“The Big Mick” on the Five NHL Teams We Feel Bad For
Editor’s Note: LastWordOnSports is pleased to have Russell “Big Mick” McKenzie join the team. The Big Mick brings years of writing, and more importantly many thousands of hours of watching hockey, to our NHL coverage. Look for his candid and honest contributions every weekend in “Big Mick on the NHL”.
With the lockout coming to a close, it seems like as good a time as any to turn our attentions to a group of five teams that truly deserve an intervention, and whose fans deserve either our sympathies or condolences – or both. In the ever-changing perfect storm that is the NHL, these are the teams that have consistently gotten lost in the rising tide, and drowned in its undertow. These are the tired, the poor, the weary franchises without whom New York Rangers GM Glen Sather would not have been able to get his franchise out of cap trouble, and into Stanley Cup contention.
Here is a countdown of the five franchises whose fans deserve a pinch of solace, and some tips to fix these beleaguered squads:
5. Calgary Flames: Even though they have attempted to bring some legitimacy to their roster in the last four years, it seems that every step they make is just another misstep. There’s constant drama. Between the revolving door of coaches since their last trip to the finals in 2004, and the lack of playoff appearances in the last three seasons, not to mention the on again – off again trade rumors of their face of the franchise, super-sniper Jarome Iginla. Is there any hope for this once proud fan base? Everyone around the NHL knows what needs to happen in Calgary to fix the Flames. They need to trade the veterans away for prospects and draft picks and simply rebuild. It will take time, but that is exactly what their Alberta brethren in Edmonton have done. The Oilers organization have been absolutely awful in recent years, gotten high draft picks and blue chip prospects, all the while chugging along at building a roster that has incredible potential. As much as Flames and Oilers fans and players despise each other, maybe the Flames should take notice of what’s going on in the next franchise over.
4. Phoenix Coyotes: Bankrupt. Massive losses. Owned by the league. These are the words and phrases that most hockey fans associate with the Phoenix Coyotes, and all that is in spite of the fact that they’ve consistently been one of the more surprising teams as of late. Last season, they got to the conference finals riding a gritty attack, and exceptional goaltending by Mike Smith, only to fall victim to the freight train that was last year’s Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. In this writer’s opinion, the best thing that could possibly happen to the Coyotes would be moving to city that cares, one where they could make a fresh start and play in an arena which is not in the middle of the desert with only one highway leading to it. Can anyone say “Seattle”?
3. Toronto Maple Leafs: Where does one start? The Toronto Maple Leafs have not made the playoffs since before the lockout that claimed the life of the 2004-2005 season. Their current goaltending future is questionable. They’re weak at center, and in scoring depth in general. Their defense isn’t much better, even though it’s anchored by Dion Phaneuf. Phil Kessel has had some success, but has never really lived up to expectations in the white hot spotlight. Then there is the tragic story of goaltender James Reimer, who, after being a huge surprise to this his team in the ’10-’11 season, never has recovered from a neck injury he sustained last season. And finally, the cherry on top of this bushel of bad luck, on the day that should have been one of unbridled hockey happiness, the Brooks Brothers Cronies from Rogers and Bell made the call down from Mount Olympus to fire their GM, Brian Burke, amidst rumors that Burke would not pull the trigger to bring Roberto Luongo to Toronto. One has to wonder about the timing of that move, but if Burke did indeed balk at bringing Luongo to the largest Canadian hockey market, than the move was warranted, especially with the positively bad luck the Leafs have had at that position. Now, Roberto Luongo wouldn’t solve every problem the Leafs have, but it would be a good start.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: There was a joke that reared it’s ugly head via Twitter right after Columbus’ GM Scott Howson sent franchise sniper Rick Nash to New York, getting two inconsistent second/third pivot forwards, a blue chip defenseman still trying to find his niche, and a draft pick that will probably end up being on the low end of the first round. In most hockey fans’ opinions, Howson got fleeced for his best player by greybeard GM Glen Sather. Everyone knows that the Blue Jackets are in serious financial disarray, and the management on the hockey side hasn’t been great either. No, the future isn’t totally bleak for this team. If Steve Mason can recover his game, and get back to the play he showed during his rookie campaign, or if newcomer Sergei Bobrovski can play meaningful minutes in goal, they might have a chance of not being on the bottom of the Western conference, but those are big ifs. What would help the Blue Jackets? Moving trucks and playing in front of a crowd that cares might help. But, it seems that they’ve already started the process of fixing their hockey operations by bringing in John Davdison as team president. Will he be able to stabilize this team the way he was able to repair St. Louis. Time will tell, but the team needs to make some money. Moving to, say, southern Ontario, or even Quebec City, may be the best thing for this franchise.
1. New York Islanders: Did you, fair reader, expect any other team to be number 1 on this countdown of chaos? This franchise, which won four Stanley Cups in dominant fashion in the early 80s, has not made the playoffs since the 2006-2007 season, and probably hasn’t had a sellout crowd that wasn’t dominated by fans of other teams since 2004. Their franchise goaltender for life, the oft ridiculed Rick DiPietro, has played a whopping total of 47 games since 2008. Up until this passed fall, their only hope for a new arena was playing pond hockey in Clove Lake Park in Staten Island. John Tavares is going to be an amazing player, once the Isles start to build around him. And the Isles will be able to actually develop prospects, instead of throwing them into the NHL fire like so much kindling. Need an example? Here is exhibit A, Nino Niederreiter. The Isles need to start spending some money before their migration into Brooklyn. Here’s the best example of how that works: The Brooklyn Nets. The Brooklyn Nets spent some money, and made some trades to bring in some talent in order to avoid being a laughing stock in their new barn. So, to fix the Isles, Charles Wang is going to have buyout DiPietro and then whip out the wallet and start making it rain, because Brad Boyes, whereas a good acquisition, is not going to cut it if he wants his team to pack the new house in 2014.
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