We’ve reached the point of the NHL season where some players are about to have a terrible, awful epiphany: “Oh crap. We suck, don’t we?” I’m not sure that any NHL team is quite there yet (maybe the Flames?), but you rarely make the switch overnight. Suspicions slowly start to grow until one day, it happens. “Oh #$%&.”

I was kicking this around in my head after getting the following two tweets:

For starters: I would say players have a pretty good idea, plus-or-minus a few spots where their team is at heading into the season. “We’re going to be a bubble team,” “We have a legit shot to win the conference,” “We’re going to have to be our best every night if we want to be anything other than awful.” The last one basically equals “I’m aware we’re awful.

But as the schedule moves along and your record takes shape and you consider how you think your team has played, that’s when it hits most guys. “Dammit, we’ve played well and we’re still only .500. We’re in trouble.”

To answer the second question I can definitively say at this point that no, neither the Leafs or Wild know their teams are going to miss playoffs. They may be in the suspicious group, but anyone can win in the NHL on any night, and I’m sure they’re still holding out hope for a few game run. It’s when it’s too late for that run to even matter that you lick the stamp and mail it in.

When you finally accept that your team isn’t going to see the post-season, a snowball of negativity takes out the last leg your garbage team is standing on, and what looks like tanking begins.

Motivation

What reason does a player on a long-term contract have to put himself on the line (“take the hit to make the play!”) once he realizes his team is gross and the year is a write-off? He doesn’t want to embarrass himself of course, so he’s still going to play hockey, but lay his teeth on the line to block a shot? No sir. That puck is getting through to the net. There’s no reason for a player like that to rush back from injury either, so you end up playing with a bare bones roster.

And what reason does a player with an expiring contract have to put the team before himself? Guys may start keeping the puck instead of passing, taking long long shifts, or simply carrying the puck instead of dumping it in when a forecheck could easily be established. It’s an unhealthy environment when players are solely doing things to up their own stock, as opposed to helping the team win.

What reason does anyone have to do anything other than improve their personal lot on the team once hope is lost? Really, the only other goal is to avoid total embarrassment as a team (pride, etc, etc), get some more ice time, and win because it makes practice more fun the next day. It’s every man for himself, Lord of the Flies-style.

Once you realize you’re on a garbage team, the selfishness and negativity only drags your team father down.

Because of that reality, coaches logically try to fight the idea that you’re a bad team and things are heading downhill. They’ll tell you you’ve been ripped off by the refs, you haven’t got the bounces, and you just have to buy in for the team to have success. But when you get to where we’re at right now, with 20-25% of the games already in the books, you can feel it slipping away, as can coaches with their jobs.

Some teams have bad starts and recover. Others have bad starts, lose a couple more and switch out of team mode. We’re right around that point now, where teams who got off to rough starts need to get some wins in the bank, or players will come to the conclusion that hope is lost, and the season’s as good as over. That’s the mid-season fight.

No pressure or anything. Just win soon or write the year off. The mind is a funny thing.

***

More on this in today’s podcast.

Comments (10)

  1. This may be the ultimate “put your body on the line even though the season is lost” moment in NHL history: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bFa9MKE0i4

  2. Didn’t the Flames reach that checkpoint a few years ago?

    • They’re still in denial. Blow it up!

      • Hey, there are worse teams than the Flames. 2 GREAT games in a row, they outplayed the Hawks and the Wings for 60 minutes, let’s wait and see.

        Oh wait, Kipper’s injured? FFS blow it up!

  3. It’s an interesting part of the season, when you can see some teams that are faltering and trying to crawl back into respectabillity. In 2-3 weeks they will either have recovered, or given up completely.

  4. Interesting that the two “lousy” teams given as examples are both currently in 10th place in their conferences. In fact, they both have the same number of points as the #8 team in their conferences and are placed at 10th due to tie breakers. While not at the top of the standings and not currently in playoff positions, they aren’t far off and there are many worse teams. From this, I’ve deduced the possibilities that A) the questioner is biased against those two teams, B) the questioner assumes all those other bad teams do in fact already know that they are “lousy”, or C) had high hopes for those teams and is feeling rather pessimistic about the rest of their seasons. I doubt scenario C since one of those teams is the Leafs.

  5. Heck, beer leagues are the same. When you are near the top, you play every game a bit harder because you don’t want to let the team or your teammates down. If you are near the bottom, you start playing for fun, dinking around a bit more, and telling yourself that its just a game and next season will be better.

    I spend a lot of time saying next season will be better.

  6. I doubt the Flames are there yet. they still believe they are naturally slow starters and will ride it out for a little while longer.

    Lets not forget that most teams dont blow it up until the writing is already on the wall (i.e. bottom 5 finish). Flames havent seen that…. yet…

  7. I don’t know. I understand the “human nature” aspect of the argument, but….

    I’ve played every position in Hockey (with moderate to decent success; especially goaltender) in many leagues of varied skill levels (at several stages of my life) . I always wanted to win. No matter how badly we were doing, it was 100% effort and focus.

    Always.

    Wanted.

    To WIN.

    …To dominate. To make every minute of every night count. Regardless.

    But, then again, I’m the kind of guy who loves to beat my own mother at Scrabble, does the NYT crossword in ink (and damned-near always completes it) and will brutally smack down friends and relatives at Trivial Pursuit. I absolutely cannot countenance losing at anything competitive – Ever. Even if I’m bad at it, I’m determined (by hook or by crook) to win; somehow.

    I cannot understand – it is beyond me – why anyone would ever participate in anything if it’s not to win. I consider that “degenerate”.

    If I’m so bad that I haven’t a chance of winning it all? I don’t even get involved – Tanking is for punks and pussies and little girls and mama’s boys.

    You always make like the Secret Service and you take a bullet (a real honest-to-goodness bullet) if it means you (and your team) win – Always and forever.

    And ESPECIALLY if it’s your chosen vocation and you’re earning a living (and sometimes a very decent one) doing so.

    You quit at your job and it’s stealing; no matter how poorly your company is faring.

    Meh…..whatevs.

  8. So, as an outsider, do you think the Stars are at that point? They’ve had a few injuries to their top 6 and Benn’s holdout meant that until last night they didn’t have their top 2 centers playing in the same game. Would that be a reason for optimism/denial for the players?

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