We’ll use the same format as we did earlier this week — expectations, reality, and whether it will continue — but add a special fourth category to deal with the possible fallout if the player continues to struggle.
We’re roughly 10 percent of the way through the NHL season, and that means it’s time for some teams to panic.
Not really, of course. Even in this abbreviated season, jumping to conclusions based on four or five games would be downright irrational. So any of you hockey fans who are completely rational when it comes to your team can go ahead and stop reading right now.
The other 98 percent of you still with me? Good. Let’s hit the panic button.
One note: We’re focused here on teams that are struggling relative to expectations. The Blue Jackets may have been iffy so far, but they’re clearly in rebuilding mode, and just about everyone had already picked them for last place. A team like that can’t be considered to be in panic mode by any reasonable definition.
The same can’t be said for many of the early season’s other underachievers. Here’s a look at some of the teams that aren’t living up to expectations right now:
"6:50 a.m. in Helsinki, Finland and I'm about to take my Gov30 final #sickjoke," tweets a 19-year-old Harvard kid as I'm eating my dinner out here in Pacific time, and I feel legitimately bad for the guy. Despite all appearances, the post didn't originate from some trustafarian cruising through a "semester abroad" and e-taking an easy-A final from an Internet cafe. It was written by Jimmy Vesey, a freshman who leads the Harvard hockey team in scoring and is in the midst of trying to (d)eke his way onto the U.S. national junior squad.
On Saturday, he'll find out whether he'll be playing in next week's World Junior Hockey Championships, the international Under-20 men's hockey tournament more commonly known as the WJC. If Vesey is one of USA Hockey's three final cuts, he'll fly back to the States from Helsinki just in time for Christmas as the trimmed team heads eastward to Ufa, Russia, for the tournament. It will be an honor just to have been considered. He's scored 8 points in nine games with Harvard this fall, earning ECAC Rookie of the Month honors — which is great, but compare that with the line on Alex Galchenyuk, a shoo-in first-liner for Team USA: 33 games played this fall in the Ontario Hockey League since being drafted no. 3 overall by the Montreal Canadiens; 27 goals, 34 assists.
Vesey is what They (scouts, coaches, guys whose titles involve the words "development" or "personnel," people who post on message boards and are the chipper types and not the miserly know-it-alls) call a realgoodyoungplayer. He was taken in the third round of the NHL draft this summer by the Nashville Predators. But right now, he's just a kid on the bubble. The Americans are set to play Sweden in an exhibition game later today, and They will be watching him with an extra close eye. Unless, of course, They've already made up their minds.
1. Papiss Cisse: Magpie Magician
It's been 11 goals in 11 Premier League games for Newcastle's striker sensation, and I don't know that we'll see a more outrageous strike this season. (Van Persie's volley was better? I don't know, how can you figure that out?) Here's what I love about Cisse giving Chelsea the blues (wink wink): (a) It was his second in a match that had huge Champions League qualification consequences, (b) Petr Cech's struggle face, (c) Newcastle manager Alan Pardew's I'm happy/I'm nervous/Stop laughing/OK, we're laughing reaction, (c) Cisse's laconic trot over to the Newcastle traveling fans, (d) IT'S THE OUTSIDE OF THE BOOT WHAT IS HE EVEN THINKING?
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Angels hurler Jered Weaver threw MLB's second no-hitter of the season, striking out nine and walking one in a 9-0 win over the Twins. "Why couldn't you be perfect?" screamed Weaver's mother, who was actually Weaver himself wearing a wig and staring in a mirror. "You're nothing! You'll always be nothing!" Man, Jered Weaver is complicated.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
After months of drama and uncertainty, sources indicate that the Big East is set to add Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, UCF, and Houston to the conference roster. No word yet on whether they'll keep the name "Big East" as an ironic little relic, or just change it to "Crapville, USA" right away.
Hockey’s Three Stars of Comedy is a monthly feature that will recognize the three NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans. It will appear every month during the regular season, unlike Eric Staal.
The Honorable Mentions
Craig Smith, Nashville Predators
Experts agree that there are three unbreakable records in hockey: Glenn Hall’s 502 consecutive games played in goal, Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 career points, and Patrick Stefan’s “worst choke job while all alone in front of an empty net.”
While he didn’t quite reach Stefan’s level, Smith came close against the Maple Leafs. Alone and just inches outside of the crease, Smith managed to not only miss the net but somehow fire the puck into the upper deck. He then went to the bench and delivered one of the best “Please take the camera off me so I can try to swallow my own tongue” looks of all time.
Less than a week before the beginning of the season, an article about the Phoenix Coyotes in the Arizona Republic had this to say about the team's personnel in net: "Mike Smith, who calls parts of his game 'a work in progress,' will be in goal when the Coyotes open the regular season Saturday night at San Jose."
It wasn't exactly a rousing outlook for the Coyotes, who lost their starting goaltender, Vezina Trophy candidate Ilya Bryzgalov, in the summer to the far richer Philadelphia Flyers. The Coyotes, who are currently owned by the league and may not be long for Phoenix unless a new buyer can be located, instead inked former Tampa Bay and Dallas backup Mike Smith to a far thriftier two-year, $4-million contract than the nine-year, $51-million deal Bryzgalov ultimately wrung out of Philly.
"SLASHVILLE," screamed the cover of The Hockey News's "Money Issue" that arrived in my mailbox just yesterday. "Suter. Weber. Rinne. Who Would You Kiss Goodbye?"
Like a multiple choice test, we can now eliminate at least one of those answers. The Nashville Predators, a team closely-watched around the league this season as it figures out how to handle a tangle of two top defensemen and a stalwart goaltender who are all on the verge of some form of free agency, began to unravel yesterday when they came to terms with goalie Pekka Rinne on a 7-year, $49-million deal.
It was a pretty sweet 29th birthday present for Rinne, who was drafted by Nashville in the eighth round in 2004. He has been part of a conveyer belt of goalies identified-by and developed-within the Predators' defense-first system championed by coach Barry Trotz and bolstered by legendary goalie coach Mitch Korn (who once worked with Dominik Hasek during his glory days with the Buffalo Sabres.) The Finnish netminder celebrated his birthday and new windfall with a 35-save shutout over the Phoenix Coyotes, his third blanking of the season.
Reaction to the deal has been mixed. On the one hand, Rinne is by most definitions one of the league's best in breed — he earned second in Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) voting last season and placed fourth for the Hart (the league's MVP) and so far has started every game for the Preds. On the other hand, goaltending can be a fickle position, that's a whole lot of dough, and Nashville's own status as something of a goalie factory almost ends up working against it — can't they just churn out a new, cheaper model?
Outside the Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, Mich., a man talked on his cell phone and described the scene inside the rink.
"You should see them," he said. "They all walk in together and they all wear the same thing. They've got on these jackets with the team logos, and slacks. They're all glued to their BlackBerries and phones. These guys, they can't stay in one place for even 10 minutes. They're always looking around."
It was, I thought as I eavesdropped, an apt description of the eight teams' worth of hockey hopefuls gathered in the beautiful lakeside town in northwestern Michigan for the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament, a five-day exhibition of players who could someday be the league's future stars.
But the man wasn't talking about, as everyone refers to them, the kids.
"These scouts, they're like, all former players," he continued. "None of them can sit still."