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The Lesson of San Jose

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I have been neglecting my NHL playoff blogging duties, being reduced to Twitter predictions of the conference finals and finals. I don’t have a great deal to say about the finals, which strike me as even more of a coin flip than usual.

I will, however, direct you to my epic post on the Sharks from two years ago. The tl;dr version, applicable to any pro sport, is this: BLOWING UP THE CORE for the sake of BLOWING UP THE CORE because of frustrating losses is really, really dumb. When you trade a star player — not for the chance to add a piece you think fits your team better but to shake up the team or whatever — you very, very rarely receive full value. If you won’t be a contender while your stars are still stars then trading them at a loss might be the right strategy anyway. But if you’re still a good team, don’t trade your core players unless you can actually improve the team. Blaming a team’s best players for disappointing results has led to a large number of personnel blunders. Postseason losses aren’t evidence that great players lack character. I’m not rooting for San Jose, exactly — conference rival and all that — but I will be happy for Thornton and Marleau in particular if they win. Thornton is an underrated a player as a first-ballot Hall of Famer can be, the Bruins were utter idiots to trade him for a fraction of his value, and the Sharks were smart to hang on to him. He’s still a tremendous player at age 36.

The latest team to forget this lesson is the Ducks, who were utter idiots to fire Bruce Boudreau because of a string of game 7 playoff losses (one of which was in the conference finals, to the Blackhawks.) I agree with Anaheim that firing Boudreau will probably solve the team’s problem of Game 7 playoff losses, but not in the way they expect.

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  • calling all toasters

    Why is Captain Obvious wearing a hockey uniform?

    • efgoldman

      Why is Captain Obvious wearing a hockey uniform?

      Because they wouldn’t let him on the ice without one.
      Obviously.

    • Captain Oblivious

      That’s Alternate Captain Obvious. Different guy.

    • rea

      I thought hockey players grew playoff beards. Just how long have these playoffs been going on?

  • Kurzleg

    As a close observer of the Wild (I don’t know jack about hockey), I can’t believe the tremendous luck that helped the team land Boudreau. It’s pretty rare that a top-tier coach lands in a mid-level market like the Twin Cities (State of Hockey not withstanding), and the fact that 1) he appeared in Slap Shot, and 2) it was Boudreau’s apartment used as Newman’s in the film makes the icing more delicious. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a team lacking premium goal-scoring talent, but he seems like a guy who adapts to circumstances and gets the most out of what he has.

  • efgoldman

    When you trade a star player — not for the chance to add a piece you think fits your team better — you very, very rarely receive full value. If you won’t be a contender while your stars are still stars then trading them at a loss might be the right strategy anyway. But if you’re still a good team, don’t trade your core players unless you can actually improve the team.

    the Bruins were utter idiots to trade him for a fraction of his value

    You have succinctly summarized the recent history of the Bruins. They basically got a bag of pucks and a bundle of sticks for Thornton, Kessel. Seguin, and Hamilton, each a top draft choice who didn’t comport with “the Bruins way” and was either dumped or wanted out.
    And the pucks were all factory seconds, and the sticks were all cracked.
    Go Sharks. No team as whiny as the Penguins should ever win anything.

    • Philip

      Go Sharks. No team as whiny as the Penguins should ever win anything.

      And since the Blues knocked out Chicago, and the Sharks knocked out the Blues, by the transitive property San Jose is responsible for saving the playoffs from more Duncan Keith.

    • efgoldman

      Oh, and that Sharks goalie, Jones, the one that’s been standing on his head for the whole playoffs? The Bruins had him for about an hour last off season. They got him from LA in the Lucic trade, then wheeled him to the Sharks for their first draft choice, which as things worked out, will be the last choice in the round (30th). Whoopee.
      Given the Bruins’ front office, the wonder isn’t why they haven’t won another cup since 2011, but that they won that one.

      • LosGatosCA

        That win always has mystified me.

        • keta

          No mystery, really. Luongo and the Canucks forgot some of the games were in the other guys’ building, gave up 17 goals in the three games in Boston, and then Tim Thomas stood on his head in game seven in Vancouver.

          It was a lovely riot, though.

    • kped

      Well, for Kessel, they actually got the draft picks that became Seguin and Hamilton, so that was actually a good trade…had they kept Seguin and Hamilton, two of the best young players in the league.

