Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chemistry Counts - The Case for Standing Pat

"For the last time Porty, you may NOT borrow my blackberry!"
Scott Howson and Aaron Portzline at CBJ practice.
The trade deadline looms.  Its official, the CBJ are in the hunt, and they are buyers!  The wildest dreams of all fantasy hockey coaches are about to come true.  Lidstrom and Pronger for third and fourth round draft picks, with the other clubs left to fight out who gets the pickings!  Hmmm.  Well, maybe its not that easy.

I have two points to make about general managers (GMs).  First is that they have been active lately. As my buddy Bill likes to point out, there have been good hockey trades lately.  Value given for value, with the intent of improving the hockey club over the long term.  The recent trades between St. Louis and Colorado being a good example.  We are not seeing teams giving up assets to acquire a rental merely for a playoff push. Then there is Calgary.

Calgary has been on fire lately.  This is a team that was picked to contend in the preseason, and was really dysfunctional until the GM Sutter was fired.  To me, the GM had lost the trust of the players.  I believe they felt that it didn't matter how well they played, the GM would move them to suit his convenience or to relieve pressure on his job.

Enter Scott Howson.  He is a person who has taken a great deal of criticism, perhaps rightfully so, for not making a move, especially in December and January when the team was playing so poorly.  He was labeled 'the reluctant professor' by Mike Arace of the Columbus Dispatch, again, perhaps rightfully so.  But Howson's money quote in early December was "I believe the solution is in the room".  This is a GM waltzing out onto the thin limb of public pressure and sticking with his team.  Down the stretch, when things get hairy, that confidence is going to pay dividends with the players.

Try to think of a trade at the deadline that really worked for a team.  I'll provide one: Antoine Vermette for an injured Pascal LeClaire and a second round pick.  That trade helped vault the CBJ into their first ever playoff.  An example of one that didn't work is Nashville's trade of good talent for the rental Peter Forsberg from Philly.  This was a disastrous trade for Nashville, all show and no go.  The chemistry between their forwards disappeared, as was very evident when playoff pressure arrived, leading to a quick exit from the playoffs.

Hockey at the NHL level is a funny game.  The talent levels are not that different.  What's between the player's ears makes all the difference.  And I'd like to suggest that mental toughness is something that the CBJ has grown during the last 6 weeks.  It has been grown on their own terms, in Scott Arniel's oven, and in a manner that they believe in whole heartedly.  As the Captain leads, this squad is ready to follow.

The NHL quest for Lord Stanley's cup is designed to expose every weakness on a team.  Any team that wins the cup is forced to overcome their weaknesses.  It requires a high level of mental fortitude to rise above your weaknesses under the monstrous pressure of the playoffs.  If, however, you have been forced to confront your weaknesses, and rise above them during the run to the playoffs, your are in a much better position to deal with them mentally in the playoffs.  This will make you better playoff team.  The Green Bay Packers are a good recent example of this phenomenon.

There are trades out there that might address some of the weaknesses in our hockey club.  There is no trade out there that will address ALL of the weaknesses in our hockey club.  Any trade that does not compensate in sheer value for the inevitable loss in chemistry simply should not be made.  Standing pat, and preserving the chemistry, is preferable to making a trade just to make a trade.

The players on this years CBJ squad were very good early.  Then Detroit schooled them, and shook their confidence, and they provided vacuum (a nod to any grandmothers who read the post), then they pulled themselves together to climb back into the playoff race.  There is not a lot to suggest that the current roster cannot sustain this level of play.  The spirit and chemistry they have shown deserves to be preserved.  At this point, the tenth year of CBJ hockey, no move is infinitely preferable to a bad move.

Stay the course Scott Howson.  The solution is in the room.


  1. But...but...if we stand pat, then we can't give up the store for Brad Richards!

    Seriously, you make a sound argument, Gallos. Personally, I'm still hoping that the CBJ leadership is wise enough to pull another Leclaire for Vermette trade...but I'm also hoping that they remain wise enough to know when such trades aren't out there. And, should a trade happen, I hope that these professionals act like the highly compensated individuals that they are and work together to go after the goal that they have been contracted to achieve.

  2. Like all Jackets fans, I lust for Brad Richards playing next to the Captain. But with Johanssen 2 years away (perhaps one) this is not a wise trade for the remainder of this year and next year. We are good enough at center with Vermette, Brass, Pahlsson and D-Mac to ride it out till Johanssen is ready. How deep we go depends on our mental fortitude, not our outright skill. Ask Philly about that.

  3. If there are players out there that can help, Howson must do what's necessary to make the upgrades. The worst thing that could happen, at this point, is to stand pat and then miss the playoffs. The fan base, weakened as it is by continual failure, will be irate if that happens and the GM will entirely lose community support. Inaction would only intensify his rep as being too fearful of risk to make the moves needed. Right now, he's balanced at a pivotal point in his tenure as GM. Make the wrong move ( or, worse, do nothing,) and the calls for his head may become too loud for upper management to ignore. That the reality of a situation where there is no history of winning and no backlog of success on which to call.


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