"Jarome, can you please answer the question in such a way that it fits what I've already decided to write?"

“Jarome, can you please answer the question in such a way that it fits what I’ve already decided to write?”

The problem with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in a way, is they focus greater attention on a smaller number of teams. This means writers who were previously writing things about the Avalanche or Flyers, for instance, are now writing about the Blackhawks or Rangers. National writers in particular, who have been paying attention to the various comings and goings of teams league-wide, descend on cities throughout North America like a plague of locusts and analyze everything with the most powerful microscopes known to man.

This, in and of itself, isn’t strictly a bad thing all of the time. National writers tend to be the very best in the business, well-connected and intelligent and insightful and knowledgable, much more so than, say, someone who just covers the Bruins all year long. But the problem is that in the ongoing pursuit of angles from which to view such-and-such a series necessarily leads to some rather silly observations, from national and local writers alike, to take hold and become part of the national hockey conversation to the point where it can dominate the zeitgeist.

Take the San Jose Sharks. They are good this year. Well, they’re good every year. But they’re good this year too. This in and of itself is no real surprise, especially because they’re not, like, exceptionally good. They finished sixth in the West, not great or anything, but up one spot from last year. That’s also down from winning-the-division-every-year. But the media’s narrative is that this year’s Sharks are different, likely because they swept the Canucks. The reason for this difference seemingly had very little to do with half of Vancouver’s roster being out injured, but everything to do with The Coming Of Age Of Logan Couture.

The number of times you’ve heard “The Sharks are Logan Couture’s team now” is near-astronomical and it must be said that he is indeed very, very good and probably, at age 23 and a multiple-year veteran, becoming a more vocal leader. But the way people talk about this team, you would think Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau — LOSERS WHO STINK AND CAN’T WIN — have been left by the curb with the bottles and cans to be picked up by the local sanitation department. This was only reinforced when Couture was the one who happened to score the overtime game-winner in Game 3 to help the Sharks avoid going down 3-0 in their series. This was one of 25 goals Couture has scored since the season began in late January, but this more or less random event, the result of a lengthy power play opportunity in overtime, lent credibility to the idea that he’s The Leader now. Thornton and Marleau, meanwhile, shuffle around in the background, mere point-a-game players in this postseason because, again, they are losers. And Couture is not, no matter how many games his team is down in this series with Los Angeles.

I guess it boils down to the playoffs being when the nebulous and probably bunch-of-baloney idea of Leadership becomes the most important. Thornton is no longer considered by the media to be a leader for the Sharks probably only because he’s no longer the unequivocal best player on his team, not because the guys just stopped listening to him when they realized Couture could score a lot of points too.

One leader who isn’t scoring a lot of points, though — and if he was Thornton, he’d be crucified for it  — is Jonathan Toews. People are only just now starting to realize that Toews has three points and as many goals as I do for the Blackhawks in this postseason, and really hasn’t produced much or won anything of significance since that time he captured the Conn Smythe. “Huh,” everybody said all at once after the Blackhawks looked like garbage at home against Detroit, “Isn’t that a funny old thing?” As if his team bowing out in the first round in the last two seasons was in some way not on him as the team’s captain in the way it would have been had he been Thornton or Iginla or the Sedins. Winning a Cup makes you pretty Teflon, I suppose, and I guess that’s the same reason why people are still calling for Marc-Andre Fleury to get another chance in these playoffs despite the strong play of Tomas Vokoun and the fact that he leaves a puddle in the crease every time someone takes a shot from below the dots.

Meanwhile, when the Hawks do lose, and Toews is held without a point for the sixth time in eight games in the playoffs, he spends the entire postgame scrum whining about how the refs screwed his team. You know, because that’s how respected winners, guys who should be up for the prestigious Mark Messier Leadership Award Presented by Things Leaders Do, are supposed to behave, according to the narrative. Alex Ovechkin gets mocked league-wide for doing the same thing, and no one says a word about Captain Crybaby who can’t put a puck in the net and can’t beat a team with Kyle Quincey getting top-four minutes on home ice.