      At least they won a cup in that time frame so it’s not all bad, but those two were terrible trades. The Hamilton trade was more indefensible. A young stud 21 year old defenseman traded to get a draft pick to…maybe draft a worse defenseman? Did he run afoul of the dreaded “doesn’t play the right way” that seems to bedevil every young Bruins player?

      Anytime your team keeps trading young stars due to vague “character” issues, it’s being run poorly. None of these kids were accused of any Patrick Kane level offense.

      But hey, at least Chara is still young, right? It’s fine losing a young D when your other guys are still in their prime…

      • efgoldman

        Did he run afoul of the dreaded “doesn’t play the right way” that seems to bedevil every young Bruins player?

        Other way ’round. He wanted out, probably because of Julien. Basically Kessel was the same thing, but he also was going to get way too much $$ for the Bruins. Seguin was dumped, yes, for maturity and character issues. Rumor is he had a Johnny Manziel type of problem, but not so severe. Of course any time they wheel a good young player out of town, the rumor mill starts grinding, hard.

      • Jackov

        Hockey Management 101 with Peter Chiarelli featuring
        Jim Benning and Scott Bradley with a special guest appearance by Cam Neely.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Hamilton

      We appreciate it!

      • efgoldman

        We appreciate it!

        Hasn’t got you anything, yet, though. Not that the empty sweaters they traded for him did anything, either.

        • Scott Lemieux

          “Did you become a great team after one year” isn’t the criterion I use. “Did you add an elite defenseman for pennies on the dollar” is the relevant criterion, and we did, and that’s good enough.

  • Denverite

    I agree with Anaheim that firing Boudreau will probably solve the team’s problem of Game 7 playoff losses, but not in the way they expect.

    Yes, as a more-or-less Nuggets fan, I can attest that the solution to “our 55ish win regular season team keeps on underperforming in the playoffs” was blindingly simple but fundamentally unsatisfying.

    On the plus side, the NBA playoffs are great this year. I was able to tell my basketball-addicted daughter that there’s really nothing Steph Curry is doing that she couldn’t do with a straight face.

    • Ahenobarbus

      Game 6 will be remembered for decades. I’m normally not an NBA guy, but it’s dragged me in this year. Love the style of play.

    • kped

      I’m a Raptors fan, and a lot of fans want to break the team apart because “they won’t be able to beat Cleveland, so rebuild”. here’s the thing though – the team is a couple of injuries or good bounces away from being able to beat a team like the Cavs. Literally anything can happen, so why suffer another 5 or 6 years of losses for the vague hope of winning the lottery (because it did the team so much good last time…hey, where’s Andrea Bargnani these days?), when you can enjoy 50-60 win seasons and have long playoff runs?

      Keep the team together, if they don’t win anything but a few playoff series, it’s not a failure. Only 1 team can win it all each year, being in the top 4 isn’t that bad (and again…a couple injuries here or there and you have a shot at getting to the finals).

      • efgoldman

        Keep the team together, if they don’t win anything but a few playoff series, it’s not a failure.

        It would be a super sports irony if the Raptors won a championship before any of the Canada-based hockey teams do so again.

        • Dear Raptors, Heat, Pacers and Hawks fans,

          LeBron James has been in the past six (counting this one) NBA Championship Finals.

          That he is currently at .400 (and may go to .333) “proves” he is not a clutch player and should be traded for draft choices.

          Dear Knicks fans,

          Doesn’t matter what your team trades or trades for.

          • LosGatosCA

            Mr. Clutch himself (The Logo, aka Jerry West) lost 8 finals before first his win.

            Nobody ever thought he was loser.

            West is still the only player to win Finals MVP on the losing team averaging 38/game in ’69 against the Celtics.

            LeBron is carrying Cleveland to the finals in the weaker East, they would never make it through in the West. The Baylor/West Lakers were the same in their day. The Celtics/76ers overmatched the Lakers every time – until Wilt was moved to LA.

  • Pseudonym

    Unfortunately I think there are about five people in the Bay Area paying attention to hockey right now.

    • I think you’re wrong about that. They certainly aren’t attracting as much attention as the Warriors are, but there certainly has been a lot of talk about them since they eliminated the Blues.

      • Pseudonym

        I mean “right now” as in this moment, not in general… posting about the Sharks in the middle of the Warriors game. (=

        • Well, ok, that makes more sense.

          • Pseudonym

            Who decided to schedule the games for the same time?? If I were someone who watched area sports teams I’d be pretty pissed off.

            • efgoldman

              Who decided to schedule the games for the same time??

