Dispatches From Planet Hockey: “Give Me Some Rope, Tie Me To Dream” Edition

commentary by Jas Faulkner, contributing editor

copyright 2011 Universal/Sony Pictures

Poor Dan Harmon.  Somehow he has stumbled from the land of showrunners where critical success can keep you going for years until you can go out on your own terms to the nightmare walkabout that is the realm of NHL coaches after the invitation to the Dance of the Sixteen Debs is announced and owners and GeeEhms of the teams who just weren’t pretty enough start to give the guys in jackets behind the benches the side eye.*  For those of you who only follow us, DGB and PuckDaddy on Twitter, here’s a quick recap:  Harmon was the creator and primary writer’s voice behind a quirky comedy on NBC** called “Community”.   Over the course of three seasons, the show gained a devoted cult following and a lot of critical admiration but little in the way of winning in terms of numbers. Unfortunately, Harmon found it hard to see eye to eye with his overlords on some critical details and ended up being shown the door.

Does this sound familiar?

Ask the fifteen NHL head coaches who were pulled aside by their teams’ GMs and given some variation of  the “It’s just not workin’ out” speech and thirty minutes to clear out their desks and  leave a goodbye note on the whiteboard.  Well, make that fourteen, since Dale Hunter was the one to draw an imaginary circle in the Zamboni snow with his toe, give George McPhee a Keanu Reeves-like shrug and twitch and then walk away from event level at Verizon Center one last time.***  By some counts, there were seventeen head coaching moves made from June of last year until now and it is suspected that the number might edge close to twenty by the time most teams are ready to do their Summer town meetings and announce whatever Big Shiny New Thing will make 2012/13 different from last season.

The thing is… Well, there’s always a thing, isn’t there? We expect the promises, but I doubt that anyone really expected the calls for firing that come after a less than stellar (or less stellar than expected) showing to be answered by the owners and GeeEhms with, “Well, okay then!”  Of course it’s not that simple.  Some clubs were looking to jump start sluggish rosters without taking a cap hit while others were hoping to stumble upon some alchemical mix of franchise traditions that would create Cinderella-like results by Late Spring Prom.

What really happened?  Cinderella was Darryl Sutter and it was really no surprise at all that the habitues of Bailey’s Den would go roaring into the finals.  And there were some appearances that the mainstream hockey media kept insisting we should all be surprised about.  The GMs of two of the teams who went deep in the playoffs and who had a long, protracted battles that provided some of the best hockey postseason games were Don Maloney and David Poile, who cha- no, they didn’t.  Both Phoenix and Nashville stayed the course.  To be fair, Poile has assured the media he is aware some of the roster changing transactions he conducted while everyone was distracted by Rick Nash  during the Late Winter Trades and Tribulations were measures for the moment.  Maloney has discussed why careful consideration and piecing together just the right guys for the job has paid off.   What neither GM did was act like a forty-five year old man who finally bought the Harley only to  see it just wasn’t enough of a change.  The 2012 War of the Dogs and Cats wasn’t a fluke.  It happened because Maloney and Poile understood, as should anyone else holding their position in this league, that tradition and consistency matter, and if you know you have a good thing in the guys you put behind the bench, you take a deep breath and stand down on the huge changes.

The chatter about who will be wearing a whistle and blazer in some markets started a month ago and will not let up before the cup is raised.  It is likely that the Shiny New Thing promising hotter fire at many of this year’s town hall meetings will be the revelation of who will be He Who Must Be Obeyed.  Smart money is on experience, passion and possibly a shot of youth.  Most of the rumours surround the coaches who have been big presences in the race for the Memorial Cup.¹  There will also be some big names who have been in the NHL system for a while and who are nowhere near ready to get behind a mic or a desk.  You can be sure some changes in that direction will last at least until November.  Whatever happens, maybe it’s time for NHL GMs to take a page from Shakespeare  Wayne Gretzky The Bible George Carlin Winston Churchill Ghandi  Santayana and learn from history so they are not doomed to repeat it.


*Give me a minute, please.  I need to check the time in Nashville.  Yes, it is five minutes shy of three-thirty in the morning.  And my last name is Faulkner, so I’ll let that Japanese port city stomper of a run-on sentence stay.

**NBC is kind of like CBC in that it will run something really stupid and you think you can read a book  or play with the dog or make out on the couch until something smarter comes on.  The difference is that on CBC it does.  On NBC, you just keep waiting and waiting and the stupid keeps coming.  This might also explain the difference in population density between Canada and the US.  For what it’s worth, Community was the rare non-stupid show on American network television.

***Is the Keanu Reeves Shrug-and-Twitch my generation’s “Here’s looking at you, kid?”  This is making a flight to Allen County, Kentucky to raise goats (for pets AND meat!) sound better and better.  Anyway, Action Keanu will always trump Chick Movie Keanu but will never be better  than Mullet Keanu in Youngblood.

¹The Memorial Cup is generating a lot more enthusiasm from hardcore fans than Lord Stanley’s Hardware Raffle these days.  I’m just saying…