Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year...New Blues

-As we begin 2007...I'll get back to more regular business here on the ol' blog. And, by the way, Happy New Year!

I guess the question I was most asked during the holidays was..."What the heck is going on with the Blues...Can a new coach make that much difference?" I guess that's two questions rolled into one. But I have to tell you I struggled to answer it (them?) each time. Here's my take on it.

I have to believe that as much as the players liked and respected Mike Kitchen, they had given up on him as a coach. They must have had the belief that there was no way Kitchen and his strategies were going to get them headed in the right direction. So, as a result, there was little or no effort in most games. I'm not saying there was a conscious effort to get Kitchen fired. But, it sure did look like it at times.

But, if you want to believe there was a conscious effort, one night in particular could spawn such a conspiracy theory....

On December 5th, the Scottrade Center was packed with fans who came to see Brett Hull's jersey be retired. The ceremony was fabulous. The emotion of "the good old days" charged the atmosphere inside the building. Then, despite all that, the team came out, after sitting on the bench and watching the fans shower Hull and the other dignitaries with heartfelt cheers, and laid an enormous, effortless egg. The Red Wings skated around the Blues like they were snowmen built by the building staff and wearing Blues sweaters.

As a lot, hockey players are pretty smart people. Very few, especially the leaders on teams, fall into the "not so bright" category. Isn't it almost impossible that after such a ceremony, the team could come out and play such an uninspired game unless it was seen as a way to eliminate the coach that was holding the team back? Could there have been a meeting after practice that day between some of the leaders of the team? Could they have discussed "tanking" the game as a way to get "Kitch" out of the way? They knew that the owners would be in attendance. They knew the building would be full. They knew that losing pathetically to the Red Wings would be distasteful to the owners and fans. They knew that the situation was already precarious for their coach. The Blues have several veteran players (notice I'm not naming names) who could make a decision to "not compete" happen.

If something like this did happen, noone would ever admit it. It would be unflattering to them as players, a slap in the face to the coach who is gone, and suggest that fans may, or may not, get their money's worth on a given night if the players decide to "take a night off". One would hate to think that such a conspiracy to get Mike Kitchen fired could be launched. But, it sure seems that from day one of the Andy Murray era there has been an entirely different mindset on the team. Same players...different attitude, effort, and results.

Did the core leadership among the players believe that Kitchen's strategies and approaches were flawed? Did they discuss that among themselves? Did they suggest a possible replacement for Kitchen to John Davidson? Did Davidson, if such a suggestion were made, agree to bring in Murray as a concession to the players? Did Davidson make a recommendation to the ownership to make a coaching change based on conversations with certain players? Did ownership agree to such a change because of the paltry numbers of people showing up at games?

All of these questions are legitimate. But, of course, they all fall into the category of speculation. Someone privvy to the conversations of the team's top players might be able to tell us if they hold water, but that's not likely to ever occur. It might be interesting to ask Mike Kitchen at some point whether he would put any credence in such a theory.

In the meantime, St. Louis now has a team to get excited about. So, go Blues!

No comments: