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Is it Just Losing That Makes Them Lose it?

January 16, 2019, 9:03 AM ET [1 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
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We’re checking the celestials for a full moon over North America last week. Two stars–we mean down here, not up there-lost their minds over their coaches in two days. Haven’t seen as much rapid-fire insubordination in such a short time since a 50-minute Mike Keenan bag skate.

Both Nathan MacKinnon and Sergei Bobrovsky went as nutty as Billy Tibbetts, demented as Steve Durbano, unhinged like Mike O’Connell when he traded Jumbo Joe Thornton. Yes, we’re talking a better-put-your-head-on-a swivel-because-Ogie-Oglethorpe-isn’t-in-jail-after-all level of lunacy.

Both MacKinnon and Bobrovsky freaked over goalie pulls, not so unusual in Bob’s case since he was the one getting yanked. But MacKinnon’s was a unique demonstration in exasperation. He went bonkers over his coach’s strategy, which was curious because it wasn’t like Jared Bednar had a clueless Pierre Creamer moment back there. After getting one goal back of a two-goal final-minute deficit, the Colorado coach returned Semyon Varlamov to his crease for the center faceoff, pending Avalanche possession.

Not sure why MacKinnon was on the bench with his team still down a goal. But securing the puck before getting the goalie the hell out of there is pretty much standard coaching MO. Nevertheless MacKinnon started screaming and gesticulating like he was Zach Aston-Reese and had just been assigned to room with Tom Wilson. Very odd.

Bobrovsky didn’t like getting yanked in the third period of a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay and stormed to the locker room as fast as he will head to the Columbus airport at the trading deadline or, at latest, on July 1. His contract is expiring and it is no secret that GM Jarmo Kekalainen is looking for the best deal on an unsignable player.

Coach John Tortorella explained he was only trying to save Bobrovsky’s confidence in a hopeless loss and hasn’t said a word about it since. But there seems no saving of Bob’s relationship with the Blue Jackets, despite a we’ve-cleared-the-air team meeting that smelled fishier than a dock in Boothbay Harbor, regardless of all the right things said afterwards.

“He has a contract with us until the end of the year,” said Kekalainen. “We expect him to come back and do his best for the organization and teammates.

“It has nothing to do with any of that stuff (trades). It was just a separate incident that we have to deal with and resolve.”

Said Bobrovsky after meeting with his teammates: “I let my emotions get to me and I shouldn’t so we had the meeting with the team. “I pride myself on being a good teammate wherever I played, whomever I played for and I addressed that to the team. What happened, happened. We cleared the air and we’re ready to move on.”

He meant moving on in the sense of apologies offered and accepted. At least he hopes they truly were accepted.

At least Bobrovsky had had the sense to leave the bench area to do whatever he did out of the eye of the camera. Mackinnon, however, is the face off the franchise and there he was making faces on the bench over a move by his coach.

Misunderstanding? Conceivable, but to go that bonkers usually reflects a buildup of frustration, in this case blamed by MacKinnon on a 1-5-2 plunge by the Avalanche. Surely, good ‘ol Bedsy understood. right?

“Bedsy is the least sensitive guy ever, so it’s all good,” MacKinnon said. “Arguments happen. It’s the NHL.

“We want to win around here and obviously we haven’t been doing that lately. It’s just unfortunate that it got caught on camera. I saw it after the game in Calgary and I was pretty rattled in my hotel room, just lookin’ like an idiot, screaming. So that can’t happen again.”

Note that nowhere in there did MacKinnon say, “Coach played it right. We got the goalie off when we got the puck. He always knows what he’s doing.”

Nope, didn’t hear that. After the things that need to be said, the things left unsaid often tell you more. What a star player gives the coach camera-captured looks as dirty as a Bryan Marchment low bridge what else is the coach going to say but this:

“It didn’t bother me at all,” Bednar said. “That’s what I love about Nathan and about certain guys on our team—the fire and passion and emotion that they play with. That’s what you need in this game, what makes him so good and I never want to curb that.

“My job is to make sure we’re driving that . . passion into the right places in a positive way that will lead to winning. Confrontation can be a good thing, as long as you are channeling it in the right way.”

That can be true. Whether insubordination is real or just perceive is a reflection of the security or insecurity of the leader, who, to survive in the long run, had better know that the old “oh yeah, while bleep you too!” is all in a day’s work, Keenan would push and push looking for a pushback, and, once he got it, leave people alone, at least for a time, because negative energy was better than no energy at all.

Tortorella has been told by players to bleep off almost as many times as he has said he won’t talk about the other team, which he says almost every day. Music to his ears; shows a player has some self-esteem. Players don’t want to hear it from him day after day after day. But over time the ones worth moving on get the message loud and clear, the coach playing the mirror the kid rather would avoid.
It took Scotty Bowman–much more a subtle manipulator at that stage of his career than the tyrant he was in Montreal–plus multiple playoff failures to make Steve Yzerman a team player

This is all part of the process presumably for MacKinnon, a 23-year-old star on the third year of a 7-year deal, not going anywhere and knowing it. This why the coach of a true superstar needs to form a mutual pact that is more partnership that boss-and-employee. The team’s best player, not the coach, is the true policeman of the locker room. The coach must feel he can trust the captain and the captain has to revel in an alliance of reliance.

So, we’ll see how it goes in Denver, because you know how it goes in the end. All due respect to Bednar, who shepherded a big jump by the Avs a year ago, he has one first-round loss to his credit as an NHL coach, not enough cache if what the cameras captured was the tip of a deeper issue.

Even if he and MacKinnon really are fine, what happened showed that, at least, the Avalanche star has some growing up to do. And if that is case, so does his team. We don’t know the roots of why he snapped, only understand from experience that just because the team says its over doesn’t mean it is. That harmless steam coming out of a star’s head in the heat of battle can be smoke signals of a true problem.
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