5/20/18 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

An expansion team is going to the Stanley Cup Final. The flaming hot takes have been pretty funny which was to be expected if you could have possibly seen this coming.

I wish I was creative enough to see this coming because the schadenfreude is off the charts. I think once it was pointed out on Twitter that the twelve wins by the Vegas Golden Knights in one playoff run is more than the St Louis Blues have ever had in a single playoffs it hit me how funny this is.

I wrote that prior to the game and edited it to twelve afterwards. The Twitter reaction after the fact is even funnier. The revisionist history being thrown around is something to behold.

If I linked all the salty Tweets out there this would take all night. The number of people who genuinely believe Vegas drafted a stacked team is stunningly high.

William Karlsson had a 23.4% shooting percentage.

Marc-Andre Fleury had a .927 save percentage after a career .912 save percentage in his Pittsburgh Penguins career.

Erik Haula got power play time and scored with it after not getting any with the Minnesota Wild.

David Perron career’d at age 29 after not topping 50 points since 2014.

Dale Tallon inexplicably gave up Reilly Smith and Jon Marchessault.

James Neal had a normal James Neal season, and realistically could have been their best forward by a mile. He shouldn’t have even been in Vegas if the Nashville Predators had the good sense to trade him for anything rather than let him go for free.

Most of the salt is jealousy, but there will be many lessons taken from what Vegas has done when they inevitably walk to winning the Stanley Cup in the next two weeks. The most prevalent lesson going around Twitter now is that NHL General Managers are stupid. They aren’t, though some definitely are bad at their jobs (Tallon).

Two lessons that the Dallas Stars need to take away from this are to play fast (hello Jim Montgomery) and to trust the players you have identified as talented. This came into my timeline yesterday and stuck with me as I watched the Jets get eliminated earlier.

Too often the idea of developing players, employees, or anyone really is to punish for a mistake rather than emphasize the success. Flawed players only have their flaws pointed out so they work on becoming well-rounded players who fit into the traditional bottom six mold. They get discouraged from taking risks because they know if they take that risk and it fails they’re going to sit in the press box.

You can’t develop talent like that, at least not anymore. I mention teaching a lot, but I’ve seen it firsthand in my classroom. This year I’ve worked with kids who, outside of 16% of them, didn’t pass the 8th grade STAAR exam. Many of them have failed year after year. There are behavior issues, undiagnosed learning disorders, and kids who learned that if they shut up teachers will leave them alone. If I spent time focusing on what they couldn’t do instead of developing new skills we would never get anything done.

I can confidently say that 80% of my students can do actual Algebra now. I can also confidently say that 85% still can’t consistently solve problems with negatives, fractions, decimals, or lengthy word problems by hand. We adapt and work to their strengths to help them get what they need to graduate high school – to find success.

The kids are empowered to ask questions and find solutions. It builds confidence and lets them take ownership so they know it’s ok to take a risk by engaging in the class. If they screw up we learn from it as a group and keep moving. Being afraid to fail adds that extra pressure that doesn’t really help.

Vegas was in a prime position to not worry about that. No one expected them to do anything despite what some corners of Twitter will tell you. With no real expectations it’s easier to sell “make a mistake, it’s ok”, but NHL teams should take notice. Julius Honka, Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, and others like them deserve a shot to show that they really are as talented as the organization believes they are.

3/21/18 – Unloading the Clip and Firing Blanks

Old

On May 19th, 2008 I was already on summer vacation heading into my last semester of college. I was halfway through my 22nd year on this giant blue orb and had no idea how anything worked.

Brad Richards was a 27 year old trade deadline acquisition. Things were looking up. I remember sitting in my girlfriend’s parents apartment watching the game in the afternoon because they had cable, with her shithead brother sitting near me rooting for Detroit because…he was a shithead, I guess. I don’t know.

This was Sergei Zubov’s last playoff game. James Neal would debut next season. Jamie Benn would debut the next season after that. Jason Spezza was 24. Tyler Seguin was 16. The Stars franchise had never missed the playoffs more than three years in a row, and never more than once in a row (???) in Dallas.

I had no idea what was in store for me personally in a number of respects, but I never in a million years would have guessed that the Stars would win one playoff round over the next decade and only make the playoffs twice. It’s such an unfathomable stretch of mediocrity from a once proud franchise that I don’t know of a combination of words to throw together to express how disappointing it is.

Many years of that stretch were consumed with Tom Hicks Bankruptcy Hell, but even that was a long time ago. Tom Gaglardi bought the Stars on November 22, 2011. The partial lockout hit the next season, and we’re five years removed from that. When the Vegas Golden Knights are fielding a team fighting for the top seed in the Western Conference as an expansion team it’s hard to have much sympathy for the little hockey team in Dallas.

Over the last decade only four teams have had two or fewer playoff appearances. Only 11 franchises have one or less playoff series wins. 15 teams have more points over that span. The Stars have been a mediocre regular season team that prays it can get into the playoffs, and has done very little when they’ve gotten there.

They dropped a close game to the Washington Capitals last night 4-3 and it’s increasingly difficult to envision them as a playoff team this year. Even if they do make it they’re probably going to get wasted quickly.

Many postmortems will be written about this dumpster fire of a season. Some already have been. Robert Tiffin of DefendingBigD wrote his after the Capitals game and it, as always, is worth your time. This part in particular struck a chord with me:

RobertHitch

The kids call this a “subtweet”, but Robert and I are old school so we’ll call this an “editorial response”. On some level this is a semantic argument, but the difference between being forced to adapt out of desperation and being willing to be flexible is a wide gulf here.

