL start? Seriously?
Clearly, this was not a team with any sense of expectation that an historic playoff run was just a few months away.
If a team like this can make history right alongside the greatest who’ve ever played the game, how hard can it be?
The top two seeds in the Western Conference should not be wiped out like a cars stalled on a railroad track, because the Kings are no freight train. What we are watching is not just one but two freight trains running into the car stalled on the track and accordioning into a ball of scrap metal, while the car ambles along.
If the Kings win it all, will teams look to get by scoring 2 goals per game? We fans should be really excited about the entertainment proposition the NHL is poised to offer in the coming years — not.

1 comment:

  1. A friend at work gave me a tongue-lashing over this article. I encouraged him to let me have it in the comments but, in case he's figured he gave me good and plenty already, I figured I ought to mention a few of his good points to bring some balance to my rant.

    He said "who do you think you are, what gives you the right to criticize the Kings? They're a great story.

    "Everyone knew they'd been under-performing, that's why they made a coaching change.

    "They're young, they developed their talent within their organization, they've never given up on the themselves, staying positive through adversity with a tenacity that is now paying dividends."

    He threw more information at me than I could digest at the time, I hope he might come on by and add whatever I may have missed.

    In the meantime, yeah, those are great points and, in that light, maybe the kings are a good story.

    I also recognize that the other teams who had similar playoff success (Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Bulls) were from a different era. In today's game, with today's collective bargaining parameters, the concept of "dynasty" was very different, and success was measured in more long term ways.

    It had seemed to me that a team shouldn't be able to "come out of nowhere and be this good." While my office space colleague has educated me to understand that this team has been pecking away and building for at least the last three seasons, I'm still of the opinion that these kinds of records should only be able to happen with teams with a very clear sense of identity and a track record of success. As such, again, "today's NHL" makes it less possible for any team to be a "dynasty" and more possible for any team to make a playoff run that can be counted amongst the greatest of the ages.

    My buddy has no problem saying "Dude, you're nuts," and I had to share that to ensure the context for his comments was plain, and his ideas are pretty darned good as well.

    As for me, I prefer the days when dynasties set standards and everyone else chased them, and I lament we may not be able to go back to those days.

    However, today's reality is what it is and, if this is the way it's going to be, perhaps I'll have to just accept it in order to appreciate, as much as possible, what makes a good story in today's terms.

    Live and learn.