One of the tried and true clichés in hockey is, “every season is a rollercoaster.” Even though we hear people regurgitate that line over and over, many fans lose sight of it when they’re in the middle of the rollercoaster ride. When fans are feeling the highest of highs during winning streaks, they start to overlook any shortcomings because the going is good. When losing streaks bring the lowest of lows, the flaws are all we can see and the reactionists are ready to immediately make sweeping changes. But for both segments of the fans—it’s important to remember that you’re probably not as good as you think you are during a winning streak and probably not as bad as you think you are when you’re in the middle of a losing streak.
Take the Washington Capitals last months an example. There were rumblings for Bruce Boudreau to be fired and a new coach (with a new voice/message) to be brought in to kick start the team. When they lost 2-1 people thought they needed more scoring depth. When they blew 3rd period leads they needed more veteran leadership. When they gave up too many goals, they needed a big-time defenseman. It didn’t matter—things were bad and changes needed to be made. To hell with patience and common sense.
“When you’re having a tough stretch, this is when there are too many reactionaries out there. All the experts come out, all the pundits come out with their opinions and the truth of the matter is if that they knew anything about the game, they’d be in it.” –Caps GM George McPhee on HBO’s 24/7
A funny thing happened. They didn’t make any sweeping changes, nor did they fire their coach or GM; yet somehow they turned things around. All of a sudden, after not being able to buy a win for two weeks—they’re winning again. There’s a shocker, a very good team is winning games.
Right about now, there are some fans in Los Angeles thinking the same thing. Four straight games, four straight losses (3 of them at home). So is this the time to go out and make a trade for another center? Do they need more scoring? After all, they were shut out against the Sharks. What about defense? Obviously, that’s a problem because they gave up 6 goals to the Coyotes and 7 to the Flyers on
back-to-back nights. Clearly they need goaltending help since both
Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier were pulled in that 4 game
These are the peaks and valleys of the season. Very, very few teams
are able to avoid a slump at some point during the season. Last
season the Stanley Cup champs went over a week in January without a win. Were there fans worried that the team was hitting the wall? Of
course. There are always people who think the sky is falling. But
the team stayed the course, let the team work through it, and they
took home some serious hardware at the end of the season. Only one
team wins the Cup each year, but if they knew to stay the course,
there must be something to it.
Obviously there are times when change is needed. At some point, a coach’s message will start to fall on deaf ears in the locker room. But you don’t fire the coach every single time you lose a string of games. Are there better coaches out there who are unemployed that will lead you to the promise land? Let’s be honest: there’s a reason that a lot of coaches are on the unemployment line to begin with. They weren’t
winning enough games with their previous employer.
Then again, when there aren’t the players in place to meet expectations, there’s a problem with the General Manager. There are plenty of fans who follow their favorite teams’ every move and constantly complain that they could do a better job than their current GM. Hey, they watch every single game on TV. They should know what to do just as well as someone who’s in the locker room, there for every practice, every meeting, and every game. Firing a GM is the nuclear option: should only to be used as a last resort.
The key is being honest with what you have in front of you and acting accordingly. The Capitals (8-game losing streak and all) are one of the teams to be feared in the Eastern Conference. Haters are gonna hate—but they’re probably more talented this year than last year’s version that dropped 121 points on the NHL. For the time being, this current edition in DC is “elite.” There aren’t many teams that can legitimately lay claim to that title.
The Kings are a playoff team. They have the high-end skill, the overall defense, goaltending, and organizational depth to make it to the second season. Like the Capitals, they are a better (and more talented) team today than they were a year ago. Expectations are for the Kings to make noise in the playoffs. Whether they thrive or not is anyone’s guess—that’s why they play the games.
Both teams know they need to get through the regular season and peak in the spring. For teams that are slumping now and already have serious question marks, they might need to look in the mirror for changes. The Flames understood they had systematic problems and forced Darryl Sutter out of a job. The Devils thought they had the talent on the ice to be more competitive than they had shown, so they dropped their coach for a known quantity. The Islanders—well, who knows what the Islanders were thinking.
By that measure, Columbus GM Scott Howson might want to start looking over his shoulder.
But for the vast majority of the teams out there, a new coach or GM isn’t going to change things this year. Over the course of 82 games, poor teams are going to lose more than they win and excellent teams are going to win more than they lose. Trades and coaches are always the quick antidote for fans—but which players or coaches are available who are truly game-changers? If they could change the game, they wouldn’t be available.
Keep that in mind when your team hits a rough patch this year. If the team is good, it’s only temporary and chances are the players will learn
something from the hardship. And if the team sucks to begin with?
Well, you should have experience going through the rough