You know what that means (I really hope you know what that means, or else this entire thread is a waste of time. Don’t make my life a waste of time).
It means that it’s time that we get a little too serious about a sport where grown men wearing boots with knives on them chase a piece of rubber around a sheet of frozen water for our amusement.
Tonight, we have an original six match-up between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. And if you want to stay up a little later with me, the late game will feature the Edmonton Oilers taking on the St. Louis Blues.
While the NHL lockout rolls on, fans may forget there is a group of personnel that is not aligned with either the NHLPA or team owners in CBA negotiations, yet is directly affected by the league’s labor stall – NHL coaches.
Nearly a year after taking over as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, guiding his team to a second round playoff appearance, and winning the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s Coach of the Year, Ken Hitchcock is just as busy preparing for a season with an unknown start date as he would be if it were already underway.
I had a chance to interview Hitchcock and he gave me his thoughts on his coaching philosophy, on replacing Davis Payne in St. Louis during last season, and other topics.
For my post this morning, I was planning on writing a post about how the St. Louis Blues, contrary to the opinion of The Hockey News, wasn’t going to finish first place in the Western Conference. Then I checked Backhand Shelf yesterday and saw that Ryan Lambert had already done so in his usual acerbic style. He ran down a number of reasons, but for me the most important is that there’s no way the goaltending tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott will repeat their performances from last season.
Halak, at least, has several seasons of good to great goaltending under his belt. Even if he’s not as phenomenal as his .926 save percentage and 1.97 goals against average, it’s safe to assume that he’ll still be good enough to give the Blues a chance to win when he starts.
But Elliott? What can we expect from him next season? Like Halak, he has several consistent seasons under his belt. Unfortunately, those seasons were consistently bad. In his last three seasons, Elliott posted save percentages of .902, .909, and .893. In 2011-12, he posted the best single-season save percentage of all time. To go from .893 in one season to .940 in the next just doesn’t happen in the modern NHL. It’s unheard of. It seems impossible.
That’s why it’s incredibly difficult to predict what the 2012-13 season holds for Brian Elliott.
No one is sitting here saying the St. Louis Blues weren’t a great story last year. They started out just 6-7-0 under Davis Payne, due to a number of issues, and hired Ken Hitchcock instead. After losing seven of the first 13 games they played, they went on to lose just 15 more over the course of the season, allowing the fewest goals ever in an 82-game campaign, tying for second in the league and winning the division traditionally dominated by the Chicagos and Detroits of the world.
But what you can’t, or at least shouldn’t, then take from all that success — and there was a lot of it, at least until they were gutted by the Kings in the second round — is a belief that because of the team’s previous extraordinary, improbable winning, it will be able to improve to become the best in the West. That is, of course, what the Hockey News thinks is going to happen. The Blues, No. 1 in the Western Conference. Ahead of Vancouver, ahead of Los Angeles. Yes, predictions of pretty much any kind are stupid, but it takes a certain amount of suspension of disbelief to posit that this team will actually go out and win the West given a number of factors. (All this assumes, by the way, that we’ll play an 82-game season in 2012-13, which I know we absolutely will not, so you can go ahead and just hang onto those comments.) Read the rest of this entry »