[Editorials are pieces that reflect the opinion of the writer, and may not represent the stance of On The Forecheck as a whole.]
From the perspective of a fan, I often try to refrain from playing Armchair GM. I have my opinions about roster construction, lineup decisions, etc., but I also understand that those running the organization have access to information I do not and experience I am lacking. Additionally, I understand the slog of an 82-game schedule. It’s easier to critique every decision I disagree with now than remind myself that the Stanley Cup is not won in November.
This isn’t to say that coaches and general managers should be exempt from criticism. I think one of the best things about sports is how much we’re willing to invest in a call-up decision or the possession metrics of a third-pair defender. To expect a coach or GM to perfectly execute every decision over the course of 82 games is foolish, but to expect them to understand a mistake should not be.
Last night, Kyle Turris was a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game. Many of us were certain an injury to Viktor Arvidsson would guarantee a return to the lineup for Turris, but the organization opted to insert Daniel Carr fresh from Milwaukee and to continue icing Mathieu Olivier who, despite a non-negative impact so far, has little potential beyond a middle-six role in Milwaukee.
Normally I’ve grown to numb myself to moves I disagree with; the organization does not ask for my opinion, and I’m not paid millions to chase a championship. But this circumstance has become frankly ridiculous. I likely will not say anything profound below, or anything you do not know, but I would like to summarize my thoughts on Kyle Turris into three points: leadership, asset management, and acknowledging mistakes.
There’s been much noise recently about Mike Babcock and his coaching style. A story of emotional manipulation surfaced late Sunday on how the former Maple Leafs coach treated then-rookie Mitch Marner.
Stories like this are common in pro sports; they just don’t often surface like this. The “sending a message” move is one we see often in the NHL: a high-paid player is a healthy scratch to motivate the roster, a rookie is benched after a bad penalty to teach a lesson, etc. It’s a leadership technique that’s probably overrated; I imagine the player who has erred will learn their lesson with or without punishment in most circumstances. But it won’t be eradicated anytime soon. Scratching Turris for one game could be chalked up to this: it’s annoying and there are more deserving players (Craig Smith, who has two goals in 23 games, comes to mind), but it is what it is. Anything beyond one game is negligent. There’s no need to sugarcoat that this is the technique of a coach scrambling to right the ship; Laviolette is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after tossing every life preserver overboard.
On Asset Management
At some point last season, the organization decided that they were moving on from Kyle Turris. After a 23-point season, that could be fair. The problem is that they habitually ignored the context of two ravaging injuries and inconsistent line mates. Good players have bad seasons. What’s worse, however, is that in the moment David Poile and Peter Laviolette decided there was nothing Turris could do to rectify their opinion. A stellar performance captaining Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship did nothing, and, more incredibly, an impressive nine-point start to the season while often buried on the fourth line did nothing.
What’s even worse is for management to continuously fool themselves into believing that a rival franchise will wake up on a different side of the bed one morning and change their mind about taking on a $6 million contract for Turris. If David Poile is so committed to trading Turris (and, in doing so, taking a step back in the “one more forward” campaign), this message has clearly not been communicated to the head coach, who will change no minds by hiding the potential trade bait in the press box. If Poile believes Turris can help this team win, which seems unlikely, he is negligent in his duties by passively endorsing Laviolette’s mismanagement.
From a business perspective, this should be fireable behavior. From a human perspective, it’s tactless and shameful.
On Admitting Mistakes
It feels rare in this sport that decision-makers boldly accept responsibility for defeat. It’s often the players who band together and chant, “We just had to go a bit harder out there,” instead of a coach or manager expressing frustration at their own decisions.
But it’s not unheard of. David Poile implicitly admitted wrongdoing when he quickly shopped for Kyle Turris after attempting to drill the idea of a second-line Nick Bonino into our minds all summer. Unfortunately, that regret, once exhibited, seems all but lost. If a veteran coach like Laviolette so obliviously believes that the best way to spark his roster is to scratch a healthy, productive player, so be it. If David Poile, who so desperately yearns for a championship yet seemingly takes a step back for each one he takes forward, cares to endorse this plan, so be it. But to do so while brandishing a loose grasp of the factual truth is offensive to the locker room and offensive to the fans.
If Poile’s comments the other day about hoping things “get going” for Turris are any indication, this organization has likely brainwashed itself into driving an excellent player out of town. If scoring at even strength at the rate of a first-line player while buried on the fourth line with two black holes as wingers is not considered productive to this organization, so be it. If scoring like a good second-line player since coming to Nashville is not considered productive, so be it. If this coaching staff deludes itself into believing the team is generating a good amount of high-danger shot attempts, so be it. But if that’s what Peter Laviolette holds dear as fact, then I shouldn’t need to forgive this organization for its hubris.
This sport is a business with the objective to win; that might be trotted out as the ultimate excuse for all of this, but it fails on both edges of the sword. Not only is this team not consistently winning, nor helping its case by benching one of its twelve best forwards, they are spitting in the face of their fans each night this continues.
David Poile and Peter Laviolette may never relinquish their patently false “facts”; they’re paid millions to make these decisions. But, regardless, this saga is a disservice to the franchise as a whole searching for a championship, it’s a disservice to the player and his family, and it’s the organization’s latest fumble in the so-called “Year of the Fan”.
As long as we are excluded from an honest discussion about the Kyle Turris saga, you can forget much of the respect I have for this general manager and coach.