By CATHAL KELLY
Friday, June 14, 2019
Before we get around to congratulating the St. Louis Blues, let's spend a few enjoyable moments rubbishing Boston.
Not the Bruins. Boston.
The Bruins are easy to love.
They're thuggish and charming.
They are - in the sense that coaches use this word - winners.
Boston, less so. Also thuggish, not quite so charming, and the traffic is a mess. The city is - in the sense that regular people use this word and sneer a bit as they say it - also a winner.
Most people understand you get two passes at life's rich sporting buffet. Three, max.
Boston's had 12 in this sitting.
The city has pulled up a chair at the shrimp station and is no longer bothering to use a plate.
The idea of Boston winning another major-league trophy should have filled you with dread.
It's greedy, and it has never shown a sense of celebratory proportion once it gets what it wants.
St. Louis you can get behind.
The team, I mean. For the first time in their half-century of existence, the Blues are Stanley Cup champions. Good for them.
The city is fine. In sporting terms, it has a lot of Boston running through its veins, minus all the scenery.
St. Louis the city didn't need this trophy, though that must now become a theme in every final in every league - "Team X is bringing the city together."
If the city wasn't "together," they'd be out in the streets killing one another at the non-functioning stoplights, not waiting for someone to finally put a puck in a net.
What the Blues did manage was proving to their own fans and the rest of us that if you wait long enough, good things can happen.
Sometimes they happen volitionally, but more often they happen as a function of blind luck. This year's Stanley Cup was the second sort.
You could find five or 10 or 500 microscopic turning points through several months that flipped things for the Blues.
But the big-picture story is that a very short while ago the Blues were a bad hockey team. Then they made a 25-year-old who'd spent the entirety of his career in the AHL their starting goalie. And they became a good hockey team.
Jordan Binnington should not be in the NHL because that's not how this works. You're not supposed to be mediocre for years, then suddenly become Jacques Plante because, I don't know, you switched to a new brand of energy drink.
As such, St. Louis was technically wrong to call Binnington up and give him the starting job. It's a desperate, indefensible personnel decision at the NHL level. And it worked.
St. Louis took its stupid decision and rode it right over a bunch of NHL teams who made all the right decisions.
Essentially, apathy won this year's Stanley Cup trophy. The St.
Louis Blues surrendered in December, which allowed them to win the war in June.
It's proof that the NHL, more so than any other big-time league, is a black box. Nobody really knows how it works. They just know what it looks like when it does.
It's a given that everything you write about hockey in this country is really about Canada and Canadian teams. No one cares if the United States wins another Stanley Cup. It can't appreciate it like we can. That's the party line.
So what the Blues become once they cross the border is an instructive lesson in winning.
Americans have given us the tank lesson (Chicago), the strongcore lesson (Pittsburgh), the build-around-the-goalie lesson (Los Angeles) and the toughnessabove-all lesson (Boston).
It's an underdiscussed phenomenon that all the good hockey ideas now emanate from the United States, as well as all the championships.
Canadian teams have spent years trying to recreate this chemistry. It's not gone well.
What have the Edmonton Oilers done so wrong? A lot of little things, but they got the big stuff right - they were truly awful for a long time, got a lot of top draft picks and acquired the best player of his generation. It still doesn't work.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of locking themselves into a core for the next five or six years. That's how they tell you to do it in the general manager instructional manual - get promising players, secure them via longterm contract, wait for the parade.
But that's not working either, is it? Two years ago, you'd have said it wasn't a matter of if but when with the Leafs. Now it's an if. It's a very big if.
If the Leafs don't get through the Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first postseason round next year (because you know in your heart that's how it will spin out), it becomes a why and a who. As in, why did they do it this way and who should suffer for it?
This is the curse of running a hockey team in Canada. Everyone is watching all the time. The only way to protect yourself is to make rational, right-down-the-middle decisions. The sort that often don't win championships, but look good the next day in a newspaper column.
St. Louis just proved there is another way to go at this.
Maybe don't try so hard to look smart. Maybe change a losing game. Maybe don't always do things the done way, because the done way stopped working back when Brian Mulroney was prime minister.
Nobody up here will take this lesson because, unlike the others, a) it isn't a formula and b) if it doesn't turn out, you're getting fired; and it probably won't turn out.
But it would be nice to see someone totally go for it just the once. Treat their jobs like a finite professional vacation and take some bold stabs at constructing the team they want to have, rather than the team they think they should have.
Because that would be magic, the sort St. Louis got to enjoy for a few months.
We don't do magic in Canada.
We do spreadsheets, stats analysis, advanced scouting and fiveyear plans. And, evidently, we do it poorly.
A very short while ago, the Blues were a bad hockey team. Now, they're reaping the rewards of an apathetic perspective on the game: Maybe don't put so much stock in how you're perceived, be willing to make big changes. Who knows? You might just win a Cup.
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