Hitchcock will put someone in the lineup, like Greg Pateryn, because he has to. When players are dropping like flies someone does have to come into the lineup. The key to him, or anyone else, staying in the lineup is playing exactly the way Hitchcock wants them to. I wrote about this when I wrote about Jason Spezza recently.

Spezza

Hitchcock has his guys and he rides them into the ground when they meet his standards of what successful hockey is. He knows what he wants to see and no matter what happens if he doesn’t see it he isn’t going to do much of anything to change personnel or tactics whether what he wants wins games now or not.

The story of the 2018 season, and particularly since the calendar flipped to 2018, is that in the face of what Hitchcock wants to do failing he unceasingly stuck with it until it was too late. Defense over everything has reigned supreme all year even as the offense has completely dried up until it was too late.

Against the Capitals the Stars unloaded the clip. They came out firing and dominated the game at even strength on the Corsi sheet, but for what? They waited until they went up against arguably the greatest goal scorer in NHL history, the only team to crack 1000 points over the last decade, and until they dropped out of a playoff spot  to do it. They waited until it was too late.

For all of this nonsense about leadership, grit, spirit, or whatever other cliche synonym you want to use for “the things Hitchcock wants” the Dallas Stars are probably going to miss the playoffs because they doubled down on defense when the times got tough. They spent all of their focus on preventing goals with a roster featuring Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg.

The Stars players gave everything they had offensively against the Capitals and failed. We’ll never know if things would have been different if this change had taken place at some time in the past three months, but by not trying to do anything different for three months the full blame for the results of the 2018 Dallas Stars lays at the feet of management and the coaching staff.

And I’m still waiting as a 32 year old man for a chance to watch a Western Conference Finals game featuring the Stars without a shithead brother in law around, like I have been since I was 22.

2/22/18 – David Freese, Brett Hull, and Arby’s

One thing I never could have understood when I was growing up is how much people change as they age. I don’t know if you can really grasp it until you experience it. I’ve changed in a lot of ways, and one of those is how I watch sports, for better or worse.

This Twitter exchange got me thinking about that idea.

The Dallas Stars are in a very rough stretch. They’ve played some bad hockey, and when the luck dragons show up on top of that it just looks gross. I mean they outshot Anaheim 40-17 Wednesday night, but still lost 2-0 to a soon to be 38-year-old backup goalie. Younger, more tasteless, me would have cracked a bottle of Southern Comfort open up somewhere during the five squandered early third period power plays.

I fully acknowledge that outcome should make me crazy. It would have made younger me crazy. Two things have sucked most of the emotion out of sports for me: the Texas Rangers and #PeskyStars.

The dramatic heel turn the 2011 World Series took had a, so far, unchangeable impact on me. Obviously there are more personal heel turns that would mean more, but I’ve never experienced anything that dramatically crushing. I’ve gone through my share of bad things (hospital stays, bad parental relationships, poverty, divorce, etc), but the unexpected highest height of the sport immediately becoming the lowest low is something I didn’t recover from emotionally.

I blame the #PeskyStars too. There was nothing really fun about them for many years, and they #GotPesky right as I began seriously writing about the team. Imagine wanting to write (for free) about a sport you love and trying to find things to say about that. Some nights it wasn’t easy.

What happened for me was I withdrew emotionally and tried to just see what was going on. I lost a lot of that fan instinct, again, for better or worse. I don’t enjoy games the way I used to, I enjoy moments and plays.

Watching Miro Heiskanen play those five Olympic games was a treat. Seeing all the intricacies of what he brings to the rink nightly was more rewarding than any specific Stars game has been for me since, I guess, 2009? I don’t even know.

I love watching John Klingberg play. Alexander Radulov is a joy. Guys who bring that spark and visibly have fun (ie mainly Europeans and Russians in particular and Phil Kessel) give me the most satisfaction from hockey these days.

I want the Stars to be successful. I get sucked in watching the Stars dominate a hapless opponent. Even last night as they shredded Anaheim in the third period I was into it. I’m just not emotionally invested in worrying about bad luck anymore.

Good process can lead to crap results. The Stars weren’t perfect against the Ducks, but outshooting a team 40-17 is going to win many games in this league. If they do that every game in a seven game series they’re probably going to win, but even then they still aren’t guaranteed.

Game six in 1999 was won on a goal that shouldn’t have counted by the stupid rules of the time. It’s fun to laugh at Buffalo, but that game only got to overtime because Jere Lehtinen beat arguably the best goalie of all time short side through a tiny hole between his knee and the post.

In game two Craig Ludwig scored. If he doesn’t score on a limp shot from the point that game goes to overtime. If you ever wonder if God cares about sports go rewatch that series from beginning to end. There is no God that anyone would willingly follow who would allow some of those things to happen in a sporting event if they were really invested. The Stars were the more talented team by far but it’s not a stretch to say Buffalo could have easily won.

The cold reality that there is no justice in sports, only good processes that sometimes are out of players’ control. That hit me hard a decade ago. An illegal goal no one wants to review can scar a small city forever. A lazy fly ball to right field can miss a fielders glove by a foot and make a goat out of a regular all star while emotionally crippling an adult.

Sports are fun. I have no more expectations of ultimate success even though I’ll enjoy it, I think. Everything is math and at any point the luck dragons can come up and stomp on the dreams of even the team with the most sound process. We’re just along for the ride.

Eat Arby’s.

Hey, click these:

2/21/18 – Carmax, Priorities, and Ben Bishop
2/20/18 – Heiskanen Scored a Goal
2/18/18 – Trader’s Village and Trade Deadlines
2/18/18 – Sundays With Miro, Game 3
2/17/18 – Another Night With Miro Heiskanen
2/16/18 – Jeep’s Blues