Yesterday both the Maple Leafs and Flames held postmortem press conferences in which their coaches and GMs discussed the many, many things that went awry for their respective clubs this season.

These press conferences were somewhat shocking for anyone who has paid any sort of attention to what Jay Feaster or Brian Burke has been saying since the season began. Instead of things like, “I believe the team as currently constituted can make the playoffs,” or “the answers are in that room,” they were saying things like, “I don’t like what’s happened here. I don’t like our lack of progress. I thought we’d be farther ahead than we are right now,” and “Clearly we have a lot of work to do. Clearly we have a problem.”

So refreshing. These were things all sane human beings were saying, you know, in like December and January and February and March and even into April. Bad teams are pretty plainly bad for a long time over the course of a season, but it seems this often comes as a surprise to those running the teams. I get, to an extent, why a Feaster or a Burke or a Howson or an Yzerman would be loath to admit that the teams they put together were not as good as they expected, and certainly would have wanted. In much the same way players must go into the season believing their team can win a Stanley Cup, GMs have to believe they’ve constructed a team capable of competing for more than just a playoff spot at best.

Of course the problem with this line of think is that it’s unreasonable. There are 30 teams in the league, and 14 end up not even making the playoffs. Throw in the few bad teams here and there that make the playoffs only get stomped in the first round like everyone expects they will, and you’re over half the NHL in terms of “teams not good enough to realistically compete.”

But the kind of thinking GMs employ, then, works well enough in October and November. But as it becomes evident to everyone else on the planet that a team literally and figuratively stinks on ice, it would be nice to see GMs admit the same, either in the media or with their actions. Both Toronto and Calgary, for example, largely stood pat at the deadline, and both GMs were steadfast in their beliefs that their teams could prevail over everything we’d seen for the past several months.

The type of honesty on display after yet another fruitless season is dead and buried is admirable but needs to be shown, for the good of fans’ sanity and, more importantly, the team going forward, well in advance of this date. Instead of clutching to in-demand players that could have been used to improve the organization going forward, why not relinquish them instead? “The answers,” whatever those are, were plainly not “in that room.” And they never were.

So what are we to make of these post-deathbed confessions? There’s only two ways to view them:

  1. Maybe they felt an obligation “back their guys.” This is understandable. They put the team together and it can’t be fun to admit they failed well before the season comes to an end. They invested tens of millions of dollars of their owners’ money in a team that ultimately failed in its goal, and they’re going to wring as much credibility as they can from that failure before they have to finally run up the white flag. They don’t want to want to look anything less than resolute at any point because that might lower the trade value of the guys you might eventually try to deal as well your chances of coming back for another whack at this thing next season.
  2. Maybe they actually thought their team was good. This is concerning. Because they were very bad. Any number of metrics, such as statistics, standings, and even the fabled eyeball test for the way the team performed every night on the ice, could have confirmed this with ease. That might mean they’re not as good at the talent evaluation part of their job as any person who watched their team play a hockey game or three this season.

But it doesn’t stop there when it comes to disarming postseason honesty. Teams are also very forthcoming about guys who were playing through injuries, as though that’s supposed to make anyone feel better about a team missing the playoffs. If a guy comes out and reveals he’s been playing with an injured foot or wrist, the only response anyone should have to the revelation is, “Why did you play, then?” Remember a few years ago when Dan Boyle played a month or so with a broken foot? He looked awful. And any player who plays with an injury that hampers their game that severely typically will as well. Alex Tanguay says he played the final five games of the season with a wrist injury that didn’t allow him to lift the puck. He had a goal in that time, a low, lazy wrister, and put just five shots on goal over that stretch and notched zero points besides. Not good enough for a team trying to make the playoffs, you’d agree.

Again, I get it. Guys want to be competitive, especially when their team is fighting for its life, and an Alex Tanguay or the like playing at, say, 75 or 80 percent, is better than the average AHL call-up most nights. But if you can’t lift the puck, you can’t lift the puck, and one such incident that stands out as a consequence is Jonathan Quick robbing him on a low glove save on March 28, when Calgary was still just two points out of a playoff spot.

In the end, I guess who cares? These were teams that were bad on paper in October and they didn’t improve despite whatever tinkering went on between then and now. And it would have been nice to hear someone say it at some point before April 10.

Comments (3)

  1. I guess GMs are in the business of selling hope. Now that the season is over, and it was a stinker, they further nurture hope by acknowledging weaknesses and promising to improve. “We’ll be better next year”

  2. I don’t blame Burke for not coming out to apologize earlier. Anyone with a brain new the Leafs’ season was done before the trade deadline, but actually saying it before the absolute end would go against any athlete’s or fan’s (or maybe GM’s) desire to believe we can actually repeat the clichés such as that about a singing fat lady. Burke’s common sense likely prevented him from making any deal at the deadline, because even a blockbuster would not have helped them make the playoffs at that point, and might have ruined any chance to continue the “rebuild”.

    I’d like to think that the GMs might know something that we don’t. Do you think Murray had as little confidence in his roster as the rest of us? Are Burke or Feaster any different? Is Murray that much better of a GM that he could fool all of us into thinking he had a last-place team so they could be ‘underdog’ all year? I think there are too many intangibles relating to human nature and team chemistry that even for GMs, luck is involved in arriving at regular season results for any seed lower than 6th.

  3. Nice article, and part of me definitely sympathizes. I agree with the above two, and would also add that it’s important not to forget that GMs have to protect their jobs like anyone else (OK, not just anyone, but you get my drift). Sure, they appear less expendable than coaches, but there must be a limit. Acknowledging failure repeatedly over multiple seasons clearly demonstrates that from a business perspective, they’re unable to diagnose the problems and use their smarts and creativity to come up with a cure. Thus they have an incentive to put a positive spin on things. This brings its own degree of criticism or nausea, just like self-evaluations at work. Like many of us, if cognitive studies are to be believed, they may actually believe their own hype. One hopes, though, that eventually there’s enough data to establish a trend. I’m looking at you, George McPhee, although there are plenty of examples around the League of trend-defying GM spinmeisters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *