Now that the 2012 season is over, it’s time to look back and reflect. For me there is one thing that really rings true – making the big, hard changes can change everything. Exhibit A: The Los Angeles Kings. Also now known as the first team in NHL history to enter the playoffs as an 8th seed and win Lord Stanley’s coveted Cup.
They didn’t have a stellar season, hence cinching the last spot in the West. But from the minute the 2010-2011 season ended the Kings started to do what more than a few teams are afraid to – they made big, hard changes. Their first was acquiring Mike Richards from the Flyers last year when they had their “fire sale”. Unfortunately, Mike alone, didn’t solve their problems. Was he a big, hard change that backfired? I would say no. He had a productive season but just wasn’t the motivator that I think the Kings expected. Until LA also acquired his partner in crime, Jeff Carter (more on that in a second).
While struggling early in the season, the Kings fired their coach Terry Murray. Why is this a big, hard change? Because it can lead to chaos in the middle of a season that’s already not going well. Luckily for them it paid off. The introduction of Darryl Sutter seemed to motivate and light a fire under the Kings collective butts. And then came the aforementioned Jeff Carter.
Can we just talk about Carter’s luck for a moment? Traded from continual contenders Philly, to the hopeless Columbus where he struggled, and then suddenly whisked West just in time to make the Playoffs. Talk about a rollercoaster career!
The trade for Carter was another big, hard change for LA. Sure they gave away a defensemen, which isn’t a big deal because the Kings had a plethora of talent in that field, but they also gave a first round draft pick. That is a bigger deal, especially considering they were trading for a guy with a reputation for having a so-so work ethic (Carter in Philly was apparently an underachiever on the ice and an overachiever in the bars) and was having a really disappointing season at the time of the trade. For CBJ Carter was a -11 and only had 15 goals and 10 assists. But LA took the chance that this previous top goal scorer could be that way again with his old center and best bud Richards and a better team. It could have gone horribly awry very easily but as the world now knows, it didn’t.
Other big, hard changes to reflect on now that the 2011-2012 season is in the record books? Philadelphia Flyers trading Carter and Richards in the first place and acquiring Bryzgalov. This is a example, in my humble hockey opinion, of big hard changes that bite you in the butt. Now to be fair it wasn’t so much the trading of Richards that was a mistake. Sure he went on to win a Stanley Cup but that wasn’t because of his hard work alone. In fact before adding Carter and a new coach, Richards was exactly carrying the team on his back. He was just another struggling Kings forward. And Simmonds, who Philly snagged in return, was a pretty good addition to the Flyers. He’s done well and is a strong asset for them. Same goes with Carter. Sure he was the Flyers top goal scorer but Claude Giroux more than picked up that slack, as did Briere during the playoffs.
What really makes this big hard change one that backfired is that the Flyers traded both elite forwards to clear cash goalie for Ilya Brygalov. The tiger loving, Universe philosopher of a goalie was luke warm and cold all season long, never hot or, more importantly, consistent. And in that final game of the Flyers playoff run he essentially scored on his own net. As if his underwhelming performance wasn’t enough to call this a failed gamble, Flyers gave Bryz a rumored 51-million, nine-year deal. Signing any player to a monumental contract like that is sheer insanity in my opinion, especially if it’s a goalie. Which leads me to an example of a team that did the same – The Vancouver Canucks.
Luongo is locked in with a big contract and a no trade clause. And subtly through the 2011-2012 season it seemed like despite the contract Vancouver was making a big hard change – Cory Schneider was becoming their number 1 goalie. That was made crystal clear when, without having to have an 8-goal meltdown, Luongo was benched in the playoffs in favor of Schneider. For Vancouver, who is all about the steady and doesn’t do big hard changes this is a big deal. Why do I say Vancouver doesn’t make big hard changes? Well they just gave both GM Gillis and Head Coach Vigneault contract extensions despite the fact that their biggest hardware is a couple President Trophies. Sure that’s something, but not really. I mean ask yourself this – when kids play road hockey how many of them pretend it’s a President Trophy winning game? Exactly. If it ain’t Stanley, it’s not good enough.
So will this shift in number one goalies be a big hard change the Canucks stick with? Maybe, but maybe not. Luongo has agreed to be traded but who can afford him and who wants him? He’s over 30, past his “prime” and, although he has more epic saves than epic meltdowns, his press is mostly bad. Also Schneider is younger and has what seems to be a better mental grip on the game. So if Gillis gets what he considers a bigger better offer for Schneids will he take it? Maybe. But hopefully Vancouver sticks by the statement they made last season. Because the Canucks need to get comfortable with big hard changes or they’ll never get a Cup. Tried and true doesn’t seem to win Lord Stanley’s Cup anymore.