              The networks, separately.
              I don’t know why they didn’t play the hockey yesterday afternoon or last night.
              BTW: NBA Game seven on cable? Really? Reminds me of the bad old days, when the NBA playoffs were on tape delay, 1130 at night.

              • Captain Oblivious

                There’s probably a reason (i.e., ratings) none of the major broadcast networks want the NBA (including ABC, which has carried almost all its share of the games on ESPN).

                I’m a bit surprised NBC put the Stanley Cup game on NBC on a Sunday night. This cannot possibly be a ratings winner for them.

                • efgoldman

                  I’m a bit surprised NBC put the Stanley Cup game on NBC on a Sunday night.

                  Umm… where I live, last night was Monday (albeit a holiday).

                • Comcast has sports contracts. They have to put those matches somewhere. Why not some place no one watches, instead of USA or Syfy or one of their valuable properties?

    • Philip

      *waves*

      Sadly, the nearest hockey bar I’ve found is halfway across the city

    • Fighting Words

      (Sorry, missed the above clarification.)

    • Pseudonym

      ETA: “right now” meaning the time this post was made, in the middle of the ongoing Warriors game.

  • Tom Till

    As a Caps fan I have but one wish, and that is to see Joel Ward hoist the Cup.

  • Henry Holland

    When you trade a star player — not for the chance to add a piece you think fits your team better — you very, very rarely receive full valueWhen you trade a star player — not for the chance to add a piece you think fits your team better — you very, very rarely receive full value

    See: Mike Trout. There’s been chatter that the Angels front office/Artie Moreno are going to trade him while his value is high so they can solve some ongoing issues: the bullpen, third base, left field, the depleted farm system.

    I’ve been an Angels fan since 1973 and have seen some dumb front office stuff (“We just need to get two 8-7 pitchers to replace Nolan Ryan” is just one example). However, getting rid of Trout would be a terrible move and isn’t going to really solve anything no matter who they get in return. Maybe not paying that stiff Albert Pujols $25 million this year (he’s guaranteed until 2021 when he’ll make $31 million + $10 million just handed to him when he retires) or continuing to pay that total stiff Josh Hamilton a large chunk of his guaranteed $125 million would be a good start.

    • efgoldman

      Maybe not paying that stiff Albert Pujols $25 million this year (he’s guaranteed until 2021 when he’ll make $31 million + $10 million just handed to him when he retires) or continuing to pay that total stiff Josh Hamilton a large chunk of his guaranteed $125 million would be a good start.

      Well, MLB contracts being guaranteed and all, not much chance of that.
      Although for all I know they may have an out for Hamilton if he has a relapse. But wishing for that is like voting for Trump and the opossum on his head.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I’ve been an Angels fan since 1973 and have seen some dumb front office stuff (“We just need to get two 8-7 pitchers to replace Nolan Ryan” is just one example).

      And even that can’t top “let’s give up a good player for the privilege of being the idiot responsible for paying the cremated remains of Vernon Wells his full, extremely high salary for several years.”

  • Murc

    Postseason losses aren’t evidence that great players lack character.

    I’ve never understood people who get worked up over teams being “unable to deliver” in the postseason. Generally speaking, if you’re making it to the postseasons regularly, especially if you’re making it deep in, doesn’t that mean you have a pretty good team? And in some sports, like football, which are very high-stakes, there’s a lot of luck involved, which I guess maybe people don’t like to admit?

    • Right. People have been saying stupid shit like that about Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for years, and it’s really annoying. Jeremy Roenick, in particular, has been a real dick about Marleau over the years.

      • efgoldman

        Jeremy Roenick, in particular, has been a real dick….

        You could have stopped there.
        BTW, how many cups has Roenick put his name on?
        None of them, Katie.

        • BTW, how many cups has Roenick put his name on?
          None of them, Katie.

          That’s where some of his dickishness towards Marleau in particular comes from. He thought he could waltz onto the Sharks at the end of his career and have a cup handed to him. It didn’t work out, so he looked for a scapegoat.

      • Captain Oblivious

        I’m with Roenick re: Marleau.

        McClellan did not yank Marleau’s C (almost certainly over Wilson’s objections) for no reason.

        • kped

          I’m of the opinion that whoever wears the “C” is irrelevant.

          Unless you think taking it off of Thornton allowed someone else to step in and make rousing speeches that made people on the team suddenly start “caring more”, which is why they finally made the finals.

  • Fighting Words

    Great game 1. Tough loss for the Men in Teal.

