You knew it was going to be like this. During all 113 days the players were locked out at the owner’s behest, through the passive-aggressive snipes in the media, through going from hating Bettman to hating Fehr to- well, we never really did stop hating Bettman, the only ones I heard talking about how many fans would be lost due to the callousness of those involved were national media types who can’t be bothered to waste their breath on the league when games are being played. Watching Wilbon and Kornheiser pretend to understand, let alone speak for the psyche of the North American hockey fan was akin to watching an elephant stung out on opiates attempt to ride a unicycle for the first time. Watching any ESPN personality lament the lockout with a barely-restrained smug giddiness in between five minute segments on Tebow and the Lakers was almost more infuriating than the lockout itself. You knew they were wrong, you knew that the sport, its teams and - in Buffalo’s case at least - even the ownership would be embraced before the ink was dry on the memorandum of understanding, “yes” vote on the lockout be damned. Sure, there were a couple of wavering souls out there, but they’ve been drowned out by the more than 10,000 attendees of this week’s scrimmage or the roving ticket buyers that have seemingly snapped up everything unless you prefer sitting by yourself. This is exactly what we knew was going to happen (perhaps not to this degree), and watching idiots pontificating otherwise on a network that is infected with plagiarizing journalists and trolling analysts was almost worst than the lockout itself.
Almost. As much as I could not tolerate the media during those 113 days it was ultimately the men at the head of this out of control train, the egos in suits that were the true villains. Thankfully the deal that could have been made in September if these people didn’t feel the need to mug for the press over the course of three months finally got made. And thankfully I don’t have to see what a barren wasteland filled with only basketball looks like beyond vivid nightmares of Vitale’s screaming and longform Bill Simmons columns. That- hockey returning- is more than enough for me. Nabbing some gear for myself and the rest of the deeg crew at half price is just a bonus. That said…
In front of me I have the lines written down in number form, attempting to decide what I like and what I don’t, attempting to remember games that took place more than nine months ago, cobbled together with the weight- if any- that can be given to the European stints of many of these guys. Lindy Ruff’s name is nowhere on this paper, and perhaps that is why I can’t help but feel confident about the numbers in front of me. This biggest concern with what I see is doing anything that disrupts the following:
Now I understand my hopes here are simply untenable; Lindy has a disturbing compulsion to change around his lines like it’s a video game, like the attributes of one player will translate no matter who is playing alongside him. However, we have a distinct case here where Vanek and Pominville have a long-stated affinity for playing with each other and compound that with Hodgson’s tendency to, you know, give Vanek the puck as opposed to skating at three guys, losing the puck and retreating to Soho to hit on underage girls. The team’s two best players flanking a guy who enjoys dishing the puck and has all the motivation in the world to live up to his lofty potential? Let’s keep this line going.
The second line came together as the very result of one of those ridiculous Lindy line shuffles, where you watch with furrowed brow to make sure you’re seeing things correctly and then ask the bar patron next to you “is Ennis playing center with Stafford and Foligno?” And then the guy next to you says he doesn’t know because he hasn’t yet grasped line changes and only knows that Miller needs to be traded because seriously, fuck Miller. Somehow, this worked out, which is outstanding because it places my man-crush from 2011 with my man-crush from 2012 and that guy-who-got-all-those-hat-tricks-for-like-two-months-awhile-ago. I don’t care what combination it is, if it gets Stafford going like winter 10-11, gets Ennis some goals and doesn’t ruin our best power forward before he has a season under his belt (see: Luke Adam), I’m good with it.
Mikhail Grigorenko needs to stay here. This is less an issue of where he can do the most good and whether starting his entry-level deal on a shortened season with no training camp or preseason is a good idea (although he’s worth it- banners count just as much this season as last) than it is about simple depth. Take out Grigorenko and you are left with Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick centering your third and forth lines. One is injured and the other I assume will be by Valentine’s Day (not a knock on the Hecht signing; I don’t mind it, the payment is an accurate amount for the services he provides- namely being not-incompetent and scoring the occasional goal off the netminder’s back) and then what? Luke Adam’s shattered soul or Girgensons who is promising but certainly needs more time as an Amerk? Yeah, Grigorenko would have the best opportunities to show off his skill on the top two lines but that isn’t worth either 1) sending him back to Quebec or 2) moving Ennis or Hodgson to the third line to start the season. Forty-eight games is plenty long enough for change and if we know anything about Lindy, if he makes it past his five-game tryout, he will get his chances with the best offensive talent this team has. Also, from what I’ve seen and read, isn’t it not beyond the realm of possibility that this kid might make the people around him better, instead of being negatively affected by the inherent talent level of his linemates? Isn’t it possible that this talent, thought highly enough to be comparable to Yakupov and Galchenyuk, talent that overshadowed his fellow countrymen in Ufa, will be able to get his third-liners the puck in ways that typical third-liners cannot? Isn’t it possible that the third line won’t be a grinding line, that playing with this kid will make Gerbe, Ott and even (gasp) Leino regain or find ways to get the puck to the net? Well, in regards to Leino this very well may be impossible but the point stands. Instead of worrying about the negative influence of two guys that have had success in the league, maybe think about the positive influence a talented center may have on altering the ceiling of the third line.
Staring at the defensive pairings in front of me I must admit it’s likely one of these people is going to be gone by the time this is posted or very soon after. I’m not going to act like I think Darcy knew that Alexander Sulzer can be an above average defenseman, but his emergence as such has suddenly made Leopold pretty expendable. If you’re still on the hating-Sekera train, I don’t know what to tell you and really have no interest in engaging you since this means you haven’t watched international hockey over the past several years and have little interest in formulating an objective opinion based upon on-ice performance. I know, it’s hard to let go of a player you hate, I hated Sekera for a long time but eventually you have to admit that someone doesn’t fuck up as much as he used to and then you have to find a new person to hate. It’s really too bad Jochen suffered all those concussion problems and made me feel sorry for him because I could always rely on him as a target for my vitriol. For the first time in many years the season begins and I don’t have anyone to hate, but I’m sure that will be remedied quickly enough (I’m looking at you, Luke Adam).
I’ve been reading plenty of previews that have shaded towards the negative or the ambivalent. Some either don’t care or don’t know how they’ll do during this abbreviated season. Others feel they are primed to disappoint, if for no other reason than that has been the story at the foot of Washington Street for the past half-decade, an opinion that I certainly can’t argue against with anything other than intuition.
Now prove me an idiot for doing so.