Independence Day in the US. Time for celebratory fireworks on the Nation’s birthday. Fireworks make me nervous, mostly because they look and sound a lot like bombs exploding. Of course they are little bombs exploding, and yet they are widely recognized as a sign of freedom and joy. That is appropriate. Independence is not meek- it is loud, it disrupts the status quo, it is flashy and it is dangerous.
I was thinking about where Jágr is professionally, contemplating his situation while wondering which NHL players might be going to the KHL next season. His latest decision to stay in Omsk was probably not a hard decision to make, but when he decided to stay there after the NHL lockout, it was an unconventional choice. Everyone knows the NHL is the place to be, no matter the money.
After reading some interview a while back, it crossed my mind that Jágr is probably where he needs to be as a hockey player, and in his capacity as a national hero. His comments about the world championships were poignant. I can’t remember where I saw those comments. He essentially said that he enjoyed helping the younger players find success, that he got satisfaction not so much from winning as helping others win. He has assumed the role of mentor, not only to his team but also to his country’s hockey program. In that role, he is well beyond the reach of the NHL. Even if they wanted him back, they have nothing to offer him that compares to that.
Nabby could go spend a year in the KHL and then return to North America, if the KHL ever sorts out what teams will be playing when. I couldn’t find any information about that online. I suppose that isn’t so surprising. They are a young league and the NHL only released its schedule in the last few weeks. I don’t know if Nabby would really want to do that, but his agent did dangle it as a possibility some time ago, so it may be unavoidable. The NHL may be the toughest game in town but it isn’t the only one.
A foray into google turned up little about how to travel to Russia to see hockey games. Probably it is not a prime destination during the winter. Dark days and brutal weather do not a hot vacation spot make. Still, it is massively enticing to me. I have no practical idea how I could swing it but these days I feel a little reckless.
Independence Day messages came across my twitter feed from Dan Ellis, Spector’s Hockey and The White House. Hm. Surely if the White House can trust a tweeter, the Sharks could trust at least one player to safely tweet. Why would they want to? I don’t know, but some people like to chat, surely one of them could be more chatty than the so-very-quiet-that-I-doubt-it-is-a-legit-account Dan Boyle. I could be wrong. Maybe he set up the account, and someone told him not to use it. Maybe he got bored. Whatever, it is not lively of late. Fans like to feel attended to. Someone should start sharing the silly little things that make people feel attended to. The team is based in Silicon Valley for heaven’s sake!
The NHL website mentions the non-signing of Nabby and Turco as a sign of things to come for goal tenders: “winds of philosophical change appear to be sweeping through the NHL’s fraternity of general managers.” (NHL.com) That makes it sound pretty benign, a gentle unanimity about what to pay a goalie. I don’t think that’s how these things work. Leighton and Niemi put a wrench in the works for the goalie market, or their teams did. Even GMs who would rather hire a top-end guy really can’t, not if they want to keep their jobs.
Unless a sports franchise is much different from any other corporation, the main reason a group of owners can use for firing a manager is “you didn’t do your job.” They can’t fire you just because the team loses, though that might suggest you didn’t do your job. If the team loses and you can point to decisions you made that were in line with the professional standard, not outrageous, then you might survive a losing season or two, or three. That the whole thing is a crapshoot doesn’t get calculated on the books. The safest thing to do is always what everyone else is doing.
So if the Stanley Cup finals were played by teams with Niemi and Leights in net, well, that has to be the new standard, doesn’t it? Your owners don’t necessarily know that this could have been a fluke, or the result of other factors, that things might have been different if either team had the goalie you want. They might know, and not care. Investors don’t like overt risk.
The GM of the Canadiens got some significant press during the playoffs. The decisions he made to put that team together were called against the trend, gambles, reckless. They paid off. If they had not, the owners would have had a much better justification for firing him than if he had only hired according to the league trends. I don’t think they wanted a reason to fire him, I’m just saying.
I don’t think this dynamic changes anything for Doug Wilson. He was in a bind the moment the season ended. Nabby could not be expected to sign for a reduced salary, not before he tested the market. The team probably needed so much more in salary space that short of working for free, Nabby could not help them out in that regard anyway. I don’t believe DW has any illusions about having a Stanley Cup winner in the race this year. Hence the 4-year contracts for Pavs and Patty, the request for an extension from Thornton, and the generous one-year contract for Wallin. I think he hopes the first three will wait for 2011-12, and the last would qualify as a “what the hell, why not?” gesture. What if he had not signed Wallin? Not signed Nitty? He would have had another 5.5 to play with. That would not have been enough to build the defensive line the team needs right now, not and still sign enough players to fill the bench.
Independence is highly valued in principal. In reality, it is a dangerous path to follow. It means not following the trend, even to jump ahead of that trend. Leaving the pack means spending time in the dark without a map. People will always reward someone who gambles and wins, but until you win you will be out in the cold, on your own.