Saturday, November 24, 2007

NHL Teams Give Thanks for the Power of Change

Leafs logoDevils logoThe Atlanta Thrashers reacted to their horrific start by firing their head coach. With GM Don Waddell behind the bench they have responded unbelievably well.

The Dallas Stars saw their mediocre beginning as unacceptable and replaced their general manager with the duo of Brett Hull and Les Jackson. While hard to attribute that specific move to better play by the team, the psychological aspect of making it known that lack of results won't be tolerated can't be discounted in the Stars' 4-0-1 record since that time.

The Phoenix Coyotes have been at the bottom of the league standings but have made it clear that they will make moves in an attempt to get better. They picked up goalie Ilya Bryzgalaov off of waivers and have seen him play well in his first two starts, collecting wins in both games.

The Washington Capitals took the unfortunately timed but necessary move of firing Glen Hanlon and bringing in interim head coach Bruce Boudreau. Far to early to judge how it will play out but at least his first game was a victory for the Caps.

And the Toronto Maple Leafs? In the bizarro world of Leafs hockey, there are few consequences for losing. In fact, Toronto players were rewarded for their poor play so far this season with a luxury box at an NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets on Thursday.

A nice little outing for the team as they were in Texas to face the Dallas Stars on Friday night. There was a great deal of enthusiastic gushing and expectant musings from Leafs players in the lead up to their little quarter season treat.

To be fair, this was no doubt something arranged before the season began. And the Toronto press talked up the story with the players numerous times. They can hardly be faulted for accepting the offer to attend the football game or for talking about it when asked.

Still, is there truly no comprehension amongst coaches and management of reward and punishment associated with the kind of effort and results that are offered up by the hockey team? Perhaps, canceling such an excursion as a way of showing the team that repeated failure will not be accepted might have been a consideration.

Riding the buzz of having watched the Cowboys hammer the Jets in the comforts of a luxury box and likely having plugged themselves with all the grub they could get down their necks, the Leafs offered up another forgettable performance in a 3-1 loss to the Stars the next night.

No one would be silly enough to claim that the players yuk it up amongst themselves and congratulate each other on coasting along without having to pay any real price for their dismal performances. But when losses are not accompanied by any angst or fear of being benched for repeated mistakes or lack of effort, the effects of such subconscious psychological conditioning are hard to measure but undoubtedly exist to some degree.

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Devils TurkeyIn the latest batch of e-mail updates, many NHL teams included holiday wishes for the Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S.

The New Jersey Devils e-mail featured this nice holiday bird with the Devils' logo emblazoned on its chest.

Perhaps the office intern slapping together the bulletin in a hurry before heading out to celebrate the holidays with his or her family didn't consider the potential for embarrassment.

Luckily, the Devils have been playing well in their past few games and have put together a three game winning streak.

In their holiday match-up against the Atlanta Thrashers they weren't roasted, skewered or feasted on and they didn't lay any eggs. No one could call them turkeys after their 3-0 win over the Thrashers.

If anything, Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur stuffed the Thrashers with his first shutout of the season and added another feather in his cap following career win 500 in a game against the Flyers on Nov.17th.

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