    Now the Warriors just need to pull off the epic comeback. A lot of great games today in the Bay Area.

    • Philip

      That was a heck of a way to start a series.

    • Charlie S

      Epic comeback is in the books!

  • wjts

    I guess it’s time for me to climb on the Penguins bandwagon.

  • Matt

    In the NBA (maybe other sports, too?) there’s a largely true cliche that you always lose when you trade a dollar for four quarters. Still, teams do it all the time.

    • kped

      more true in the NBA where any one player has a bigger impact on the outcome of the game (save the QB of a football team).

      Trading Lebron for a few decent players is terrible. Trading Cliff Lee for Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore is actually a pretty good haul. Of course, they don’t always turn into Phillips and Sizemore, but in baseball, 1 for many seems to work out better than in Basketball.

      • Craigo

        The second most famous trade in NHL history is probably the Lindros deal, where the team that got the four quarters clearly and massively won. I think you’re correct that, even if one of those quarters didn’t turn out to be Peter Forsberg, quality depth players have much more value in hockey than in basketball.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    Theres a team in the Bay Area that should read this piece as they fly back to Oklahoma.

    • Pseudonym

      ?

      • Ahenobarbus

        That team is the Thunder (who were in the Bay area last night).

        If the ESPN comment section had its way, they’d dump the ‘chokers’ Westbrook and Durant.

        • searunner

          If I’m not mistaken, Durant is a free agent now.

          • Craigo

            And guess which Finals team is one his target destinations?

  • LosGatosCA

    The Sharks didn’t jettison their star players two years ago – but they did shake up the team pretty dramatically since – stripping Thornton of his captaincy, then replacing McClellan for this season, etc. They have 11 of the 29 players that were on their roster at some point from 2014. But wisely they did not move Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski – possibly because of their age, 34, for both Thornton and Marleau. As you point out, value to the Sharks of having them play for a few more seasons is certainly for higher then a fire sale just to move them. No other team will provide quality younger players or picks for a 34 year old player that’s just been stripped of his captaincy. Perhaps the Sharks remembered their experience with Larianov.

    The hangover from losing the 3-0 series lead and the emotional shocks from the leadership changes led to them not making the playoffs at all last year. Personally, I thought the window was not just closed but slammed shut for Thornton and Marleau.

    Glad to be wrong – this team has a lot more grit than the past versions. They consistently come back from adversity, even when they lose like tonight, down 0-2. Or when the Blues smoked them 3-6 and even the series they came back to win 4-3, with two empty netters making the final 6-3.

    Should be a great series with the Penguins – as tonight’s game showed.

  • jroth95

    Tangential question, since you mention Thornton’s age: is the aging curve in hockey completely different from the other major sports*? ISTM that elite players are often still quite good deep into their 30s, and very good players are often good that late as well. I don’t think I’m wrong about that being true—almost literally any great player I can think of who’s played in my life has been effective at 35 or older—so I wonder why it might be true. Is it short shifts that equalize fitness imbalance, is it that situational awareness counts for more than lost reflexes etc., is it something else?

    *baseball, football, basketball; I have no idea how soccer players age, although it seems impossible that all that running with no substitutions would be a formula for a lot of elite 38-y.o.s

    • Scott Lemieux

      I don’t see the aging curve of hockey players being different than baseball players, and if anything the peak earlier. I would say as many or more great baseball players play well into their late 30s than great hockey players. (Gretzky played a long time but his best seasons were in his early and mid-20s. Orr was done at age 26. Lemieux’s greatest seasons were age 22 and 23, and his last healthy year was at 31. Messier did have a long peak.) I don’t know enough about the NBA to comment. Obviously, both MLB and NHL players have longer careers than non-QBs in football.

      • kped

        Gretzky is pretty amazing. Even in his age 37 season, he got 90 points in 82 games, 3rd in the league in the height of the “dead puck” era.

        But for sure, his peak was early. Age 21-26 were by far his best years, then it was a slow, gentle decline. By age 30, he was basically out of the running for the Hart trophy, only twice more even making top 5 voting (15th at age 36, 5 at 37).

        I’d say NBA tracks well with NHL and MLB. Guys peak early, play well into their early 30’s. I think knee injuries are worse and ruin careers more in basketball then something like hockey, but that’s due to the nature of the game. You lose your athleticism, you’re mostly done.

        • Craigo

          Gordie Howe played to age 50, which is amazing, and Jagr will never die.

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