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Monday, July 03, 2006

What is he thinking?!?

OK, with all the serious stuff going on in Israel and around the world, I held off on writing about this for a couple of weeks now. But, I can't hold back any-more. So, again, for those of you who are not sports fans, or hockey fans in particular, look away. For this is a... SPORTS POST!!!

Free agency in the hockey world started on July 1st, and it was one of the busiest days in NHL history. Wheeling and dealing, trades, and multi-players deals, and free agent bananzas. It was very exciting, and I was keeping a close watch on all the action to see what the Detroit Red Wings would be doing. The GM, Ken Holland, has been speaking about change ever since Detroit's very early exit, AGAIN, this post-season against the Edmonton Oilers. As I have mentioned before, they were supposed to make major changes after they were ousted in Calgary two years ago, but because of the new salary cap, those changes understandably had to be put off as all teams adjusted to the new NHL. But, now, there is no such excuse. The Wings are desperately lacking in certain areas, and if they expect to return to their former Stanley Cup winning way, drastic changes have to be made. It's not just the goalie's fault here, and that can't be the only spot that is adjusted. In fact, Detroit has suffered early dissapointing play off exits 7 out of the past 10 seasons, after coming out of steller regular seasons. The 3 seasons that they made it out of the prelimenary rounds, they won the Stanley Cup. However, because of the Stanley Cup wins, those early exits have allowed people to ignore the more general problem facing the wings. But, after 3 consecutive dissapointments, those problems have become glaringly obvious to the public eye.

In other sports, if you're dominant in the regular season, you're pretty much assured that you will be successful in the post season. Not so in hockey. The regular season means nothing when it comes to the playoffs. The grueling 82 game regular season is just means to achieving the ends of preparing to get into the playoffs. It is, in no way, an indicator of how well a team will do when they get into the playoffs, even if they finish with the #1 record in the League. Why is this? This is because the playoffs are a whole different beast than the regular season. It is two months of constantly climbing up hill, where you are facing adversaries who want to get to the top just as much or even more so than you. While the regular season might be more about skills and offensive show-manship. The playoffs are 4 rounds of war of attrition. It's about grit and fight and battling through pain and injury. It's about clawing for every inch you get. The offensive dazzling comes secondary to those lunch-pail guys who have a thirst and hunger to devour their enemy to achieve their goal; winning the Stanley Cup. That is why, in the playoffs, 3rd and 4th line guys who you never heard of before become stars. This is when their value and investment kicks in. All of a sudden, you hear names like Mike Commadore, Fernando Pisanni, Rafi Torres, etc. Guys who's name become synonamous with playoff success, not regular season prowress.

If you come into the playoffs with any inkling of laziness or any form of lackadaisical attitude that what you've achieved or shown in the regular season will carry you through the playoffs, you're dead in the water. You're gone before the first puck has been dropped. If you've been in the league a while, and you've won a Cup or two, and you don't have the same hunger as the guy who's never won one, you're also beat. You can't just go through the motions. YOU HAVE TO WANT IT.

So, now, we get to the Red Wings. This is the position that the Wings are in now. They are composed of the same core players that won the first Cup for the Wings, in 42 years, back in 1997. The Wings are, for better and worse, an organization that rewards its players with loyalty. There are probably more players on this team that have played their whole careers with this same one team than any other in the League, or perhaps in all of sports. That's good and bad. It's good, because stability and loyalty allows players to feel secure with their status, and all they have to concentrate on is playing to the best of their ability, and giving thanks to the team's trust in them by playing well. However, routine breads laziness and comfort. it becomes the antithesis of innovation and freshness. The organization feels comfortable and really believes now that if they only add one more player or just keeps changing the goalie around, this same team, this core will eventually get the job done and all will be forgiven. So, how did the Wings make their presence felt on Free Agent Day? What kind of message of change did they send to the fans, those fans who pay hundreds of dollars to see these boys play? They re-signed their back-up goalie. That's it! Nothing else. They're not signing any forwards until they hear what Brendan Shannahan, a 36 year old guy who has been invisible from the past 3 playoffs, does with testing the market. Meawhile, all the decent forwards, better forwards, whom they could sign at the same price they want to give him are getting snatched up while they wait to see what this guy does. That's completely ridiculous.

After every early playoff exit over the past 10 seasons, the one thing management has consistently looked at to change has been at goal. However, they have failed to see the one consistency in all of those losses; the TEAM. Changing the man at goal won't achieve success when the guys in front of him are still the same bunch that were there last season in which they lost. The core that still remains is 10 years older than they were when they started. They have also won 3 Stanley Cups for this team. They have consistently garnered regular season success with only minimal and dissapointing post-season failures. They don't have the hunger and the thirst for winning that they once had. You can visibly tell that they don't want it as much as their opponents that they meet in the playoffs. Some-how, they've been able to convince people and their fans that these failures were due to simply facing an excellent goalies who hit their stride. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't fly any-more. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Three times is not a charm here.

Mr. Holland has to let the past go. I am a very nostalgic people. As I've said before, it will be very sad to see these guys go. Guys who I've watched play since I was 13-14 years old. Guys who I've grown up with. But, sports is a business, and the main objective is to win. It's not about perserving memories and keeping the "old gang" together until they all retire, and the team is forced to make changes through circumstance. These guys just don't get it done anymore. So, while Holland is currently trying his best to keep the same team while pretending to make a change by changing one position; the goalie and hope that people and the fans will see that he's made those changes that he promised. Well, he aint fooling any-one anymore. I've spent the past weak and a half scowering the message boards in the hockey world, and Red Wings fans out there are spitting nails. They are committed, as I am, to this team. They love to watch the Wings play and really want to see them succeed. They don't appreciate being hood-winked or swindled. They want the millionair front office team to stick to their obligations and promises. They want a solid winning team. They couldn't care less if the team had a painful growth spurt for a season or two as the team adjusted to their new surroundings as long as there was a true committment to winning.

Teams like St. Louis, Boston, and Florida has already done this and have already turned themselves, in ONE DAY, from teams who didn't make the playoffs last season into teams that will be bonnified Stanley Cup competitors next season. Unfortunately, the Red Wings don't fit that bill. Unless, at least 3-4 changes and trades are made, the Wings will, next season, officially turn into a has-been teaming, desperately trying to hold on to their past while every other team arounds them prepares for the future. I guess it's gonna be back to giveing away cars during intermissions to get fans to come to games.


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