Earlier last week, we Backhand Shelf regulars submitted our picks for Stanley Cup champ. Some people love to publish their predictions, but for me, it’s one of those necessary evils of being a hockey writer.
Prediction time is the equivalent of those dreaded annual reviews at my day job, except all the anxiety happens after the pick is published rather than before, as we wait for the results. We spend all season pouring our hearts and souls into writing factual, honest, well-thought-out pieces, and then prediction time comes along and it’s like, “Augh! Eff me. Just roll the dice. I dunno, man.”
So, this time, I rolled the dice on the New Jersey Devils to win the cup and Marty Brodeur to get the Conn Smythe (because goalies always get the credit for a win in my tendy-centric world).
I felt okay with my pick, and I wasn’t alone in thinking the Devils might take this thing (though certainly not in the majority either). But I’ll admit, I’m more of a Kings fan, so maybe there was a little part of me trying to reverse-jinx a win for the boys in black and sparkle.
But the quiet way the Devils got this far freaks me out a little. How can you bet against such a stealthy team? I couldn’t do it. Meanwhile, the Kings had Tic-Tacs in their pockets the whole way. You could kinda hear them advancing, but “Are they really that much better?” I asked myself. Just seemed jinxy that so many people were already planning the parade route through Los Angeles.
So, “Devils in 6,” I wrote, albeit reluctantly.
And then I watched game 1 Wednesday night and saw the folly in my choice. Not because the Devils aren’t every bit as good as I thought, but because I forgot about one man. A man whose name I’ve uttered in anguish and surrounded by curse words a hundred times: Marek Zidlicky.
He had a rather public falling out with Wild coach Mike Yeo mid-season and super genius GM Chuck Fletcher traded him to the Devils for 10 players and 5 picks (slight exaggeration but, seriously, a lot of stuff back for a guy we couldn’t wait to get rid of).
I’ve seen sentiments to the effect of, “Wow, what a turn of fortune for the defenseman who was consistently being scratched by the Wild to now playing for the Stanley Cup!” Yeah, maybe on the surface that’s how it appears, but if you’ve loved a team he’s played for, you know about the Secret Pain he brings.
But it’s not just him. Bringers of Secret Pain are all over the league. In fact, I’d wager every single team has That Guy who everyone else in the league thinks is a pretty decent player except for the fans of that team who have to watch him the most.
They know that even though the guy gets 40 points a season as a defenseman, at least once a game he does something so boneheaded that parents cover their young children’s’ eyes to protect them from the horror. Dogs howl. California falls a little further into the ocean. Rivers flow uphill. Rolling blackouts. El Niño.
And it’s not like the Pain is Secret because fans don’t bellyache about them. Oh heavens, they do, but it’s only to each other, because frankly, fans of other teams are too cranked up about their own Secret Pain to care, unless they’re researching for their way-too-deep fantasy team.
Other ways to tell who your Secret Pain is: You say, “REALLY, DUMMY?!” at this guy at least 3 times a game. When the play-by-play guy says his name, you look up nervously to see what disaster is about to strike. Every time you see how much salary cap he takes up, your blood pressure skyrockets (though really, you wouldn’t give him more than a crisp dollar bill if you had the choice).
Then you pray your GM has the good sense to trade him before the end of his contract. In fact, you’d be tickled pink if they traded him for a free car wash on a rainy day.
If your GM is a hero and trades him, fans of his new team, with their hearts full of hope for the future, ask you about him and you try to shine the penny a little. “Well, he seems very nice. And he scores some nice goals. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery,” you lie to them.
What you want to say is, “He just has enough upside offensively that team management was willing to overlook the gaffes in every other part of his game, or his lazy backchecking, or his floating in the defensive zone. But in the end, they were chugging Pepto every time his skates touched the ice, and you will be, too.”
I think Zidlicky means well, so I don’t mean to pick on just him. In fact, I’d list other Secret Pain guys, but that’s the thing: These guys stay just below the radar on a national level, so when they do these boneheaded things on a national stage, it’s written off as bad luck, and we on the outside are none the wiser.
Even Secret Pains from my past, I have no idea how their new fan bases feel about them now. I have to assume they still have people quietly pulling their hair out. How do you Bruins fans feel about Benoit Pouliot? I’m pretty sure 7% of my grey hair is his fault.
On the bright side, maybe we should be grateful for the Secret Pains, as they represent the triumph of hope over pessimism!
Nah, that’s bullshit. There’s nothing redeeming about them other than they make the next worst guy on your team look a little better.
Still, you never know: Dustin Penner was a regular season Secret (well, not THAT secret) Pain-turned-playoff hero for the LA Kings.
These players persist because, once in a blue moon, the Secret Pain is the player everyone thinks he should be and becomes your Secret Weapon. The Devils could certainly use a night (or several) like that from Zidlicky, and for the sake of my series prediction, so could I. But I’m not holding my breath.