It must be said in Toews’ favor, though, that despite not scoring goals, he has been dominant in terms of corsi (plus-35 in three games!!!!!) and suffering from a PDO of 970 for the playoffs. Somehow, though, this hasn’t stuck to him like it did poor Rick Nash for New York, who was likewise dominant in these playoffs in terms of possessing the puck and getting it to the net. The Rangers “were able to withstand” his lack of goalscoring in the quarterfinals and the first game of the Bruins series, even though there were about 17 other guys on the team who were also not scoring. The reason it came into such stark focus, and didn’t for Toews, is that Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are all bringing some serious heat in these playoffs, and Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards (especially Brad Richards) have been largely absent from proceedings. This somehow reflects poorly on Nash, but then he doesn’t have Toews’ leadership, which is why the Blackhawks are scoring without him. Probably. I guess.

You can say the same thing about James Neal. Poor James Neal, who scored 56 goals is 120 games over the last two regular seasons, but just 1-2-3 in seven games. Only 17 shots as well. That’s not enough for an elite goalscorer with a lethal release like Neal. You know whose fault this is, though? That’s right: Jarome Iginla’s. Neal moved from the right wing, where he played with Evgeni Malkin, to accommodate Iginla, and back to the left wing, where he played all the time before he was put on Malkin’s line. Iginla can have as many points as he want in this postseason (and for the record, he’s on 2-8-10 in nine games), but the fact that he’s covering for — excuse me — taking opportunities from Neal is inexcusable. This might be the most absurd length to which a writer has gone to explain away the lack of execution of a star player, but at this point, it also shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

This is a hockey world in which the narrative still somehow states that Pavel Datsyuk is underrated in terms of his skill and god-given talents, and the Red Wings are workmanlike in their approach against the ultra-talented Blackhawks. So really, any dumbass thing anyone says at this point can’t come as much of a surprise any more.

Comments (12)

  1. During last year’s playoffs, the media (admittedly mostly NBC) piled on Kovalchuk for the same thing, even though he led the SCF Devils in scoring with a herniated back he could barely skate with.

    The praise for Captain Parise, who was not Russian, was heaped on though he was more or less a runner up and outscored even with more games played than Kovalchuk.

    Then look at how Parise did on Minnesota’s top line this year in the playoffs.

    Narratives.

    • Yeah, it was kind of odd that they piled on Kovalchuk considering that he was very clearly injured and was giving his last bit of energy to play through it.

      As for Parise, he’s the type of player that never will be an elite scorer. I would think that everyone should know this (except maybe whoever is signing checks in Minnesota). He can put up solid points, but to expect him to be a point a game guy with any regularity isn’t realistic at all. The reason I wouldn’t pile on him when he’s not scoring is that he is amazing at other aspects of the game. His ability to control the puck down low is crazy good, and combined with other players trying to do similar possession and cycling, was much of the reason the Devils made the finals last year…

    • I don’t remember any of that. I remember a ton of praise for Kovalachuck for his play with the bad back, willing the team to victory, etc.

  2. “This might be the most absurd length to which a writer has gone to explain away the lack of execution of a star player…”

    LOL! You called yourself a writer!

    • He is referring to the clown who wrote that article with not the slightest bit of a salient point. SO LOL @ U RON

  3. Sharks fans are SO tired of the lazy, inaccurate narratives. “Sharks choke in the playoffs”… ok… but they seem to make the conferences finals every other year. Is that choking? How many times has your team been there? “Patrick Marleau has no guts and chokes in the playoffs”. Ok… but he is second in active players in the league in playoff goals, behind just Jagr, who is 10 years older than him.

    “Couture coming of age” is just another example of this. They really know very little about the team, and that’s an easy story you can crib and write quickly.

    It’s just lazy. It’s the product of “national” writers and broadcasters who are thrust into covering teams they know very little about. Let’s face it, it’s worse with the Sharks and other west coast teams because half of the writers don’t stay up to watch more than a game or two per west coast team a year.

    One of the highest profile “national” bloggers yesterday put Couture and Niemi on his three stars list, missing Thornton. There is only one possible reason that could have happened – he didn’t watch the game. Happens all the time.

    • Not to mention that they are practically praying that the final doesn’t wind up having San Jose (or Ottawa) in it because of the ratings.

    • Fun fact: Logan Couture is a -3 at 5v5 (and 6v5) this playoffs, worst on the Sharks.
      Joe Thornton is a +6.

  4. Wow. You really threw Toews under the bus in this.

  5. Toew’s leadership left him at the same time as Ovechkin’s, but later than Lundqvists’s, whose glove hand would be faster if he just had his leadership back. Lack of leadership sure lets in some softies.

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