Tuesday, January 23, 2007

That Missing "it" Rant

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The last repeat champs in the NHL were the '97 and '98 Detroit Red Wings. That team came back in defense of their '97 Cup loaded with talent and united in the desire to win the next championship for Vladimir Konstantinov. That team had Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, a motivated Sergei Federov and Igor Larionov - all in their prime.

The season after the Carolina Hurricanes '02 Cup finals appearance was an absolute disaster. Dead last in the East - worst record in the NHL. Good news is that the Canes remain on track to a playoff birth this season. The bad news is that they don't look much like the team that won the whole thing last season. This team is routinely comes out flat or deflates at some point in the contest. This team shows little of the fire and supreme confidence that made last year's club dangerous even when seemingly well behind in third period.

Some"it" is missing right now. Confusion seems to reign as to just what it is. It might be the personalities missing from last year's club. Aaron Ward, Matt Cullen and Marty Gerber are hardly tearing up the league right now and in the case of Ward and Cullen, their team is also missing even more it. In the case of Gerber, he's a virtual non entity on the resurgent Sens. Or it might be the seasoned professionalism of Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. But these guys were late-adds to a team already leading the chase without them, and in the case of Weight, he spent a good portion of his spring with the Hurricanes on the shelf with a lower body injury.

For weeks I've been harping on the need for personnel changes. I've railed on David Tanabe, Eric Staal, and the most recent targets of my ire have been Trevor Hollowman Letowski and newbie Dennis Seidenberg. In retrospect, I've been way too snarky about individuals and their performances. This is a pervasive group dynamic issue. I now believe that recapturing that it won't involve shuffling warm bodies in and out of Raleigh.

Who out there has the gravitas to come into the Hurricanes clubhouse and change the attitude and re-instill the swagger? Who out there is Cup-hungry with the physical tools and interpersonal skills to change the dynamic without stepping on toes? The answer is nobody. If King Theoden 'Amour is gonna wake up from his slumber and inspire his boys to that last great charge, he's gonna do it on his time and in his way.

The road to the Stanley Cup is by far the most gruelling in sports. The season extends from September into June for the most victorious. Repeating as champs in a salary cap world is gonna be way harder than repeating used to be when you were the Wings and you could just throw cash at mercenaries like Brett Hull and Dominic Hasek.

Maybe I/we should be cool with the Canes just making the playoffs this year. It has already been a fine run. As I switched off the Canes/Lightning game the other night, I found myself kind of resigned to such an ending being part of the Hurricanes M.O. this season. I also found a bit of serenity creeping into my fiercely loyalist psyche.

Why? Because I believe that from Lavvy to Ladd, the Carolina Hurricanes are mentally fragged. The skill-guys are there everywhere but on the blueline, and I think as a unit they are doing the best they can. Thus, I don't expect any move JR might make in the coming month to profoundly effect the nightly performance of this club. I think the Canes will battle malaise for the remainder of this season because they have lost the mental edge of a champion. Everybody is beat-down at this point in the season, but I think the Canes are more mentally elsewhere than those who missed their own big June party.

I think mental edge is the it that is missing from these Carolina Hurricanes. You can see more mental edge in the play of the Devils, Slugs and Canadians this season - all teams that thought they should have beaten the Canes in the playoffs. You can add the Thrash to this list of bitter teams with something to prove this season as well.

In the coming weeks, I hope JR brings in a players who will become essential parts of the Carolina Hurricanes version-next. I hope that if he can't make such a deal, he moves defensive depth for upper-round draft picks. I don't think rent-a-mercenaries for a Cup run that may well flame out in the first round is the right approach. Mercenaries won't change the mental dynamic of this club or contribute to sustained excellence. Sustained excellence builds faith, the fan base and stifles the haters up north and east.

WED. UPDATE: According to Luke DeCock, JR might be looking at Keith Tkachuk or Bill Guerin. Let the hunt for the ideal mercenary begin.


magnolia_mer said...

I was re-reading the Jan 9 issue of Hockey News during the All Stars last night since the coverage was so lame, and one of the articles talked about how the salary cap is forcing everyone to pretty much stick with the lineups they have this year - no last-minute power trades to shake things up. It made it sound like some of the malaise plaguing the Canes isn't just limited to the Canes - it's pretty much everywhere.

I'm still proud of our boys this year. Especially if we make the playoffs.

Although I'm new to the sport, everything I've read and heard tells me that Cup repeats are extremely rare.

I still think we could do it if we really gutted it out, but they really have to want it, bad. I don't think they want it bad enough. Or they do, but they're overthinking everything so much that they're choking once they get out there. I think Rod is just plain worn out from last season, even though he looks great.

Shell said...

I can tell you that I feel that IT sure lacks consistency. But I have a little string of good stories.....the past two visits by Washington I have seen Ovechkin and Zubrus give pucks to kids just watching the warm up - usually in Canes gear.
We happened to park in the media lot following the January 26th game - which the traffic happened to be awful....I happened to find that Tripp Tracy driving a nicer car than John Forslund funny - but Forslund was the nice guy letting traffic out in front of him. KUDOS to Brett Hedican and Erik Cole - two guys who realized that traffic was going nowhere - and there were a handful of fans standing out in the freezing cold. Those two pulled their cars over, parked, got out and signed away. There were mini-mites in the intermission skate out and they were in the crowd of autograph seekers. SUPER HUGE KUDOS to a guy who is building a fan base everywhere he goes - Alexander Ovechkin - instead of hopping on the team bus ALSO came out and signed.
On the opposite side were the kids calling to Staal who could not even manage to roll down a window and say "hi". Maybe take some cues from the other guy from the visiting team.
AND last but not least, John Graham - thanks for brighting us!! We were gawking trying to figure out WHO was driving that BIG SUV with ALL the windows tinted!!
AND RBC center - WTF??? The traffic was bad and the game was NOT a sell out!
Great blog....love to hear you on the BUZZ.