View from the Press Box: Patrick O'Neal
In this installment FS West Reporter Patrick O’Neal offers up some of his thoughts on the Kings and on the game of hockey
Much like last year, it seems like a large pack of 10 or 11 teams will be competing for the eight Western Conference playoff spots and the race will go wire-to-wire. Is it safe to say that parity has taken hold of our league and if so, is parity a good thing for the NHL?
Remember the old joke, every team in the NHL makes the playoffs? Not the case anymore. It’s scary how tight it is in the West. Especially seeing the Kings lose games early on that everybody knows they could have won, with all these one-goal games. It comes back to haunt you. Considering this will be the last year of this current format, it is so crucial for the Kings to make the playoffs this year. At this point, I’m not even talking about having home ice. I’m just saying let’s just get there.
I love what the salary cap has done for the NHL and I love parity in every professional sport. I hope it comes back to the NBA. It makes it exciting down the stretch, but mainly I am just concerned with the Kings and how they are underachieving at this point. We are almost half-way, so hopefully the team starts stashing away points, especially some 4-point games.
Do you like the new plan for re-alignment?
I love the new re-alignment. First off, it brings some needed attention to the league. I credit Gary Bettman and all the owners for realizing changes need to be made, and not being afraid to make them. These are huge moves. Only time will tell how it will play out, but it worries me that a team with more points in one conference can miss out on the playoffs to another team in another conference with less points, as would have been the case with the Kings last year. I like it because it puts tremendous importance on the conference games, builds up the rivalries for the future generations, and you play every team home and home. That’s how I grew up watching the game, knowing the Kings play every team twice a year, and I’m thrilled that the league is going back to that.
The video review of goals in the NHL is here to stay and the technology seems to be improving with each season. We also now are able to get a video explanation of suspensions once they league has handed them down to a player. Do you like the current system or would you like to see something changed to make the system better?
Again I have to credit the league for making huge strides in improving the game for the fans. First of all, there was no consistency to the suspensions the past few years. One guy might get 3 games for one hit, and then the next guy wouldn’t get anything for what seemed like the same thing. And there wasn’t an explanation. Now not only is there an explanation, but there is Brendan Shanahan staring at us and breaking it down precisely! I think it is totally awesome. It doesn’t mean I always agree with everything, but that’s sports. I love the war-room in Toronto and how the second there is a dispute over a call on the ice, the ref is on the phone, they look at the video, and within moments, a decision is made.
It does seem, however, the Kings have been short-changed on some calls, but hopefully that will come around.
If I could change anything, I would like the war-room to be able to over-rule a call on the ice. For instance if the video proves to all of us at home the correct call, even if he blew the whistle late, or made the call on the ice, they have the guts to change it. The way it is now, if the ref makes the call on the ice, it’s seems rare they overturn it. I would like to see the refs be able to be over-ruled if the video review is undeniable.
I also am against the instigator rule. I would like to see that removed from the game. I do like how the league is protecting the players from head injuries, and cheap shots, but I also think the players need to police the game on the ice like they used to. It was a better game then.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve witnessed several hockey teams make mid-season coaching changes in an effort to shake things up. Can you remember a situation where you witnessed first-hand a dramatic change in play simply because the head coach was replaced mid-season?
I’ve always found it interesting that suddenly a team starts to play better with a new coach. Is it because they are relieved they don’t have to listen to the guy anymore, or is there a sense of panic, like ‘damn, if their going to fire the coach, maybe I’m next?’
It’s not always the case, but there are recent examples proving that a new coach will breathe life into the room. The Penguins fire Michel Therrien after losing in the Finals, and then win the Stanley Cup with Dan Bylsma. I’m guessing Bylsma will be in Pittsburgh for a long time. Unless of course, his message gets stale and boring after a few years, and the players tune him out, and then he’ll get fired, even though it was the same message that won them the Cup.
The Devils fired John MacLean after probably one of their worst starts in team history, and then nearly make the playoffs under Jacques Lemaire. Same players, so why did they suddenly play better? What magic did Jacques have that John didn’t?
The Blackhawks fired Denis Savard after only four games, and apparently Joel Quenneville was the answer, because they partied with the Cup in Chicago. How did Savard feel about that?
The Lightning fired Barry Melrose after 16 games, and brought in Rick Tocchet, but that didn’t really work, because he didn’t fare any better the rest of the year. It was just a bad team.
I doubt you’ll ever find proof that a star player wasn’t giving his all for a coach in order to get him fired, but shame on them if that’s the case. Yes there have been a lot of firings this year, but the coach is only as good as his players in the long run. I guess it’s like a relationship. Sometimes they work, sometimes after a few years, or seven, it comes to an end. But it’s a shame to see guys lose their jobs because of players that just simply underperform.
My favorite performance by a coach is Mike Keenan. One year in Manhattan coaching the Rangers, one Championship. He had the magic touch that year, and when it works, the coach gets the credit. When it doesn’t, the blame.
Are the recent coaching changes directly related to how tight the standings are in both conferences?
I don’t think so. These firings were early in the season, but it was an attempt to salvage something. Let’s start with Anaheim. Even if Bruce Boudreau wasn’t suddenly available, there just gets to a point where something has to be done. The team was a mess. When a team loses that many games, and there are reports that Randy Carlyle’s message isn’t getting through, then what choice does management have? I do think that having Boudreau suddenly available at that exact moment made it easier to fire a coach that had so much success. Think about it, Randy Carlyle won a Stanley Cup in Anaheim, and now he’s fired? Tough business. What have you done for me lately?
I have no idea what the deal was with Paul Maurice in Carolina, but in Washington, I could see that one coming. The offensive numbers were dwindling and one of the best players in the game wasn’t scoring 50 goals but 30 something. That’s a problem. The fans buy tickets to see the players. They buy the sweaters with the player’s name on the back. But what gets lost is the amount of work the coaches put in. The staff. There is total and complete sacrifice for the good of the team by these guys. The pressure is enormous. But they also get paid great dollars, so they’ll probably tell you it was all worth it.
O’Neal is a studio host and reporter for Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket in Los Angeles, and he’s covered the Kings since the 2005-06 season. In addition to the Kings, he also works games featuring the Dodgers and Lakers among others. You can follow him on Twitter at @ponealfswest.